Looking for the best family vacation destinations at NC beaches and considering visiting the Crystal Coast along the southern Outer Banks? Good, because this article will attempt to document all major attractions this beach community has to offer.
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The Crystal Coast is collectively all communities in Carteret County (Read More), to include Morehead City, Beaufort, Atlantic Beach, Salter Path and Indian Beach, Emerald Isle, Pine Knoll Shores, and Harkers Island. This area also encompasses the major destinations of Shackleford Banks and Cape Lookout National Seashore.
The area is a popular vacation destination mainly due to the quaint and secluded clean beaches, sprawling sand dunes, and uncommercialized coastline. Towns on Bogue Banks still have the “old time feel” and family atmosphere. You will not find high-rise hotels and resorts, or back-to-back tourist trap type businesses. Most establishments in the area are still local family owned. Even in the busy summer months, you will still be able to get lost and have plenty of privacy.
The Crystal Coast is also a mecca for diving enthusiast who come to the area to dive hundreds of shipwrecks from colonial days, and is also an extremely popular international destination for sportfishing given our close proximity to the warm and deep gulf stream waters.
Our beach community is still very much a community built on commercial fishing which allows for the very best in world class seafood establishments in the area.
Emerald Isle NC
Emerald Isle is located in the westernmost portion of Bogue Banks and is a very popular family area where you can find a fishing pier, campgrounds, resorts, restaurants, and beach themed shopping.
If you are visiting this community, I strongly recommend that you go to “the point” and walk out on the beach to get a good feel of our unspoiled coastline
Emerald Isle and Cape Carteret are separated by Bogue Sound and there is a bridge to access the mainland.
Salter Path and Indian Beach
Salter Path and Indian Beach are directly east from Emerald Isle on Hwy 58 and is a community where there are no stop lights and time seems to stand still. Expect to find small motels and several seafood restaurants, but not much else.
Pine Knoll Shores
Pine Knoll Shores is directly east of Salter Path and Indian Beach on Hwy 58 and serves only as a residential community and resort area. There are only two major hotels and a few seafood restaurants, but the community is known for it’s secluded beach homes and beach access areas.
Pine Knoll Shores is also home to a very large and advanced aquarium that is very popular for kids and families.
Atlantic Beach NC
Atlantic Beach (More Information) is directly east of Pine Knoll Shores on Hwy 58 and like Emerald Isle, is where you will find more shopping, family owned restaurants, nightlife, a fishing pier, and some commercialization. There are ample places for lodging and kids activities in this community. At the easternmost portion of Bogue Banks and Atlantic Beach is Fort Macon State Park (Video) that has a state maintained civil war fort, endless sand dunes for exploration, and free parking for beach access. This area is also known as a popular place to fish on the beach.
Atlantic Beach and Morehead City are separated by Bogue Sound and there is a bridge to access the mainland.
This community is home to the Beach Music Festival.
Morehead City NC
Morehead City (More information) is the Crystal Coast’s largest community and serves as a moderate sized business district, shopping area, and a downtown area that is focused on serving all tourism needs in the areas of dining, charter fishing, nightlife, and residential living.
Morehead City is also where you will find all of your big box restaurant and shopping needs.
Morehead City is also the home to the NC Seafood Festival and Big Rock Blue Marlin Fishing Tournament.
Beaufort is also home to a popular community for sailing enthusiast who dock in Beaufort on their adventures in sailing up the East Coast.
This community is home to the annual Beaufort Music Festival and Pirate Invasion.
When you were considering NC beaches for your next family vacation, you likely read about or heard about Shackleford Banks (barrier island) (More information) that is only accessible by boat / ferry. This area is very popular for people who want to see the herd of wild horses (banker ponies) that call this island home.
If your family decides to make Shackleford Banks a day trip, please understand there are no stores, no roads, no medical facilities, literally nothing except miles and miles of unspoiled wildlife, sand dunes, and very secluded and remote beaches.
If you think this destination is for your family, there are many local ferry boats that leave from Morehead City, Beaufort, and Harkers Island every 30 minutes in the Spring and Summer months.
Cape Lookout National Seashore
Cape Lookout National Seashore (More information) is literally a paradise on a barrier island where you can find a working lighthouse, extremely remote beaches, and aquaculture. Cape Lookout is only accessible by boat and is directly next to Shackleford Banks.
The Cape is operated by the National Park Service and is a popular area for whale watching and fishing.
Harkers Island NC
Harkers Island is directly east of Beaufort, Shackleford Banks, and Cape Lookout and is primarily a time tested commercial fishing community where people still value family living and hard work. This community’s roots are in fishing and hunting, a grueling work ethic, and family owned seafood restaurants.
Harkers Island is home to many ferry boats that take tourist to Shackleford Banks and Cape Lookout.
Cedar Island Ferry
Cedar Island is located in the easternmost portion of Carteret County and the Crystal Coast and is where the NC ferry system operates a ferry service that goes to Ocracoke Island and Cape Hatteras.
Cedar Island is about 60 miles from Beaufort NC.
To learn more about our NC beaches and family vacation destination attractions and want to get more information, please use the comment form below and we will be happy to talk with you.