Atlantic Beach is the oldest of the five towns that dot the beautiful shores of Bogue Banks, the wild beach front that runs parallel to Morehead City and the mainland. The town celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2012 and continues to be a popular family vacation destination as well as a favorite for area residents who are ready to spend a day in the warmth of the sun.
Decades ago a ferry would bring vacationers for a day to frolic in the waves and lay in the warmth of the sun. The first beach pavilion was constructed on the site in 1887, where guests of the Atlantic Hotel in Morehead City would spend a day along the peaceful shores. Today, Atlantic Beach is home to one of two high-rise bridges that connect the island to the mainland, allowing for a steady flow of traffic throughout the season.
The center of town, commonly referred to as the Circle, plays host to an array of concerts, outdoor movies and special events during the summer months. And the beach, which is patrolled by lifeguards, provides a family-friendly option when it comes to taking the children for a day of beach play. But it’s the towns laid back spirit and warm family atmosphere that keeps people coming back for more
Folks looking for the large attractions offered at places like Myrtle Beach might be a little disappointed. Those looking for a relaxing place to claim a spot of beach to call their own for the day without the distraction of overcrowding, however, will soon discover they’ve found a small slice of heaven in Atlantic Beach.
The family-friendly town has long been a settling spot for young families, and the town administration is dedicated to maintaining the small-town feel. A new town park can be found across from the town’s largest shopping center, complete with a splash pad for the youngsters to enjoy. A skate park is in development for the site as well, with hopes of opening in 2014.
Atlantic Beach offers numerous public beach accesses and its fair share of fishing tournaments, including the popular Atlantic Beach King Mackerel Tournament. The town is home to one of the two remaining fishing piers on the island and provides the perfect opportunity to prop your feet up and drop a line. Of course surf fishing from the beach itself is a popular activity as well.
If fishing isn’t quite your thing, a variety of other annual festivals are on tap, including Mile of Hope in the spring, the Buddy Peletier Memorial Longboard tournament each July and the Carolina Kite Fest held each fall. The Carteret County Parks and Recreation Dept. holds an annual beach run series each spring, drawing hundreds of runners to the beach and live music is offered outdoors on Saturday evenings in the summer.
While contemporary accommodations are available, Atlantic Beach is home to a host of family-owned motels and resorts that see visitors come back year after year. Rental cottages are also available through a variety of realty firms.
With ample opportunities for outdoor fun, the town also has a collection of shopping and dining options and is convenient to area attractions. Fort Macon State Park, one of the East’s best preserved Civil War fortresses, continues to be one of the area’s most visited sites. With a schedule of daily programs, the park encompasses some 385 acres of beach, dunes and maritime forest. It’s the brick pentagonal fort, however, that continues to bring visitors in droves. While some of the casements have been transformed into museum exhibits, others have been left untouched (except for a few safety modifications) so guests can truly experience what life in the fort during the Civil War.
Whether you’re looking for a glimpse at North Carolina’s historical past, a hike through the maritime forest or a day soaking up the rays and frolicking in the surf, this seaside community’s quaint and casual ambiance leads so many to call the beach their home … or their home away from home. Details: 252-726-2121 atlanticbeach-nc.com.
With a picturesque waterfront dotted with quaint shops and eateries, Beaufort (pronounced “Bō-furt”) is well deserving of its “America’s Coolest Small Town” title bestowed in 2012 by Budget Travel. Noted as North Carolina’s third oldest town, Beaufort’s administration and residents are focused on retaining the seaport’s history and architecture. Little has changed in the last few hundred years in Beaufort. A walk down live oak-lined Ann Street can swiftly whisk a visitor back in time – majestic live oaks cover the road, grand homes with ample porches sit close to the sidewalk, neighbors wave to passersby and children line the dock on warm summer days. A draw for tourists, Beaufort is also a close-knit community of eclectic residents, all eager to welcome visitors year-round.
Formerly called Fish Towne, Beaufort was incorporated in 1722 and was molded by the waterways that surround it. Fishing was the primary source of both income and sustenance, but other trades followed, including woodworking and boat building. While Beaufort’s last remaining fish processing plant has been closed for nearly 10 years, the industry still has a presence. Shrimp trawlers continue to cruise the waterfront, but today they are interspersed with kayaks and pleasure boats out enjoying the beautiful scenery.
