Considering that the small town of Beaufort is more than 300 years old, and the adjacent communities are famous as historic vacation destinations, port towns, pirate haunts, Civil War battlefields, or all of the above, it’s no wonder that the Crystal Coast is brimming with educational activities.

From unique ecosystems to ancient shipwrecks, there’s a lot to discover along the Crystal Coast. Start your adventure by checking out these educational activities and destinations that will make learning about the local scene a fascinating aspect of any vacation.

A display at Fort Macon

Fort Macon State Park

Located just west of the hopping town of Atlantic Beach, Fort Macon State Park is the oldest state park in North Carolina, and is home to a historic fort that was built in 1834, just decades before the start of the Civil War. A focal point for Confederate and Union troops alike throughout the war, the present-day site is relatively intact and is open for exploration. Visitors can tour the stone fortress which includes a collection of narrow and arched passageways, storage rooms, and even lines of cannons guarding the oceanside barrier. The site hosts regular educational programs throughout the summer season including special tours, Civil War reenactments, and even “cannon firings” that create sound waves throughout the park.

A display at the Beaufort Historic Site

Beaufort Historic Site

The town of Beaufort is distinguished as the third oldest town in North Carolina, and at the Beaufort Historic Site, visitors can soak up an atmosphere of centuries gone by via a tour of 10 historic buildings and homes that are located in the heart of the downtown region. The sites include an authentic doctor’s office and apothecary shop, the 1732 Russell House, (the current home of the the Mattie King Art Gallery), the 1778 Leffers Cottage, the original 1796 Carteret County Courthouse, and the local 1829 jail. From an on-site herb garden with authentic plantings that the local apothecary might have had on hand, to historic residences that are brimming with Colonial artifacts, the local history comes alive in this small village that’s ripe for exploration.

NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort NC

North Carolina Maritime Museum at Beaufort

The North Carolina Maritime Museum at Beaufort is one of three state-run Maritime Museums along the NC Coastline, and is arguably one of the most popular due to its connection with Blackbeard the Pirate and his ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge. The notorious ship was recovered close to the Crystal Coast region, and artifacts from this ground-breaking discovery are housed within the museum alongside exhibits on the original lifesaving stations, the Civil War, the first wave of boat builders, and the local eco-systems. The museum is also famed for its extensive collection of more than 5,000 seashells that hail from approximately 100 countries around the world. In addition to the regular displays, the museum also hosts regular talks and programs on unique elements of the local culture, and also orchestrates a regular “Build a Boat in a Day” class that’s a fascinating tutorial on the art of boat building.

The History Place in Morehead City

The History Place

Morehead City visitors who want to learn more about the region’s ties to North Carolina’s earliest developments can head to The History Place, a fascinating museum that’s housed within an old train depot along Arendell Street. The museum is home to a wealth of artifacts that span the centuries - from the area’s indigenous Native Americans to the town’s significance in the Civil War - which are divided up into specific and wonderfully detailed “Historical Rooms.” From the fashions that were popular among the Crystal Coast’s earliest visitors to the famed Civil War heroes that called the Crystal Coast home, there’s a wealth of information at this site that’s shared via first-hand accounts, books, photographs, maps, and other rare and fascinating memorabilia.

Old Burying Ground in Beaufort NC

Old Burying Grounds

Beaufort is also home to one of the oldest cemeteries in the state, which is known simply as the “Old Burying Grounds.” Located in the heart of the downtown area, and protected by centuries-old live oaks, this cemetery is home to dozens of ancient grave stones that date back hundreds of years, and which mark the final resting place of soldiers, historical figures, and legendary local residents. Tours are regularly available of the site through several local tour companies, which shed light on the stories behind the poignantly inscribed and fascinating gravestones.

Core Sound Waterfowl Museum

Core Sound Waterfowl Museum

Visitors to the small but enchanting town of Harkers Island can learn all about the region’s deep ties with hunting and decoy creation with a visit to the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum. Opened in 2009 as a tribute to the region’s rich maritime heritage, the museum has a host of authentic decoys that span the decades if not centuries, as well as regular live demonstrations by seasoned local decoy carvers who craft a perfect duck out of a block of wood. Regular tours, programs and seasonal exhibits are available throughout the year, which can include everything from local nature walks to expeditions to the outlying Cape Lookout National Seashore.

NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores

North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores

Visitors of all ages will adore exploring the more than 3,000 specimens that are found within the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. Featuring an array of exhibits that include spotlights on all the local ecosystems within the state - from the mountains to the ocean waters - this site is the largest saltwater aquarium in North Carolina, and is a fascinating destination that’s open all-year round. Highlights of the aquarium include the “Living Shipwreck” exhibit which boasts a replica of a German U-352 submarine as well as Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge, an always active river otter display, an eerie jellyfish gallery, a sport fishing gallery, a touch tank with live sting rays, and the aquarium’s famous albino sea turtle resident named Nimbus.

