Crystal Coast Outer Banks NC Vacation Tips
This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through links on our site, we may earn a commission.
Why You Should Plan A Crystal Coast Outer Banks NC Vacation – The Crystal Coast of North Carolina is a marvelous beach destination that needs to be on your bucket list!
Sunset View from The Point in Emerald Isle
Since we moved to North Carolina 14 years ago, we have explored many of the beach towns along the North and South Carolina coastline.
We’ve experienced expansive beachfront playgrounds with endless activities, to remote seaside villages with a drugstore and seafood shack as the only thriving businesses in town.
Yet personally, I prefer the in between beach town. The sunny haven with things to do, and several fabulous restaurants, but not so much hustle and bustle that you can’t fully relax.
We recently found my definition of “the perfect beach vacation spot” in The Crystal Coast of North Carolina. This beautiful area is a unique retreat we’re sure to visit year after year.
So today I’m sharing Why You Should Plan A Crystal Coast Outer Banks NC Vacation, with travel tips and restaurant recommendations.
Where Is The Crystal Coast?
The Crystal Coast is the name of the lowest point in the North Carolina Outer Banks, positioned north of Wilmington and south of the Pamlico River. It is a region comprised of several communities, including Beaufort, the third oldest town in the state.
Beaufort is a stunning village set on the shore, with a rich and colorful history of civil war battles, spies, and pirates.
It hosts many festivals each year and has gained national recognition from travel magazines as being one of the best little coastal towns in the country.
Next, Bogue Banks is a long thin island set just off the North Carolina shore that offers serene beaches and quaint beach towns such as Atlantic Beach, Pine Knoll Shores, Salter Path, Indian Beach, and Emerald Isle.
Each little village varies in personality, so you can find the perfect spot to suit your family. There is a bridge from the mainland at each end of the island for easy access.
Other Crystal Coast communities include Morehead City, Down East, Cape Carteret, Cedar Point, Stella, Pelletier, Harker’s Island and Cape Lookout.
There is so much diversity within The Crystal Coast region, you can find places to stay, and levels of activity for every budget and preference!
What Makes The Crystal Coast Unique?
There are so many reasons to visit The Crystal Coast.
The fact that it’s much easier to access than most parts of the North Carolina Outer Banks is a definite bonus. It has all the Outer Banks charm, without the painstaking ferry, flight, and/or lengthy road trip to get there.
Also, because The Crystal Coast is further south, and tucked further into the coastline than the rest of the Outer Banks, it has a longer warm weather swim season, lasting from April to October most years.
However, there are plenty of things to do in The Crystal Coast all year long, such as fishing, shelling, shopping, and holiday festivals.
Jet skiing down Taylor Creek passed Beaufort
As mentioned, most of the towns in The Crystal Coast are small so you can experience peaceful beaches. However, they are not so small that they are lacking in things to do. In fact, there are plenty of activities, tours, shopping and restaurants, without the area feeling overrun. It’s a rare and delicate balance of quiet and convenience!
Often, this kind of secluded beach experience is outrageously expensive. However, along The Crystal Coast you can find affordable hotels, waterfront houses, and cottages.
Emerald Isle Realty “Loving Life West”
We stayed in a gorgeous 4-bedroom beachfront home, with a pool overlooking the beach, booked through Emerald Isle Realty. Emerald Isle Realty makes it easy for you to find a piece of heaven on earth during your stay!
This narrow section of Emerald Isle known as “Sandcastles” is only three houses deep on the Atlantic side of the island, with only one row of houses on the Intracoastal Waterway. It feels off-the-beaten-path, yet is obtainable and close to town.
Things To Do In The Crystal Coast
In spite of the charming small town feel, there is plenty of adventure available along The Crystal Coast.
- Take a historic Double-Decker Bus Tour
- Visit the Old Burying Ground
- Learn about famous pirates in the Maritime Museum
- Peruse whimsical shops and galleries
- Kayak across Taylor Creek to Carrot Island or the Rachel Carson Reserve
- Take a ferry to Cape Lookout
- Go on a sunset dinner and sight-seeing cruise
Grave of a captain’s daughter who died at sea, and was brought home in a rum barrel.
