A Beginner’s Guide to the Crystal Coast Beach Communities

Our name may be “Emerald Isle Realty”, but as many of you know, we have vacation rentals and homes for sale in many different areas of the Crystal Coast. In fact, our communities make up a large portion of the 85 miles of coastline on the southernmost part of the Outer Banks. So, if you’re interested in visiting, but would like to know a little more about the area, then this guide is for you. Discover what makes each of the Crystal Coast beach communities unique and then explore the best events and things to do in each community.

Atlantic Beach


Atlantic Beach is located on the eastern portion of the island of Bogue Banks. As the name suggests, Atlantic Beach is known for its sparkling waters and wide sandy beaches, in addition to its Boardwalk. But it’s also an area filled with history and culture. Atlantic Beach is home to Fort Macon State Park, a historic Civil War fort, one of the most visited state parks in North Carolina.

The commercial district of Atlantic Beach is a popular area with its array of shopping and dining options. This coastal beach community also offers plenty of activities such as boating, fishing, surfing and more. The town really comes alive with local events that take place throughout the year such as the Carolina Kite Fest and the Crystal Kai SUP Cup. If this all sounds like your cup of tea, then a stay near Atlantic Beach is in order.

Best Things to Do in Atlantic Beach

  • Catch the Civil War reenactment on the grounds of Fort Macon State Park. Then take a guided tour of the restored fort or conduct your own to see bunks, cannons, a rations storage room, Civil War artifacts and more.
  • Watch the latest blockbuster movie on the big screen at Atlantic Station Cinema.
  • Skate the bowl or grind the rails at the Atlantic Beach Skate Park, the region’s only skatepark and one of the biggest in Eastern North Carolina. The town park also features a splashpad, which is a great place to let the kids cool off and play in the fountain.
  • Test your skills with a sport fishing trip for Blue Marlin, Tuna, Mahi Mahi or Mackerel on a fishing charter from the Capt. Stacy Fishing Center.
  • Spend a day riding jet skis and taking in the views of the coast on a guided jet ski adventure with AB Watersports.
  • Make-your-own s’mores with a tableside ‘campfire’ after a delicious dinner in a bayou style setting at Amos Mosquitos.
  • Drop a line off the Oceanana Fishing Pier, which stretches close to 1,000 feet into the ocean. If hunger strikes, grab breakfast or lunch at the Pier House Restaurant.
  • Enjoy amazing views and an abundance of amenities in one of our vacation rentals in Atlantic Beach, perfect for families or groups of any size.

Top Events in Atlantic Beach

  1. Penguin Plunge
  2. Carolina Kite Fest
  3. Crystal Kai SUP Cup
  4. Atlantic Beach Beach Music Festival
  5. Tuna Run 200-mile Relay



Located about 20 miles from Emerald Isle, the town of Beaufort is one of the most popular towns on the Crystal Coast. It was voted #1 Favorite Small Town in 2014 by Travel + Leisure readers! As the third-oldest town in the state, Beaufort has a rich history. From the famous underwater pirate ship of Blackbeard to the North Carolina Maritime Museum, Beaufort’s extensive maritime history dates back more than 300 years.

Located on Taylor’s Creek, Beaufort offers visitors fantastic waterfront views and plenty of fun outdoor activities such as kayaking, fishing, standup paddleboarding and boating. For nature lovers, you’ll find trails and boardwalks, wild horses, more than 200 species of birds, bottlenose dolphins and sea turtles. Book a vacation rental during the late spring or early summer when the town is hopping with food and music festivals, boat shows and more.

Best Things to Do in Beaufort

  • See Queen Anne’s Revenge, which was Blackbeard’s famous pirate ship at the NC Maritime Museum.
  • Take a boatbuilding workshop at the Watercraft Center located directly across from the maritime museum.
  • Hop aboard a 1967 English double-decker bus for a live-narrated tour of the Beaufort Historic Site. See the restored homes, courthouse, county jail and apothecary shop.
  • Enjoy live music and craft beer on the Beaufort waterfront after a long day on the water at Clawson’s Restaurant & Pub.
  • Enjoy artwork by local artists at the Mattie King Davis Art Gallery during your visit to Beaufort Historic Site.
  • Go birding at Rachel Carson Reserve and take in the scenic views from the Carrot Island Boardwalk.
  • Tee off on the world-class par-72 course at North River Golf Club which features five tee boxes, expansive bunkers, wooden bulkheads, lakes and ponds.
  • Pedal through 300 years of history or sample Southern culinary dishes from a variety of local Beaufort restaurants on a guided history or culinary biking tour with Hungry Town Tours.

