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.