fort macon

Life in Eastern North Carolina can often be measured by the tide, the season and what fish are biting. But it can’t be all fun and games, can it? Well … maybe. For those days when sinking your toes in the sand simply isn’t on the agenda, it’s important to know that there are a variety of other activities to keep the family busy. And that’s certainly the case in coastal Carolina. Sure, we have the sand, sun and plenty of water to keep us anchored in place, but we also a variety of museums, the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and a rich cultural and historical heritage.

Learn about the folk arts of Down East Carteret County, get a glimpse into the military past of Topsail Island or learn about the state’s first official fire brigade at the Fireman’s Museum in New Bern. Get up close with history or learn all about the marine life that call Eastern North Carolina home. No fear, when you have a little bit of time on your hands, we’ve got plenty to keep you entertained. Here are a few of our favorite places:

CARTERET COUNTY

BEAUFORT HISTORIC SITE

The trials and tribulations of North Carolina’s third oldest town are preserved and remembered through the more than 50-year-old Beaufort Historical Association and its accompanying site. Through its restored buildings, some of which were moved to the site for preservation, and a variety of annual programs, the BHA transports visitors back to the first days of “Fish Towne.” Guided and self-guided tours are available as well as motorized tours on the organization’s double-decker bus. On-site visitors will also find the Mattie King Davis Art Gallery, which features work by regional artists. Popular annual events include the Old Homes & Gardens Tour and the group’s popular Fall Party. Details: 252-728-5225, www.beauforthistoricsite.org.

CAPE LOOKOUT NATIONAL SEASHORE

While miles of beach front await newcomers to Eastern North Carolina, few are as breathtaking as the undeveloped expanses found at Cape Lookout National Seashore. The site is managed by the National Park Service, which maintains a headquarters at the end of Island Road on Harkers Island. The 56-miles of barrier islands, accessible by private boat or water ferry, provide a perfect backdrop for shelling, fishing, camping and more. The southern end of the island is home to one of the state’s most recognizable lighthouses, now more than 150 years old. The lighthouse is open on select days during the summer months. Shackleford Banks, the most southern island in the park, is home to a herd of the region’s wild horses. Details: 252-728-2250, www.nps.gov/calo.

CORE SOUND WATERFOWL MUSEUM & HERITAGE CENTER

Located on Harkers Island, this clearinghouse of Down East heritage is a must stop for anyone curious about this culturally-rich rural region. Once dependent on the water that surrounds it, Down East families entwined with boat building, decoy carving, hunting and fishing – a story that is told through community exhibits, artifacts and special programs. The centerpiece of the museum’s annual schedule, Waterfowl Weekend, is held annually on the first weekend of December. Details: 252-728-1500, www.coresound.com.

FORT MACON STATE PARK

Guarding the Crystal Coast as its port of entry, Fort Macon’s design and construction continue to stand the test of time and serve as an educational centerpiece. The bathhouse area features a public swimming beach, the rock jetty offers a great place to try your hand at surf fishing and the trails provide a great opportunity to do a little bird spotting. But it’s the well-preserved pentagonal brick Civil War fortress that brings visitors to the site. Several of the casements contain displays, including a great collection of military uniforms, with more than half having been left untouched; allowing visitors to truly experience what life in the fort was like. Details: 252-726-3775, www.ncparks.gov.

THE HISTORY MUSEUM OF CARTERET COUNTY

History from around Carteret County has found its place at The History Museum of Carteret County, formerly The History Place, Morehead City. From the area’s military history to a horse-drawn carriage that belonged to Civil War spy Emeline Pigott, no stone is left unturned when it comes to telling the story of this vibrant region. The Jack Spencer Goodwin Library, with more than 6,000 publications, genealogy materials, Civil War history collections and an extensive picture file is available to the public for research. Details: 252-247-7533, www.thehistoryplace.org.

NC AQUARIUM AT PINE KNOLL SHORES

From the Mountains to the Sea, the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores explores the wildlife of North Carolina’s waterways with a focus on preservation of the state’s delicate ecosystems. One of the highlights, the 306,000-gallon Living Shipwreck, features sand tiger sharks, sea turtles and hundreds of fish gliding around a three-quarter-scale replica of a German U-boat found off the coast. The aquarium has a full schedule of programs throughout the year, including summer and holiday camps for the youngsters and the popular Succulent Seafood, which is held at various restaurants. Details: 252-247-4003, www.ncaquariums.com.

NC MARITIME MUSEUM

One of three maritime museums in the state system, the flagship in Beaufort tells the tale of Eastern North Carolina’s long-standing relationship with the Atlantic waters that surround it. In recent years, the team has been tasked with the excavation and preservation of artifacts excavated from the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard the Pirate’s vessel that was lost just outside Beaufort inlet. The museum is a great place to get a glimpse at items that have been prepared for display. Educational programs are the cornerstone of the museum, with a varied schedule of programs for all ages. The Summer Science Program and Jr. Sailing Program, both offered for youngsters, are always favorites. Details: 252-728-7317, www.ncmaritimemuseum.org.

