Crystal Coast Guide: Navigate North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks

Located near Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina’s Crystal Coast offers scenic coastline nestled in picturesque beach communities. These neighborhoods make up the state’s southern Outer Banks — an area vacationers can’t miss. To get started, check out this Crystal Coast guide and find helpful information.

Crystal Coast Guide: Make the Most of a Vacation Year-round

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Location and Transportation

The Crystal Coast region is an 85-mile stretch of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. The area includes 56 miles of protected beaches and 11 beach communities. Visitors may access the area via several transportation options including vehicles, planes, trains and ferries.

Those flying into the region can travel into Coastal Carolina Regional Airport in New Bern or Albert J Ellis Airport in Jacksonville. From there, travelers find rental cars, bus and van service, taxis, and an Amtrak that runs round-trip from Wilson to Morehead City. In addition, visitors have access to 10 ferry terminals including locations at Bayview, Hatteras, Southport and Fort Fisher.

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Communities in the Crystal Coast Area

Eleven beach towns make up the area. Each offer their own charm and reason to visit. Here’s a quick overview of where to find them and what to expect when planning a trip.

West: Western Crystal Coast, Emerald Isle, Indian Beach and Salter Path. Many are located near the Bogue Sound and Atlantic Ocean. Pristine beaches, fishing and fresh seafood are big draws.

Middle: Morehead City, Pine Knoll Shores, Beaufort, Atlantic Beach. These areas attract more crowds, feature award-winning beaches, historic sites, live entertainment, shopping and sporting events.

East: Down East, Harkers Island, Cape Lookout. Find undeveloped land, a historic lighthouse, museums, marinas and rural waterfront communities with wild horses that gallop the shore.

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Crystal Coast Guide to Vacation Accommodations

The area has many types of accommodations suited to all size groups. Cozy cabins and cottages by the ocean, historic bed-and-breakfasts, RV sites, hotels and spacious private vacation rentals beckon travelers to unwind and rest. Types of accommodations depend on location and community.

For example on Emerald Isle, guests may rent beachfront houses or stay on resorts where they wake to the sound of the ocean. Atlantic Beach has a mix of hotels and condo complexes with pools, play areas and beach service. Those who enjoy history should check out Beaufort, which encompasses historic properties and bed-and-breakfasts.

Things to Do

The area’s waterfront location means it’s easy to enjoy outdoor recreation year-round. On the water, experience boating, sailing, shore fishing, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, parasailing and wildlife watching. Those who want more laid-back activities enjoy riding ferries and relaxing on the sand. For more adventure, try scuba diving, horseback riding and sport fishing. In addition, Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier and Oceanana Fishing Pier offer prime spots for fishing, sunsets and dolphin-watching.

On land, the area features even more fun and activities. Explore museums, historic homes, escape room games, arcades, agriculture sites, art galleries, ax throwing, shopping and golf. In fact, Crystal Coast has dozens of disc golf, mini golf and traditional golf courses available for all skill levels.

During the vacation, plan a local guided tour. These activities provide a fun way to learn about the area, see top sites and attractions, and participate in local culture. Tours range from double-decker buses to bicycles, boats, pirates ships and food walks.

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Where to Eat

While playing and shopping, dining out is a must. Crystal Coast even has a program named Carteret Catch that helps visitors identify locally sourced foods and ingredients. The area is best known for fresh seafood with menu highlights such as daily catches, grilled goodies and fried favorites. Don’t forget to try the area’s waterfront dining options.

Not into seafood? No problem. This region has dozens of restaurants serving pizza, steak, international cuisine, gourmet flavors and dessert. Visitors will also find places for comfort food, burgers, Asian cuisine, brewpubs, Greek gyros, breakfast and late-night options.

Crystal Coast Events

In addition to year-round activities and attractions, NC’s Crystal Coast hosts annual events and festivals. Visitors come from all over to participate and watch fishing tournaments, marathons, golf tournaments, craft fairs and seasonal events. Each offer their own local vibes, food and things to do.

Longtime events in Crystal Coast include Core Sound Run, Gingerbread Festival of Lights, Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, restaurant and music festivals, seafood festivals, and kite fests.

Read more articles about destinations in North Carolina.