Stick your toes in the sand, or lounge in the quiet inlets of these three North Carolina communities.
1 of 6Photography Gary Clark
Stroll and soak up the sun
Boat shoes or flip-flops? We say both. The communities of Beaufort, Morehead City, and Atlantic Beach join to create a jumping-off point for the southern tip of the Outer Banks. Who wants to jump, though, considering that within a 30-minute radius you can be strolling a harbor boardwalk or kicking back in your beach chair? This is a great place to spend an early-summer weekend.
left: Beaufort's boardwalk off Front Street extends the length of the harbor downtown.
2 of 6Photography Gary Clark
Stay the Night
First ask yourself this question: Do I want to wake up to ocean waves or slow ripples in a peaceful inlet? The Inlet Inn sits right down on Beaufort's Front Street. From the balcony of your waterfront room (starting at $155), you can watch the boats roll in at the end of the day. For more of a sandy experience, reserve an oceanfront room at the Sheraton Atlantic Beach (starting at $149). The rooms are a bit cramped with low ceilings, but you'll be pleased with the nice indoor and outdoor pools and back-door beach access. For a more affordable chain stay, try the AmeriSuites Atlantic Beach (starting at $89). It sits across the street from the beach, but it's only a short walk to public-access points.
Off to the Beach
Unpack your gear, and park yourself at the beach near the bathhouse at Fort Macon State Park. This public beach, located on the eastern edge of Atlantic Beach, features clean bathrooms. Editor's tip: Join the crew from the local kite shop, Kites Unlimited and Bird Stuff, out here around 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings for their community fun flies.
Several outfitters, such as the Outer Banks Ferry Service and Island Ferry Adventures, carry visitors from Beaufort harbor out to Shackleford Banks for less than $15 per person. This island, on the southern tip of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, features excellent shelling and a herd of about 120 free-roaming, wild horses whose ancestors are believed to have inhabited the island since the 16th century.
left: Hop a ferry for an excursion to Shackleford Banks, home to wild horses and wonderful shelling.
3 of 6Photography Gary Clark
Exploring Back in Town
Stroll along Morehead City's waterfront, and check out the string of shops. Stop in Dee Gee's Books and Gifts for that perfect beach read. Nearby, Arts & Things showcases a wonderfully diverse collection from Australian paintings and rock sculptures from Shona tribes in Zimbabwe to local artists' renderings of North Carolina's coastal scenes.
Downtown Beaufort's waterfront also features a slew of shops, including Tierra Fina, one of our favorites. Owner Patti Davis specializes in bright and colorful dinnerware and pottery imported from Spain, Portugal, and Mexico.
If you're a boat lover, make your way through Beaufort's North Carolina Maritime Museum, which is full of cool finds, such as artifacts from Blackbeard's flagship, the Queen Anne's Revenge. The museum also offers boat-building and restoration programs, and you might even catch a class in progress.
left: Researchers estimate about 120 wild horses roam the beaches of Shackleford Banks.
4 of 6Photography Gary Clark
You may have a little wait for breakfast at Cox's in Morehead City, where locals crowd the booths and tables. Nothing fancy here (just about everything is less than $5), but if you're looking for bacon and eggs served all day, you're in the right place.
Request a water-view table for lunch at the Front Street Grill at Stillwater. Dill and bacon flavor the fresh clam chowder ($4.25), and you'll like the delicately fried soft-shell crab po'boy ($9.75).
One of our favorite stops in the area remains the Beaufort Grocery Company. You won't be disappointed with the Sonnamabeach sandwich ($9.99) with ham, capocolla, and salami served with a garlic-and-herb aïoli, grilled onions, and peppers. And unless you're ready to be tempted, divert your eyes from the rich, homemade desserts in the case up front. Editor's tip: Consider packing a picnic lunch from here for one of your beach excursions.
left: Seafood shines at The Sandbar in Town Creek Marina, with entrées such as the mixed grill featuring fresh wahoo, shrimp, and herb-rubbed lamb chops ($27).
5 of 6Photography Gary Clark
It may seem odd to find a great steak place in a seafood-heavy town, but Watermark plays the unexpected role perfectly. They grill everything over charcoal, so go with the 8-ounce rib eye, and just for good measure, the grilled shrimp and scallops ($23).
With live music every weekend at The Sandbar and Tiki Bar at Town Creek Marina, you might actually hear this restaurant before you see it. The fun atmosphere and its waterside location only add to the great experience. Start with lightly dusted and fried calamari ($10), and then try the seafood platter (the fresh catch, shrimp, and scallops, $21) grilled with a honey-lime glaze. Editor's tip: Do yourself a favor, and reserve an outdoor table around sunset. There, you can catch the sun as it drops right into the Intracoastal Waterway.
left: Kites Unlimited and Bird Stuff in Atlantic Beach hosts weekly fun flies.
6 of 6Photography Gary Clark
The Two Beauforts
North and South Carolina both have towns named Beaufort, but each is pronounced differently. In North Carolina, it's BOH-fort, as if the "beau" is a suitor. In South Carolina, it's BEW-fort, so think "beautiful."
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Crystal Coast Tourism Authority Visitors Center: www.crystalcoastnc.org or (252) 726-8148.
A NOTE TO OUR READERS:
"Cruising the Carolina Coast" is from the May 2007 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.