Dappled with pristine beaches, charming waterfront towns, and colorful historical sites, North Carolina’s stunning Crystal Coast is laden with outdoor adventure—and the perfect destination for a getaway with your girlfriends. Explore the region’s vast 85 miles of coastline on land or from the water. Wander uninhabited barrier islands still frequented by wild horses. Paddle the fascinating maze of spoil islands, dotted with idyllic picnic-worthy beaches.
You can also immerse yourself in the region’s rich history—a place referred to as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" for the bounty of sunken ships just offshore. It was once the stomping ground of one of Atlantic’s most feared marauders, the infamous pirate Blackbeard. On the Crystal Coast, the opportunity for outdoor adventure is boundless. Grab your favorite outdoor-loving ladies and head to North Carolina’s most stunning stretch of shoreline. There’s just one problem: A weekend is hardly enough to take in all of the Crystal Coast’s natural wonders.
First things first, begin with the essentials—namely, coffee. In Emerald Isle, Stir It Up brews organic, fair-trade coffee and teas and serves fresh, locally made baked goods (including gluten-free treats). It also showcases the work of local artists, adding to the coffee shop’s eclectic, inviting vibe. In Morehead City, locally beloved Sweet Beans Coffee and Café features a selection of tasty pastries, breakfast sandwiches, and caffeinated concoctions—from tropical smoothies to eye-opening espressos.
If you want to stretch your coffee stop into a full-fledged cocktail hour, head to the Beaufort Coffee Shop, which doubles as the location for the Cru Wine Bar. Besides the gourmet coffee and extensive wine selection, the coffee shop also serves light fare—like breakfast flatbreads, sandwiches, and pizza—and offers a selection of handcrafted artisan chocolates.
Where to Find Adventure
Warm up for outdoor adventure with a restorative yoga session. NC Coastal Life offers yoga classes at a variety of locations in Beaufort and Atlantic Beach, including morning sessions on the beach at Fort Macon State Park and on Saturdays at the Olde Beaufort Farmers Market. In Morehead City, Uptown Yoga offers a variety of studio classes, including specialty SUP yoga sessions.
Ready to hit the water? Ditch the crowds and keep your eyes peeled for the staggering array of birds at the Rachel Carson Reserve, just across Taylor’s Creek from the Beaufort Waterfront.
Launch your SUP from the town’s Taylor's Creek Boat Ramp (along Front Street) to explore the reserve’s collection of islands. If you are feeling ambitious, paddle the entire 8.4-mile loop around the 2,315-acre protected area to seek out the band of feral horses that has been roaming the reserve since the 1940s. If you need to pick up a board, swing by Beaufort Paddle.
Want an even more ambitious trip? Kayak the Crystal Coast’s crown jewels—the smattering of barrier islands making up Cape Lookout National Seashore. For an iconic paddle, begin at the visitor center on Harkers Island and cross Back Sound to the towering Cape Lookout Lighthouse—and be sure to look for famed Banker ponies, the 100-strong herd of wild horses inhabiting Shackleford Banks, the national seashore’s southernmost barrier island.
While the Crystal Coast might be a paddler’s paradise, land-lovers will hardly be disappointed. Explore the network of trails at Fort Macon State Park. Gazing out on Onslow Bay as you wander the 1.5-mile Beach Trail, it is easy to imagine the days the formidable fortress was tasked with protecting the Beaufort Harbor from dangerous pirates. For a backcountry-style outing, head for the 160,000-acre Croatan National Forest, just northwest of Morehead City. Hop on the Neusiok Trail—a 21-mile segment of North Carolina’s nearly 1,000-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail—which winds past cypress swamps, wildlife-rich estuaries, and loblolly pine groves. While you hike, watch for the national forest’s carnivorous plants, including Venus flytraps.
Looking to cycle instead? Take a beach cruise by bike in Emerald Isle on the 11-mile Emerald Path, which runs from the eastern edge of town to the Point, at Bogue Inlet. Tack on local highlights like Emerald Isle Woods Park, a 41-acre sound-side park laced with trails—or cycle your way to an idyllic spot in the sand at the Eastern Regional Beach Access. If you need to rent a pair of wheels, grab a bike from Hwy 58 Bicycles, strategically located directly on the Emerald Path.
Where to Unwind
Don’t let the name fool you, the Beaufort Grocery Company is anything but a run-of-the-mill grocery store. The French-bistro-inspired eatery serves elegant fare and features one of the most extensive wine lists on the Crystal Coast. Best of all, the place also offers packed picnic baskets to go.
If you are craving a well-heeled craft brew, peruse the ever-evolving tap list at Tight Lines Pub and Brewing Company in Morehead City. Aside from the vast beer list, the place also features a menu loaded with southern-inspired comfort food, with indulgent small plates, like spinach-crab dip, seafood mac & cheese, and plenty of robust salads.
Recount the day’s adventures over drinks in the sun at the Idle Hour Biergarten in Atlantic Beach. It’s not just beer either; you can also sip wine, cider, or a number of beach-worthy cocktails—like mojitos, margaritas, and mai tais at the chill-inducing outdoor tables.
Where to Get a Good Night’s Rest
Accommodate a group of any size in a relaxing beachfront cottage or condo, available throughout the Crystal Coast from the abundance of rental companies operating in the region. For more rustic weekend digs, book one of the cabins available at Cape Lookout National Seashore, accessible only by boat. Prefer to pamper yourself? Grab a room at one of the cozy, amenity-loaded bed & breakfasts or inns that line the coast, or try a suite at an area hotel. No matter your vacation lifestyle, there are accommodations for every girl in your group.
Originally written for Crystal Coast NC.