The bears were my favorite part of my visit to the city of New Bern, North Carolina. I did not expect to see a painted fiberglass bear statue while walking around downtown… much less 28 of them!
Yes, everything in New Bern is about bears. The high school mascot is the bear. The police cars have bear logos. Residents display bear flags on their houses.
New Bern has a number of quirky and fun sights, including the birthplace of Pepsi cola. But the bears are the stars of the show.
How many bear statues are there in New Bern, NC? Why were they created? Who made them? Where can you find them?
Read on to learn everything you want to know about the famous quirky bear statues in New Bern!
History of the Bear Statues in New Bern
New Bern was settled in 1710, making it one of the oldest settlements in the state. It was a Swiss and German settlement, named after Bern, Switzerland, which itself was named after the bear.
“Bern” is a Germanic word for bear, so the town’s bear connection goes way back.
In 2010, to celebrate its 300th anniversary, New Bern went all-in on the bear theme by displaying artistic bears everywhere.
More than 50(!) fiberglass bears were scattered around the city, all uniquely designed and decorated!
They were created from fiberglass, and each one is painted completely differently, with different colors, logos, shapes, and markings to give them their individual character.
There are even multiple poses for the bears. Some are standing close to the ground on all fours, while others are standing up tall on two legs.
The bear statues here reminded me of the moose statues I saw on a drive through Benningon, Vermont.
The bears quickly became a great talking point and a fun, quirky attraction to bring road trippers and tourists to this part of eastern North Carolina.
The New Bern Bears Today: Number, Location, Map, Names
Since the bears became so popular, the city has steadily continued to add statues. Today, the total number of New Bern bears has increased to more than 80.
To see a full list featuring every bear statue in the city, go the the city tourism site and click the link to download the map. That site also lists the names of each bear artist.
A whopping 28 of the statues are downtown, mostly around businesses near Craven Street, South Front Street, and East Front Street. Others can be found scattered around the city in various business districts.
The city of New Bern publishes a tourist brochure about the bears featuring a map of the downtown statues.
Bear statues can be found in front of hotels, doctor’s offices, and even fast food outlets like Sonic and Domino’s Pizza. Walmart and Publix each have their own bears.
Residents who pass the bears on a regular basis feel a connection with some of them. The fun part is that each bear has its own name, many of which are puns.
Among the best New Bern bear names:
-Tooth Beary (located in front of a dentist)
-No Burn Bear (at the Firemen’s Museum)
-Judge Bear and Bear-ly Legal (both in front of law firms)
-Future Bear (next to an early childhood center)
-Bury Bear (next to a funeral home)
-Money Bear (next to a bank)
Which Bear Statues Are the Coolest?
This is a matter of subjective opinion, of course. But I’ll share a few of my faves.
This one, called Bear E. Essential, was created by artists Darren DePalo and MD Custom Designs, and can be found on Pollock Street by Robinson & Stith Insurance. It has a bunch of healthy foods on it. I like it because it’s so different.
Another favorite is Captain Black Bear’d, which stands by the Courtyard by Marriott. Painted by artist John Hanley, the captain wears a pirate outfit and sports a dark beard.
Diverse Flag Bearer by Whitney Wallace is also very cool — that one features a mashup of numerous country flags, including the USA, Canada, Brazil, Germany, South Africa, the Philippines, and China.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Bears and New Bern
How were the locations of the bears chosen?
In 2010 when the project began, local businesses were approached to sponsor and adopt a bear.
Part of that process including finding an artist and a location for each bear, usually right next to the business itself.
Are all of the statues fiberglass?
All of the bear statues tracked by the city are fiberglass, yes. However, there are a few wooden bears around town as well that aren’t part of the official collection.
For example, Bern Bear Gifts has a wooden bear statue outside its door (that has gotten stolen a few times.) And Bear Plaza on Middle Street has this wooden bear carving prominently on display:
Were some bear statues damaged in a hurricane?
Yes, in 2018 after the rains from Hurricane Florence, some of the bears began floating away in the flood waters. Fiberglass isn’t exactly the heaviest material, after all!
One of the bears that got washed away was Bearon de Graffenried, who is designed to look like Christoph von Graffenried, one of the founders of New Bern, with old-time clothes and a powdered wig.
After the Bearon statue was recovered, he was returned his rightful place in Union Point Park.
Are there any real bears in New Bern, NC?
Yes, there are! This part of North Carolina is somewhat forested, and black bears do roam these parts. Every now and then, one makes its way into town.
When residents see a real black bear wandering around, it’s almost as if the mascots have come to life.
What else is there to do in New Bern?
You can also head south to Croatan National Forest for hiking and camping, and continue down to Emerald Isle to relax on Indian Beach and Atlantic Beach.
Have you ever visited to see the New Bern bears?