No vacationer looks forward to a rainy day while trying to soak up the sun along the Crystal Coast, but the fact is that some of the region’s favorite and most treasured destinations are found off the sand, and a rainy day serves as the perfect excuse to get off the beach, and start exploring.

Not sure where to start when the clouds start to trickle in? Then consider paying a visit to these top attractions where the unique exhibits, activities, and overall fun are arguably just as enticing as the sunniest day on the beach.

NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort

NC Maritime Museum

The North Carolina Maritime Museum is one of the Top 10 attractions on the Crystal Coast, and for good reason. The ship-worthy structures that’s located in the heart of Downtown Beaufort is home to a treasure trove of exhibits that shine a spotlight on the area’s ties with piracy, the Civil War, the art of boat building, and the region’s centuries-old maritime culture. Use a rainy day as an excuse to check out the artifacts from Blackbeard the Pirate’s favorite ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, or linger in the seashell room where hundreds of different species can be admired up close and personal. The museum also hosts a long roster of programs geared towards adults and kids alike, so a day of exploring can easily turn into a fun outing or activity that everyone will enjoy and remember.

NC Aquarium Pine Knoll Shores touch tank

NC Aquarium Pine Knoll Shores Jellyfish

North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores

The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores seamlessly combines education and entertainment through an array of exhibits that take visitors through the creeks and streams of mainland North Carolina to the endlessly deep waters of the Gulf Stream. Home to 50 exhibits and more than 4,000 different species, kids will love touring the displays, getting their hands dirty (or at least wet) in the touch tank, talking with local divers, and seeing incredible sights along the way like massive sea turtles and sharks in a towering saltwater tank. A number of kid-friendly programs are held at the aquarium all year long, which makes it an easy feat to turn a quick visit into a full morning or afternoon adventure.

Core Sound Waterfowl Museum

Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center

The “Down East” region is famed for its rich culture that’s centered on boat building, commercial fishing, and decoy carving, and visitors can learn all about these roots, present-day traditions, and much more with a visit to the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center. Filled with memorabilia and artifacts from Harkers Island and the Crystal Coasts’ centuries of distinction as a coastal village, visitors will be able to watch live demonstrations, tour interactive displays, and learn all about this fascinating and little-known chapter of local history. When you’re done touring the museum, reserve a little time to explore the rest of Harkers Island, where a collection of cool seafood restaurants and charming gift shops can be found.

The New Bern Fireman Museum

Day Trips

Some of the prettiest aspects of the Crystal Coast are best viewed from the comfort of a vehicle, and a short road trip can uncover some of the most scenic areas of Carteret County. Start with the entrance to NC Highway 12, which is located just northeast of Beaufort, to embark on an exploration of the southern portion of the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway. This route which winds through Harkers Island, the heart of Cedar Island, and extends all the way to the ferry docks, crosses miles of salt marshes, open sound views, and stunning wild landscapes where it’s easy to admire the local wildlife while still staying nice and dry. Birdwatchers will especially want to bring along a camera, as the undeveloped regions of the Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge are prime stomping grounds for water birds and an array of species that utilize this portion of the Atlantic Flyway.

Gallery Browsing

A landscape as stunning as the Crystal Coast naturally attracts artists and creative minds, and the area is home to several dozen local galleries that highlight these distinctive works. Peruse the local gallery scene in Downtown Beaufort and / or Downtown Morehead City to admire a wide range of mediums, including paintings, photos, sculptures, jewelry, and mixed media works, or check out local gallery calendars for special kids art classes or “wine and paint” events. Because celebrating the local art scene is a hands-on experience, many galleries offer fun ways for visitors and locals alike to get involved, and create their own one-of-a-kind artworks that celebrate the Crystal Coast lifestyle.

A movie theater in Atlantic Beach, NC


There are a number of movie theatres found throughout the Crystal Coast, which makes a rainy day the perfect excuse to catch a summer blockbuster, or just hunker down for a family friendly matinée. The Atlantic Station Cinema in Atlantic Beach and the Emerald Plantation Cinema in Emerald Isle are both ideal destinations for beach-goers to take in a movie without ever leaving the island, while additional movie theatres and other indoor-entertainment complexes, (including a skating rink and a bowling alley), can be found slightly inland in Morehead City and Beaufort.

Kitty Hawk Kites in downtown Beaufort NC


A rainy day can serve as the perfect excuse to spend some of those excess vacation funds on a day of shopping, and virtually every area of the Crystal Coast has a collection of shops to choose from that can cater to treasure hunters of all tastes. Beach fans will want to check out the beach shops and plazas of Atlantic Beach and Emerald Isle, where coastal boutiques, surf shops, and other necessities can all be found. Bargain hunters and antique fans will have a fine time exploring the stores along Arendell Street in the heart of downtown Morehead City, while visitors who prefer name brands can head just a little further west to encounter Morehead City’s collection of strip malls and shopping plazas. For a little bit of everything unique and extraordinary, take a trip to Beaufort, where the downtown area is lined with souvenir shops, general stores, maritime boutiques, and eclectic art galleries. From thrift store gems to high end nautical apparel, every shopping whim can be catered to on the Crystal Coast.

Dinner and drinks in New Bern NC


The dining scene on the Crystal Coast is famed for its diversity and flavor, and a rainy day or evening is the perfect time to reserve a table and chow down. From exquisite fine dining establishments with waterfront views in Beaufort, Morehead City, or even Atlantic Beach, to causal eateries where fresh seafood and North Carolina BBQ steal the scene, every taste can be catered to in this delicious section of the North Carolina Coastline. For sheer variety, head to Morehead City where dozens of chain restaurants and famed restaurants can be found. Beaufort also has a coveted dining scene with many eateries along Front Street offering waterfront vistas, while the beachfront towns of Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach have plenty of seafood-focused options, as well as “easy” eats like pizza, burgers, and beach-friendly fare. Essentially, no matter what you are craving, the Crystal Coast delivers with dozens of restaurants that can satisfy the heartiest appetites, as well as the most refined palettes

Happy Hour

Craft brews and local wines are both gaining steam in North Carolina, and visitors can take advantage of this newfound art form by visiting one of the local wine shops, breweries, pubs, or restaurants that are dotted all along the Crystal Coast landscape. Morehead City is home to its own local brewery, Tight Lines Pub, as well as a local winery, Somerset Cellars – both of which are conveniently found just off of Morehead City’s “main drag,” Arendell Street. With lots of local flavor at distinguished beer pubs and nightlife venues all across the region, (not to mention live afternoon or evening entertainment), visitors can easily enjoy a happy hour Crystal Coast-style while drinking up the local culture.

A rainy day is actually a great excuse to get out and start exploring, so never let the weather get you down. With a host of activities that range from kid-friendly excursions to awesome football-watching destinations, visitors will soon discover that the Crystal Coast is overflowing with ways to have fun – both inside and out.

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