The Crystal Coast of North Carolina has got it going on! Long known for it's beautiful, white sand beaches, the area is also loaded with history from before the colonial era. Visit each of the charming fishing villages along the coastline: Beaufort, Morehead City, Atlantic Beach, Emerald Isle, Swansboro and even the colonial capital, New Bern. Rich with both Civil War, Revolutionary War and even WWII (German U-boats were off the coast trying to bomb our merchant vessels), this area is a history buffs dream.
Here is my interview on the popular Amateur Traveler discussing the Crystal Coast:
The main highway is US 70E. If you are flying in, you can fly into Raleigh(RDU) or New Bern's really easy in and out regional airport (EWN). Only Delta and American service EWN. You will need a car to get around. Even though New Bern is not technically the Crystal Coast, it makes a great starting point for your adventure.
THINGS TO DO IN NEW BERN
• Visitor’s Center: pick up free self-guided walking tours
The walking tours: Historic Homes, Revolutionary War, African American Heritage, Churches and Cemeteries, A Walk to Remember (author Nicholas Sparks lives here and often sets his novels in Eastern NC)
• Union Park and walk around downtown, the old churches and cemeteries
• Historic downtown trolley tour
• Tryon Palace – NC’s colonial capital and former Governor’s mansion (rebuilt 150 years after a fire)
• Fireman’s Museum 1922 Fire burned down 1/3 of the city (NC's largest urban fires)
• New Bern Academy Museum (free) Old Civil War hospital
• Ghosts of New Bern tour (evenings in season)
• New Bern Battlefield Park (site of the battle where the Union took the area in 1862)- Free, if self-guided (guided tours available). This is on the way to the coast, just outside of a development called Taberna. Site where General Burnsides and his 60 ships and 15,000 troops overtook the local milita and then occupied the area for the remainder of the Civil War.
Havelock is on Hwy 70E en route to the coast. Home of the US Marine Corp Air Station Cherry Point. Stop by the Visitor's Center by the Hampton Inn if you are interested in fighter planes. There is also an exhibit about the local area, how pre-Civil War, Havelock was a major shipbuilder, but after the war, with a collapsed economy, many turned to making moonshine, for which it became famous up and down the East Coast. The base was built during WWII and revived the area.
CRYSTAL COAST : BEAUFORT
Beaufort is a quirky, vibrant former fishing village located on Taylor's Creek and across from the Beaufort Inlet, which made it an important safe harbor for ships from the colonial days on. It is also on the intra-coastal waterway, so especially during the spring and fall, the yachts come through as they make their way to their summer or winter homes. Budget Magazine named Beaufort “Coolest Small Town in America” and Travel and Leisure puts it in the Top 20. Be on the lookout for wild ponies on Carrot Island across the creek, or bottle nosed dolphins and sea turtles in the waterway.
The town has over 300 homes over 100 years old, many from the 1700's and 1800's. Look for the historical plaques beside the front doors.
Not only famous for fishing and boat building, but it is also where the feared pirate Blackbeard wrecked his flagship, Queen Anne's Revenge. The shipwreck was finally discovered in 1996. You can get the history and see relics at the Maritime Museum (free with suggested donation). The museum is also home of Echo, a sperm whale that beached in the area. His complete skeleton is hanging from the ceiling and his heart was preserved. If a volunteer is around, they will let you touch the heart and smell Echo's unusual oil (for which they were often hunted). Across the street you can watch wooden ships be repaired or built.
Stop by the Visitor's Center to visit six fascinating old buildings on site, pick up a map of the Old Burying Ground, or to schedule a historic trolley tour. Be sure to check out the human hair art in the Bell house!
• Visitor’s Center and Historical Buildings tour
♣ Bell House: Mourning Wall: Prof mourners, hair art, certificate, screen
♣ Old Jail: Windows, bankrupt
♣ Oldest Standing wooden courthouse
♣ Faux painting at Manson house
• Old Burying Ground cemetery
• Maritime Museum and Watercraft Museum – Free, donations suggested
o NOTE: 2018 is the YEAR OF BLACKBEARD His flagship went down near Beaufort in 1718
o PIRATE INVASION : OCT 10-11 in 2018 for the 300 year celebration: Invasion held annually, but 2018 extra special. Remember their motto: “It takes a village to pillage” . Re-enactments and LOTS of pirates wandering around.
• Beaufort Ghost Walk tour at night, seasonally Beautiful old cemeteries
• Take a scenic cruise. Sunset and Pirate Sunset cruises available
• Take the ferry to Cape Lookout and climb the lighthouse or relax on the beach
• Take the ferry to Shackelford Banks to look for wild horse and explore this natural area
• Rent a kayak or SUP to explore Rachel Carson Reserve (Carrot Island and the wild ponies Doctor 10 =>30)
• Enjoy the harbor front benches, boats, boutiques and restaurants
• Explore Harker’s Island, the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum
• Horseback ride in the ocean waves near the Cedar island ferry
• Take Cedar Island ferry to Ocracoke for a day trip
In the Victorian era, it was unseemly for women to cry at the loss of a loved one, so in Beaufort, they hired these two professional mourners to wail and nash their teeth for them. The art is made from HUMAN HAIR of loved ones who'd passed. These are in the Bell House in historic downtown Beaufort.
