Items for your Crystal Coast itinerary.
Divers should make Olympus Dive Center their first stop. Olympus offers daily half- and full-day charters and guides divers of all abilities to some of the most accessible and captivating wreck dives found anywhere. Hankering for a trophy fish or just some tasty eating? Captain Dale Britt of Sensation Sportfishing knows just the right eddies and currents to find the jumbos. Be prepared to get up early, as the Captain and his mates set out before the sun. You’ll have lunch onboard, as well as snacks, drinks, a blanket fishing license, and all the gear and support needed to land a big one. Fort Macon State Park tops North Carolina’s list of most-visited destinations, with more than 1.2 million visitors annually. After the War of 1812, the U.S. government began building an improved chain of coastal forts for national defense along the vulnerable Eastern seaboard. Fort Macon became part of this chain and served strategic roles in guarding Beaufort inlet during the Civil War. History is brought alive here by thoughtful exhibits and tours.
The North Carolina Aquarium
Head out to Harkers Island to catch the Local Yokel for the 25-minute ride across Bogue Sound and get up close and personal with the Diamond Lady herself, the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. Captain Yeomans is only too happy to sidle up close to the preserved shores of Shakelford Banks, where you’ll see the wild Banker horses that have roamed free for over 100 years. Cape Lookout National Park offers picnic areas and lighthouse tours and features a well-preserved keeper’s house restored as a museum. The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores follows a “mountains-to-the-sea” theme, tracing a drop of water all along the route through North Carolina’s Appalachians, the Piedmont, and into the lower coastal swamps. Children are captivated by the interactive exhibits, especially those featuring sea turtles, and a mock diagnostic lab where they can try their hand at marine biology. With more than 100 dining venues available along the Crystal Coast, no one goes hungry. When it comes to dining, Ruddy Duck Tavern in Morehead City packs in the locals and visitors alike with a seafood-studded menu that includes Cajun Mako Bite appetizers and the best Cioppino this side of San Francisco. Serving visitors since 1905, Clawson’s is known for its jumbo crab cakes and famous fried flounder and oysters. If you’re in Emerald Isle and need to fuel up for the day ahead, there is no better breakfast to be had than at the Emerald Grill. Order the “Happy Happy”—a delicious dish comprising hash browns, bacon, and cheese piled on top of an “egg-in-the-hole”—and you’ll be ready for anything the day brings. 301 Mangrove Drive, 252-354-9700.
Area 85 miles of shoreline from the Cape Lookout National Seashore to the New River. Domestic/regional airports Coastal Carolina Regional (EWN), 44 miles; Albert Ellis (OAJ), 45 miles. International airports Wilmington (ILM), 83 miles; Raleigh–Durham (RDU), 167 miles. Ferries Cedar Island–Ocracoke Ferry. Median family income Carteret County, $57,000. Average home sale price $208,380 (2012 MLS). Famous residents Curtis Strange, pro golfer; Hugh Shelton, retired four-star general and former chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff for Presidents Clinton and Bush. Festivals Beaufort Food & Wine Weekend (April); Beaufort National BoatBuilding Challenge (May); 4th of July Fish Fry, Harkers Island; NC Seafood Festival, Morehead City (October). Social Media Twitter: @CrystalCoast_NC; Facebook: facebook.com/CrystalCoast; Web: crystalcoastnc.org.