CRAVEN COUNTY

BIRTHPLACE OF PEPSI

Opened in 1998 on the 100th anniversary of Pepsi-Cola, this New Bern landmark marks the site where the popular soft drink was first mixed and sold by pharmacist Caleb Davis Bradham. The medical school dropout owned and operated Bradham’s Drug Store on the site, and first blended carbonated water, sugar, pepsin, kola nut extract, vanilla and other “rare oils” as a beverage for the public. Today, visitors will find themed merchandise and an ice cold Pepsi from the fountain. Details: 252-636-5898 or www.pepsistore.com.

CROATAN NATIONAL FOREST

Looking for a shady way to get back to nature? Pull out your hiking boots and find your spot in the Croatan National Forest, home to a collection of hiking trails, boat launches, campgrounds and day-use areas. The Croatan is home to a large number of carnivorous plants native to the area, including the Venus flytrap. Civil War buffs will want to visit the site where the Battle of New Bern was fought, now a portion of the national forest. Headquarters is located at 141 East Fisher Ave., just outside of New Bern, although trails can be found as far east as Carteret County. Details: 252-638-5628, www.cs.unca.edu/nfsnc.

NEW BERN FIREMEN’S MUSEUM

Trace the steps of the first chartered fire brigade, the Atlantic Hook & Ladder Company, and its competitors, the New Bern Steam Fire Engine Company No. 1. Established in 1955, the museum is currently raising funds to restore the Central Fire Station on Broad Street to its 1928 appearance, with hopes of relocating into the space. Details: 252-636-4087, www.newbernfiremuseum.com.

TRYON PALACE

This regal centerpiece to New Bern’s historic districts is a reproduction of the mansion constructed in 1770 for Colonial Governor William Tryon, who, after spending just a year in the home, fled North Carolina to become governor of New York. The original home was destroyed by fire in 1798,  however, historians rallied to rebuild it in the 1950s. In 2010, the site opened the NC History Center, a state-of-the-art museum, theater and meeting space that helps greet visitors year-round. A full schedule of special programs and events make this an active place to visit. Details: 252-514-4900 or www.tryonpalace.org.

ONSLOW COUNTY

BEIRUT MEMORIAL

A memorial in Jacksonville remembers the 273 Marines and sailors of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit from Camp Lejeune who were killed when a terrorist’s truck laden with explosives destroyed their headquarters in Lebanon. Many members of the unit, which was there as part of a peace keeping mission, were from the Jacksonville area. Trees, a statue and a poem cast in bronze complete the memorial. Details: www.lejeune.usmc.mil/visitors/Beirut_memorial.

MIKE’S FARM

Located in Beulaville, this  family-oriented working farm features hayrides, Christmas tours, group cookouts, dinner shows and an array of events throughout the year. Visit the barnyard, take a hayride through the forest or just swing by for a treat from the farm’s bakery. A full family style restaurant is available on-site. 888-820-3276, www.mikesfarm.com.

ONSLOW COUNTY MUSEUM

Richlands is home to the Onslow County Museum, which focuses on stimulating an interest in and teaching about the cultural and natural history of Onslow County. From the military to agriculture, industry to recreation, the story is told through a variety of exhibits, programs and special events. The museum features regular art exhibits and a research room. Details: 910-324-5008, www.onslowcountync.gov/museum.

PENDER COUNTY

MISSILES AND MORE MUSEUM

While there is a load of military history to be found in Eastern North Carolina, none can challenge the elusive history of Topsail Island. The Missiles and More Museum, however, does a great job and sharing that story to visitors and new residents. From 1946 to 1948, the island was home to the secretive Operation Bumblebee. More than 200 experimental rockets were fired from the shores here, helping steer the US guided missile program. The museum holds a variety of interesting artifacts, exhibits, oral histories and ongoing programs. Details: 910-329-4446, topsailhistoricalsociety.org.

POPLAR GROVE PLANTATION

As picturesque as it is educational, this site just north of Wilmington gives visitors the chance to visit a day in the life of a Southern peanut plantation. Costumed guides lead visitors through the restored mansion, recount its colorful history and demonstrate skills important to daily 19th Century life. Poplar Grove Plantation hosts a number of annual events including an Herb and Garden Fair, Grooves in the Grove concerts and a Christmas Open House. Details: 910-686-9518, www.poplargrove.org.

TOPSAIL TURTLE HOSPITAL

Located in Surf City, the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center comes to the aid of nesting sea turtles and hatchlings, as well as sick and injured sea turtles. Caring for an average of 20 sea turtles each day, volunteers administer medicine, food, water and lots of tender loving care in hopes the turtles can be rehabilitated and released back into their natural habitat. The facility is open to the public during select times. Details: www.seaturtlehospital.org.

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