The Cape Lookout National Seashore is a 56-mile long stretch of the Southern Outer Banks barrier island terrain that runs from Ocracoke Inlet to the northeast side of Beaufort Inlet. Comprised of three separate islands – the North Core Banks, the South Core Banks, and the Shackleford Banks – this wonderfully remote destination can only be accessed by a personal vessel, or a privately operated ferry or water taxi. As a result, it’s world-renowned for its miles of undeveloped and scenic beaches, its remarkable fishing, its exceptional shelling, and its abundant wildlife that thrives in the undisturbed and inherently wild environment.
With brilliant waterfront vistas, a collection of shops and restaurants, and enticing attractions, it can be hard to figure out what to discover first when vacationing in scenic Beaufort, NC. A small town with a lot of coastal charm, this waterfront destination is surprisingly packed with things to do that will appeal to visitors of all tastes, and all interests.
The Rachel Carson Reserve is a stunning stretch of barely-barrier island shoreline that’s found just off the coast of historic Downtown Beaufort. Covering 2,205 acres, this collection of three islands that are found along Taylor’s Creek at the mouth of the Newport River can be easily and scenically admired from veritably any waterfront vantage point from the heart of town, and are a stunning and undeveloped addition to the vast wildlife scene of the Crystal Coast.
One of the most sought-after attractions of the Shackleford Banks are the famed wild horses that call this deserted barrier island terrain home – the Shackleford Banks Wild Horses. Local residents for hundreds of years, these feral horses may be shy and only make occasional appearances when humans are around, but they are nonetheless one of the most unique and popular aspects of the 56-mile long Cape Lookout National Seashore. Every beach visitor hopes for an opportunity to spot one of these feral horses in their natural environment, and often, a chance to see one of these famed island residents is just a short water taxi or ferry ride away.
The Morehead City waterfront and downtown area go together hand in hand, in fact, with a number of marinas and docking spaces available for travelers who are arriving by boat. Several marinas, including the Morehead City Yacht Basin, the Portside Marina, and the Spooners Creek Marina, call this section of the Inner Banks home, and the town of Morehead City even has its own public docking facilities, newly completed, with deep water slips that are close to Arendell Street, one of the major streets that runs along Morehead City in the heart of the downtown region.
The coastal town of Beaufort has quickly become one of the most popular vacation destinations for Inner Banks travelers and boating enthusiasts of all varieties, and for good reason. The small 2.7 mile town, (surrounded by nearly a mile of water), is a vacationer and maritime lover's dream, with a hearty downtown scene lined with shops, galleries, and acclaimed restaurants, in addition to dozens of maritime supply stores.
From the isolated Cape Lookout National Seashore to the beach towns in the busy southern Crystal Coast region, every community has its own set of guidelines when it comes to enjoying the sunny local shorelines. So before you head to the seashore, be sure and brush up on the local rules, regulations, and safety tips that will ensure you have a great vacation from start to finish. With so many miles to explore, and accompanying regulations that can change from region to region, a little education can go a long way in enjoying the beaches to the fullest.
Atlantic Beach, arguably one of the most visited beach towns along the Crystal Coast, is a longstanding favorite destination for coastal fun in the sun. A perfect little representation of the North Carolina beach scene, this oceanfront town is an easy locale for a day-trip, a long weekend, of a full week's vacation, with loads of amenities, entertainment, and of course, those famous Emerald Isle beaches.
Glenburnie Park is a scenic public park that’s located just northeast of the heart of Downtown New Bern. Tucked along the Neuse River in a primarily residential section of town, the park is a popular destination for visitors and locals alike who want to enjoy a wild and natural day by the water.
Creekside Park is the largest park in the town of New Bern, and it’s situated close to the local airport, just off of US Highway 70. The park extends for 11 acres and since opening in 1997, is one of the most popular destinations for a myriad of both youth and adult sporting events.
Visitors who head to the Crystal Coast for the first time can be inundated and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things to do, and can often wonder “Where to start first?” From historical sites to miles of beaches, there’s no shortage of ways to have fun, and newcomers can expect to enjoy a vacation that’s stuffed with all manner of coastal activities.
The Crystal Coast Civic Center serves a variety of needs for coastal North Carolina's visitors and residents. As a popular venue for private conventions, weddings and events, as well as a public "meeting space" for local concerts and shows, the Civic Center, located along the waterfront in Morehead City, is instrumental in bringing this small coastal community together.
The Jarvis Mansion is a small and hard-to-find bed and breakfast located along a quiet portion of New Bern's main Pollock Street, just a block or so away from the scenic waterfront. The historic two-story white home, built around the turn of the 20th century, is part of a series of historic residences that line this street, many of which are converted B&Bs and other lodgings for visitors with a love of historic, romantic, and all-together relaxing accommodations.
Latham Whitehurst Nature Park is one of the newest parks in Craven County, and was first opened to visitors and locals alike in 2011. Located in a quiet eastern section of the town of New Bern, the park is a popular destination for wildlife fans of all varieties, including hikers, kayakers, birdwatchers, fishermen, and everyone in between.
