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.
Though Atlantic Beach is easily the busiest community along the Emerald Isle shoreline, it's also one of its most family-friendly, and newcomers will have no trouble finding a world of things to do both on and off the sand.
The town's reputation as a premier beach resort town has deep roots, and Atlantic Beach is, in fact, the oldest community among the five towns that make up the Bogue Banks. Arguably, development first began in this region with the construction of a fort along the eastern borders of Beaufort Inlet - a site which would later become the permanent home of Fort Macon - but it wasn't until the late 1800s that a colorful Carteret County local devised an intricate plan to make Atlantic Beach a true vacation destination.
The aforementioned developer, Appleton Oaksmith, first visualized a beachside resort community in the 1870s, acquiring a long stretch of oceanfront property that today stretches from Atlantic Beach all the way to Pine Knoll Shores. Oaksmith, however, would not be able to complete his long-term goal, as in 1879, he tragically lost his four daughters in an accident, and lost the will to complete the new development project.
Two other locals, John J. Royal of Morehead City and Winfield S. Chadwick of Beaufort, picked up where Oaksmith had left off, and in 1887, built the very first bathing pavilion on Bogue Banks - (which, essentially, is the historic equivalent of a makeshift beach resort.) The pavilion was a resounding success, and in 1898, the two developers split the area, and began constructing hotels and bath houses in each distinct region. After Royal's death in 1909, the eastern development passed through a number of hands, and a hotel was eventually built in the now-Atlantic Beach region.
In 1930, development soared with the addition of two new bathhouses, a dance hall named the Casino, and several Oceanside drink stands, and in the following year, the Atlantic Beach Hotel was constructed. During this era of blossoming popularity, surrounding lots were also divided into "blocks," as the future sites of beach cottages, and the town's popularity grew and grew among visitors from all along the East Coast. By the time the Oceanana Fishing Pier and Resort was constructed in 1959, Atlantic Beach was rapidly forming a reputation as a fantastic beach resort destination.
Today, the town remains fairly small at just 2.4 square miles in area, with a year-round population of 1,800 or so, but feels like a bustling resort community during the height of the summer season. Atlantic Beach is arguably the easiest beach town to get to from the mainland, via a long bridge that stretches across the Bogue Sound and connects the barrier island with neighboring Morehead City, and as a result, is a popular destination for local and visiting day-trippers alike.
There's plenty of parking to be found throughout the seashore, both next to the town's center along Atlantic Boulevard, and on the outskirts of the town in the quieter Fort Macon State Park. The Picnic Park beach access, also known as "The Bathhouse," is a prime locale for visiting beach-goers with more than 300 parking spaces, and plenty of shoreline to go around.
As for entertainment off the beach, visitors can head to the Fort Macon Historic Site, the Oceanana Fishing Pier for incredible angling and fantastic views, or take advantage of a number of on-the-water activities which range from charter fishing to parasailing tours of the area. The Hoop Creek Nature Trail is a quiet but scenic exploration of the soundside regions of this generally hopping beach town, and kayakers and boaters alike will be in paradise with easy access to watery soundside channels, (perfect for bird watching), as well as the wide open waters of the Atlantic Ocean via neighboring Bogue Inlet.
On a rainy afternoon, shopping and dining rules the day, as Atlantic Beach has the largest concentration of shops and restaurants along the Bogue Banks. For shopping fans, the area features several large chain beach stores, a few surf shops, strip malls with boutiques and outlets, and plenty of gift shops, ensuring that visitors can load up on beach supplies and plenty of souvenirs to take back home.
The dining scene is also varied and distinct, with more than 30 eateries that range from classic ice cream shops and historic diners to upscale waterfront bistros and grills. Fresh seafood is abundant in this region, and almost always makes the local "Daily Specials" lists, while specialty cuisine, like excellent Mexican fare or sushi, can be found along the beach as well.
Atlantic Beach really heats up after hours, with a range of restaurants and bars that stay open well into the night and early morning hours. In fact, many local bars stay open until 1:00 a.m. or even 2:00 a.m., which is the latest a bar can stay open in the state of North Carolina. Featuring live music, shag dancing, karaoke, and DJs, night owls will find no shortage of bars and clubs to explore in the heart of the town. (Although visitors will want to be sure and call a local cab to return to their beach rental or local motel after a long night out.)
The accommodations are also varied and plentiful, and range from classic locally owned beach motels to full-scale resorts, as well as everything in between. There may not be many chain hotels in Atlantic Beach, (in fact there's only one), but the local motels, hotels and sprawling resorts with community pools and private beach accesses more than fit the bill for a colorful, coastal stay. Several major property management companies also offer vacation rental homes and villas for extended, week-long stays, and these properties are mini-oasises with full kitchens, dining areas, multiple master bedrooms, and added amenities such as game rooms or even private pools. Essentially, virtually every form of accommodations can be found in this town, from quaint little motels to expansive oceanfront homes, and while the summer books up quickly, and advanced recommendations are always recommended, visitors will find no shortage of options when it comes to places to stay.
Essentially, whether a Crystal Coast visitor is searching for a fun beachside day trip, or a full-scale vacation destination, Atlantic Beach is a solid choice for oceanfront entertainment in virtually all its forms. With gorgeous beaches that go hand-in-hand with a decidedly resort town vibe, it's no wonder that this community has been known as the go-to locale for a fully fun beach vacation for generations.
Visitors are encouraged to make a trip across the Bogue Sound bridge to see what all the fuss is about, and experience the change in pace and atmosphere for themselves. A fun loving community that can accommodate a wide range of vacationing tastes, from lazy beach days to exciting nights on the town, Atlantic Beach has earned its reputation as one of the Crystal Coast's most loved and most visited vacation destinations.