If you are into painting old working boat as I am (shrimpers, trawlers, crabbers, skiffs), the Core Banks area is a gold mine. Beaufort, Marshallberg, Harkers Island, and Atlantic all have marinas with traditional handmade boats and all the colorful detritus that you see around boat yards. Beaufort is a good home base with colonial homes, walkable streets, good food and reasonable rooms in the historic waterfront area. Friend and Beaufort plein air painter, Jimmy Craig Womble, has a small studio in town and knows all the "spots" and the "when" and "where" of painting them. His work is beautiful and conveys a love and intimate knowledge of the area. Storms are always a consideration on the coast...but I satisfy myself when it is too windy or threatening by taking photos of the dramatic weather conditions for later studio work.
Other NC marinas with similar boats and settings include Wanchese (near Manteo and Nags Head), and Sneeds Ferry north of Wilmington.