With its walkable waterfront, the town is a favorite for those eager to shed their cars and put on walking shoes. Whether it’s strolling down the wooden boardwalk or simply walking along the residential streets of the historic district to gander at the historical architecture, Beaufort is a town best seen on foot. Scenic strolls are highlighted by shopping opportunities, fine dining and fiery red sunsets. For those who would rather relax while moving from place to place, the small town offers options for boat transportation, double-deck bus tours, a trolley line and horse-drawn carriage tours, making it easy for everyone to feel right at home.
The small town was relatively hidden until the 1960s, a secret gem just waiting to be discovered. The late Grayden Paul pulled together pulled small cluster of people together to create a 251st birthday celebration for the town. It seems they had erroneously let the 250th slide by without notice and Paul was dedicated to making sure a celebration happened, according to “The Founding of the Beaufort Historical Association,” penned by Ruth Barbour, editor emeritus of the Carteret County News-Times. It was that group of individuals who formed the nucleus of the Beaufort Historical Association on Jan. 25, 1960, an integral part of the historic preservation that has occurred during the last 55 years.
A fuse was lit with the group’s formation – and the trailblazers set out to make Beaufort a summer travel destination based on its historic significance alone. Its first projects included a museum in the old county jail, circa 1829, which then sat on the corner of Courthouse Square, a pirate invasion and a tour of historic landmarks around town. The board was also highly interested in tracing the deeds of the area’s oldest homes and marking them with a plaque noting the date of construction and the builder – now commonplace around Beaufort.
The Beaufort Historical Association’s annual events, including its Old Homes & Garden Tour, continue to be huge draws for the town. Other annual events include Wine & Food Weekend, the NC Maritime Museum’s Wooden Boat Show, the Beaufort Pirate Invasion and the holiday flotilla.
The town’s most recent claim to fame was the discovery of the wreckage of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the flagship of Blackbeard the Pirate, which was found just outside of Beaufort Inlet more than 10 years ago. The mystery and intrigue of pirates continues to be a draw for the community and the NC Maritime Museum, which oversees the recovery of artifacts from the site. Thousands have been brought to the surface to date, including a variety of cannons.
Also in Beaufort, visitors will find one of two locations that offer transportation to Cape Lookout National Seashore. Located on Front Street, the privately run ferry provides drop off and pick up throughout the year.
While on Front Street, be sure to watch out for the wild horses that roam on Carrot Island located just across the “cut” from downtown Beaufort. Protected by the state and managed by Cape Lookout National Seashore and the Foundation for Shackleford Horses, these self-sustaining mammals can be elusive during the heat of day, but once the sun begins to dip they frequently make appearances for guests.
Whether you’re here for a quick weekend turnaround, or you’re searching for the next place to settle, Beaufort is a town that can’t be overlooked. To learn more about Beaufort-by-the-Sea, visit www.beaufortnc.org.
For a first-time visitor, the words ‘down’ and ‘east’ just don’t seem to go together, especially when you’re driving in a northerly direction. But for anyone who has ventured through the rural reaches of Carteret County have a different sense of the term Down East altogether.
Down East refers to the rural communities Atlantic, Bettie, Cedar Island, Davis, Gloucester, Harkers Island, Lola, Marshallberg, Otway, Sea Level, Smyrna, Stacy, Straits, Williston and just about all points east of Beaufort. These small waterfront communities maintain many of the traditions carried forward from generation to generation, including fishing and boat building. Far removed from the hustle and bustle of Morehead City, these quiet close-knit communities are bound together by their remoteness and the originality of their native accent, which has long been studied by linguists.
It has been said more than once that the Down East natives have saltwater in their blood – and the stories may well be true. What we do know for sure is that the resourceful residents have made the best of their solitary life. Few will argue that some of the country’s most talented boat builders inhabit this territory. While their numbers are decreasing, a handful of custom builders remain, always eager to show off their latest work. Model boat building has also become a favorite pastime, along with decoy carving.
The small towns are barely noticeable as one drives the length of Highway 70. It is the breathtaking scenery that steals the show. The region’s natural beauty, which received some validation in recent years with its inclusion as a NC Scenic Byway, brings many a car to a slow roll as passengers take in the sights and breathe the fresh salt air. A sanctuary for birds, the Down East salt marshes are perfect for birdwatching, while many an angler has taken to the shallow waters in search of the perfect catch.
Life here moves just a little bit slower – what’s the rush, after all? Neighbors linger by the fence and chat, youngsters can be spotted fishing from the family dock and business owners not only ask about their patrons, but actually listen to the response. With a rich commercial fishing industry and a focus on family and community, these small hamlets are reminiscent of life during days gone by.
