Beaufort, North Carolina (Crystal Coast)

Welcome to our Beaufort, North Carolina & Crystal Coast travel guide

The Crystal Coast is over 80 miles of beach towns that encompass some of the most beautiful beaches in North Carolina and small beach town gems like Beaufort, Emerald Isle, Surf City and Oriental. The shimmering water will call to you, invite you to walk, rest, and rejoice. Delicious food and sun await your next vacation to the Crystal Coast. I’ve broken this guide into my favorite beach towns, a short drive from each other. Use the Discovery Map to plan your trip.

Swansboro, NC Travel Guide
Emerald Isle Beach at Sunset

Things To See in Beaufort, North Carolina and the Crystal Coast 

North Carolina has some of the most beautiful beaches in the United States. The soft sands, shimmering waves against moonlit waters, are the respite you’ve been dreaming of. With plenty to do in these close-knit coastal cities, you’ll be able to connect with local wildlife, watch wild horses, and kayak to islands only reachable by boat.

We’ve broken this travel guide into the gems of the Crystal Coast, all located a short drive from each other. 

Beaufort – Award-winning Beaufort is the ideal Americana beach town. The quaint beach-town vibe, eclectic stores, and tours to local islands with wild horses make Beauford a memorable beach vacation.

  • Crystal Coast Lady – With several tour options, you can see wild horses, look for dolphins, or watch the sunset. Snacks, beverages, bathrooms and lots of seating on board make this my favorite tour. The captains were knowledgeable and engaging.
  • Wild Horses – See wild horses, whose ancestors swam ashore after escaping sinking ships headed for the Americas, on an island by taking the Crystal Coast Lady tour, or Island Express Ferry Service (authorized by the National Park Service) to the Shackelford Banks, where the horses roam, on this uninhabited island. Remember to pack in and out your needs for the day. Rent a paddle board or UTV.
  • Cape Lookout National Seashore Visitors Center – Closed during winter months, the Cape Lookout National Seashore Visitors Center, once a Post Office, now hosts historical museum quality art from the 1940s government initiative to make art accessible to all people in the image of the local culture and lifestyle. There are also a few installations about the local wild horses and wildlife. Hike the Willow Pond Loop self-guided trail. Be sure to take bug spray when entering the marshes. Mosquitoes can be aggressive in these areas.
  • Carrot Island – Carrot Island, part of the Rachel Carson Reserve, is located across from the Beaufort Inlet and only accessible by private boat or ferry. Rent kayaks to Carrot Island, walk the trails, look for wild horses and other wildlife. The short boardwalk from the water offers an opportunity to see a variety of bird species.
  • Maritime Museum – The Maritime Museum shows an exemplary movie about the recovery of Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and displays many artifacts from the recovery mission.
  • Beaufort Water Sports – Ten minutes of flying, high above the sparkling waters of Beaufort and you’ll be hooked on the adventures of parasailing. Beaufort Water Sports provides memories that last a lifetime.
  • Beaufort Cart Tours – With many tours to choose from, Beaufort Cart Tours will transport you in a five-seat golf cart, with an experienced guide to some of Beaufort’s historic and noteworthy sites.
  • Hungry Town Tours – Walk, bike, sip and snack your way through culinary or historical tours year-round, with many tours to choose from.

Emerald Isle – Stunning grass-filled dunes, pristine sand beaches, and clear waters make Emerald Isle a premier beach destination. After a day of walking for miles on this soft-sand beach until sunset, collecting seashells, sitting in your beach chairs with your toes in the water, you will know why Emerald Isle is the gem of the Crystal Coast.

  • Swansboro, NC – A small town just before the intracoastal bridge leading to Emerald Isle, is a great place for shopping and dining. My favorite store was The Sweetest Spot a candy wonderland with an old-style carousel, 50 ice cream flavors, homemade fudge, and even dog treats. I couldn’t stop smiling as the lights, sounds, and decorations brought me “sweet” joy.
  • The Bougue Inlet Pier and Beach – The Bogue Inlet Pier is a great place to park for a fee (often no fee in off season). You can walk onto the beach from this entry point or onto the pier for a small fee to enjoy the expansive views of the ocean.
  • Pedego Bike Rentals – Pedal your way to Emerald Isle’s beach, shops, and restaurants with Pedego electric bike rentals. Electric bikes are so much fun and Pedego bikes are the premier electric bike brand. Be sure to pedal to Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Shop for a sweet treat.
  • North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores – Located a short drive away in nearby Pine Knoll Shores, the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores allows you to engage in animal encounters with behind-the-scenes tours. The new Eagle Landing exhibit, a 3,000 sq ft enclosure housing Uwohali and Shagoie Watha, two flightless non-releasable Eagles, is a must-see. Hike the nearby Roosevelt and Hoffman trails, 1.2 and .5 miles, which can only be accessed during aquarium hours.