Top Events in Beaufort

  1. Beaufort Food & Wine Festival
  2. Beaufort Wooden Boat Show
  3. Beaufort Music Festival
  4. Beaufort Homes & Gardens Tour
  5. Beaufort Craft Beer Festival
  6. Holiday Art Walk & Christmas Candlelight Homes Tour

Emerald Isle


Emerald Isle is a 12-mile stretch of island found on the western portion of Bogue Banks. This laid-back beach community is one of the most popular along North Carolina’s southern Outer Banks. Named after the lush maritime forests that surround it, Emerald Isle is home to amazing beaches and an abundance of activities.

Play outdoors with activities ranging from kayaking and paddleboarding to fishing and scuba diving. Go fishing at Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier or simply take in an unforgettable sunset. Spend an afternoon shopping at some of the most adorable specialty boutiques while the guy’s head out for a game of golf. And the kids will love visiting the numerous attractions and amusement parks sprinkled throughout the area. The town is especially lively during the busy season, starting with the annual St. Patrick’s Day Festival, and the 4th of July Fireworks show is one of the most popular local events in the area.

Emerald Isle offers a relaxing, family atmosphere and one of the largest selections of vacation rental homes on the Crystal Coast. From quaint beach cottages to luxurious sandcastle homes and everything in between, you’re sure to find the perfect accommodations to suit your needs and your budget. It’s easy to see why visitors return to Emerald Isle year after year!

Best Things to Do in Emerald Isle

  • Hit up the matinee with the family or have a romantic movie night out just for two at the Emerald Plantation Cinema.
  • Cast a line off the Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier, a popular spot to catch anything from wahoo and king mackerel to speckled trout and red drum.
  • Let the kids splash and play on water slides and rides at Salty Pirate Waterpark.
  • Gather a group of friends for a round of disc golf at Emerald Woods Park.
  • Bike your way along the Emerald Isle Bike Path for a little family together time. Choose from a number of shops offering bike rentals in Emerald Isle.
  • Putt your way around one of the mini-golf courses in the area such as Emerald Forest Putt-Putt.
  • Catch a wave on the pristine beaches at Emerald Isle; you can find surfboard rentals and lessons at South Swell Surf Shop.
  • Head out to The Point in Emerald Isle during the evening for a spectacular view of the sunset.
  • Shop for unique gifts and collectibles to take home for family and friends at the shops at Emerald Plantation Shopping Center.
  • Cool off with some sweet treats after a day at the beach at the Sweet Spot.
  • Take the family out for a fresh seafood dinner at one of several popular restaurants in the area such as Flipperz Family Bar & Grill or Caribsea.
  • Browse stunning pieces of original sea life coastal art by the artist, Glenn Lamp, a local Emerald Isle artist who moved to North Carolina in the 80’s at Day Five Art Gallery.
  • Go boating on Bogue Sound. Spend the day fishing or just exploring the waterways. The Emerald Isle Boating Access Area is a great place to launch your boat and is conveniently located on Bogue Sound.
  • Get great rates on an incredible selection of vacation rentals in Emerald Isle featuring stunning water views, gourmet kitchens, pools and hot tubs, elevators and so much more.

Top Events in Emerald Isle

  1. St. Patrick’s Day Festival
  2. EmeraldFest Outdoor Concert Series
  3. 4th of July Fireworks
  4. Emerald Isle Day4Kids
  5. Emerald Isle Beach Music Festival
  6. Christmas Parade & Tree Lighting

Harker’s Island


Harker’s Island is located just 30 miles away from Emerald Isle. It’s located in a marshy region in Carteret County, known as “Down East”, totaling only 3.8 square miles, with more than 1/3 of that being water! The town is made for tourists who love adventures.

One of the most popular draws to this region are the Shackleford Banks, part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, where you can see wild horses, go shelling, fishing, or kayaking. The Cape Lookout Lighthouse was named Best National Park Beach in 2016 by readers of USA Today and 10Best! The Island also offers the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center where you’ll find carvings, waterfowl art, music, storytelling, boat building and more. Make sure you take a day trip to this beautiful community and experience all it has to offer.

