This authentic coastal experience features waters of crystalline purity bordering sandy, sparkling beaches. From eccentric history and legendary tales of swashbuckling pirate adventures, to ghostly encounters and exotic wild horses roaming the same shores for centuries and generations reflecting southern tradition.
To understand the real coastal experience is to feel the tranquil sea breezes gently blowing across glassy waters, to stroll the historical streets of a quaint maritime village saturated with memories of the past and to dine on “fresh from the docks” seafood at a waterfront bistro.
It is both a place and a state of mind representing a departure from the ordinary and arrival at the extraordinary.
The favored Atlantic beach destination of generations represents one of the only remaining natural barrier island systems in the world. The islands consist of 85 miles of silken coastline – 56 miles of which are in the protected Cape Lookout National Seashore.
Miles of shimmering water reflecting countless tiny suns during the day and shattering the moon into a thousand pieces at night. Lush maritime forests edging the silken coast like emerald jewels studding a royal crown. Located along the state’s southernmost outer reach, the barrier islands take a curious southward curve, blessing The Crystal Coast with beaches that course east and west – making it possible to admire the dazzlingly bright sun rise to greet the day and then slip into the shimmering translucent blue waters in the evening during a spectacular North Carolina sunset.
The six distinct communities of The Crystal Coast include Atlantic Beach, Beaufort, Pine Knoll Shores, Emerald Isle, Morehead City and Cape Lookout, each one as distinct and memorable as the next.
A haven of sunbathers, Atlantic Beach is home to wide pearlescent beaches and plenty of sunshine. Part of the Bogue Banks, Atlantic Beach is the oldest of five resort towns. Visitors have the liberty to choose from a range of accommodations for all budgets and lifestyles, from a seven bedroom coastal mansion to a “no frills” beach bungalow. Fort Macon State Park, with history as intricate and unique as the ecosystem, boasts a museum-quality coastal education center, and an unspoiled shoreline for swimming, surf fishing, and beachcombing. Fort Macon is ideal for active vacationers who like to experience it all.
Stepping onto the oak lined streets of historic Beaufort – recently named “The South’s Best Small Town,” by Southern Living magazine – is like stepping into a time long forgotten. The air is saturated with the same ancient salty-sweet ocean scents that have caressed the coast for centuries. It is not uncommon while dining at a waterfront café to see wild horses running freely on Carrot Island, just across the glassy waters of Taylor’s Creek. The intimate bed and breakfasts are the perfect way to compliment any romantic vacation with elegant Victorian suites and charming home-cooked meals. Beaufort is the third oldest town in the state and serves as the county seat of the Crystal Coast. The wreckage of legendary pirate Blackbeard’s infamous ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, rests in its watery grave just three miles off its sandy shores.
Pine Knoll Shores
Once owned by America’s own royal family, the descendants of Theodore Roosevelt, Pine Knoll Shores is known as a peaceful residential community with an eco-friendly focus. The area was designed with minimal disturbance to the native maritime forest and sand dunes and is one of the state’s most ecologically sensitive towns.
Named the “No. 1 Beach in North Carolina,” by Coastal Living magazine and USA Today, Emerald Isle is known as the most prominent of the banks on The Crystal Coast. Lush greenery that covers much of the area – located at the western end of the Bogue Banks – provides a sense of escape. Accommodations dotting the coastline range from quaint beach cottages and condominiums to mammoth beach houses known locally as “sandcastles.” Visitors have the freedom to spend their days dining at casually elegant restaurants, shopping at fanciful boutiques filled with coastal treasures or simply sitting on the sand and enjoying the sound of the waves rolling in with miles of un-crowded coastline.
A blessed location along sparklingly clear water with rows of charter fishing boats gently bobbing like fishing lures waiting to usher passengers to their first “big catch,” Morehead City is known for the most diverse fishing on the coast. Home to the annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Fishing Tournament, fisherman from all over the world compete for the top honor while supporting local organizations that have received nearly $5 million in charitable donations from the tournament over the past 60 years. From its quaint shopping district comprised of art galleries intermixed with antique stores filled with generations of treasured relics, to an array of restaurants offering fresh sea fare, boredom is simply not a factor for visitors to the area.
Named the no. 1 National Park Beach by USA Today and reminiscent of times past where wild horses roam freely on deserted beaches, Cape Lookout National Seashore, with its famed “Diamond Lady” lighthouse, offers escapists a 56-mile stretch of undeveloped shimmering beaches accessible only by boat. Sea oat laced sand dunes and miles of large unbroken conch shells seem like they have been resting there for centuries. In harmony with the natural scenery are fishermen patiently waiting and watching, like shore birds, looking for their next meal to spring out of the frothy blue waters.
