When fall comes to Wrightsville Beach, a four-mile-long barrier island near Wilmington, it shoos away the tourist throngs, stifling summer humidity, and swarming mosquitoes. Meanwhile, the ocean is still bathtub-warm (in the low 80s), and mellow swells, perfect for longboarding, roll in over sugary white sand. With only a few hotels on the beach, Wrightsville is dominated by private homes tucked behind gentle dunes dotted with sea grass. Most of the action revolves around the island's two piers, the best spots for surfing and fishing for red drum and flounder. Both have lively bars and restaurants, like Oceanic, which serves local seafood alfresco atop the south pier. If surfing and fishing aren't your thing, join fit locals and college coeds (UNC Wilmington is seven miles inland) for a jog of the Loop, a 2.45-mile path around the island, or rent a paddleboard and explore Banks Channel and the scenic salt marshes that buffer Wrightsville's western coast.
Where to Stay: The oceanfront Blockade Runner resort also has a soundside beach and dock where you can rent kayaks. [from $129; blockade-runner.com]