Dive into the Atlantic Coast playground that delivers fun and sun with a distinctly Southern Flair
The crystal-clear warm waters of North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks, famously known as the Crystal Coast, beckon visitors from near and far to partake in unparalleled charm and beauty. Indeed, tourist attractions abound on this 85-mile stretch of coastline from the Cape Lookout National Seashore westward to the New River.
Visitors to the area can enjoy unsurpassed diving, legendary fishing and numerous pristine beaches along this enchanting coastline. With 56 miles of protected beaches to choose from, there is definitely no shortage of sandy escapes along the scenic Crystal Coast. Among the most popular beaches along the Crystal Coast, "The Circle" in central Atlantic Beach is quite popular due to its excellent array of eclectic shops, beach houses and amusement rides at the end of the causeway from the bridge to Morehead City.
Other relaxing options include watching wild Spanish horses frolic in the surf, climbing a 150-year-old lighthouse and playing a round of golf. Crystal Coast also proudly boasts of the longest fishing season of the entire Atlantic coast due in large part to its supremely warm waters. In addition, the coast's close proximity to the Gulf Stream adds to its appeal as a fishing hot spot. In fact, Morehead City plays host to one of the largest fishing tournaments in the world: the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament.
During your visit to the area, you can charter a boat for a fun day of fishing. Catches include bluefin tuna, red drum, sea trout, yelllowfin tuna, striped bass, cobia, wahoo, sailfish and others. Also held in Morehead for over 20 years now is the North Carolina Seafood Festival. This fabulous event is one of the absolute largest celebrations in the state.
Crystal Coast is one of only two places in North America where the Gulf Stream approaches the coastline. This creates ideal conditions for scuba divers and more, specifically, wreck divers in this "Graveyard of the Atlantic." More than 2,000 vessels met a watery grave along North Carolina's coast over the many centuries. With warm 80-degree water, underwater visibility of more than 75 feet and so many wrecks within 100 feet of the surface, this is a diver's dream come true. Other diving possibilities include shark and spear fishing dives as well as incredible opportunities for underwater photography.
Golfers won't have to give up the game while they're visiting the Crystal Coast. On North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks, a host of golf courses abound, each showcasing, and sometimes incorporating into the design, the natural beauty of the area's stately live oaks, longleaf pines and captivating waterways. Most area courses are open to the public and welcome visitors and vacationers to take a swing at 9 or 18 holes.
North Carolina boasts three impressive aquariums. Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium in the city of the same name was recently remodeled and has tripled in size. On exhibit is a life-sized replica of a German U-352 submarine as well as Queen Anne's Revenge, Blackbeard's infamous ship, which was discovered off the coast a decade ago.
Discover the area's rich history and culture in the beautiful historic Beaufort in Down East Carteret County. As the third-oldest town in North Carolina, it boasts the North Carolina Maritime Museum, where visitors can view a vast display of seashells of 5,000 specimens from around the world from more than 100 different countries. Volunteers work together to actively restore and build boats at the museum's Watercraft Center. It's part of a collaborative effort to preserve the local tradition that Crystal Coast has of "backyard boat-building."
Harker's Island is nearby and is home to the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum, which was built as a tribute to the island's age-old practice of decoy carving. Skilled artisans of the area have been known to carve perfect replicas of ducks from blocks of wood. From Harker's Island or Beaufort, you'll want to make a trip out to the black-and-white diamond-patterned lighthouse at Cape Lookout. Embark on the Cape Lookout Ferry, which can take you to the southern tip of Core Banks for a memorable climb to the top of the historic Cape Lookout Lighthouse for some supreme panoramic splendor.
Also nearby is the herd of feral horses known as "bankers," which can be viewed running and grazing on the east side of Shackleford Banks. This area is a part of the much larger Cape Lookout National Seashore, comprising both islands, and accessible only by ferries. Because of the many marsh islands surrounding the area as well as the abundance of sandbars, both Core Banks and Shackleford Banks are famous for their abundant sea turtle nesting sites, bird aviaries and the overall rich quantity of wild marine life that thrives here.
Today's North Carolina's coast is a tranquil playground, but in the 19th century, the coast was the site of numerous sea battles and incursions from the enemies of the young United States of America. So in 1826, construction began on a five-sided fort made of brick and stones with walls that average four-and-one-half feet thick to repel cannon balls.
Fort Macon saw lots of action during the Civil War, when it was seized by the confederates at the onset of the conflict and later fell back into union hands in 1862. After the war, it served as both a civil and military prison. During World War II, artillery was placed on the fort, but after that conflict, the fortification became a permanent state park.
Today, visitors can take tours of the fort and surrounding area.
Five-sided Fort Macon is constructed of brick and stone. Twenty-six vaulted rooms (also called casemates) are enclosed by outer walls that average 4 1/2 feet thick. In modern times, the danger of naval attack along the North Carolina coast seems remote, but during the 18th and 19th centuries, the region around Beaufort was highly vulnerable to attack.
For More Information:
Crystal Coast Tourism Authority
North Carolina Department of Commerce, Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development