The town, originally spelled Swannsborough, is sometimes called "The Friendly City by the Sea". M.N. Lisk, a popular Swansboro mayor, initiated the annual Mullet Festival, one of the first coastal seafood festivals in North Carolina.
The town is featured as the setting of Nicholas Sparks' novel The Guardian.
The city has a diverse selection of restaurants (including Yana's Ye Olde Drug Store diner and Icehouse Waterfront) and shopping much of which it located along the Intracoastal Waterway or White Oak River basin. Residents and visitors alike have multiple boating facilities to choose from (including Casper's Marina and Dudley's Marina) and many restaurants allow for boaters to dock outside their establishments.
The Rotary Club of Swansboro is active in the community and regularly hosts events such as the annual King Mackerel Tournament and numerous fundraising gatherings. During the summers, the Seaside Arts Council hosts weekly concerts aptly named "Swan Fest" on Sunday evenings at the Pavilion in Olde Town Square.