CRYSTAL COAST : MOREHEAD CITY
Where Beaufort has the yachts, Morehead has more of the actual fishing boats. Along the dock, you'll see the many charter fishing boats alongside the many fine restaurants, art galleries and boutiques.
Stop in the Visitor's Center located in the old train depot to pick up self-guided walking maps of the historic Promise' Land neighborhood located between 10th-15th St. Many of these homes were floated over by barge from a nearby island after the residents got fed up with hurricanes.
Also pick up the Fish Art walking tour map. The artist hid a little something on each piece. See if you can find it!
Often on Friday nights during the summer, there will be free outdoor concerts, Alive at Five, at the park near the Big Rock Weighing Station. Morehead City is home to one of the largest fishing tournament purses: the Big Rock Tournament.
Ranked as #1 in North America and in the Top 20 worldwide, Morehead offers fantastic scuba diving opportunities off the coast. Called the “Graveyard of the Sea”, there are dozens of shipwrecks to explore in the clear, warm waters with colorful fish. Stop in the Oympus Dive Center to see relics of a Nazi German U Boat that was sunk off the coast.
Visit the History Museum to learn about coastal life.
Time your visit for the fall if you want to check out the huge NC Seafood Festival.
THE BEACHES OF THE CRYSTAL COAST
Stunning, in a word. Nice, clean white sandy beaches that are nice and wide in most places. On this part of NC, the land faces south which means you get both sunrises and sunsets over the Atlantic!
The inlets at the two ends of Bogue Banks, a barrier island, are particularly beautiful (but you don't swim there as the current is too strong). On the east end is Fort Macon, an important fort protecting the Beaufort Harbor since the 1800's up to and including WWII, when German U-boats were patrolling the shore in hopes of sinking the merchant fleet (they damaged or sunk over 100 of our ships).
Fort Macon has a lovely exhibit which explores the interesting history of the fort, plus you can also walk around it. Bring a picnic to enjoy the scenic point where the Atlantic meets Bogue Sound at the inlet! Walk off lunch by hiking the beautiful path through the maritime forest which eventually leads to the ocean and then loops back to the fort.
There are two piers on the ocean: Oceana and Bogue Inlet Fishing piers (visitors can get a temporary license). You can also just walk out to enjoy a drink or snack and watch the waves and fishermen to see what they are catching. Fall is particularly popular for fishing both on the piers and ocean banks.
Visit the NC Aquarium located within the maritime forest land donated by Teddy Roosevelt and his wife in Pine Knoll Shores. Learn about coastal waters and the water's journey from the source in the NC mountains, to the sea. See a 3/4 replica of a German U Boat that we sank during WWII off our shores and check out the most popular star of the aquarium, Nimbus, a rare white loggerhead turtle who hatched on the Crystal Coast in 2007. There's also a nice walk through the maritme forest.
Bogue Banks is a 21 mile barrier island. On the other end of the island is Emerald Isle, which I consider the prettiest beach on the island. If you like to walk the beach, a gorgeous but long walk is from the Emerald Isle Beach Parking lot all the way to the Point, the inlet where the White Oak River meets the ocean. Head out a couple of hours before low tide so you have time to get out there and back before high tide. IT IS WORTH THE HIKE! Between Labor Day and Memorial Day, if you have four wheel drive, you can buy a permit to drive on the beach, so that's another way to get there. Mountain bikes at low tide work well, but are rough on the bikes and the local bike rental companies won't let you do that.
CRYSTAL COAST : SWANSBORO
Another cute fishing village is the historic town of Swansboro. You can get there from Emerald Isle, by going over the bridge back to the mainland and heading west on Hwy 24, or from Morehead City, take Hwy 70W to Hwy 24W.
Swansboro has a charming historic downtown to explore and is home of the Mullet Festival, which is always fun. There is a tunnel under the highway that gets you over to the Riverfront Park on the White Oak River. A lovely place for a picnic!
Swansboro is also home of Hammocks Beach State Park. Here you can enjoy the Visitor's Center, rent or bring a kayak to paddle on one of the paddling trails, go over and spend the day or night at Bear Island – a beautiful beach. You can also take a ferry over to Bear Island, which is fun. The kayak trails are blazed, but I think its a good idea to bring your phone with GPS so you don't get confused in the salt marshes. You'll want to take photos anyway of the gorgeous waterway filled with herons and other shore birds.