The Crystal Coast: Best Places to Stay, Play, and Eat Local

Ready to hit the beach? This summer, keep it local. North Carolina’s own Crystal Coast is something of a hidden gem. The area known as the “southern” Outer Banks covers 85 miles of coastline with nine distinct regions, and is home to wild horses, open sand beaches, and historic charm. Here are the five best places to stay, five best places to play, and the top three places to find a full belly with a sunset view.

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Credit: NPS photo: Kerby Price

Where to Stay

Go Charming: The Inlet Inn
With a clever name and prime location, the Inlet Inn calls itself a “quiet and comfortable Inn that offers the privacy of a hotel but with the amenities, charm and service of a bed and breakfast.” A place of rest since the 19th century, the current Inn offers both view and location. (Inlet-inn.com)

Go Camping: Cedar Point Campground and Recreation Area
Located in eastern North Carolina at the junction of the White Oak River and the Bogue Sound, Cedar Point Campground offers the best of both beach and river. The spacious campsite is within one mile of shopping, and within two miles of NC's Crystal Coast and the barrier island beach community of Bogue Bank. (Cedar Point Info)

Go Big: DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Atlantic Beach Oceanfront
Nestled on a quiet stretch of Atlantic Beach between Havelock and Emerald Isle, the hotel is only two miles from the town center and offers miles of inviting, sandy beaches. Two restaurants are open onsite for dining and the hotel is adjacent to a pier for dolphin spotting. (Doubletree Website)

Go Romantic: Pecan Tree Inn
An alternative to the big hotels is the Pecan Tree Inn located in the Historic District in Beaufort. The bed and breakfast offers a seaside atmosphere just a few steps from the scenic yacht harbor. It’s a cozy getaway for couples looking for love on the Crystal Coast. (Pecantree.com)

Go Homestyle: Bluewater Vacation Rentals
For families, there’s nothing better than a big beach house to call home for a week. Offering multiple locations in Emerald Isle, Pine Knoll Shores, Atlantic Beach, Morehead City, and Beaufort, Bluewater has two offices that can help find your family a townhome, condo, or beach house for your stay. (Bluewaternc.com)

Where to Play

Cape Lookout National Seashore
What could be better than a nature adventure? As their website says: “A boat ride three miles off-shore brings you to the barrier islands of Cape Lookout National Seashore.  Horse watching, shelling, fishing, birding, camping, lighthouse climbing, and touring historic villages -- there’s something for everyone at Cape Lookout. Be sure to bring all the food, water, and supplies you need (and carry your trash out of the park) when visiting these remote beaches.” (Cape Lookout Info)

Fort Macon State Park
For the history buffs, Fort Macon State Park offers a few lessons with a beachy view. “A perfectly restored Civil War-era fort, a museum-quality coastal education center and an unspoiled shoreline for swimming, surf fishing and beachcombing. Nearly surrounded by water at the eastern tip of Bogue Banks, the park offers undisturbed natural beauty and opportunities to explore and learn about salt marshes, estuaries and dune fields. Cannon and musket demonstrations and guided tours are regular features, complementing extensive exhibits indoors and out.” (Fort Macon Info)

NC Aquarium: Pine Knoll Shores
Explore NC through its wild aquatic life. The Pine Knoll Shores location offers a list of exciting experiences: Feel the spray of a mountain waterfall, watch river otters play, touch a stingray, look a shark in the eye, see a rare white sea turtle, and explore shipwrecks — without getting wet. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. (NC Aquarium Info)

The North Carolina Maritime Museum
Located in Beaufort, NC, the maritime museum offers a look at true coastal life from lighthouses to pirate ships. For the pirate lovers among you: “The Beaufort museum is the repository for artifacts from Blackbeard’s wrecked flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, among them cannons, grenades, belt buckles and beads.” (NC Maritime Museum Info)

Cape Lookout Lighthouse
Get your exercise in with a climb up the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. The historic lighthouse offers views across the water, perfect for photographers. Plan this jaunt with care, since the climb can be a tough one. Climbing the 207 steps to the gallery is roughly equal to climbing a 12-story building! Keep in mind that the lighthouse is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. (Cape Lookout Lighthouse Info)

Where to Eat

The Trading Post: Southern Food and Spirits 
Yummy Southern seafood and down-home cooking with a sophisticated edge. Their website shares: “Sweet tea and spirits perfect for sippin’ and telling stories, and a backyard that will be the perfect hangout for relaxing with friends. Whether you are trading stories over breakfast, playing horseshoes at lunch, or listening to good ole music during dinner, The Trading Post will be the place to make memories that will last a lifetime.” (Menu and more info)

Off the Hook
For modern, contemporary dining on the Morehead City waterfront, Off the Hook offers dinner, Sunday brunch, and live music events, as well as serves local seafood with a Caribbean-Central American twist. “At 10 p.m. on weekend nights, the tables are cleared and the party begins. Whether it's live music out on the deck or a local DJ spinning tracks inside, Off the Hook has the party atmosphere you're looking for on those hot summer nights.” (Menu and more info)

Oceanana Pier and Pier House Restaurant
Opening in 1959, the Oceanana Pier and Pier House Restaurant has a legacy of food, fish, and fun for families in Atlantic Beach. The Pier House was recently renovated, and the menus updated. If you’re looking for seafood at reasonable prices, this is the spot. They also offer The Barnacle, an open-air bar located a thousand feet offshore at the end of the Oceanana Pier. “It’s named after a legendary Atlantic Beach bar from the 1960’s and is the best place on the Crystal Coast to toast the sunset.” (Menu and more info)

Where's your favorite place on North Carolina's own Crystal Coast? Tell us in the comments, or join the conversation on our Facebook page

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