At the very end of the road, Cedar Island, visitors will find the state ferry landing where guests gain safe passage to the Outer Banks. On Harkers Island, they will find the Cape Lookout National Seashore headquarters and informational exhibits about Core Banks and their history. The lighthouse itself is just a hop, skip and a jump away, with the headquarters offering the best view of the historic site to be found on the mainland. The park service contracts with a private ferry outfit that is ready to take guests over to the island year-round. Docks can be found near the headquarters building to arrange for passage.
While there, don’t pass without stopping at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center, a virtual clearinghouse of the area’s history, culture and folk arts. The museum sits next to the seashore headquarters on Island Road and strives to promote and preserve the Down East region’s valued heritage by showcasing the talents and skills of area residents, including decoy carving, boat building, storytelling, oral histories, local writers, traditional music, food, hunting, fishing and other skills.
The museum works with partners such as the NC Arts Council, the National Park Service, NC Travel and Tourism, Our State magazine and others to promote itself as a major heritage tourism destination in eastern North Carolina. If in the neighborhood, Waterfowl Weekend, held the first weekend of December, is not to be missed. The event runs concurrently with the Core Sound Decoy Carvers Guild’s annual Decoy Festival, drawing thousands of visitors to Harkers Island. Museum hours are Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 2-5pm. Admission is free.
To learn more about Down East Carteret County, visit www.downeastcommunitynews.com or coresound.com.
Emerald Isle may be one of the region’s newest towns, however, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot to offer. With an almost perfect blend of modern amenities and old-fashioned beach town values, Emerald Isle has become a favorite vacation spot for families – and the numbers prove it. With just over 3,600 full-time residents, Emerald Isle’s population peaks at about 40,000 each summer as families make their way back to the beach for a little rest and relaxation.
Located at the far western end of Bogue Banks, the town’s warm hospitality and hometown charm make it a perfect beach getaway. And options abound, from campgrounds and hotels to condo and private home rentals, when it comes time to choose the perfect place to stay.
Interestingly enough, this area of Bogue Banks remained largely uninhabited until the 1950s when it was purchased by a group of developers. While contemplating their investment, a consultant was flown over the area for a visual survey. Viewing the lush green maritime forest set against the sparkling blue-greens of the Atlantic Ocean, he suggested “Emerald Isle.” Emerald Isle pays tribute to that Irish namesake each March with its St. Patrick’s Festival, one of the Crystal Coast’s biggest spring events.
Development was originally planned in the 1920s by the late Henry Fort, who envisioned a large ocean resort. Until Fort purchased the land, the region had been home to nomadic Native Americans and a handful of whaling families and fishermen. Fort abandoned his plans and when he died, his daughter, Anita Fort Maulick, sold the land to WB McLean from Red Springs. There was little to lure McLean to the project, even the oyster shell road from Atlantic Beach ended in Salter Path. But like Fort before him, McLean had a vision for this lush maritime forest covered island.
Town planners have been lauded by many state and federal agencies for their forethought. Growth in Emerald Isle has been strictly monitored and managed to avoid the overcrowding experienced in many beach towns and gaining the region a reputation as a family beach with old-fashioned values.
While the beach and watersports, including surf fishing, surfing, kiteboarding and boating are popular daytime activities, Emerald Isle is home to a variety of options. Hiking trails, one of the most elaborate biking path systems in the county, amusement rides, a water slide, miniature golf and an active parks and recreation department makes sure there is something to do for everyone, at any age. EmeraldFest, a summer concert series provides live entertainment during the summer months and Bogue Inlet Pier, one of two remaining fishing piers on Bogue Banks, is active nearly year-round.
To learn more about Emerald Isle, visit www.emeraldisle-nc.org.
Centrally-located, Morehead City is home to a walk-worthy waterfront with a mixture of locally-owned shops, restaurants and nightspots. Famous for its boat-to-table seafood restaurants, including the Sanitary Restaurant which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2013, Morehead City is a great place to spend the day fishing, grab dinner with friends and cap off the evening over a cold beer. Waterfront improvement projects through the Downtown Morehead City Revitalization Association continue to keep the region vibrant and lively.
Morehead City itself marked its 150th anniversary in May of 2007 – not old by North Carolina standards, but certainly a town with a past. In the beginning, there was one large draw for Morehead City – the water. A group of investors in the early 1850s had a hunch that its access to a naturally deep channel would be of benefit to the shipping industry and set out to form the Shepard Point Land Company. The goal was to build a deep water port and rail system to support the North Carolina timber industry. By July of 1858, Morehead City was connected to the rest of the state by a fully operational rail system and in 1860 the town was incorporated with some 300 families calling it home.
