Swansboro, North Carolina
Abundant Water Recreation, Nearby Oceanfront Beaches and a Simpler Way of Life Await in the Idyllic Little Coastal Village of Swansboro, North Carolina
Cost of Living: Below the National Average
Founded in 1783 and nestled between the Intracoastal Waterway and the White Oak River on North Carolina's mid-coast (Crystal Coast), homey, unassuming Swansboro (population 4,000) is known as "The Friendly City by the Sea" got its start as a shipbuilding center. After the Great Depression, it transformed itself into a fishing village and remains one today. Residents enjoy unspoiled boating areas, a cute waterfront and nearby oceanfront white sand beaches.
Forty percent of the population is age 45 or better, and most residents lean to the right politically. Thirty-two percent of locals hold at least a four year collge degree. The town has grown 30% within the last decade. The crime rate meets the national average, and the cost of living is 9% below the national average.
The median home price is $350,000, reflecting a 14% increase since a year ago, but as in most towns, prices depend on location. Houses close to the water generally cost more than homes a little farther inland. Properties range from early-20th century cottages to new brick dwellings. Most upscale neighborhoods and subdivisions have private community boat slips. Many residences are located within a flood plain and require flood insurance.
North Carolina is somewhat favorable when it to taxes and retirement. The state does not tax Social Security but it taxes other retirement income withdrawls at a flat income tax rate of 5.25%. The average effective property tax rate (the annual tax payment as a percentage of median home value) in Swansboro is .74% The annual taxes on a $350,000 home are approximately $2,590. The combined sales tax is 7.25%.
Just 70 miles northeast of Wilmington, Swansboro it is still mostly off the national radar, overlooked as tourists pass through it on their way to Emerald Isle, an oceanfront beach town a little father east. Being overlooked, though, does not seem to bother locals since this is what has helped Swansboro retain its mellow charm over the years.
Maritime culture is everywhere, and both salt water and fresh water fishing are still a way of life. Boats of all shapes and sizes bob in the three marinas (one is home to "boataminiums" (boat condos) and one has quick access to deep sea fishing and SCUBA diving). Gentle waves lap at the docks. The estuary brims with dolphins, herons and ospreys just beyond the waterfront. The sea air soothes, and the relaxed, authentic coastal ambiance entices. Before long, the spell is cast, and nearly all who enter Swansboro feel right at home.
The historic downtown is cute and has kept the flavor of an earlier, seafaring way-of-life. The main street, Front Street, is lined with various shops and boutiques. Seventy-four of Swansboro's buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, and architectural styles include Federal, Craftsman and Greek Revival. Although Swansboro is 240 years old and off the beaten path, the infrastructure is solid (although sewer capacity is sometimes an issue), and roads are in good condition.
There are enough service providers, such as dentists, veterinarians and handymen, to meet most needs. Retail chain stores such as Lowe's Home Improvement, Walgreen's and Wal-Mart are on town outskirts or within a short drive. The Onslow County Public Library is small but has two dozen public computers with internet access.
Residents also enjoy a good selection of restaurants, including the fun Yana's Ye Olde Drugstore and Restaurant, which has a a 1950s-style lunch counter and great milkshakes. For fresh, healthy food, the downtown farmers' market is open Wednesdays and Saturdays from May through October.
Fun annual festivals include the Arts by the Sea, the Christmas Flotilla, Swanfest and the Mullet Festival, which celebrates fish, not the haircut. Numerous clubs and organizations, such as the American Legion, Rotary Club and Shriners, are active. Churches hold seafood potlucks and lobster festivals, and the Onslow Volunteer Center, located in Jacksonville 20 miles to the south, places volunteers in various jobs around Onslow County. There are also three nearby military bases. Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville is the largest.
Emerald Isle's oceanfront sands are about a mile away. Hammocks Beach State Park has a Swansboro address and is a nearly 900-acre recreation area comprised of two islands with wildlife nature preserve and nesting area for loggerhead sea turtles. It wide beach is tucked between massive dunes and has primitive campsites. Access to nearby Bear Island is by ferry only but is worth the 15 minute trip and is an excellent spot for kayaking.
Swansboro does not have its own hospital, but Carteret General Hospital (135 beds) is in Morehead City, just two miles away. It is accredited by the Joint Commission and accepts Medicare patients. Onslow Memorial Hospital, with 165 beds and also accredited by the Joint Commission, is 15 miles away in Jacksonville. For military retirees, Jacksonville also has a VA outpatient clinic, but the nearest VA hospital in 105 miles away in Fayetteville.
There is also no local senior center, but the Onslow Senior Center, a certified Senior Center of Excellence, is in Jacksonville and provides a number of services, including exercise programs, Meals on Wheels and medical and nutrition transportation throughout Onslow County.
The average August temperature is 80 degrees, and the average January temperature is 46 degrees. On average, the area receives 53 inches of rain each year. July is the wettest month and April is the driest. The sun shines 215 days of the year.
Of course, a Swansboro retirement has some drawbacks. There is no public transportation. The North Carolina coast is prone to hurricanes, and in 1996, Hurricane Fran caused damage to Swansboro's waterfront. Hurricane Irene, which came ashore in August, 2011, caused minimal damage. Hurricane Florence in 2018 brought significant flooding (and local leaders say that the storm damage was a climate change wake up call). Some people grumble that the area is growing too fast and worry that it could lose its idyllic quality in the years to come.
Despite these issues, for now, Swansboro's appeal is hard to deny. Retirees who settle in this seaside gem consider themselves a lucky bunch, no longer wandering in search of a perfect place to retire.
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