When most people think of the North Carolina coast their thoughts tend to drift to the far reaches of the Outer Banks, places like Cape Hatteras and Ocracoke Island, which have become world renowned for sand dunes, surfing and shipwrecks. But on a recent trip to the Tarheel coast, I had the pleasure of discovering a lesser known but equally inviting destination on the far southern end of the Outer Banks, a little closer to the mainland.
The Crystal Coast, as it has come to be known, is made up of such places as Morehead City, the Emerald Isle, Atlantic Beach, the quaint and historic town of Beaufort, and the stunning Cape Lookout National Seashore, administered by the National Park Service and accessible only by boat. Next time you’re searching for a coastal getaway consider the Crystal Coast and use this guide to experience the area like a local.
Visit Cape Lookout National Seashore
One of the few remaining undeveloped barrier islands in the world, Cape Lookout National Seashore is the ultimate highlight of any trip to the Crystal Coast. This pristine strip of land is accessible either by personal watercraft or by way of the Island Express Ferry Service that leaves regularly from the nearby Visitor Center on Harkers Island. Once there you’ll find a windswept, maritime landscape that offers unparalleled views of the neighboring Atlantic Ocean along with surfing, surf fishing, primitive beach camping, and reservable rustic cabins.
Go on a Paddling Excursion
Canoers and kayakers have the freedom to journey through the intricately laced inlets and waterways winding throughout The Crystal Coast. Explorers visiting the area will find paddling adventures suited to every interest and schedule. Excursions range from convenient two to four-hour guided tours through the waters surrounding Beaufort, Morehead City or Cape Lookout to full-blown eight-day paddling expeditions.
Kayak Fishing in the Rachel Carson Reserve
The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge is a popular spot for kayak fishermen seeking redfish, speckled trout, flounder and many other species. When I was in the area I was fortunate enough to attend a guided trip headed up by local guide and angler Bobby Brewer, AKA Baldheaded Bobby. He showed us around the reserve, put us on some summertime redfish, and even paddled us into an upclose encounter with a wild mustang.
Visit Historic Beaufort
Nearby Beaufort is a charming historical district lined with boats, waterfront restaurants, and houses, some of which have been around since colonial times. The best way to see town is on two wheels, so consider booking a culinary bike tour with Hungry Town Tours. Food:
Pescara Wood Oven Kitchen
Established in May 2015, Pescara is a coastal Italian restaurant located in a restored cedar plank home–the second oldest home in the area. Every detail of the space has been thoughtfully designed and carefully planned. From the exhibition wood oven kitchen to the outdoor terrace, the décor adds to the charm of this outstanding restaurant. We highly recomend the soft shell crab when in season.
Know for tapas and cocktails, Circa 81 has quickly become a staple of the Crystal Coast dining scene.Executive Chef and Owner, Clarke Merrell has his hand in every aspect of operations. The menu features small plates, perfect for passing around the table in true tapas style, medium and large plate selections—delicious sandwiches, homemade soups, local seafood and fresh-made desserts—and more than 30 specialty drinks on the cocktaileria menu.
Libations and Nightlife:
Perfectly perched in the Atlantic Beach Circle lies Idle Hour Biergarten, a modern, beachside take on a German beer garden serving up an eclectic made from scratch menu, prepared in-house –think bratwurst, sandwiches, soup, salads and concessions –using fresh local ingredients and native North Carolina craft beer by the glass, pint, stein, bottle and can, plus wine and cocktails. Having opened in February 2015, Idle Hour offers both in-door and outdoor spaces, allowing guests to mix and mingle alfresco whether at a picnic table or the outdoor fireplace. With a seasonally influenced menu, guests can return time and time again for new palate pleasers.