Downtown Swansboro certainly brings the town's mantra as the "Friendly City by the Sea" to life. Home to a number of acclaimed art galleries, restaurants, shops, and fun events for locals and visitors alike during virtually any time of year, a visit to the community's busiest section of town is sure to be a highlight of any Eastern North Carolina vacation.
Nothing beats an ice-cold beverage while relaxing on the beach. Nothing is worse than reaching for an icy drink and finding your cans swimming. Coolers are essential for family days on the sand. A good modern cooler will keep food and drinks fresh for days. In addition to beverages, fishermen rely coolers to keep bait fresh, and hopefully the catch of the day. Walk onto any beach or pier in North or South Carolina and you’ll see a plethora of cooler models and sizes. Cooler technology has advanced rapidly in modern years. Top-end hard-sided coolers can keep ice frozen for a week. Soft coolers are easier for one person to carry onto a beach, but can still keep food cool for days. Cooler materials and price points vary wildly, so we put together this guide with our recommendations for your coastal vacation.
The Carolina Creations gallery is a downtown New Bern legend, and an instrumental contribution to the town's thriving art scene. Founded in 1989 by owners and artists Janet & Michael Francoeur, the gallery features their personalized "Celebration Pottery" works in addition to thousands of inspired and unexpected pieces, contributed by artists from around the state.
Visitors who are heading to the Crystal Coast will find a scattering of hotels and motels throughout the shoreline and inland communities, but will soon discover that the primary type of accommodations available are vacation rentals. Located all along the Crystal Coast beaches from Atlantic Beach to the town of Emerald Isle, a vacation rental is the generally preferred accommodations option for vacationers thanks to ample space, exceptional locales close to the water, and plenty of homes and condos to choose from.
Visitors to the central Crystal Coast region who want to embark on a wild island adventure without venturing too far away from the mainland can enjoy a relatively easy trek with a visit to Sugarloaf Island. Veritably hidden in plain sight, this unique little island is located just a shell’s throw away from Morehead City, and yet feels like it’s worlds away from the busy downtown area.
The waterfront Cahooque Creek Recreation Site, located at the very corner where the Hancock and Cahoogue rivers meet up with the expansive Neuse River, is a water and boat lover's dream destination. With easy access to all three of these rivers, in addition to the Pamlico Sound and the Atlantic Ocean just miles away, vessels of all varieties, from kayaks to skiffs, will find ample watery terrain to explore.
The Crystal Coast shoreline has no shortage of notable attractions. From famed wildlife reserves to top-rated museums, the centuries of history and maritime culture truly come to life in this incredible waterfront destination. Visitors who want to make the most out of their vacation, and ensure that they see all the top sites that the Crystal Coast has to offer, will want to start their upcoming adventure by making sure these acclaimed destinations and attractions are at the top of their vacation bucket list.
Located on the edge of North Carolina and serving as a midway point between the Outer Banks and the Crystal Coast, Cedar Island is a relatively undiscovered gem that feels miles away from the rest of the world. Close to historic and natural attractions, miles of barrier island shoreline, and the state-run ferry to Ocracoke Island, a Cedar Island vacation can be as relaxed or adventurous as a family wants, with ample opportunities to explore costal North Carolina’s great outdoors.
Resembling a cross between a train depot and a mariner's port, The History Place is certainly an excellent first stop for anyone who wants to learn a little more about the fascinating inland and barrier island history that is found in abundance along the Crystal Coast.
Considering that the Crystal Coast has centuries of history as well as one of the most unique environments along the North Carolina coastline, it should come as no surprise that the region is home to an array of fascinating and thoroughly engaging museums. For a fun and educational rainy day activity, (or just a little excuse to get out of the sun), be sure you check out these “must see” museums that are found throughout the Crystal Coast.
Crystal Coast visitors who want an easy-going day on the seashore can head to one of the most convenient public beach accesses in the region, the Circle at Atlantic Beach. Known as the main “Town Beach” and located in the heart of the busy Atlantic Beach community, The Circle offers a myriad of ways to stay entertained, both on and off the sand.
The Crystal Coast Tourism Authority has been instrumental in introducing newcomers to this picturesque stretch of barrier island beaches and barely-inland maritime communities, and serves as an essential tool for visitors to discover this remote but accommodating coastal region.
Casa San Carlo is a traditional Italian cuisine venue, serving the best dishes and drinks from authentic Italian recipes. Located in Morehead City, and a short drive from both Beaufort and Atlantic Beach. Come enjoy an a uthentic Italian meal in the ambience of an Italian bistro. Since 1992 Chef Carlo is proud to be serving fine Italian dishes for more than 25 years!Our universally comforatable atmosphere welcomes everyone inside to enjoy an authentic Italian meal. Family owned and operated owner Chef Carlo Cappiello sees that every patron leaves the restaurant, both full and happy.