While development came to a screeching halt during the Civil War, it rebounded well in the 1880s with the construction of the Atlantic Hotel, which was later destroyed by fire. The “Summer Capital by the Sea,” as it promoted itself, featured a grand ballroom, beach pavilion, sailing, docks and bathing areas. Ferry boats would whisk vacationers over to Bogue Banks for a day of ocean bathing and organized activities kept families busy all summer long. The site quickly became a popular vacation spot. Thanks to the foresight of those early developers, it was all accessible by train.
Today, Morehead City has about 9,000 full-time, year-round residents and swells each summer as second homeowners return for a little beach time. The commercial hub for Carteret County, this mainland town offers a wide selection of specialty shops and major chains. Browse family-owned gift shops, the collection of art galleries located downtown or simply rest for awhile at the waterfront park, where live music can be found each Saturday through the summer. To the west, shoppers will find several major chain stores and restaurants. Morehead City continues to grow and add new businesses, however, the community continues to stay in touch with its rich historic past.
At the eastern edge of the downtown waterfront, the shipping port is still a thriving part of Morehead City’s landscape. As one of the state’s two shipping ports, it’s not uncommon to see military ships and freighters from all over the world coming and going on any given day. While big in stature, it does little to overshadow Morehead City’s own fleet – its charter boats that line the waterfront. June brings the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, now more than 50 years old, for a week of fishing, fun and a purse that consistently tops the $1 million mark. The tournament has put Morehead City on the map as a fishing destination and the charter boats are on standby each day, ready to take anglers out for a day of active fishing.
The town is also home to the Morehead City Marlins, a wooden bat summer baseball league, as well as the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, now in its 50s. It is also the nucleus to the county’s growing offering of medical services, with everything from family practice to specialized medicine, dental and emergency care to myriad services offered through Carteret General Hospital, which is currently undergoing a $53 million expansion.
Festivals throughout the year, including the NC Seafood Festival on the first weekend in October, keep visitors coming back time and time again. And its central location makes Morehead City the perfect jumping off point for first-time visitors. With quick access to the beach, Beaufort, Down East and Cape Lookout, Carteret County’s largest town remains one of its most visited.
To learn more about Morehead City, visit downtownmoreheadcity.com.
Still in celebration mode following its 300th birthday in 2010, the riverfront town of New Bern, the state’s second oldest town, is rich in history just waiting to be discovered. For visitors to the Crystal Coast looking for a little change of scenery, the short jaunt inland can provide a day full of shopping, exploring and educational opportunities.
Accessible by land or by boat, New Bern is anchored to the waterfront by Tryon Palace Historic Sites and Gardens, the home of former Gov. William Tryon. The reconstructed version of the opulent mansion, completed in the 1950s for $3.5 million, follows the architectural plans for the home originally completed in 1770. A year after the home was completed Tryon fled North Carolina to become governor of New York. And in May of 1775, Gov. Josiah Martin deserted the mansion during the American Revolution. It went on to serve many purposes, including the state capitol building, a boarding house, school and Masonic lodge before being consumed by a fire in 1798.
The stable and one basement wall are the only original areas, however, the restoration of the site was done with painstaking detail – from the books on the library shelves to the plants outside the kitchen. Today, the site includes a collection of gardens, historic homes and the NC History Center, which opened in 2010.
While Tryon Palace may be one of New Bern’s biggest draws, people often find there is much more to do once they arrive. With a pedestrian friendly downtown, New Bern is one of those towns that invites you to park, walk and take in the surroundings, whether you’re out of enjoy the architecture or simply ready to grab a bite for lunch.
While downtown, it’s hard to pass up a visit to the Birthplace of Pepsi, 256 Middle St., the site where one of America’s favorite soft drinks found its start. Caleb Davis Bradham, a medical school drop out, took the skills he learned in college and opened Bradham Drug Co. Like most pharmacies at the time, he added a soda fountain and in 1893 he set out to perfect “Brad’s Drink” using carbonated water, sugar, pepsin, kola nut extract, vanilla and what he termed “rare oils.” The Pepsi-Cola Co. was formed in 1902 in the back room of the store and New Bern officially went down in the record books as the launch site. The store today features an old-fashioned soda fountain as well as an array of Pepsi themed merchandise.