Surf City – Located on Topsail Island, nesting ground for the Loggerhead Sea Turtle, boasts a sublime pier and beautiful public beaches. 

  • The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center – Learn about the rescue, rehabilitation, and release program at The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. Take a guided tour from one of the expert staff members. You can also support the Rehab Center by adopting a turtle, as we did, pictured above. You can receive a certificate and photo of the turtle you adopt. 
  • Surf City Pier – For a small fee, go to the end of the Surf City Pier for an amazing view! Walk the beach, dip your toes in the water, relax and rejuvenate in the sun.

Oriental – Oriental is the sailing capital of North Carolina. To highlight its Oriental flare, the town embraces the dragon as its mascot, including an annual dragon dance to bring in the new year. Downtown Oriental is small, but the shops and hospitality are first class. This town makes a great afternoon outing. 

  • Marsha’s Cottage – Marsha’s Cottage sells comfortable ladies’ apparel, easy to dress up or down, for every occasion, made with quality materials.
  • The Village Gallery – Looking for an art-worthy card to tell someone you care? The Village Gallery has artistic handmade cards, gifts, jewelry, and art by local artists.
  • Art Works Oriental – A collective artistic studio, Art Works Oriental, allows you to watch artists at work and commission custom pieces or just bask in the limitless talent of these nationally recognized artists. While you’re visiting, take a class and learn the artists’ techniques.
Horse in Beaufort, North Carolina
Wild Horses On Carrot Island
Turtle in Surf City, NC
Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehab Center

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Places to Eat in Beaufort, North Carolina and the Crystal Coast 

If you love the beach like I do, fresh seafood and laid-back atmosphere, this is the place to be. You’ll relish the exquisite water views, breathing in the salty breeze of warmth, enveloping you like a soft blanket. With a full tummy, you’ll release the stress you’ve been carrying and connect with your free spirit.


Moonrakers  – Recognized by Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence in 2020, Moonrakers offers spectacular rooftop dining atop three floors of waterfront dining, handcrafted cocktails, and local beers.

Aqua Restaurant – Tapas, small plates, entrees with fresh ingredients from local growers, and unique creations are just the beginning of a memorable meal at Aqua.

Beaufort Grocery Co. – The Beaufort Grocery offers sophisticated seafood, homemade soups, fresh baked bread, and divine dessert dining in a takeout picnic basket, lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch.

Emerald Isle

Saltwater Grill of Swansboro – Of course the food at the Saltwater Grill is delicious, but the view, overlooking the intracoastal waterway, is really beautiful. Watching the boats coming in to dock for lunch, birds flying by, and fish jumping in the water made the lunch we had there so relaxing. Serving lunch, dinner and weekend breakfast. Pull up to the dock and pull up a chair, and try this amazing fare.

Surf City

Daddy Mac’s Beach Grill – Not just a great view, Daddy Mac’s Beach Grill offers great authentic coastal food too! They serve lunch, dinner, brunch, and even gluten-free choices. Daddy Mac’s Beach Grill is a supporter of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.

Sugar Kingdom – With over 2500 types of candy, Sugar Kingdom will reign over your taste buds. Colorful characters, whimsical seating areas, games, and adorable toys are the ingredients for a candy haven!


The Silos – Feast upon mouthwatering Italian food, in twin farm silos, at The Silos. The Red Rooster, the Silos backyard, is your place for live music, brews, and outdoor games.

Alise in Beaufort, North Carolina
Ocean Dining
Beaufort, NC

Places to stay in Beaufort, North Carolina and the Crystal Coast 

A variety of accommodations await you in the Crystal Coast. Stay inland at a working farm, a farm-style cottage, or upscale waterfront hotel. The acres of wide-open spaces, sea breeze, and soaking tub will leave you feeling cozy and comfortable.

Beaufort Hotel – The awarded Beaufort Hotel, situated upon 10 acres overlooking the waterway, is an upscale accommodation solution. Close to shops and restaurants, the Beauford Hotel also offers golf cart and bike rentals. The Market Place is ideal for grab-and-go items, perfect for a boat ride or island picnic.

River Dunes – Stay in luxury cottages and suites at River Dunes. The cottages are farm-house coastal with fireplaces, sunlit kitchens, and soaking tubs. The amenities include spa, pool, bicycles and kayaks.

