Exploring the Crystal Coast
Take a trip down east this fall
by Danielle Jackson
Simply put, there’s nothing quite like the Crystal Coast. An 85-mile stretch of pristine shoreline featuring the best of Carteret County, from Atlantic Beach and Emerald Isle to Beaufort and Morehead City, its warm, clear waters make this region — also known as the Southern Outer Banks — stand out from the pack.
But summer isn’t the only time to experience all that Crystal Coast has to offer. This fall, take a trip down east and explore this wondrous stretch of North Carolina beauty.
Head directly east on U.S. Highway 70 out of Wake County, and you’ll hit Atlantic Beach, the oldest town on the island known as Bogue Banks and one of the oldest, well-known resort communities on the East Coast.
Up the road from Atlantic Beach is Fort Macon State Park, a 385-acre former military site that was part of the Civil War and Spanish-American War, and was used as late as World War II. One of the most visited state parks in the country, Fort Macon sees up to 1 million visitors each year, who come to tour the fort and see its protected beach featuring nature trails, picnic facilities, and ample fishing opportunities.
On the way to the park, stop for a bite at Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant & Bar, a local Atlantic Beach haunt that serves up fresh coastal catches and offers spectacular sunset views.
Historic Beaufort, the state’s third-oldest town and the county seat, is a sight to behold. With its tree-lined streets and Victorian style, walking through this town offers a glimpse into coastal days past. Guided walking and double-decker bus tours offered through the Beaufort Historic Site showcase the town’s historic buildings, as well as the Old Burying Ground, one of the oldest cemeteries in the state.
Directly across Beaufort’s waterfront is Carrot Island, where wild horses roam free and where more than 200 species of birds have been recorded, while just off the coast of Beaufort is the Queen Anne’s Revenge, one of famed pirate Blackbeard’s sunken ships that was discovered in 1996.
While in Beaufort, spend the day shopping at one of this quaint town’s many unique shops, and save your appetite for a delicious meal at award-winning Sharpies Grill & Bar, which features an extensive selection of fresh Carteret County seafood and locally grown produce, not to mention spectacular views of the water.
Beaufort also is home to several boating tours, including a 90-minute catamaran ride to Cape Lookout National Seashore aboard Lookout Cruises. Captain Steve Bishop offers daily excursions to the lighthouse, as well as dolphin swims and sunset and moonlight cruises.
This stretch of land on the western portion of Bogue Banks offers a respite from civilization. Although it features many places to shop and dine — including Kathryn’s Bistro & Martini Bar, a local favorite — this part of the Crystal Coast is more known for its secluded, resort-style homes lining the shores. The town celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007.
Near Emerald Isle is Pine Knoll Shores, a primarily residential stretch of land that is home to the North Carolina Aquarium. Considered one of the state’s most ecologically sensitive towns, Pine Knoll Shores once was owned by descendents of Theodore Roosevelt.
Head back into civilization in Morehead City, home of the Crystal Coast Jamboree. The town’s coast is lined with charter fishing boats throughout the year, which speaks volumes to the abundance of its diverse fishing. The town also is well-known for scuba diving, artist galleries and unique shops.
While there, dine at Sanitary Fish Market and Restaurant, the town’s first seafood establishment and a family-friendly favorite, and learn more about the area’s rich cultural heritage at The History Place.
Traversing the Crystal Coast’s many islands is all part of the fun.
One of the most popular spots is Cape Lookout National Seashore, a narrow ribbon of sand on the South Core banks that runs from Ocracoke Inlet on the northeast to Beaufort Inlet to the southwest. Accessible only by boat or ferry, the 56-mile stretch of land is one of the few remaining natural barrier-island chains in the world. Visitors can tour the Keeper’s Quarters, but due to safety concerns tours remain off limits at the 163-foot-tall Cape Lookout Lighthouse.
Other islands that are part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore include Portsmouth Island, which features a former fishing community; Harkers Island; and Cedar Island.
