North Carolina's Crystal Coast is one of the most picturesque regions in the state. Often called the Southern Outer Banks, the area is home to several quaint waterfront towns, including Beaufort, Morehead City, and Atlantic Beach.

The Crystal Coast is gorgeous year-round. However, if you visit in the fall when the crowds have diminished (but the weather is still beautiful), you'll find it an especially idyllic destination.

Where to Play: 

Kayak to the Rachel Carson Nature Reserve

Take a guided tour with Beaufort Paddle for a chance to see wildlife, dolphins, and wild horses as you kayak through the glorious waters of the Crystal Coast.

Liz Mays kayaks on shore

Every tour is customized to your interests, but seeing the wild horses was our biggest wish, so we paddled over to the Reserve, then waded through the marsh, where we were thrilled to find a small herd.

We continued through the marsh to the beach to go shelling, and I'm so glad we did. I found several perfect sand dollars. If you have time and the tide is right, don't miss it!

Liz Mays Wild Horses

Double the Fun on a Double Decker Tour Bus

Take a scenic ride through downtown Beaufort as your Beaufort Historic Site tour guide shares fun facts, local lore, and area history on a narrated tour of the town. I recommend grabbing a seat on the open-air upper level for the best panoramic views.

Liz Mays Double Decker

Visit Cape Lookout National Seashore

Hop the ferry over to Cape Lookout to see the lighthouse and miles of untamed beaches. A boardwalk extends from the dock to the lighthouse and keeper's house, but make sure to take the boardwalk over to the island's ocean side too. The ferry also stops at Shackleford Banks.

Liz Mays Cape Lookout

Explore Downtown Beaufort

Stroll along Beaufort Inlet and pop in and out of the charming boutiques for one-of-a-kind gifts. Explore the area's history in the North Carolina Maritime Museum and stop for an ice cream cone or cocktail along the way.

Liz Mays Downtown Beaufort

Explore Fort Macon

Fort Macon has a pretty strong wow factor; it's North Carolina's second-most-visited state park. The perfectly restored fort is the highlight and visitors can explore it from top to bottom.

Atlantic Beach lies outside the fort walls and is perfect for lazy beach days. We spotted dolphins playing off the coast here too.

Liz Mays Fort Macon

Dive into the Aquatic World

Gaze into the dreamy underwater world of the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores where you'll see thousands of aquatic creatures on display. I'm especially partial to the jellyfish, sea horses, and river otters, but we loved seeing the eagles and marsh wildlife outdoors, so don't miss that.

Liz Mays NC Aquarium at PKS

Where to Eat:

We were thrilled to discover so many fabulous places to eat on the Crystal Coast. You won't be disappointed with any of our favorites.

Beaufort Grocery - This French bistro-style restaurant is wildly popular (even with locals) and lives up to the hype. We loved the Sunday brunch, but their daily menu includes marvelous soups, salads, and sandwiches.

Black Sheep - Waterfront dining with the best stone hearth pizza around.

Liz Mays Pizza
Bishop Pizza at Black Sheep

Front Street Grill - This is a wonderful spot to enjoy dinner with a view. And if you enjoy cocktails, they make the best Painkillers here.

Full Circle - We adored our farm-to-fork cuisine here, and the restaurant is just steps from the Morehead City waterfront.

The Banks Grill - A local favorite, this Crystal Coast staple in Morehead City is known for its "Soon to Be World Famous" Cinnamon Rolls and extremely generous portions.

Liz Mays Banks Grill
Cinnamon Roll at Banks Grill

Where to Stay:

We spent the weekend at the Inn on Turner, a beautiful and modern B&B, located in the heart of historic downtown Beaufort—steps from all the cute waterfront shops and restaurants. The evening social hour with wine and snacks was the perfect way to wind down from our daily adventures—either lounging by the fire pit or rocking on the porch swing.

Liz Mays Inn On Turner

A weekend on the Crystal Coast can be adventurous or relaxed; it's all up to you, but you're guaranteed to have a great time. It's one of the prettiest places to visit in North Carolina.