This Small Town on North Carolina's 'Crystal Coast' Has Some of the Most Affordable Beach Houses in the U.S.

·3 min read
View of a sailboat on the water from the dunes with a blue cloudy sky in Morehead City
View of a sailboat on the water from the dunes with a blue cloudy sky in Morehead City

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North Carolina's scenic coastline is home to some incredibly beautiful vacation spots where fresh seafood and stunning ocean views are a common denominator. Of course, a beach house often comes with a price tag to match its most exclusive amenity (ahem, those gorgeous sunset views). But this may not be the case in one town in the Tar Heel State.

We are talking about Morehead City, which just ranked among the most affordable beach towns in the country to buy a vacation home, according to a survey by Realtor.com. With a median home price of $464,842, real estate in this small coastal town in Carteret County is also among the cheapest in the state (where houses in some places can reach a median value of as much as $790,000), attracting buyers looking to enjoy the area's beautiful beaches and laid-back lifestyle for a fraction of the price in other parts of the country.

The main town in Morehead City; NC
The main town in Morehead City; NC

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"Morehead City offers an attractive destination for many people seeking sunny weather, high quality of life, low cost of living, and relatively affordable real estate. The city is located on the Atlantic Ocean, with miles of sandy beaches, a commercial port, and a well-diversified economy," George Ratiu, Realtor.com's senior economist and manager of economic research, told Travel + Leisure. He pointed out that while most potential buyers come from North Carolina's bigger cities, such as Raleigh, Charlotte, Jacksonville, and Wilmington, about 42% hail from more expensive markets like Washington D.C., Atlanta, New York, and Philadelphia. With two domestic and two local airports within a 60-mile radius, Morehead City is easily accessible from major cities nationwide.

The town is part of the so-called Crystal Coast, an 85-mile stretch of golden sandy beaches and charming coastal towns, also referred to as the Southern Outer Banks. What makes Morehead City the perfect year-round vacation destination is that it is the largest community on the Crystal Coast, offering residents and guests vibrant cultural and dining scenes throughout the year. North Carolina's Seafood Festival, for example, takes place over three days each fall, while Carolina Chocolate Festival is a two-day celebration happening in the winter. The area also has an exciting up-and-coming brewing scene, with Morehead City home to Tight Lines Brewery, known for its house beer, hard seltzers, ciders, and at least four more breweries located in the neighboring towns.

North Carolina, Morehead City, Bogue Sound, waterfront,
North Carolina, Morehead City, Bogue Sound, waterfront,

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Of course, the main draw is the ocean and all the recreational opportunities that come with being close to it. Whether you're into fishing (the town is home to the Big Rock Marlin Tournament, one of the most famous fishing contests on the East Coast) or diving (the area has an abundance of shipwrecks waiting to be explored), Morehead City has plenty of exciting activities for visitors of all ages. Not a fan of water sports? The 160,000-acre Croatan National Forest is the perfect backdrop for bird watching, hiking, or camping.

"Buyers in Morehead City initially begin looking because they love the beach, and many come for the close proximity of the Gulf Stream fishing, but they fall in love and buy properties because of the charm offered across the county," said Steve Brown, a broker at Landmark Sothebys International Realty. He added that residences with a pool, easy water access, and those with water views are some of the most popular among buyers.

Morehead City to Atlantic Beach Bridge aerial view
Morehead City to Atlantic Beach Bridge aerial view

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Brown said there is also a barrier island — "the last barrier island of the Outer Banks" — across from Morehead City that's home to sensational sunrise and sunset views over the water. It's just one more picturesque perk that makes this North Carolina town unlike anywhere else.