Established in 1955, the New Bern Firemen’s Museum, 408 Hancock St., illustrates the town’s unique firefighting history from the site of the town’s first central fire station. New Bern’s original firefighting crew, the Atlantic Company, was the first organized fire department in the state and one of the first in the country. But in 1865, with many of its members off fighting in the war, Union troops developed the Button Company, starting a fierce rivalry until the groups merged in 1928. The Firemen’s Museum is a great place to catch the rest of the story – as well as discover some of the tools and techniques firemen have employed through the years.
Christ Church, 320 Pollock St., part of the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina, provides the Gothic Revival bell tower many will recognize from the New Bern skyline. Used by mariners for navigation, the spire has watched over the town for more than 125 years.
Located in the heart of downtown, the church sits exactly where town founder Baron Christopher de Graffenried had suggested, at the center of town life. But it is actually the third church to be built on the site. The first, constructed in 1750, sat in the corner of the churchyard and was demolished when the second church was consecrated in 1824. Fire claimed much of the church in 1871, leaving only the walls to be integrated into the construction of the third and final church. Completed in 1875, the church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The site is open from 12:30-4pm weekdays with docents eager to share the church’s history and architectural detail.
While downtown, it’s the perfect time to begin a little bear hunting. No, not the big game that keeps the skirmish out of the woods, but Bear Town Bears. To commemorate the 300th birthday in 2010, a creative nonprofit formed and teamed local businesses and artists to paint a tribute bear to mark the occasion. The idea took off like wildfire and today these uniquely-painted bears can be found around town and the outlaying area, donning their hats, carrying flowers, toting flags and shouting out their hometown pride.
If you happen to be in town on a Saturday, the active New Bern Farmer’s Market, 421 S. Front St., operates year-round as a venue for local farmers, gardeners, cooks and artists. Visitors will find plenty of the usual farm fresh vegetables they’ve grown to expect from a farmer’s market, but in New Bern the vision has been expanded to include a wide variety of area craftsmen. From glasswork and candles to homegrown honey and jewelry, there is a lot to browse at the site’s ever-evolving marketplace.
If local art is of interest, Bank of the Arts, the home to the Craven Arts Council, 317 Middle St., is free to visit and offers rotating displays throughout the year. In addition, local galleries team up every other month to present the New Bern ArtWalk.
Whether you come for a particular event, or are just looking for a way to spend a leisurely Saturday afternoon, New Bern has plenty to offer visitors and guests. To learn more, visit visitnewbern.com.
Hugging the Eastern North Carolina coastline, about midway between Cape Lookout and Cape Fear, is 26 miles of meandering, sparsely populate sandy beaches just waiting for visitors. The world of Topsail Island could easily be equated to stepping back in time – a time when life was just a little bit simpler, a little bit safer and far less stressful. There are no amusement parks. No bike week. No multi-million dollar museums or zoos to lure guests to the region. Instead, you will find miles of beaches and small, friendly, family-run businesses reminiscent of the beach towns of the 1950s and 1960s.
Anyone coming from a more metropolitan area will find it hard to believe that places like Topsail still exist. It’s hard to imagine that there are places where a sunbather can find a small, isolated sliver of beach to call their own for a day. But, on Topsail, it’s not only possible, it’s probable.
Topsail Island (pronounced Topsul), was mostly uninhabited until the 1940s. There were no structured settlements, only fishing camps and the livestock belonging to mainland farmers who would run their charges across sandbars and shallows at low tide to graze on the thick underbrush.
Thanks go to the military for raising awareness of this little slice of heaven. During World War II, the US Army constructed Camp Davis in nearby Holly Ridge and used the remote island for artillery training. When the Army departed a few short years later, the US Navy picked up the torch, taking up residence on Topsail Island for secret Operation Bumblebee missile tests.
While it was the Army that constructed the island’s first humble buildings, it was the Navy that gave the island its most prominent structures, many of which remain. More than 200 missiles were launched, proving the success of the ramjet engine which laid the foundation for the space shuttle program with its ability to push an aircraft past the speed of sound.
The government was gone by 1948, but it left a few remnants behind, including a pontoon bridge to Surf City, basic roads, artesian wells and electricity. Topsail Island was finally ready for inhabitants. Surf City incorporated in 1949, Topsail Beach in 1963 and North Topsail in 1990.
Life today is much like it was when the first soldiers set foot on the island, quiet, peaceful and endlessly picturesque. Sure, technology has arrived. The internet is available, cable TV and all. But, that doesn’t mean that residents or visitors are spending a lot of time indoors using them. With a never ending amount of outside activities, from sunbathing and fishing to kayaking and golf, people discover their time at Topsail is best spent outdoors.