As a born local to the Crystal Coast, I can first-hand share my favorite ways to experience a vacation filled with the beauty, history, and fun that the southern Outer Banks has to offer. With the pandemic, there is a growing increase for outdoor vacation experiences. Here I created three quick day guides to have a relaxing, yet adventurous time down at the beach, with no shortage of outdoor activities. My guides would work well if you are vacationing in the Morehead City, Beaufort, and/or Atlantic Beach, North Carolina areas!
Day 1: The go with the flow, history buff, beach lover.
Sleep in for a bit and wake up ready for a morning breakfast over at the locals favorite The Banks Grill. The menu is full of southern breakfast staples, plus the perfect mix of local seafood specialties. If you’re extra hungry, go for “The Lighthouse Benedict,” decked out with crab cakes, an extra-large biscuit, and some southern creamy tomato gravy.
After a hearty breakfast from The Banks Grill, head over to Fort Macon State Park to explore the historic Civil War era, nestled up along the sparkling waters of Bogue Banks and the United States Coast Guard station. The brick and stone fort is a remarkable sight, with restored cannons and exhibit rooms that mimic the layout and purpose of their space during war times. There are a few nature trails surrounding the fort’s access that are perfect for those who want to close all the rings on their Apple watch!
Once you complete your walking tour of the fort, scoop up your beach bags and coolers to enjoy an afternoon picnic full of sunbathing and swimming at the Fort Macon beach access. This location has a snack bar, bath house, lifeguards and handicap accessible ramps to accommodate all of its visitors.
After a fun day of catching rays and floating in the ocean, head back to your accommodations for a quick power nap and freshen up for delicious dinner and drinks at one of the locally owned restaurants: Moonrakers in Beaufort, RedFish Grill in Morehead City, or The Island Grille in Atlantic Beach.
Enjoying some rosè on the sky deck patio at Moonrakers with my bestie!
Day 2: The sun soaker, nature appreciator, and views seeker.
Next up for Day 2, experience a full day with the most special treasure of the southern Outer Banks. Drive on down to Harkers Island (about 30 minutes away from Morehead City) and hop on the Island Express Ferry over to Shackleford Banks and/or Cape Lookout National Seashore. Don’t forget to prepare the essentials: a cooler full of ice, food, and drinks, plenty of sunscreen, and your favorite bucket for collecting seashells. There are no stores on either island, so bring the necessities!
I recommend spending the day at one or both of these special places. I can tell from experience and promise that once you arrive, you will not want to leave! Some of my favorite activities include:
– Watch the wild horses and ponies roam the dunes and seashore of Shackleford Banks
– Search for whole conch shells, sand dollars, and other sea treasures
– Hike up the Cape Lookout Lighthouse for the most stunning view of the island
– Rent an ATV to cruise around the Cape for hours
– Hop on the mule truck from a fun, yet bumpy ride, on the old Cape roads and tour the Historical Village of Cape Lookout. The truck will drop you off at Cape Point, which has the most beautiful white sand beaches and gives you the feeling of being in your own private paradise!
Once you conclude your day over on the banks, dinner preparation should be the least of your worries. Scoot by one of my favorite take out spots to enoy a local’s delight. Some of my favorite places for to-go is: Sea Side Galley in Harkers Island (the fried shrimp are a must!), El’s Drive In in Morehead City (epic shrimp burgers, hamburgers, and hot dogs), or grab a pizza from Black Sheep in Beaufort (their gluten free pizza is a hit!).
Day 3: The “let’s play tourist,” sprinkled with a bit of thrill vacationer.
For your last day down at the Crystal Coast, I would recommend spending a calm and cool day along the Beaufort waterfront. For the adventure seekers, start out your morning with a parasailing excursion with Beaufort Inlet Watersports, located on Front Street, for the best panoramic view of the Crystal Coast landscape.
After you live your best daredevil dreams, replenish your energy with a delicious al fresco Sunday brunch over at Beaufort Grocery. Fan favorites are the: Beaufort Fruit & Cheese Board, signature Saganaki and/or Gruyeres, the No. 7 Apple Granny, the No. 6 Sumpin’s Jumpin (fresh catch of the day), and of course, no brunch is complete without a slice of their fresh baked pecan pie.
Once you conclude your brunch, walk out of Beau Gro and take a left onto Queen Street, then another left on to Ann Street. Once you walk a block, you’ll be right in front of the old historical Ann Street Methodist Church. History just beams out of the gorgeous stained-glass windows! The church was used as a hospital during the Civil War era and filled with stories of loves, heroes, and the locals who poured their soul into the livelihood of this establishment.
If you’re up for making things a little spooky and thrilling, make your way behind the church and you will find the Old Burying Ground, dating back to the 1700s. The burial sites tell the stories of many old Civil War heroes and their families whose grave sites are marked with shells, brick, or wooden slabs or some who may not even have marks at all. The cemetery has survived many hurricanes and floods and forever lives on as a fascinating attraction for locals and tourists alike.
After getting your history on at the Old Burying Ground, add some fun to the rest of your afternoon by perusing the local shops, maritime museums and historical sites, and quaint cafes that decorate the beautiful waterfront layout of Front Street. Some of my favorite boutiques to play dress up at are Beaufort Proper, Island Traders, and Beaufort Linen. For an afternoon pick me up, swing by Cru Wine Bar & Cafe for the decadent and delicious Irish Coffee. Don’t forget the whipped cream!
As your winding down for the evening and making plans for dinner, head over to Salty Catch Seafood Company in Beaufort to pick up readymade dips, appetizers, and a Steamer Pot for a easy going, down home supper. These pots have done all of the hard work for you and the most perfect way to close out a rememberable time down at the Crystal Coast. Each pot is filled with shrimp, corn, potatoes, onion, smoked sausage, and a cute little shaker of Old Bay seasoning. Don’t forget to grab a six pack of locally brewed beer from Crystal Coast Brewery or Shortway Brewery and sip on it while you enjoy your warm & savory low country boil!
This is just scratching the surface on all of the available things to do down here in Carteret County. If you end up following one of my day guides, I would love to hear your feedback and how your day went! There is a plenty to do for all here on the coast and it is surely a relaxing place to enjoy a low-key, stress free vacation. I hope to see you down here at the sparkling waters and sunny shorelines of the Crystal Coast!