If Charleston is too touristy, Myrtle Beach too Myrtle Beach-y, and Hilton Head too much like a giant country club, the village of Southport might be for you. Located at the mouth of Cape Fear RIver, only twenty minutes from Wilmington, Southport is devoid of outlet malls and minigolf and rife with history, cozy shops, and comfy waterfront dining. And a delightful place to rest your head is the newish Robert Ruark Inn Bed and Breakfast (from $145; robertruarkinn.com).
Named for the famous author and Southport native son, the restored Victorian opened last year and has already gained a steady stream of regulars, who rave about the luxurious rooms (all five of them) and extravagant breakfasts. On the latter, the shrimp and grits and sugar bacon is innkeeper and trained chef David Gale's specialty, but he also makes his own fudge and assorted other delicacies. And make sure to gather on the verandah for wine and appetizers before walking to any one of a number of nearby restaurants (try Mister P's bistro or the Pharmacy).
Only a block from the harbor, the Ruark is an easy stroll past historic cottages and under towering live oaks to the antiques shops of downtown. But make time for the yacht basin, populated with tiny fishing vessels as well as some of the largest yachts you'll ever see. You could while away an afternoon just watching the boats come and go. And in Southport, that qualifies as time well spent. --R.T.