Tour planners are discovering the Crystal Coast in North Carolina with unparalleled attractions for a sun-soaked beach vacation
The Crystal Coast in North Carolina is an 85-mile stretch of picturesque coastline made up of an assortment of small oceanfront communities. From Morehead City and Beaufort to Atlantic Beach and Harkers Island, a magical beach vacation awaits. The area offers a distinctive array of accommodations, with more than three dozen hotels, motels and inns. In addition, there are well over 5,000 vacation rental cottages, condominiums and villas. It is also a mecca for small-town Main Street shopping. For example, it features an abundance of specialty shops, including art galleries and clothing boutiques in many of the communities.
Beach Towns on the Crystal Coast in North Carolina
With so many beach vacation options, it’s often difficult to choose where you and your group want to spend their time. To help with the planning process, here are some options to build your itinerary around.
This peaceful community on the Crystal Coast in North Carolina is located 30 miles from Emerald Isle and has an abundance of attractions. One of the most popular draws is the Cape Lookout Visitor’s Center, one of two ferry gateways to Shackleford Banks and Cape Lookout National Seashore. In fact, you can see wild horses, go shelling, fishing, lighthouse climbing and kayaking there. Harkers Island also offers the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center for maritime culture. Here you’ll find the artistry of wooden decoy carvings, waterfowl art, music, storytelling, boat building heritage and more.
Pine Knoll Shores
Thousands of aquatic animals take you on a journey from the state’s grand peaks to the open Atlantic at the North Carolina Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores. The aquarium offers a variety of learning opportunities for groups. For instance, students can explore the aquarium on a teacher-led tour and participate in a live animal program in the Big Rock Theater. In addition, explore research exhibits and species with interactive scavenger hunts or become scientists through hands-on classroom activities or outdoor field experiences. Group discount rates apply to civic organizations. These include nonprofit, religious, community or senior groups and out-of-state school groups. Additionally, children and teachers/staff in registered North Carolina school groups are admitted at no charge.
The Bogue Sound stretches for roughly 25 miles along the Crystal Coast in North Carolina. In fact, it is a prime destination for mariners, fishermen, watersports fans and those who savor a fantastic sunset. A number of marinas and public docks are located on its edges. While groups aren’t enjoying Bogue Sound’s outdoor attractions, they can visit the Bogue Sound Distillery. On a visit to the distillery, enjoy premium quality gluten-free vodka, white whiskey, single malt whiskey and gin.
In addition, the large distillery also houses a museum showing how stills and spirits were made in the late 1700s and early 1800s. A restored 1923 Ford Model T pickup, complete with whiskey barrels, is on display along with a 1900s grist mill and local family history. Guests can tour the distillery museum and watch Bogue Sound’s 500-gallon still and 27-gallon test still actively engaged in liquor production processes.
Named by Travel & Leisure as America’s Favorite Small Town, Beaufort is home to a variety of charming boutiques and a downtown marina. In addition, the two-acre Beaufort Historic Site features six authentically restored buildings. One of North Carolina’s oldest towns, the historic site features more than 150 restored homes. In fact, a red double-decker bus is an ideal and unique way to tour the town.
The town’s North Carolina Maritime Museum is one of three state maritime museums. Altogether, they have the purpose of preserving, collecting and interpreting coastal life and history. Inside the museum is the official repository for the artifacts from the wreckage of Blackbeard’s flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge. Afterward, mosey across the street to the Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center, which is one of the best places to see Beaufort’s maritime history come to life. Accordingly, the center is a working boatbuilding facility that comes alive with the sounds and smells of traditional North Carolina wooden boatbuilding.
Those seeking some delightful beverages can pay a visit to Carteret County’s first brewery, Mill Whistle Brewing Company. Interestingly, this nano brewery produces just 31 gallons of beer in a single batch. By focusing on small batches of beer, Mill Whistle Brewing has been able to produce a wide variety of beer styles. Another interesting fact is that the brewery resides on the site of a 100-year-old lumber mill. And like the old tradition to signal shift change, it still blows the original steam mistle at 4:45 p.m. daily.
Another fun attraction is Beaufort Pirates Revenge, which offers interactive voyages featuring fun and adventure for families of all ages. Groups can enjoy a live pirate show and enjoy festive music guaranteed to unleash your inner pirate.
A Must-Visit Beaufort Attraction
Not far from Beaufort is the Rachel Carson Reserve, located between the mouths of the Newport and North Rivers. The reserve’s waters create a pristine environment where juvenile fish and invertebrates find shelter and food. Diverse arrays of coastal habitats are found at the site including tidal flats, salt marshes, ocean beach, sand dunes and maritime forest. Equally important are the more than 200 species of birds that have been observed at the site. As far as other wildlife found at the reserve, view mammals including river otter, gray fox and a herd of feral horses. In addition, kayaks and paddleboards are available at Beaufort Paddle.
Situated on a beautiful barrier island bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Bogue Sound, Atlantic Beach is known for an abundance of pristine public beaches.
In fact, one of its more popular hot spots is Memories Beach Club, which is the only Shag Club on the Crystal Coast in North Carolina. The Carolina Shag is a partner dance that is performed primarily to beach music and is a popular regional dance. In fact, Memories is the best place to shake your hips and enjoy a tasty beverage.
Another great family activity on a beach vacation is flying kites on the continuous sea breeze. In fact, the best place to grab some kites is at Kites Unlimited and Bird Stuff. For more than 30 years, they have provided top quality wind-related products including kites and wind socks, flags, bird feeders, bird baths, puzzles and games for all ages and abilities.
Located on Bogue Banks near Atlantic Beach, Fort Macon State Park has more than 1.5 miles of ocean beach for hiking. While on a hike, view more than 320 species of birds. In addition, groups can also experience the thrill of watching dolphins swim in the ocean from a beach trail.
Located in the middle of Bogue Banks at its narrowest part, Salter Path offers easy access to both the beach and sound. In addition, a popular Salter Path attraction is Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf and Raceway. It features two 18-hole miniature golf courses, a mining train that will take you to the first holes, go-karts, bumper boats an arcade and kiddie rides.
The largest beach town of the Crystal Coast in North Carolina is Morehead City. This thriving coastal community offers boutique shops, enticing eateries and exciting live entertainment. It’s also home to many large events throughout the year including the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament and the North Carolina Seafood Festival.
For those seeking to enjoy deep sea fishing, sport fishing or private cruises, rent out the Carolina Princess. Charter the Carolina Princess for a full day on the open seas, reeling in the big catch, soaking up the sun or just relaxing with the gang. Or set sail on a three-hour (or more) cruise around the pristine waters of the Crystal Coast in North Carolina. Groups of up to 70 angles or 120 cruisers can charter the Carolina Princess for an expedition.
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