Kids will find a world of ways to stay entertained on the Crystal Coast, thanks to an abundance of activities along the coastal beaches, the slightly-inland towns, and everywhere in between. From mini-golf and watersports, to rainy day visits to local museums and movie theaters, here are the “must do” activities that your youngest family members will adore.
Open year round, the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is a crowd-pleasing destination where a wide array of exhibits on local marine life make education fun. Visitors will find a series of exhibit galleries that cover the North Carolina mountains, the piedmont, the tidal region, and the coastal plains, and a host of interactive activities that bring these wild worlds to life. Kids can get up-close and personal with local crabs and rays in the touch tank, can sign-up for an afternoon of fishing, crabbing or even paddle boarding, and can watch giant sea turtles and sharks cruise by in a massive saltwater tank. Expect to spend a full afternoon exploring everything the aquarium has to offer, and reserve a little time to check out the nature trails and observation platform found just outside the site.
Mini-Golf and Amusements
There are several options for kids who want to spend a post-beach afternoon practicing their mini-golf game, which are located both along the coastline and slightly inland in the town of Morehead City. Professor Hackett’s Lost Treasure Gold and Raceway is centrally located in the beach town of Salter Path, and features two 18-hole mini golf courses that wind through caves and caverns, as well as go karts, bumper boats, and an on-site arcade. Morehead City’s Golfin Dolphin also has an extensive 18-hole course complete with waterfalls and tropical foliage, as well as bumper boats, a “water wars” course, batting cages, and a snack bar. Both sites are easy to reach for Crystal Coast visitors, and stay open late (until 10:00 p.m. or later) in the summer months.
Baseball fans of all ages can root for the home team by taking in a Morehead City Marlins game. A minor league team that’s a part of the Coastal Plain League and which features a roster of top collegiate and up-and-coming players, a Marlins game is a popular summertime destination for locals and Crystal Coast visitors alike. There are dozens of home games to choose from in the summer months, and the Marlins often host “theme nights” which can include special discounts for teachers, military personnel, and even the stadium’s youngest visitors.
Visitors to the coastline will find that there are a number of opportunities to try out a new watersport or two, thanks to a dozens of equipment rental companies, surf shops, and beach supply stores. Stop by a beach shop like Wings to pick up an inexpensive skim board or body board for the week, or head to a local watersports equipment provider, like AB Watersports in Atlantic Beach, to try something new like surfing, paddleboarding, or kayaking. Several companies, like Kitty Hawk Kites, also offer guided eco-tours of the regions, while local museums or attractions, like the North Carolina aquarium, may also offer seasonal paddle boarding or kayaking tours and lessons. Accessible to visitors of all skill sets and ages, a watersports lesson is a great way to learn something new while having fun in the sun.
Take a Cruise
A number of cruise ships depart from the small town of Beaufort, which features a wide waterfront and several dozen tour boats or ferry services in the heart of the Downtown area. Kids will adore a dolphin watching cruise or area exploration provided by established local businesses like the Crystal Coast Lady, and can even embark on a swashbuckling adventure through a pirate-themed cruise like the ones offered by Beaufort’s Pirates Revenge – (a cool option that has costumed pirates, water cannons, and even face painting.) Visitors who want to join in the fun can reserve a cruise in advance, or can even just take a stroll along the waterfront in Beaufort to see what adventures are in store.
Cape Lookout or Shackleford Banks Beach Trips
Kids will love a wild exploration on the Shackleford Banks or the Cape Lookout National Seashore – two remote barrier island destinations that are only accessible by a private vessel, a ferry, or a water taxi. Ferries regularly depart from both the town of Beaufort and the small community of Harkers Island, and via a quick 20-45 minute boat ride, kids can encounter a wealth of great shelling, great fishing, and even glimpses of the famed wild horses that live on these isolated shorelines.
Unravel the rich history of the Crystal Coast at this fascinating museum that will be a fun outing for kids and adults alike. Kids will especially love the detailed exhibits on local pirates, including the famed Blackbeard the Pirate and his notorious ship that was found in the Crystal Coast area, the Queen Anne’s Revenge. With a cool display of seashells from 100 different countries, exhibits on the local lifesaving stations, and displays on the region’s role in American wars and conflicts, no stone has been left unturned on this detailed exploration of local history. The museum may also offer seasonal programs designed just for kids, which can include boat building and other crafts, and which are regularly announced online.
Fort Macon State Park is a unique site that once was a major point of conflict during the Civil War, where it changed hands between Union and Confederate forces several times. Today, the expansive brick and earth site can be explored by visitors, and families will also want to linger to check out the adjacent beach with lots of room to roam. Civil War buffs of all ages will also want to check to see if a Civil War Reenactment or cannon firing coincides with their stay – a unique event that will impress visitors with costumed soldiers and live, loud cannon fire.
Kids can learn all about how Beaufort’s earliest residents lived in this village-within-a-village that features a collection of 10 historic buildings, including a jail, a courthouse, an apothecary, and a doctor’s office. Guided walking tours are available throughout the year, and visitors can even take a town-wide exploration onboard a 1948 English Double Decker bus.
Shopping for Sweets
One of the most appealing aspects of the Crystal Coast for kids is the abundance of ice cream shops, candy shops, and fudge stores located throughout the coastline. Visitors will find ample ice cream shops along the beaches, (as well as pizza restaurants, hamburger joints, and other crave-worthy beach fare kids love.) The town of Beaufort is also an especially great place to satisfy a sweet tooth, as the downtown is home to several ice cream stores, fudge vendors, and an old fashioned “General Store” that has all of the above, in addition to a wide array of sweets.
From satisfying a beachy craving to discovering a new watersport or historic destination, there’s certainly a wealth of activities that are sure to keep young vacationers smiling. Check out local events calendars, and make a plan to uncover all the amazing Crystal Coast activities that are designed with kids in mind.