Beat summer’s beach crowds by travelling when those in the know do: in the spring. On the Crystal Coast of North Carolina, spring means warm water, warmer days and skies so pretty and perfect you’ll think you’re in a storybook. There’s no shortage of adventure – the fish are running, the waterways begging for kayakers and paddlers, and, best of all, the beach is yours.
Spring is the perfect time to be on the Crystal Coast with your friends, family or favorite traveling companion. These three itineraries will open your eyes to the possibilities the Crystal Coast offers. Read on and choose the adventure that fits your schedule best. However you travel – an overnight trip, a long weekend away or a full week at the beach – you’ll discover how to start summer early in North Carolina.
Choose Your Itinerary
One Night on the Coast
A Week at the Beach
Plan your trip around a spring festival like April’s Beaufort Wine & Food Festival. If you’ve got outdoor recreation in mind, the Emerald Isle Marathon, Half-Marathon and 5K have runners anticipating March, and the Crystal Coast Boat Show, in May, will inspire you to spend more time on the water. Music lovers should hit May’s Beaufort Music Festival and Atlantic Beach Music Festival, or June’s Crystal Coast Music Festival.
On overnight trips, it’s easy to pack in plenty of what the Crystal Coast does best: a blend of beach time, play time and downtime.
Plan to arrive before check-in at your hotel and head straight to Fort Macon State Park at the east end of Atlantic Beach. Fort Macon’s one of the most visited state parks in North Carolina for good reason – nature trails and a swimming beach complement a fort and naval gun emplacement built before the Civil War with the engineering help of Robert E. Lee. Walk the ramparts, take in the sweep of land and sea around you, witness cannon firings and reenactments – you have the command of the coast from here.
For your post-fort lunch, family friendly restaurants and drive-ins that serve a Crystal Coast favorite, the shrimp burger (fried shrimp, a steamed hamburger bun, ketchup and a smear of tarter sauce) are only a short drive away.
After a late lunch, check in to your hotel or motel. There are a variety of options along the entire coast to fit your budget and style, especially in Morehead City and Atlantic Beach. Crystal Coast’s hotels are especially great for an overnight stay, as they provide convenient amenities and locations at a discounted spring rate. Once you get your key, change into something beachy, then head to one of the many beach access points to take a nice relaxing nap on the sand.
End your day with some freshly caught seafood, which can be found at restaurants throughout the Crystal Coast. Look for the Carteret Catch logo on restaurant doors, signs or menus, denoting the restaurants as members of the organization of the same name. Those symbols mean you are sure to find at least one local seafood dish on the menu. Carteret Catch connects local fishermen with area restaurants and seafood houses, guaranteeing the freshest – and most local – seafood around. When you talk to your server, be sure to ask, “What’s the Carteret Catch of the day?” to ensure you get the freshest dish in the house.
The next morning, pack your bags, check out and join a local eco tour to see the Banker Ponies on Shackleford Banks or the Rachel Carson Reserve. Both locations consist of low barrier islands made of sand dunes, low maritime forests and marshes, and the horses have a storied past. Descendent from shipwrecked Spanish mustangs, you’ll spot them in small groups as you watch from the water. Many nature tours are water-based, so you’ll always maintain a safe distance from the wild horses, but you’ll get close enough for a good photo of these amazing animals. Headed onshore? Be sure to stay roughly a large bus-length away to give these wild animals their due privacy.
Build your weekend getaway on the overnight trip itinerary but with two major distinctions: Book a room at a bed and breakfast or inn, and with a whole weekend at your disposal, you can do even more.
Bed and breakfasts offer cozy accommodations perfect for a weekend retreat. Feel at home while exploring new adventures all along the coast. They’ll make sure you start your day off right with homemade breakfasts from delightful innkeepers who know the latest scoop on local events, things to do and the best way to plan out your weekend. Beaufort, in particular, has a nice collection of “home sweet homes” to check-in to, and with plenty of things to do nearby, you’re never far from the action.