The Crystal Coast is best explored from the water, and Morehead City Ferry Service will take explorers to some of the most remote and beautiful corners of this long stretch of Southern Outer Banks shoreline. Launching from the heart of Downtown Morehead City along Evans Street, patrons who utilize Morehead City Ferry Service for a cruise or a taxi ride to the outlying barrier islands will be treated to full afternoons of sun and fun along the pristine sand.
Vacationers who want to experience a slice of authentic “Down East” culture will want to visit picturesque Harker’s Island. Located just east of the town of Beaufort and the Crystal Coast beaches, this small coastal community has retained its small-town charm throughout the centuries, and is a popular destination for fishermen, mariners, and anyone who appreciates a slower pace of life.
Island Express Ferry Service LLC is the only authorized concessionaire to drop off at Cape Lookout Lighthouse and Shackleford Banks! Offering departures from both Beaufort and nearby Harkers Island, Island Express Ferry Service serves as the link between the communities of the Crystal Coast and the spectacularly beautiful and isolated barrier islands of the Cape Lookout National Seashore. Accommodating passengers who want to explore the miles of pristine beaches, exceptional fishing and shelling, wild horses, and the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, Island Express Ferry Service serves as the gateway for one of the most unforgettable adventures along the North Carolina coast.
Take a quick and scenic ferry ride with your experienced guide over to the pristine Outer Banks Island of Shackleford Banks, which is part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore. There, you are introduced to the wild horses of Shackleford Banks. After the tour, you are directed to one of the best shelling beaches in all of North Carolina, where you can spend some time shelling your way down the beach with Cape Lookout Lighthouse off in the distance. Shackleford is well known as one of the best shelling destinations on the East Coast.
Dive into an exploration of some of the Southern Outer Banks’ most remote shorelines with an excursion that’s led by Island Ferry Adventures. Featuring both transport to the outlying islands as well as guided tours of some of the region’s most wild spots, this tour company has a lot to offer for shell seekers, nature buffs, and everyday adventurers alike.
Set sail for a wild adventure that will thrill kids of all ages with an array of cruises and tours offered by Beaufort Pirates Revenge. Docked in the heart of waterfront Beaufort, and unmistakable for its towering pirate ship that haunts the harbor, this distinctive boat tour company is unique for its rare combination of local history, adventure, incredible waterfront excursions, and kid-friendly atmosphere where everyone can be a world famous swashbuckler.
From delicate coastal treasures to pirate-themed gifts that will delight the youngest members in the family, the Shack Shoppe is an all-encompassing destination for a wealth of coastal goodies. Situated in the heart of downtown Beaufort, and representing a great collection of all-things coastal, this unique little store is a great spot for gifts and assorted treasures that are perfectly suited for life by the water.
Miss Crystal Coast Cruises is a cutome-made 49 passenger catamaran that can effortlessly provide a number of family-friendly expeditions to vacationers who want to enjoy this delicate chain of barrier islands and coastal territory to its fullest. Based out of Beaufort, the Miss Crystal Coast is specifically built for the purpose of sightseeing and dolphin watching. Visitors can enjoy exploring the beautiful downtown beaufort are, plus unbeatable perspectives of the region’s vast array of wildlife, shorelines, and on-the-water views. The Miss Crystal Coast is equipped with a restroom onboard.
Visitors of all ages will have a blast at this destination that is designed for great times along the Crystal Coast shoreline. Professor Hacker's Lost Treasure Golf and Raceway is situated in the centrally located beach community of Salter Path, and is a favorite spot for families who want to have a little fun off the sand.
Kitty Hawk Kites has remodeled and opened its new doors directly on the Beaufort waterfront. This shop offers the leading selection of kites, wind art, toys, t-shirts and apparel, Hobie kayaks, and more. In addition, stop by and make your reservation for one of our new Beaufort adventures:
Featuring two locations along the Crystal Coast, and serving the region for nearly 50 years, J R Dunn Jewelers is a time-tested resource for a wealth of special occasions, gifts, and “just because” treasures for vacationers and Carteret County locals alike. With a fine selection of everything from men’s timepieces to wedding and engagement rings, shoppers can find just the delicate piece of jewelry they are looking for with a visit to this exquisite and elegant shop.
Located on the southern end of Emerald Isle, and easy to reach for visitors staying throughout the Crystal Coast, Mac Daddy’s is the destination of choice for countless fun-seeking vacationers of all ages who want a big dose of entertainment off the sand. Featuring a bowling alley, sports bar, arcade, and a sister miniature golf course – (the Golfin’ Dolphin) - visitors can expect plenty of good times when they make an outing to this all-around fun amusement center.
Discover a treasure or two to serve as a timeless reminder of your getaway to the Crystal Coast with a visit to one of the most unique jewelry stores in the Carteret County region, J Chalk Designs. Specializing in fine pieces that are truly one of a kind, this unique jewelry destination features a glittering assortment of pieces that will thrill and delight shoppers of all tastes.