Roosevelt Natural Area

Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area

The Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area is located adjacent to the North Carolina Aquarium and is home to 265 acres of maritime forest which is ripe for exploring and discovering the varying ecosystems and habitats of the Crystal Coast. Home to two nature trails extending for a mile and 1.2 miles respectively, visitors can enjoy an in-depth look into a myriad of diverse coastal landscapes, including maritime forest, maritime shrub, brackish marsh, forested dunes, and salt marsh, with a single exploration. Hundreds of different species of vegetation, birds, mammals, reptiles, and marine life make their home here, which makes it a popular bird watching or nature watching destination any time of year.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse

Cape Lookout Lighthouse

The Cape Lookout Lighthouse was completed in 1859, and is one of the most distinctive of the Outer Banks lighthouses due to its diamond black and white pattern. Standing 163’ tall, the lighthouse has been converted into an isolated attraction within the Cape Lookout National Seashore, and can be visited via a ferry ride or water taxi from Beaufort, Harkers Island, or one of the small coastal towns in Cedar Island. The lighthouse is seasonally open for climbers for a small fee, and an on-site Visitors Center and former lighthouse keeper’s quarters has a wealth of information on the structure itself, as well as the surrounding and unique Cape Lookout National Seashore.

Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve

Rachel Carson Coastal Estuarine Reserve

Rachel Carson National Estuarine Research Reserve is located just across Taylors Creek from the waterfront docks of Downtown Beaufort, and is comprised of five undeveloped islands that are home to a diverse collection of habitats and species. The reserve is arguably best known for its population of feral horses, known as “Banker Ponies,” who are thought to be the descendants of Spanish shipwrecks from more than 400 years ago. There are several rustic nature trails that wind through the reserve, and the region can be reached via a water taxis or tour boat that departs from the docks of Downtown Beaufort.

Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve

Downtown Beaufort

From the unique city block plan that was implemented hundreds of years ago to the restaurants and brick buildings that have been standing a century or much longer, a Downtown Beaufort exploration is a history lesson all its own. Swing by Clawson's 1905 Restaurant & Pub – a historic eatery that rose to fame as a turn-of-the-century bakery – or the authentic General Store that was originally deeded in 1732, and which still has the aesthetic of a classic coastal shop. From ancient homes that have been converted to B&Bs to a bevy of local museums like the Beaufort Historic Site and the North Carolina Maritime Museum at Beaufort, the town of Beaufort is certainly overflowing with local history.

Tryon Palace

Tryon Palace

Take a trip slightly inland to the town of New Bern for an opportunity to discover one of the most pristine and historic Governor’s Mansions in the state. Tryon Palace is comprised of 16 acres of historic structures, neighboring homes, and gardens, and is manned by a collection of costumed interpreters who explain the area’s significance in depth. Well-known as the first governor’s residence in the newly formed state of North Carolina, this destination features a fascinating collection of perfectly preserved 18th century structures where history comes alive. New Bern is located roughly an hour away for most Crystal Coast visitors, and is worth a day trip for the famed Tryon Palace, as well as its historic downtown and significance as the Birthplace of Pepsi Cola.

Croatan National Forest

Croatan National Forest

Head inland to the small towns of Newport and New Bern for an opportunity to explore one of the largest forests in the state – the Croatan National Forest. Extending for more than 160,000 acres and bordered by the Neuse River, Bogue Sound, and the White Oak River, the ensuing landscape is a dream for nature fans, thanks to a vast collection of pine forests, estuaries, bogs, and slightly salty swamps. There are a number of paddling trails located throughout the site, as well as ample nature trails and bird watching opportunities. Visitors Centers are located in New Bern and Newport, and entry points to explore the woods are well-marked along Highway 24, which runs parallel to the Emerald Isle shoreline.

From natural excursions through coastal habitats to detailed tours of living history, the Crystal Coast is overflowing with educational activities. Always fascinating, the unique culture of this southern Outer Banks region effortlessly combines learning and entertainment for visitors of all ages, and all interests.

 

Kitty Hawk Kites Beaufort

Kitty Hawk Kites Beaufort

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:

Crystal Coast Camping

Crystal Coast Camping

The Crystal Coast is a dream destination for campers, road warriors, and anyone who appreciates the great outdoors. Comprising of miles of desolate beaches, hopping waterfront communities, and everything in between, campers will soon discover that their getaway can be as laid-back or as action packed as they desire, with a myriad of camping options to choose from.

Swansboro

Swansboro

Though not too many Eastern NC visitors will encounter Swansboro unless they are en route to the Emerald Isle shoreline, this small coastal town is most certainly worth a second look. One of the oldest towns along the Crystal Coast, and easily one of the most diverse, Swansboro is a surprising paradise for any visitor who loves shopping, dining, kayaking, beaching, and ample waterfront views around virtually every city block. Gradually growing a reputation as one of Coastal Carolina's best long weekend destinations, new visitors to Emerald Island or the Crystal Coast should definitely pull up anchor in historic Swansboro for a day or two, and see for themselves what all the fuss is about.

Crystal Coast Museums

Crystal Coast Museums

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.

USCG Emerald Isle

USCG Emerald Isle

The Crystal Coast's offshore waters are guarded by the US Coast Guard, and Emerald Isle is home to one of their flagship stations, encompassing a large section of the town's western edge, adjacent to the inlet, and marked by an unimposing station house that more closely resembles a classic beach cottage than a military outpost.

Top 10 Crystal Coast Attractions

Top 10 Crystal Coast Attractions

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.