The good news: the storm hit Thursday at low tide, the governor said. The bad news: the storm was now stronger.
CNN correspondents at Wrightsville Beach near Wilmington and Atlantic Beach said most people in those two tourist destinations were heeding authorities' calls to stay out of the surf.
But people were getting out on the sand to see the dark clouds roll in before heading in for the night.
"We are starting to see the water come up a little further," said Marc Leford, the facilities manager at the Shell Island Resort in Wrightsville Beach. "The guests are hanging tight. They seem to be having a good time. They're ready to wait it out."
At the Frying Pan Tower, 34 miles offshore from Wilmington, Richard Neal said the winds had shaken the old Coast Guard light station enough to cause some apprehension.
Neal has turned the tower into an "adventure bed and breakfast."
But after 99 mph winds and 35-foot waves, he said, "We were not expecting it to be this much of an adventure."
Neal said there were no guests there and he and his children were sitting around playing cards as the eye passed through.
He warned people on land to evacuate.
"These are very large waves and the swells are enormous," he said.
Arthur is expected to bring storm surges of up to 7 feet, as well as large, damaging waves, high winds and dangerous rip currents that authorities warned could sweep even the strongest swimmers out to sea.
Hurricane warnings were up for most of the state's coastline. Parts of Massachusetts, South Carolina and Virginia were under tropical storm warnings. The National Hurricane Center said the storm was moving to the north-northeast.
A tornado watch was in effect for 10 counties of North Carolina.
McCrory declared a state of emergency for 23 eastern counties. As of Thursday evening, at least 7,200 customers of two of the largest power companies in the Wilmington area were without power.
Up the coast in Hyde County, authorities instituted a 12-hour curfew beginning at 8 p.m. ET.
Earlier in the day, authorities issued a mandatory evacuation order for Hatteras Island and a voluntary evacuation order for Ocracoke Island, both in North Carolina's Outer Banks.
Some of those residents headed north to Kill Devil Hills and other communities and found a hotel room to wait out the storm.
The storm interrupted some holiday plans, including a decision by the town of Surf City, North Carolina, to scrap its planned Thursday night Fourth of July show.
The city's website said the storm's fury is likely to be short-lived and encouraged visitors to keep their beach vacation plans: "Surf City is very much open for business."