On Bogue Banks:
- Bask, swim, and play along the seemingly endless beaches
- Visit “The Point” at sunset for a stunning display of lights
- Explore the North Carolina Aquarium
- Stroll down Bogue Inlet Pier
- Take a deep sea fishing excursion
- Walk in the steps of our forefathers at Fort Macon
- Rent jet skis, boats, kayaks, and paddle boards to explore the waterways
- Go on a guided tour to local islands and points of interest
- Bike the entire length of the island
- Play mini golf and ride go carts
North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores
Other Crystal Coast Musts:
SAND DOLLAR ISLAND – From several Crystal Coast destinations, you can take a boat ride to “Sand Dollar Island.” This popular sand bar was lovingly named by locals for its abundance of live and naturally preserved sand dollars.
We found over 20 white preserved sand dollars in just a few minutes. The kids were ecstatic!
SHACKLEFORD BANKS – This unscathed island reserve is home to over 60 wild horses that escaped Spanish ships as they were sinking, hundreds of years ago.
They swam to safety and have flourished for centuries in their own island paradise!
You can take a ferry to Shackleford Banks or a smaller boat tour to Sand Dollar island from several locations. However, we opted to take a jet ski tour with Island Water Sports to visit these popular locations with our own private guide.
Our tour was packed with speedy windswept adventure, quiet moments in nature, and a wealth of information from our local guide. I definitely recommend this tour!
Where To Eat At The Crystal Coast
You know how tourist town dining experiences can be… Expensive, rushed, low quality, and underwhelming.
One thing that stood out to us on our trip to The Crystal Coast, was the focus on excellence in dining all through the region. Although we were only there for a few days and ate in a handful of establishments, we could not believe how good the restaurants were.
We ate in a couple higher-end restaurants as well a few waterfront seafood shacks. Yet we were pleasantly surprised everywhere we went, no matter the price-point. There was not a single restaurant we would mark off the list for our return trip.
Here are the places we visited…
Amos Mosquito’s “Big Bad Skeeter” Seafood Platter
Amos Mosquito’s – This waterfront hot spot is run like a well-oiled machine. It has to be, because it is so popular! It’s locally owned by two families that take pride in making every diner’s visit a memorable vacation experience. The menu includes local seafood, low country favorites, and huge juicy steaks. Thursday is sushi night, yet there are specials every night of the week.
Go to Amos Mosquito’s early or expect to be placed on a waiting list. But don’t let this detour you… It’s worth the wait!
We ate Baked Oysters, Pork Dumplings, Ahi Tuna, Seafood Carbonara, lightly fried Soft Shell Crabs, perfectly grilled Ribeye, and devilish desserts! Every single dish was utterly delicious, but the Baked Oysters are a MUST!
Front Street Grill at Stillwater – This quaint waterfront cafe in Beaufort offers a large outdoor seating area overlooking Taylor Creek. It’s a great place for a casual lunch or dinner, while watching boats pass by.
We ate fresh-caught shrimp and grouper tacos, and sipped the Best Painkillers anywhere is the area!
The Trading Post – A casual diner in the heart of Emerald Isle, serving cheeky southern cuisine. The Trading Post atmosphere is fun and friendly, and the menu is decadent.
We came for breakfast and LOVED the Chicken-N-Biscuit Bowl and the Chicken-N-Waffles with Bourbon Honey.
Pescara – This cozy restaurant focuses on seafood and Italian comfort food prepared in a wood-fired oven. It is elegant, yet not fussy… The perfect environment for a night out with a loved one.
We adored the herbaceous cocktail list, the Meatball Appetizer, and the Squid Ink Fettuccine with octopus, clams, shrimp and pancetta. Be sure to make a reservation!
Surf’s Up Grill & Bar – This unassuming dive at the end of Bogue Inlet Pier makes the Best Margaritas anywhere on the island! Sit at the counter and people watch as you munch on Carolina Steamed Shrimp and Nachos.
The “Grouper Basket” loaded with flash-fried grouper fingers and fries is ridiculously satisfying.
Although our trip to The Crystal Coast was brief, we were highly impressed. In fact, it’s made us reconsider our current summer vacation plans.
If you are still deciding where to vacation this summer, give the southern tip of the North Carolina Outer Banks a try.
I assure you, it will not disappoint!
Disclosure: The Crystal Coast sponsored our trip. All opinions are my own.