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.
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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.