Also discover the beauty of Shackleford Banks, an island home to more than 100 majestic Spanish Mustang horses known affectionately as “Banker ponies.” The horses, which are descendents of survivors of Spanish galleon shipwrecks, roam free but are cared for by the Cape Lookout National Seashore in cooperation with the Foundation for Shackleford Horses.
While there’s nothing quite like exploring the various islands and attractions of the Crystal Coast, imagine it from the air. Seagrave Aviation Air Tours offers excursions aboard a Cessna four-seater plane, featuring points of interest such as Fort Macon State Park and Shackleford Island.
To get to North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, take U.S. Highway 70 east directly into Morehead City, Atlantic Beach and Beaufort, or take Interstate 40 east to N.C. Highway 24 through Jacksonville, which leads to Emerald Isle. To learn more about the Crystal Coast, visit www.crystalcoastnc.org.
Danielle Jackson is editor of Wake Living, Fifteen501 and TriadLiving magazines.
What a catch
Seafood can be found throughout the year at North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, but some fish are more abundant at certain times of year. Most area eateries feature the latest freshly caught fare.
During fall, or finfish season, abundant varieties include black sea bass, croaker, grouper, king and Spanish mackerel, mullet, snapper, southern flounder, spotted sea trout, striped bass, and yellowfin tuna. Blue crab, clams, oysters and shrimp also are popular for fall.
To learn more about seasonal favorites along the Crystal Coast, visit www.carteretcatch.org.
Crystal Coast in the fall
Summer isn’t the only ideal time to take in the gorgeous Crystal Coast. Here’s a sampling of some upcoming events:
- Harvest Time: The Beaufort Historic Site offers re-enactments of life in Colonial times throughout September and October. (252) 728-5225
- North Carolina Seafood Festival: Tempt your taste buds during this annual festival, held in September and October along Morehead City’s waterfront. (252) 726-6273
- Surf Fishing Workshop: Discover the basics of surf fishing under the guidance of experts during this workshop, held in October. (252) 247-4003
- Trick or Treat Under the Sea: This family-friendly event is held each Halloween at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. (252) 247-4003
- Cape Lookout Albacore Festival: This release-only fishing competition, held in October, gives participants an opportunity to explore the Cape Lookout region. (252) 726-3773
- Carolina Kite Fest: Held in October, this annual two-day event features kite-flying demonstrations. (252) 247-7011
Where to eat
Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant & Bar
703 E. Fort Macon Road, Atlantic Beach
(252) 247-6222, www.amosmosquitos.com
Carlton’s Fine Dining
Highway 58, Salter Path
(252) 808-3404, www.carltonsathome.com
Kathryn’s Bistro & Martini Bar
8002 Emerald Dr., Emerald Isle
(252) 354-6200, www.kathrynsbistro.com
Sanitary Fish Market and Restaurant Inc.
501 Evans St., Morehead City
(252) 247-3111, www.sanitaryfishmarket.com
Sharpies Grill & Bar
521 Front St., Beaufort
(252) 838-0101, www.sharpiesgrill.com
Where to play
Beaufort Historic Site
130 Turner St.
(252) 728-5225; (800) 575-7483, www.beauforthistoricsite.org
Crystal Coast Jamboree
1311 Arendell St., Morehead City
(866) 580-7469, www.crystalcoastjamboree.com
Fort Macon State Park
2300 E. Fort Macon Road, Atlantic Beach
(252) 726-3775, www.ncsparks.net/foma.html
The History Place
1008 Arendell St., Morehead City
(252) 247-7533, www.thehistoryplace.org
Front Street, Beaufort
(252) 504-7245, www.lookoutcruises.com
Mystery Tours Inc.
412 Front St., Beaufort
(252) 728-7827; (866) 230-2628, www.mysteryboattours.com
North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores
1 Roosevelt Blvd., Pine Knoll Shores
(252) 247-4003; (866) 294-3477, www.ncaquariums.com
North Carolina Maritime Museum
315 Front St.., Beaufort
(252) 728-7317, www.ncmaritimemuseum.org
Segrave Aviation Air Tours
(252) 728-2323; (252) 233-1482, www.segrave.com