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Coasting into summertime: With sandy beaches, pristine nature preserves and fun in the waves for all ages, North Carolina’s Crystal Coast offers convenience and proximity for a family vacation.


For young Emerson Roscoe, it was all about that ice cream.
With a studious eye and two hands gripping the cone, he was determined to lick that scoop of strawberry down to size.
Yes, it was streaking down his hands and arms as the early-spring sun bore down on the Morehead City waterfront.
But cleanup would be a breeze. That’s what Daddy’s here for.
Michael Roscoe wiped his son’s chin and fingers, though no doubt they remained sticky.
Emerson just went back to work.
His mother, Rebecca Roscoe, sat at an outdoor table cradling her infant daughter.
The Roscoes, who live in Goldsboro, say they visit the Morehead City area several times a year. Nothing beats a family beach vacation, they say. And the convenience of the drive — just under two hours — makes Morehead City and the beaches of what’s now called North Carolina’s Crystal Coast an irresistible lure for summertime family time.
The Crystal Coast is an 85-mile stretch of beaches also known as the Southern Outer Banks. From Cape Lookout to the north and Cape Carteret in the south, the region includes some longtime go-to beaches for eastern North Carolina families, including Atlantic Beach, Indian Beach, Emerald Isle and Pine Knoll Shores.
Other spots offer a slightly different take, such as charming and historic Beaufort, with its busy boardwalk and outdoor dining overlooking Bogue Sound. Boutiques, bookstores and sweet shops give Beaufort, which was established in 1713, a homey feel.
That’s what Lee Norris likes about it. These days, he and his wife split their time between their home near Raleigh and their beach home in Beaufort.
“It’s just a quaint little place,” says Norris, taking a break from a bike ride on the boardwalk “just to see if the water was still here.” He’s in shorts and a knit shirt — not exactly what he might be wearing back at his real estate business in the Triangle.
Norris is happy to recommend restaurants and bars to visitors, with a little insider info on the clientele.
Norris says Beaufort is “an incredibly friendly place,” noting that a lot of New Englanders have recently discovered its charm.
“You can sit on your front porch, and when cars go by, they just expect you to wave at them,” he says.
Fishing for fun
The beaches and towns of the Crystal Coast offer a blend of history, family fun, water sports and nature. Other towns considered part of the tourism brand include Harkers Island, Salter Path and Newport. An area dubbed Down East includes rural waterfront communities east of Beaufort and promises a slower pace.
The fishing boats at the docks offer day trips and longer for those who want to try their skills at reeling in a big one.
The Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament is among the largest and longest-running sport fishing contests in the nation. This year’s tournament is scheduled for June 9-19 from 710 Evans St. on the Morehead City waterfront. Call 252-247-3575 or go to thebigrock.com/ for more information.
You don’t have to compete; just celebrate someone else’s catch at the weigh-in.
Beyond the surf and sand — if you really need anything beyond those basics — the Crystal Coast offers an array of family activities, good food, shopping, nature excursions and other fun to keep the family on the move during a summer vacation.
Here’s a sampling:
Capt. Ron’s Island Tours: 103 Cedar St., Beaufort. Thunderfish13@gmail.com or 984-209-0724. Book The Wanderer for a tour of the Beaufort waterfront, observing wild horses, dolphins and an array of birds. The Cardinal Sin offers a fishing charter inshore or offshore.

Island Water Sports: 1960 Salter Path Road, Mile Marker 12, Indian Beach. aborden57@gmail.com or 252-247-7303. WaterSports Rentals at the Emerald Isle-Indian Beach town limits offers Jet Ski and kayak rentals. Kayaks can be delivered free to your beach home. For a little more speed, choose a banana boat. Other options are paddleboards on the calm waters of Bogue Sound or, for thrill seekers, a jet-powered FlyBoard. For the traditional, there are always surfboards.

North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores: 1 Roosevelt Blvd., Pine Knoll Shores. pksmail@ncaquariums.com or 252-247-4003. More than 3,000 specimens of North Carolina’s colorful aquatic life make it the largest saltwater aquarium in the state. The aquarium concentrates on eco-systems native to North Carolina with exhibits emphasizing marine habitats. The “Living Shipwreck” features a life-size replica of a German U-352 submarine and Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge ship. Other attractions include a stingray touch-tank, river otter exhibit, mountain trout pool, jellyfish gallery, sport fishing gallery and an albino sea turtle named Nimbus. The Behind the Scenes: Feeding Frenzy program lets visitors explore labs and animal-holding areas with a marine educator and help feed fish in the Living Shipwreck. It’s $20 for nonmembers and $18 for members. Sessions are at 2:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Shackleford Banks: For more than 400 years, the wild horses of Shackleford Banks have frolicked on pristine beaches and foraged for food with not a saddle or fence in sight. The horses are protected by Cape Lookout National Seashore and Foundation for Shackleford Horses. Access to the island is by private boat or ferries running from Harkers Island, Beaufort and Morehead City. Shackleford Banks.com.

Cape Lookout National Seashore: Built in the mid-1800s to warn passing ships of the dangerous coastal waters, the lighthouse stands 163 feet tall. It is painted with a distinctive black and white diamond pattern to distinguish direction and differentiate it from other lighthouses. Visitors may climb the lighthouse’s 207 steps from May through September. The seashore is a 56-mile strand of beaches on one of the few remaining natural barrier island chains in the world and is accessible only by boat for camping, fishing and hiking. CapeLookout.com.

The Oceanana fishing pier in Atlantic Beach stretches nearly 1,000 feet, which allows for catching a wide variety of fish. Not into fishing? Take a walk to watch the sunset. The Pier House serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and also sells fishing tackle and bait. OceanaPier.com.

Boathouse Creek Walking Trails, 302 Masonic Ave., Cedar Point. 252-393-7898 or CedarPoint.com. The 56-acre waterfront park protects 18 acres of coastal wetlands. Hiking, walking, kayaking and fishing are offered along more than 3,500 feet of shoreline. The land was granted by King George III of England to Thomas Lee in 1713. It was once a Native American campground but later became a plantation, with a sawmill and salt works. The town of Cedar Point purchased the property in 2019.

Beaufort Music Festival: For over 30 years, the festival has packed the town’s waterfront on a Friday and Saturday at Gallants Channel. Food trucks, vendors, beer tents and a kids area add to the fun. This year’s festival will be May 19-20. Go to Gallants Channel Event Space  or beaufortmusicfestival.com

Information from CrystalCoastNC.org.