The Crystal Coast
Posted: Wednesday, Mar. 05, 2014
North Carolinas Outer Banks offer a wonderful variety of activities and experiences. But unless you can manage an extended stay, its nearly impossible to explore all that the 200-mile stretch of barrier islands has to offer. One option is to start your adventure on the Crystal Coast, a roughly 85-mile section of the southern Outer Banks, which offers easy access to history, great casual dining, and, of course plenty, of beautiful beaches.Atlantic BeachWhat: Situated along the Bogue Sound, Atlantic Beach is the oldest of Crystal Coasts five resort towns and also one of its most charming. As you cross the bridge off Highway 70, which connects the mainland to the islands, youll find yourself amongst cozy cottages, expansive beachfront mansions, and two miles of near pristine coastline.Cant Miss: Though the beach here is the true attraction, Atlantic Beach also boasts bustling retail attractions, an expansive boardwalk, and the beloved, 1,000-foot Oceanana Pier, a popular place for fishing. History buffs will enjoy the 389-acre Fort Macon State Park where you can relax in two scenic beach areas, stroll the miles of walking trails, or simply enjoy a picnic lunch in one of the gazebos. But youd be remiss if you didnt visit the expansive Civil War defensive fort, which has been painstakingly restored.Eat: When your stomach starts to rumble, head to family-owned Amos Mosquitos Restaurant & Bar (www.amosmosquitos.com) where you can nosh on fresh seafood, pork chops, steaks, and sushi.Pine Knolls Shore
What: Heading west from Atlantic Beach on N.C. 58, the Crystal Coasts main thoroughfare, youll next arrive at Pine Knolls Shores. This quiet residential community has mostly private homes with a smattering of hotels and limited commercial development, which includes the semi-private Country Club of Crystal Coast (www.crystalcoastcc.com). Guests can purchase weekly memberships here and enjoy golf, tennis, swimming and a full-service restaurant.Cant Miss: To get an up close look at the regions wildlifefrom the mountains to the Piedmont to the coastvisit the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores (http://www.ncaquariums.com/pine-knoll-shores). Here, you can see dozens of exhibits showcasing everything from otters and sharks to sea turtles, as well as fascinating shipwrecks, such as a three-quarter-size replica of the U-352, a German submarine that went down off the East Coast in 1942. Eat: There are few options in terms of food in this small Outer Banks town, but a great option is the Big Oak Drive-in & Bar-B-Q where the seafood burgerseverything from clam to shrimpare the real draw. Emerald Isle
What: Continuing on N.C. 58, its only about eight miles to Emerald Isle. Located on the western end of Bogue Banks, Emerald Isle is one of Crystal Coasts more popular towns, with a variety of accommodations, including spacious beachfront homes loaded with luxurious amenities. If you need help finding the right place to stay, Emerald Isle Realty (www.emeraldislerealty.com) offers more than 700 rentals.Cant Miss: A haven for nature lovers with its lush greenery and five miles of beaches, Emerald Isle is best explored via surf board. Head to Hot Wax Surf Shop (www.hotwaxsurf.com) where, in addition to surfing and SUP rentals and lessons, the retailer offers guided kayak eco tours of the Intracoastal Waterway, numerous secluded islands, and White Oak River, which runs through hardwood forests and salt marshes teeming with wildlife. Eat: Grab a bite to eat at The Village Market (www.villagemarketofei.com), a charming little restaurant and shop with delicious sandwiches, salads, a full wine and beer list, along with funky, locally-made artwork and gifts. Beaufort
What: North Carolinas third-oldest town beckons visitors with its historic charm and walkable downtown. Recently named the coolest small town in America by Travel Budget magazine, Beaufort boasts a scenic waterfront boardwalk, oak-lined streets, beautifully preserved homes, and an eclectic mix of shops, boutiques, and restaurants.Cant Miss: The postcard-perfect downtown features The North Carolina Maritime Museum (http://www.ncmaritimemuseums.com) where you can explore the states natural history with hundreds of exhibits, including one showcasing pirate Blackbeards flagship, Queen Annes Revenge, which ran aground here in 1718. To explore Beauforts wild side, catch the ferry (www.outerbanksferry.com) to Shackleford Banks, where feral horses run free, or to the southern tip of the 56-mile Cape Lookout National Seashore, where you can climb to the top of the 163-foot Cape Lookout Lighthouse and gaze out over the sparkling blue water.Eat: For epicureans, a wonderful way to explore Beaufort is via Hungry Town Bike Tour (www.hungrytownbiketoursw.com), during which you can pedal along the towns historic streets and visit many of the areas restaurants for food and wine tastings.
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