A Guide to the Crystal Coast in North Carolina

The Crystal Coast is a pristine stretch of 85-miles of shoreline in North Carolina, filled with unforgettable protected beaches and coastal activities for all interests. Travelers come from all over to enjoy everything from beachgoing, to fishing, wildlife viewing, kayaking, historic sites, shops, dining and so much more.

Come and experience what millions have already seen for themselves. The vacations are inspiring. The stories are stellar. Create your own Crystal Coast vacation that will stay with you and the family for years to come.

Below is a quick guide to the wonder of the Crystal Coast, covering all aspects of this exciting vacation destination.

  • The Five Barrier Island Communities of Bogue Banks
  • Top Attractions and Places to See
  • Outdoor Activities
  • Dining and Shopping

The Five Barrier Island Communities of Bogue Banks

Staying in one of the five barrier island communities on Bogue Banks is a popular way to access all of the best attractions that the Crystal Coast has to offer, along with some beautiful, quiet and pristine stretches of beach.

Each community has its own fascinating character and distinct charm to explore. Below is an overview of these popular barrier island communities, where we offer many of our conveniently located vacation rentals:

  • Atlantic Beach – This beach town is one of the most visited on the Crystal Coast and is filled with some of the most beautiful and scenic beaches in the area. It’s very family friendly with plenty of things to do including several incredible waterfront dining destinations, Fort Macon State Park, Hoop Pole Creek Nature Trail, and the Oceanana Fishing Pier for incredible views and ocean activities.
  • Pine Knoll Shores – Pine Knoll Shores is located just west of Atlantic Beach and an ideal spot to enjoy coastal nature and a more secluded beachside experience. This community offers convenient public beach access points and the Theodore Roosevelt State Natural Area, a 265-acre beautiful coastal state park. Don’t miss the family friendly North Carolina Aquarium here.
  • Emerald Isle – Emerald Isle is located on the western end of Bogue Banks and offers scenic bike paths and tours and the family friendly Salty Pirate Waterpark, the only one on the Crystal Coast. Head out to the Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier for some exciting fishing and lovely sunset and wildlife views. Emerald Isle Woods Park offers scenic trails and a 9-hole disc golf course as well as facilities for grilling.
  • Indian Beach – Located right in the middle of Bogue Banks between Emerald Island and Pine Knoll Shores, Indian Beach is a small town that offers several soft, pristine and hidden beaches in a total area of just 2 square miles.
  • Salter Path – Directly east of Indian Beach on the narrowest path of Bogue Banks is Salter Path, a small unincorporated residential community with excellent beach access. Some of the first homes on the island were founded here.

Top Attractions and Places to See

No matter where you stay on the Crystal Coast, you won’t be far from any of the area’s attractions, which can fill up many days of your vacation.

The Crystal Coast is rich in piers, nature parks, landmarks, historic sites and other places to see that all contribute to the magic and charm of the area. Below is an overview of some of the top attractions to explore:

Oceanana Fishing Pier

Location: 700 E Fort Macon Rd, Atlantic Beach, NC

The Oceanana Fishing Pier in Atlantic Beach is vast, stretching almost 1,000 feet into the ocean and offering you the opportunity to catch a vast range of gamefish species.
Most visitors, however, simply stop by to indulge in the breathtaking views throughout the day and during sunset.

Relax and enjoy a freshly caught seafood meal with the family at the Oceanana Pier House Restaurant with reasonable prices, quirky maritime décor and a laid-back atmosphere.

Fort Macon State Park

Location: 2303 E Fort Macon Rd, Atlantic Beach, NC

Fort Macon State Park in Atlantic Beach is arguably the area’s top must-see historic site. The fort has been revitalized as a museum, featuring outdoor and indoor exhibits, musket demonstrations, guided tours, and more. In the surrounding area, you will find some jaw-dropping water views in the 9 acres that make up the grounds.

The park is almost totally surrounded by water and features a pristine shoreline for beachgoing, designated trails for hiking, year-round fishing for bluefish, whiting, sheepshead, flounder and many other species, swimming areas, picnic facilities and more. Lifeguards are on duty from Memorial Day through Labor Day at the protected swimming area.

The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores

Location: 1 Roosevelt Blvd, Pine Knoll Shores, NC

The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores gives you an opportunity to see the marine life of the area up close while learning some fascinating facts with the family.

The aquarium features thousands of aquatic animals, from the open Atlantic to the waterfalls and rich mountains of North Carolina. You can spot river otters playing and frolicking at the otter exhibit or touch sting rays in the family-friendly petting tank.

Various events, such as the fishing school lessons, the “Design-a-Dino” coloring day, and the shark-themed family fundraising event make the aquarium a local community staple.

Where else can you safely stare a shark right in the eye in immersive settings that are similar to how these majestic creatives live in the wild?

There are daily programs to participate in and interactive exhibits, from art displays, to sea turtle puppets, a nature play area and more for the kids.

Cape Lookout National Seashore

Cape Lookout National Seashore is directly east of Bogue Banks and a grand encapsulation of what makes the Crystal Coast so special. It is only accessible via boat, with 56 miles of sparking sandy beaches surrounding the crown jewel – the iconic Lookout Lighthouse also known as the Diamond Lady.

It can’t be missed as you approach it, boasting a brilliant diamond pattern across a classic black and white color design. It’s was used for generations to introduce weary sea-travelers to the Crystal Coast.