Best Things to Do in Harker’s Island

  • Climb the 207 steps to the top of Cape Lookout Lighthouse for amazing views of North Carolina’s Crystal Coast.
  • Go shelling at the Cape Lookout National Seashore. And make sure to stop at the Cape Lookout National Seashore Visitors Center for maps and information about the area.
  • See carvings and waterfowl art, listen to music and storytelling, and then try your hand at carving or quilting at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum.
  • Experience the beauty of the maritime forest on a hiking adventure at the Willow Pond Trail, located at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum.
  • Take a ferry ride to Shackleford Banks to catch a glimpse of the famous wild horses that roam the island.
  • See dolphins swimming alongside the ferry on your way to Shackleford Banks.

Top Events in Harker’s Island

  1. Taste of Core Sound
  2. Core Sound Waterfowl Weekend & Decoy Festival

Indian Beach


Indian Beach is a small, upscale town that sits in the middle of the island of Bogue Banks near the end of the Crystal Coast. Taking up a total area of 2-square miles, the town was officially established in 1973.  You’ll find lush coastal forests and beautiful emerald green waters.

The most popular place to vacation in Indian Beach is the Grande Villas, an 86-unit luxurious beachfront condominium property overlooking a 22-acre nature preserve. Grande Villas can accommodate families big and small. The Indian Beach area is very private and serene, with delicious restaurants and outdoor activities taking place in the nearby towns. Whether it’s a condo or a cottage, find your next vacation rental in the lovely town of Indian Beach.

Best Things to Do in Indian Beach

  • Watch baby sea turtles hatch. Indian Beach has a turtle program dedicated to educating the public and protecting the nesting population of sea turtles, which are an endangered species.
  • Catch a wave or go fishing in the beautiful emerald waters that line the coast. Or just spend the day laying on the beach.
  • Enjoy great views of the lush maritime forests that line the neighboring area of Salter Path.
  • Plan a trip to the NC Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores, located just a few minutes down the road.
  • Plan your stay at Grande Villas and enjoy resort-like amenities such as private beach and multiple pools, oceanside fire pit, and state of the art fitness facility and game/rec room.

Morehead City


Morehead City is a fisherman’s dream, widely known as one of the best fishing spots on the coast. People come from far and wide to attend and participate in the “Super Bowl of Fishing”, aka the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, that takes place each October. Year-round, numerous fishing charters offer deep sea fishing trips and ecology tours in the area that are perfect for small to large groups.

Because of all the great fishing in Morehead City, you’ll find dining options that can’t be beaten. Plus, there’s the famous NC Seafood Festival that takes place every fall. The downtown streets are lined with trees and benches, offering the perfect spot to take in the views during an afternoon of shopping along the waterfront. Rent out a great vacation rental available throughout the year or make Morehead City your home with one of our real estate properties for sale!

Best Things to Do in Morehead City

  • Take the family on a free tour of The History Place featuring award-winning carved decoys from the Core Sound Decoy Carvers Guild, an array of family quilts and much more.
  • Hone your putting skills during an afternoon at the Brandywine Golf Course.
  • Spend an afternoon shopping at boutique stores along the downtown waterfront such as Sea Classics Trading or Seaport Antique Market.
  • Dive the deep blue sea and experience a mix of history and archeology by scuba diving at Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge wreck site. Olympus Dive Center offers charters year-round and a variety of classes to choose from.
  • Head out to sea on a full or half-day fishing trip on the Carolina Princess. Your catch could include snapper, grouper, trigger, jacks, sea bass and more.
  • Go on an adventure and get up close with the sea life in both the coastal and inshore waters of the Crystal Coast with Crystal Coast Ecotours and Capt. Hawkins.
  • Plan a romantic night out for dinner at Floyd’s 1921. In addition to their amazing Southern cuisine, the patio is a great place to have a drink, listen to live music and enjoy the warm fire pits.

Top Events in Morehead City

  1. Crystal Coast Bridal Fair
  2. Chocolate Festival
  3. Blue Marlin Tournament
  4. NC Seafood Festival
  5. Oyster Festival
  6. Downtown Countdown

Pine Knoll Shores

Pine Knoll Shores is centrally located on the Crystal Coast, offering miles of pristine beaches. You’ll find an abundance of homes for rent and for sale, nestled on both the ocean and the sound side. The small coastal town is home to one of the area’s most popular attractions, the North Carolina Aquarium. It’s home to such creatures as otters, sharks, sea turtles, stingrays and more. Surrounding the aquarium is the untouched reserve known as the Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area, where the whole family can enjoy a hike along this scenic nature trail and explore the area’s natural wildlife and beauty.