Wallace Meadows Farm Guest House – Located in Trenton, an hour drive or so from the coast (and well worth it), Wallace Meadows Farm Guest is one of my all-time favorite Airbnbs. Rich and Tisha are amazing, kind hosts. The property is set on 40 acres with cows, chickens, and a donkey. I spent my days feeding the donkey, petting cows, walking the 1-mile trail around the farm, sitting under the pergola, or swinging on the swing watching the sunset. The inside of the house is just as amazing as the outside. This guest house has two bedrooms, expansive views from the master bedroom and living room, comfortable furniture, a well-appointed kitchen, and is one of the cleanest Airbnbs we’ve ever stayed in. If you are ready to breathe in fresh air, feel the peace and serenity of open spaces, and settle into the quiet spaces within, the Wallace Meadows Farm Guest House will heal you, provide respite and joy. We stayed here for a month and drove throughout the east side of North Carolina.

New Bern, NC
Wallace Meadows Farm
Alise in Wilson
Wallace Meadows Farm

Seasonal things to see and do in Beaufort, North Carolina and the Crystal Coast 

How to Work to Travel

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Best In Show in Beaufort, North Carolina and the Crystal Coast 

The Crystal Coast of North Carolina is a beautiful place to visit. The best in show for the Crystal Coast allows you to connect with sea turtles up close and learn about their rehabilitation in the wild. With so many phenomenal restaurants that serve delicious food, it’s hard to pick just one. However, our best in show pick is a show-stopper of luxury waterside dining. Visitors will find rest and relaxing accommodations to rejuvenate your soul.

Things to DoThe Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center – Learn about the rescue, rehabilitation, and release program at The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. Take a guided tour from one of the expert staff members, learn about the various types of turtles, and get a great view of turtle patients (releasable and non-releasable) being cared for. It was disheartening to learn about the impact of humans, pollution, and garbage on these incredible creatures, but inspiring to see all the community education and safeguards being put in place by the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center to prevent further harm. Check their website and Facebook page for turtle updates.

Food Moonrakers  – Rooftop dining, wine lockers, three floors of waterfront dining, handcrafted cocktails, local beers, and a wood fired brick oven are some reasons you should dine at Moonrakers. If you aren’t convinced yet, Moonrakers was recognized by Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence in 2020.

Accommodations River Dunes – Near the Oriental marina, these luxury cottages and suites at River Dunes exude farm-house coastal with fireplaces, sunlit kitchens, and soaking tubs. The amenities include spa, pool, bicycles and kayaks.

Beaufort, NC Travel Guide
Maritime Museum and the Queen Anne’s Revenge
Oriental, North Carolina
The Silos
Surf City, NC
Surf City Beach

Alise’s Favorites and Suggestions

Sea Turtle Program – Learn about the local Sea Turtle program and how to create a safe turtle environment as you stay and play on their land.

Many places offer free parking or parking for a fee. Make sure you pay attention to where you park. Coastal towns covet parking and may allocate spaces to residents by requiring a permit. If you do not have a permit, you will be towed if you park in these spaces. Be sure to look for any markings in or around the space that might indicate that it is a permit parking space; they can be hard to see.

Check out the Topsail Turtle Project

The turtle hospital reported that in 1 week within 1 mile, they collected 17 balloons, 50 bottle caps, and 20 plastic bags, all a significant hazard to turtles and other sea life. Please take time to educate yourself on the everyday human hazards. 

Day Trips

Wilson, NC Listen to a summer concert under the spinning folk art sculptures in Wirligig Park, or see over 2,000 birds at the world’s largest waterfowl conservation park. There are fun experiences to be had Down East, North Carolina. Remember, slow down, and create fun and joy where ever you go!
New Bern, NC Settled in 1710 by Swiss immigrants, New Bern, the second-oldest colonial town in North Carolina, was named after Bern, the capital of Switzerland. New Bern, surround on three sides by the water of the Neuse River, connected to the Pamlico Sound, is a coastal town integrated with nearby noteworthy mainland cities, perfect for a weekend getaway. Sail in and stay a while, or dock for the day at one of the marinas in town.

Cycling in Beaufort, North Carolina and the Crystal Coast 

Much of this coastal paradise is easy to cycle. Many of the highways, main roads and bridges have a bike lane or allow road bikes. Cycle Emerald Isle on the 11-mile multi-use path or Beaufort.

Gregg really loved cycling in the small towns near Trenton, NC. He started on Wyse Fork, then to 41 toward Trenton, on to 58 toward Pollocksville and either double-backed or circle around to 10 Mile Fork Rd.

Gregg in Beaufort, North Carolina
Gregg Watching Sunset in Beaufort
Beaufort, NC
Ibis Seen From Boat Tour

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These items will make your travels memorable.

Portable Car Vacuum Cleaner
Air Compressor
Neck Reading Light
Creative Set
Mavic Air 2 Drone Kit
Burt's Bees Gift Set
Roku Express