This family destination is full of natural awe, great food, ocean-front homes, activities and wild horses! Be sure to check out the image gallery at the bottom of this page, too.
The beach’s merely sand and ocean, right? If you think that, I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. The Crystal Coast — North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks (crystalcoastnc.org) — offers much more than just soaking up the sun. Let your mind explore all the goodness of nature with tours, adventurous activities, dining and more. Plan the most invigorating vacation for your family to remember and cherish.
Much to See and Do
Kayaking is an activity that’s sure to get everyone’s energy revved up. Having never done it before, I now know it’s actually pretty easy. Barrier Island Kayaks (160 Cedar Point Blvd., Swansboro; 252-393-6457; barrierislandkayaks.com) offers several kayaking options. I chose the Eco Adventure ($40 per person) — a two-and-a-half-hour guided tour through salt marsh and tidal creeks. Tour guides are adventurous and well informed, which makes for a fun trip. Or, rent a single or double kayak and explore on your own (rates are determined by kayak and length of trip). There’s no age restriction, so everyone in the family can kayak if you like — children ride in a double with one or two adults.
Learn more about area marine wildlife at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores (1 Roosevelt Blvd., Pine Knoll Shores; 252-247-4003; ncaquariums.com; $8 adults, $6 ages 3 – 12; free for ages 2 and younger). This aquarium lets you see sharks, fish of all kinds, playful river otters, endangered marine creatures like the white loggerhead sea turtle, Nimbus, and so much more. You can also see a “Living Shipwreck” featuring a life-sized replica of a German U-352 submarine and Blackbeard’s infamous ship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge! Kids love the aquarium’s hands-on elements as well as the newly opened Penguin Plunge (on exhibit through Sept. 30) with African penguins swimming fast in the water.
Explore the outer islands. We grabbed a ferry from Local Yokel Ferry & Tours (516 Island Road, Harkers Island; 252-728-2759; $15 per person or $10 each for seven or more people) and headed out to the lighthouse. The ferry runs every hour and takes you on a quick tour along the nine-mile long, one-mile wide Shackleford Banks. From the ferry, you’ll be amazed to see the beauty of the majestic Shackleford Horses — the island’s home to more than 110 of them — and words can’t do the sight of them justice, so be ready with your camera. Learn the history behind these magnificent creatures at the Foundation for Shackleford Horses (306 Golden Farm Road, Beaufort; 252-728-6308; shacklefordhorses.org).
The ferry drops you off at Cape Lookout National Seashore (131 Charles St., Harkers Island; 252-728-2250; nps.gov/calo). Head to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse (252-728-0708; $8 adults, $4 ages 12 and younger and at least 44 inches tall), which is open for climbing Wednesday – Saturday, May 16 – Sept. 22. Careful, though, as the top is very windy — it’s 207 steps up but the view from above is spectacular!
Yummy for the Tummy
After spending the day exploring the area, enjoy the delicious food prepared at Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant and Bar (703 E. Fort Macon Road, Atlantic Beach; 252-247-6222; amosmosquitos.com). This family-owned restaurant has an intriguing variety of food. The owner’s wife is also the head chef, and she whips up delicious masterpieces. Choose from fresh caught seafood, steamed pork dumplings — which are to die for! — soups, chicken, meatloaf, burgers, salads and more! Top everything off with Amos’s Famous Cheesecake and something fun for the kids — s’mores! Toast them right at your table!
Home Away from Home
With your entire family — and perhaps extended family and friends — renting a beach house is the way to go. A variety of homes are available through Emerald Isle Realty (866- 586-6980; emeraldislerealty.com) including the beautiful “Castle in the Sand,” which is available for weekly rentals only. This oceanfront home has seven bedrooms, six-and-a-half baths, a laundry room, a spacious full kitchen, dining room with more than enough seating, living room, den, pool, hot tub, an elevator to all levels, TVs in every room and it’s own boardwalk right to the beach. Cooking in helps you save on your food bill and since you’re right next to the water there’s no need to drive and park at a beach!
So, plan now for your next vacation. The Crystal Coast has so much to offer that you may need to come and visit more than once. After one time, you know this will be the place you will want to bring your family every summer or fall and spring break.