Pine Knoll Shores is known for its beautiful and luxurious homes, ranging from oceanfront cottages to duplexes and condos. Pine Knoll Shores vacation rentals feature some of the best amenities and their beach location is hard to beat.

Best Things to Do in Pine Knoll Shores

  • Touch a stingray and see Blackbeard’s infamous ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, at the North Carolina Aquarium.
  • Go hiking with the family along one of the scenic nature trails at the Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area and take in the amazing views of the maritime forest.
  • Play a round of golf on a course designed through sand dunes, water features and the maritime forest at the Crystal Coast Country Club.
  • Reserve your stay in one of our amazing oceanfront vacation rentals in Pine Knoll Shores or check out the amenities offered with our condo rentals at Bogue Shore Club or Breakers.

Salter Path


Salter Path is located on Bogue Banks next to Indian Beach, just minutes from Emerald Isle. While staying in one of our vacation rentals in Salter Path, enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the pristine beaches. It’s also a perfect area to go surfing, fishing, kayaking and more. And with its proximity to nearby communities, visitors can enjoy all the great shopping and dining options available, in addition to fun family attractions that are located throughout the Crystal Coast area.

Salter Path has a great history and is still known as a fishing village, with its heritage still visible in the single-story cottages that pepper the landscape. During your next visit, be sure and chat with the locals, who still carry the pride of the area and that unique Baroque accent.

Best Things to Do in Salter Path

  • If you’re looking for a luxurious and private getaway, Grande Villas in nearby Indian Beach offers elegant condos perfect for family vacations or relaxing getaways.
  • Go fishing, kayaking or surfing in the beautiful coastal waters.
  • Explore fun family attractions located throughout the Crystal Coast area, just a quick drive away.
  • Plan an adventure with the kids at Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf and Raceway. With two 18-hole mini-golf courses, go-karts and bumper boats, you’ll find something for everyone.
  • Enjoy a stay in one of our oceanfront homes for rent in Salter Path, or choose an Ocean Club condo rental which features two outdoor swimming pools and lots of other great amenities.



The town known as the “Friendly City by the Sea” is located just 5 miles from Emerald Isle and sits along the Water Oak River and Intracoastal Waterway. Visitors enjoy picturesque shopping, dining, beaches, kayaking, and water views as far as the eye can see. Many tourists flock to the area because of its historic downtown district and antique shops.

The town also hosts several annual festivals and events, offering family fun and entertainment for locals and visitors. Each calendar year ends with Swansboro by Candlelight, the area’s kickoff to the holiday season where downtown streets are decorated in whimsical scenes and storefronts adorned with beautiful ribbons and bows. Find your perfect vacation rental and time of year to visit the charming town of Swansboro.

Best Things to Do in Swansboro

  • Go boating down the White Oak River or just cruise up and down the Intercoastal Waterway.
  • Venture to Hammocks Beach State Park. Spend the day fishing, swimming and shelling. And pack a picnic lunch to enjoy under the covered shelters that are available in the center of the island.
  • Paddle your way along the trails that lead to Bear Island or the unspoiled maritime forest at Huggins Island.
  • Shop for antiques or keepsakes from your vacation on the downtown waterfront at the Swansboro Antique Center and Pier 58 Outlet.
  • Take a stroll down the boardwalk at Bicentennial Park and take in the views of the tall shrimp boats that mark the horizon.
  • Plan a group deep sea fishing trip with Nancy Lee Fishing Charters and Captain Lee Manning.
  • Enjoy a unique dining experience at one of the delicious waterfront restaurants such as Saltwater Grill, Icehouse Waterfront Restaurant.

Top Events in Swansboro

  1. Swansboro Arts by The Sea Festival
  2. Swansboro Mullet Festival
  3. King Mackerel Tournament
  4. Christmas Flotilla
  5. Swansboro by Candlelight

Now that you’ve learned a little more about the amazing beach communities that make up North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, it’s time to start planning your first visit here. If you’ve already spent some time on the Southern Outer Banks before, hopefully this guide will give you some new ideas for places to go and things to see. Plan your trip with Emerald Isle Realty for an unforgettable experience each visit.


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