An eccentric history steeped in swashbuckling pirate tales, romantic mysteries, deep-rooted maritime heritage and wartime triumphs and tragedies, the sea breezes wafting in from the ocean are still alive with the memories of the past.
From ghostly excursions through the Old Burying Grounds and leisurely strolls among the painstakingly preserved buildings at Beaufort Historic Site, to a gentle ferry ride to the seashore to view historic Cape Lookout Lighthouse and a firsthand look at the treasures excavated from Blackbeard’s flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, slipping into a historical frame of mind is easier on The Crystal Coast.
The natural beauty of The Crystal Coast lends itself to awe-inspiring ecological escapes. 56 miles of unspoiled shoreline on the National Seashore surround Cape Lookout Lighthouse, an island with no development, no traffic, no pollution and no worries.
There is a variety of rare and endangered species including the Loggerhead, a marine turtle that lays its fragile eggs in the sand, and the Piping Plover, a tiny shorebird found hopping daintily along the shore.
Those with an independent spirit navigate the intricately laced inlets and waterways zig-zagging through The Crystal Coast with guided kayaking and canoeing excursions available for every interest and schedule. There are paddling trails from Morehead City to Beaufort and ending in Harkers Island, as well as a paddle trail from White Oak River in western Carteret County to Bear Island. Guided tours are available for explorers wishing to fish, kayak, bird watch, wreck dive as well as a multitude of other eco-interests. For the bird watching enthusiast, the spring is an excellent time to view shorebirds from the majestic Tundra Swans to egrets and White and Glossy Ibises, while the fall is the peak time for viewing Sharp-shinned Hawks and Peregrine Falcons.
One of the two spots in North America where the warm waters of the Gulf Stream caress the coast creating what divers that flock to The Crystal Coast call a “wreck diver’s dream” with near-perfect conditions for an experience unlike anywhere else in the world.
Known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” and the “No. 1 Dive Destination in North America,” there are more than 2,000 vessels that have made their watery graves along the North Carolina coast. During WWII, German U-boats frequently targeted merchant vessels sending them to their final resting places 100 feet beneath the sea, viewable by divers thanks to the stunningly clear, warm waters with average temperatures around 80° F and more than 100 feet of visibility.
The Gulf Stream current graciously provides The Crystal Coast with the same warm translucent blue waters that have for so long blessed the Caribbean. These warm waters provide The Crystal Coast with the longest fishing season on the Atlantic coast. Forming a rainbow of colors in the sapphire blue water, the fish caught along The Crystal Coast include bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna and big red drum. They “grow ‘em big” on The Crystal Coast with record setting marlin and bluefin tuna weighing in between 300 and 1000 lbs.
False albacore, red drum and sea trout angling are popular in the fall months; striped bass and bluefin tuna in the winter; cobia in the spring and white and blue marlin, sailfish, dolphin and wahoo are intensely abundant in the summer.
There is a range of options for those wishing to try their hand at catching a “big one” including private chartered fishing excursions or the more affordable, family friendly, headboat fishing trips that can take up to 100 people. For those wanting to take more “booty” home than just the fish, there are several fishing tournaments on The Crystal Coast with cash prizes.
With coastline shadowed not by chain hotels but rather by nothing more than what Mother Nature intended, vacationers to The Crystal Coast find a variety of accommodations to suit every lifestyle and budget. Catering to parties of all sizes, there are several realty agencies offering seaside cottages, condos and massive beachfront mansion rentals perfect for multi-generational escapes or travel pods. For a touch of romance, historic and charming inns await, while hotel accommodations include the Beaufort Hotel, Atlantis Lodge, and Bask @ Big Rock Landing, among others.
After a hard day’s wreck diving or surf fishing, visitors to The Crystal Coast tend to work up an appetite. With more than 100 locally owned restaurants to choose from, finding the right taste to tame any appetite is an easy task. Generations of restaurateurs have put their life’s passion into their cooking. It is not uncommon to find that the present owner of a Crystal Coast restaurant is the great-great grandchild of the original owner – keeping treasured crab cake or “Down East” lemon pie recipes handed down through the family on the menu to introduce to new generations of restaurant goers.
From elegant candlelit beachside dinners touting gourmet meals of Yellowfin Tuna Puttanesca and Porterhouse Au Poivre, to casual bistros with light gourmet sandwiches, to the “Napa Valley of Oysters” and drive-in shrimp burger stands, to down home seafood hideaways offering menu items as simple as “flounder” or “grouper” with all the fixin’s (including the inevitable basket of fried heaven known as the hushpuppy), visitors leave their diets at home and enjoy all the tastes that The Crystal Coast has to offer.
The Crystal Coast Tourism Development Authority and Visitor Center
3409 Arendell Street
Morehead City, NC
Phone: (252) 726-8148
8401 Emerald Drive
Emerald Isle, NC 28594
Phone: (252) 393-2008
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