Spring brings warm, sunny days and no humidity, making it perfect for exploring the scenic paddle trails. It’s the ideal time to seize a sense of adventure and learn to paddle. Taylor’s Creek, Bogue Sound and Down East’s Core Sound are stunning this time of year – and your Instagram feed will become the vacation-planning tool your friends need. Don’t forget to tag #MyCrystalCoast and let everyone know where you are.
Here, the fishing’s good every season, but in spring, the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament draws in teams of anglers from the world over. Even if you’re not an angler, watching the fleet of boats come in and weigh their catches is packed with energy and excitement. And if you get inspired to catch a few of your own, then head out on the open waters or hire a fishing guide who knows the best spots. The catch in spring and early summer is excellent, with flounder, shad, striped bass, bonito, gray and speckled trout, redfish, cobia, amberjack, king mackerel and mahi mahi out in abundance. You can even take a kayak fishing class – kayak, tackle and rods included.
For some inland action, a bike tour of Beaufort, “America’s Favorite Small Town,” is a beautiful way to get a look at the historic buildings, small-town streets and waterside drives that make this town so lovely. And if you combine it with a food, history or sightseeing tour, you’ll experience Beaufort from two sides. If you feel pressed for time (or if you just don’t want to pedal around), take a double-decker bus tour that gives you a dose of humor along with local history, and it goes right by a building that the pirate Blackbeard once called home.
When the sun sets, dine in style at one of many sit-down seafood spots, which range from family-owned seafood joints to white-tablecloth restaurants with chef-driven menus. Since you’re right on the coast, the seafood is fresh and many restaurants use locally grown ingredients, making for dishes rich in taste and local heritage.
At the end of the day, relax on the B&B’s porch, then snuggle into your high-thread-count sheets and fall asleep to the sounds of the seaside, waking up to fresh air and coffee the next day.
Make the most of your week at the beach by renting a cottage or condo – the bigger the better when it comes to family – with plenty of room for every generation. You can cook fresh seafood at home and take in those incredible ocean views from your deck. On Emerald Isle, vacation rentals range from grand oceanfront villas to condos to humble soundside abodes, and since vacation traffic is just beginning to grow, you’ll be able to find a lot of condo for your dollar. In spring, it’s easy to find a place that fits your family size, vacation style and budget.
Since the crowds have yet to arrive, the beach is yours from sunup to sundown and you can get a jump-start on summer. There are morning strolls, hours of studying the high-tide line for the perfect shell or piece of beach glass, and more than a few rounds of wave frolicking. You’ve got the elbowroom to do it all, so dive in.
At the North Carolina Maritime Museum, check out artifacts from Blackbeard’s flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge. In May, the Wooden Boat Show brings gorgeous wooden vessels – some vintage, others new, most hand-crafted – to the museum for a glimpse of the maritime history and craftsmanship of the region.
Get an idea of what’s swimming just offshore at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, where you’ll find giant tanks filled with everything from sea turtles to otters. Even get a behind-the-scenes tour with staff, or participate in a number of free programs.
Surf and stand-up paddleboard lessons for the kids give parents the chance to relax a bit, or, if you’re feeling up to it, you can hang 10 yourself. If you need a break from the sand, the Atlantic Beach Skate Park may be the answer for an adventurous afternoon.
Still have more time to fill? Kitty Hawk Kites offers tandem hang gliding, towing you up to a mile high and letting you float back to the ground (a bird’s eye view of the Crystal Coast). Or, hop on a boat tour to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse and Cape Lookout National Seashore. Along the way to this uninhabited stretch of shore, keep your eyes peeled for the Banker Ponies. On the National Seashore, you’ll find unparalleled beachcombing, shore-fishing and awe-inspiring views of the iconic black-and-white diamond-patterned lighthouse. If you’re into fishing, charter a boat to explore the inshore or offshore waters of the seashore, or, if you’d rather surf, bring a board and take advantage of the waves, which you should have pretty much to yourself.
Springtime at the Crystal Coast offers a world of choices with one guarantee – you’ll rarely see a crowd unless you’re at a festival or event. Otherwise, you’ve got ample room to rest, rejuvenate and relax.
However long you decide to stay, spring deals are popping up along the Crystal Coast, so you can get the best bang for your buck on a beach stay.