Take a ferry out to the area from nearby Harkers Island or Beaufort, indulge in the views, and spot the wild horses of the nearby Shackleford Banks. Experience fishing, shelling, swimming, camping, birding and even climb the lighthouse. The Island Express Ferry Service can be reached at (252)-728-7433 for more details.

Historic Downtown Beaufort

Beaufort is a historic village like few others located right off Bogue Banks just a 10-minute drive away. It is famous for its laid-back atmosphere and whimsical charm. Visitors come and enjoy the area for the natural views, the rustic aesthetics of the shops and boutiques, and some inspired old-school activities, such as camping, shelling, and more.

Established in 1709, the town is still vibrant with the energy lifestyle of this bygone era of living. It’s a world that you can step into anytime on the cobbled streets and old-town eateries of Beaufort.

As enticing as these attractions may seem, they are only a few of the many exciting opportunities available to you on the Crystal Coast.

Watersport and Outdoor Activities

For many visitors, it’s all about the watersport activities – and the Crystal Coast delivers. You can experience it all on the ocean or on land, from coastal biking, hiking, kayaking, boating, parasailing, fishing, wildlife viewing, and more.

  • There are many kayak and paddleboard rental providers throughout Bogue Banks who offer equipment and lessons for self-guided or guided tours for those looking to take an ambitious journey to new and undiscovered areas on the water. Check out AB WaterSport Adventures (252)-422-0520 for more on kayak or paddleboard rates.
  • Jet skit and boat tours of the nearby waters and Cape Lookout are exciting and the ideal way to see the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean. AB WaterSpot Adventures is the only provider in the area offering these exciting tours
  • Atlantic Beach is home to some of the most rewarding charter fishing experiences which can be enjoyed in any season. You can contact Pelagic Sport Fishing Charters at (252)-904-3361 for guided fishing excursions, which is highly recommended if you haven’t fished on the Crystal Coast previously. Another excellent option is Capt. Stacy Fishing Center at 1-800-533-9417 which features a variety of options from half day to full day adventures, shark fishing, and even overnight fishing adventures.
  • You certainly don’t need a boat if you prefer, as pier and surf fishing are equally popular throughout the Crystal Coast, with plenty of opportunities to choose from, including vacation rentals with private stretches of beach, public piers on Bogue Banks, and marshes.

Dining and Shopping

If you choose to book a vacation rental on Bogue Banks, you’ll have access to dozens of conveniently located shopping and dining destinations, often right outside your rental.

Every type of dining experience that you could want can be experienced here, including both casual and fine dining seafood eateries, bars and grills, BBQ spots, Mexican, Asian, and Italian restaurants and more.

Atlantic Beach in particular is home to several of the Crystal Coast’s most acclaimed restaurants including the Island Grille (401 Money Island Dr) and its upscale seafood options and trendy décor, Shark Shack, Atlantic Beach (100 S Durham Ave) with its delicious seafood sandwiches and burgers, and the 4 Corners Diner (100 E Fort Macon Rd) with breakfast, fried seafood dishes and traditional comfort foods.

Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant (703 E Fort Macon Rd, Atlantic Beach, NC) offers patio views overlooking the water and a freshly prepared mostly seafood menu. Or head over to Roma Pizza & Subs (100 S Charlotte Ave, Atlantic Beach, NC) for your favorite Italian fare.

This is just a small selection of the diverse range of restaurants available to you on the Crystal Coast; you’re sure to find an ideal eatery within a close proximity to your vacation rental.

In terms of shopping, there’s no end to the boutiques, stores, and outdoor equipment shops that you’ll find throughout Bogue Banks and on the rest of the Crystal Coast.

Stop by Wings (200 W. Fort Macon Rd. and 101W. Fort Macon Rd., Atlantic Beach, NC) for a variety of items including souvenirs, swimwear, beach equipment and accessories – everything you need for a day of fun in the sun.

The Atlantic Beach Seafood Market (415 Atlantic Beach Causeway, Atlantic Beach NC) offers some of the freshest fish and seafood on the Crystal Coast, to enjoy back at your vacation rental.

Freeman’s Bait and Tackle Shop (108 Atlantic Beach Causeway Atlantic Beach, NC) has everything you need for your self-guided fishing adventures including inshore and offshore tackle, fresh, frozen and live bait, rod and reel repair, and expert advice.

J. Chalk Designs (1010 W Fort Macon Rd, Atlantic Beach, NC) offers a variety of handcrafted unique jewelry, all made in house.

Head over to Grandma’s Toy Box (8700 Emerald Drive Emerald Isle, NC) in Emerald Isle, the only specialty toy store in the area with a family friendly atmosphere, dozens of different types of candy, games, toys, educational items and fun things for the kids.

Many more quaint shops and boutiques await, each offering something unique to take back home and always remind you of the time you spent on the Crystal Coast.

Contact Us to Plan a Crystal Coast Vacation

As you can see, there’s no shortage of activities for romantics, adventurers, families, and everything in between while on a vacation to the Crystal Coast. It’s just where you want to be. The Crystal Coast has it all. You can find a world of opportunities and activities just waiting to be explored.

Contact us at (252)-247-7610 for a walk through the top attractions, the best fishing excursions, the friendliest family activities, and the most exciting local places to eat here.

We know the Crystal Coast and we are ecstatic to share it with as many people as possible. Our Crystal Coast vacation rentals throughout the area offer new renovations, access to the beach, and several highly sought-after amenities and features.