Great places on the N.C. coast
NAGS HEAD/KITTY HAWK: The Wright Brothers National Memorial is big-time history on the cheap: $4 for the museum/grounds.
The Black Pelican restaurant/bar , right on the shore, is in one of the few buildings still standing from when Orville and Wilbur made First Flight history in 1903.
Climb the sand dunes and hike the trails at Jockey's Ridge State Park. Hike through Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve. Learn more at www.outerbanks.org .
WASHINGTON: It's at the head of the Pamlico River estuary, and - blessedly - a bit off the beaten track. With a pretty and walkable downtown on the river and a landing outfitted with trees and greenery, Washington resembles Beaufort, S.C. Visit the Estuarium ($4; $2 for kids; www.partnershipforthesounds.org/ ), a Discovery Place-like facility that explores the fragile salt-and-freshwater ecosystem. The inventive kinetic Whiting Toler sculpture in the lobby is a kid-pleaser.
Learn more: www.originalwashington.com .
BALD HEAD ISLAND: Do a day trip by taking the ferry ($16 round trip), then renting a golf cart at Riverside Adventure Co., right where the ferry lands. Better yet: Rent a condo or villa - starting at $2,000 per week; less in off-season - near the beach, forest or marsh. Check for package rates. Slightly more than 83 percent of the 12,000-acre island is given over to nature. The whole island is ringed by beaches, marshes and creeks. Go biking, hiking, in-line skating, fishing, crabbing, swimming or beachcombing. Learn more at www.baldheadisland.com .
MOREHEAD CITY/BEAUFORT: At the N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores ($8; $6 for kids; www.baldheadisland.com
www.ncaquariums.com), see the 300,000-gallon ocean tank and other exhibits. Charter a boat and go fishing; rent a surfboard and ride the waves at Bogue Sound. Fort Macon State Park, in Atlantic Beach, is one of the most-visited attractions in the North Carolina ( www.clis.com/friends/ ) - and free to tour. It was a coastal fortification built in the 1820s at the eastern tip of Bogue Bank.
Learn more at www.crystalcoastnc.org .
Great eats on the N.C./S.C. coast
Helen Schwab is the longtime restaurant critic of The Charlotte Observer - and a regular vacationer on the Carolina coast. Here are some of her favorite non-typical places to eat.
SEABLUE, NORTH MYRTLE BEACH: "Tiny and tucked into a strip mall, this is unexpected, and a welcome change-up at North Myrtle: Think small plates, with eclectic influences and interesting combos." 503 U.S. 17 N.; 843-249-8800.
INDOCHINE, WILMINGTON: "Food here is predominantly Thai-Vietnamese, but it's the setting that is extraordinary: Every square inch painted, gilded, landscaped or all three, plus occasional dancers. Try jungle curry." 7 Wayne Drive; 910-251-9229; www.indochinewilmington.com .
MICHAEL ANTHONY'S, HILTON HEAD, S.C.: "From occhi di lupo to potato gnocchi, this handsome Italian place offers range and suitable service, plus artwork in Tuscan colors." 37 New Orleans Road; 843-785-6272; www.michael-anthonys.com .
MARSHSIDE MAMA'S, DAUFUSKIE ISLAND, S.C.: "This pairs an unbelievable view of Daufuskie Island's landscape and a distinctly funky vibe; the unconventional décor on my last visit included a campfire and a potbelly pig, and the menu revolves around what's available, which might be 'devil' crab, gumbo and/or whole pan-fried flounder with apricot-peach sauce." Hours vary. 15 Haig Point Road; 843-785-4755.
CALABASH SEAFOOD HUT, CALABASH: "Eat-in or takeout that's fast (that's why the line is always so long) with nicely chewy-crunchy fried clams, popping shrimp and small but juicy softshell crab sandwiches, at a no-frou-frou-here trailer-with-awning setup." 1125 River Road; 910-579-6723.