Wild Horses, A lighthouse, and Emerald Isle: A Quick Look at NC's Crystal Coast

In late March, my family took a whirlwind press trip to North Carolina's Crystal Coast. I happen to love this area of North Carolina, and know it fairly well because my father-in-law lives in Beaufort, which is NC's third oldest town. Despite knowing the area, this was a trip of firsts for us, and I really got to experience the area as a tourist rather than visiting as a "daughter-in-law." I have lots to share about the Crystal Coast, but I'm going to start with some basics.

A quick look at NC's Crystal Coast as a vacation destination: Wild Horses, A Lighthouse and the Beach

Where: North Carolina's Crystal Coast is considered part of North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks. The area consists of Emerald Isle, Indian Beach, Salter Path, Pine Knoll Shores, Atlantic Beach, Morehead City, Historic Beaufort, (pronounced Bo-fort), Harker's Island, and Cape Lookout.

How to Get There: The Crystal Coast area is about a 3-hour drive from my hometown of Raleigh, N.C.  The Coastal Carolina Regional Airport is located in New Bern, N.C. and it's about 45 minutes away from this coastal area. This airport has about ten incoming flights a day originating from Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, and Greensboro. This is an area where you will need a car.

A quick look at NC's Crystal Coast as a vacation destination: Wild Horses, A Lighthouse and the Beach (Emerald Isle Realty Beach House)

Where to Check-In: The Crystal Coast is filled with vacation rentals, Bed and Breakfast Inns, and several chain hotels from the limited-service market (think Hampton Inn) to full-service (think Doubletree) with a restaurant on-site. There are accommodations for every budget. We stayed with Emerald Isle Realty in Emerald Isle, N.C, which has an impressive portfolio of 700 rentals from condos, duplexes,  and huge homes. They apparently know my taste well, and decided that our base for this long weekend should be Bahama Breeze West. This is a Sandcastle rental, which gives you some hotel-like amenities. With the Sandcastle rental service, linens and towels are furnished. The beds are already made when you arrive which is so nice, especially if you arrive late like we did ( 9 p.m.). This duplex has five beautiful, spacious bedrooms, four bathrooms, two living areas, and a full-kitchen. It would fit two families very comfortably. Summer rates are (sitdown, please) $4,225 weekly, but when you think in terms of luxury hotel costs and the space you get in this home, it's much more cost-effective for this type of luxury vacation.

A beach view with Emerald Isle Realty in Emerald Isle, NC.

The great thing about a beach vacation rental is that you can make breakfast in your own kitchen, and have your coffee with an oceanfront view listening to the sound of the ocean. Go ahead,  turn up the volume.

Emerald Isle is not a bustling beach town. It's very residential which makes it a desirable vacation spot, in my opinion. There's a movie theatre, one grocery store on the island (another one over the bridge on the mainland), a waterslide park, miniature golf, retail shops, a great coffee shop, and some good restaurants.  However, most of the historic attractions are located about 20 to 35 minutes away, which is fine when you're on a week-long beach vacation. You stay close to home most of the time, and then take a day or two to go sightseeing. However, for us, we hardly stayed in Emerald Isle at all due to the demands of our press schedule.  I switched an entire morning around just so we could lounge in the beach house and enjoy our beautiful surroundings. The kids loved it.

Eating in on a beach morning.

We spent every day of our trip near Beaufort and Morehead City. If you want to be closer to the "action", you may want to consider Atlantic Beach (Home to Ft. Macon) and Pine Knoll Shores (Home to the North Carolina Aquarium-Pine Knoll Shores) as your base for beach rentals.

Harkers Island and Cape Lookout

Cape Lookout off the Crystal Coast, A U.S. National Park area

Despite my visiting the Crystal Coast often, I had never been to Harker's Island and Cape Lookout. On our first full-day in Carteret County, we drove to Harker's Island, which is about 50 minutes from Emerald Isle to catch a ferry to take us to Cape Lookout, which is one 14 U.S. National Parks in N.C.  During the season, you can primitive camp on this island, enjoy its beach, visit the Cape Lookout lighthouse, and the Keeper's Quarters Museum.

Keeper's Quarters Museum on Cape Lookout

This area of the Atlantic is called the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" and keeping that light on in the lighthouse was one of the most important jobs or else lives would be lost. It was quite a lonely job. Typically, the shift was split between the keeper and his assistant. It was also a very isolated job, and the keeper's family would only come for certain periods of time. The Park service has done an outstanding job showcasing how important this role was during its time in history.

From April 15-Oct. 1, you can also take a ferry to this area via Beaufort. We were there right before the Cape Lookout opened for the season so we left from Harkers Island.

On the way to Cape Lookout

Island Ferry Transportation provides transportation from both places. We took a small boat with our captain on what felt like the coldest day of the year.

But, that small boat took us right to the edge of Shackleford Banks. A wild horse was there for us to see.

More than 100 wild horses live on Shackleford Banks. The horses that are there now originated from Spanish Mustangs, who are believed to be the survivors of Spanish Galleon shipwrecks in this area. There also tours to Shackleford Banks where you can hike and learn more. The NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort organizes those tours.

Dining on Harker's Island

There are three restaurants on Harker's Island and a small grocery store that also serves as a bait and tackle shop. I ventured off the press agenda, and decided not to do lunch in Beaufort that day and instead, try my hand at one of the three restaurants. My original press agenda called for me to catch a ferry at 9 a.m.  If you remember, Emerald Isle is 45 minutes away by car. We decided to catch the 12:15 p.m. ferry and returned back to Harker's Island shortly after 2 p.m.  We were starving.

Our boat captain said he really likes to dine at the Seaside Stop N' Shop Cafe, which is part of a gas station.

Harker's Island Dining off the Crystal Coast

Beaufort has a lot more dining options with waterfront atmosphere, but this little place was cute and good.  It's also a lot cheaper than what you would find it Beaufort, too. They have good fried okra, fried shrimp, and will prepare a burger anyway you like. A cheeseburger with mustard and pickles, please.

We were too full for the homemade desserts, but something tells me that could have been the best thing about the place. They had coconut pie.

I'll have more on the Crystal Coast soon. I'll soon share some highlights of my favorite town, Beaufort, and share what we thought of some of the area restaurants. We certainly had a favorite. To plan your trip, visit Crystal Coast.com.

Disclosure: My family was hosted by The Crystal Coast, and my opinions about the area are my own. I think if you vacation here, you'll enjoy it a lot.  My thanks to our hosts who were always so gracious and eager to spread information about this North Carolina vacation destination. 

Fit Triangle Mom

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