Emerald Isle is one of five main communities located on Bogue Banks, a barrier island off the mainland of North Carolina with Bogue Sound to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the south. The island is accessible from bridges that cross the sound from Morehead City to Atlantic Beach and from Cape Carteret to Emerald Isle. Bogue Banks extends 21 miles and is dotted with vacation homes as well as some hotels.
Drive along the main road from one end of the island to the other, and you’ll be one block in either direction from the sound or the ocean. The beaches are some of the best in the country — uncrowded and with sand that is soft and white. In addition to beach activities, you’ll find unique stores and plenty of seafood restaurants. First developed as a vacation destination in the 1950s, the Crystal Coast, part of North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks, has become one of the state’s top coastal destinations.
Enjoy the 12 miles of pristine shoreline at Emerald Isle — you’ll love the water sports and family fun in the sun — and then explore the nearby coastal communities.
Here are just a few reasons why Emerald Isle and Bogue Banks are perfect for your next beach vacation.
1. It Offers Lots Of Great Water Activities
Emerald Isle is a fantastic place to spend a day relaxing on the beach or dipping your toes into the water.
If you’d rather get out on the water, you can take a paddleboat guided tour with Emerald Isle Paddle Tours. No experience is required. Just show up, and they’ll provide the paddleboard and instruction plus an incredible tour through the marshes and estuaries of Bogue Sound.
If fishing is your thing, you could easily spend the day fishing with Pirates Life 4 Us Fishing Charters. Take a guided charter to fish for Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, red drum, sheepshead, and black drum. Half- and full-day charters with a licensed United States Coast Guard captain are available.
Another great spot for fishing is the Bogue Inlet Pier, where you’ll find Spanish mackerel in addition to a king mackerel fishing area. There’s an observation deck where you can watch the fishing and view the water life, and there’s no charge for spectators.
Or go boating on your own by renting a pontoon from Emerald Isle Adventures. Cruise the Intracoastal Waterway in the Bogue Sound and go dolphin watching, bird watching, shelling, or swimming. You can even explore an island!
2. There’s Plenty To Do On Land, Too
There’s also lots to do off the beach. You can rent an electric bike at Pedego Emerald Isle and ride the bike trails along Emerald Isle’s gorgeous coast.
Check out a one-stop wine and craft beer store at The Carolina Wine Mixer, which offers products from more than 108 different vineyards and 60 breweries. There’s something for every taste.
The EmeraldFest Series consists of summer concert shows held on the oceanfront at the Western Ocean Regional Access. Bring a blanket or lawn chair to enjoy this annual tradition of live music at the beach.
3. The Seafood Is Divine
On Bogue Banks, seafood is the specialty, and you’ll find numerous fine-dining spots as well as little beachside places and fish markets to get your fill of fresh seafood.
Caribsea Restaurant, located in Emerald Isle, serves sustainable local seafood made with modern cooking techniques and prepared with Southern flair. Order small plates to sample a variety; the crab cakes, sushi, and shrimp and grits are particularly tasty.
In Atlantic Beach, visit the Oceanana Pier House Restaurant. In business since 1959, the Pier House offers excellent seafood at reasonable prices — they’re known for serving the best breakfast on the beach. Try the crab meat enchilada served with rice and black beans, or stick with a traditional seafood basket such as the oyster basket. The Pier House is also home to the only ocean fishing pier in Atlantic Beach. Fish or take an after-dinner walk along the 1,000-foot pier.
It’s not just seafood at Dank Burrito in Beaufort, and it’s not your typical burrito joint, either. This restaurant and food truck uses global flavors, fresh ingredients, and chef techniques to reimagine the burrito. The teriyaki shrimp burrito is filled with teriyaki glazed shrimp, rice, grilled zucchini, mushrooms, Dank yum yum sauce, and cilantro. The Cajun fried catch of the day, a burrito stuffed with fried fish, rice, beans, pico de gallo, lettuce, chipotle mayo, and cilantro, is also fantastic.
Port of Call is a casual restaurant offering seafood and a panoramic view of the Bogue Sound. Located in Salter Path, a quaint fishing village, it serves traditional as well as original dishes.
If you’re staying in a place with a kitchen, be sure to visit the Willis Seafood Market to grab ingredients for dinner. When I visited, we bought some of their fresh-off-the-boat fish and grilled it for dinner. You can tell the difference between fresh and frozen, and our family ate it all up. I’ve heard that the crab cakes are popular, too — they’re mostly crab with little binder. The owner told me they quickly sell out of the home-baked lemon pies.
4. There Are Some Neat Lodging Options
The Bogue Banks community has a welcoming vibe, and accommodations for visitors are plentiful. You’ll find traditional hotels and motels, but also plenty of condos and even vacation homes.
You’ll be just 250 yards from the beach at the Oceanview Inn. Stay in a guest room or rent an apartment with a full kitchen. Located behind the Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier, it’s a great place to stay if you want to be within walking distance of the ocean shore.
If a boutique hotel is more your preference, the new Lighthouse Inn & Suites has 25 rooms, each with a private bedroom and separate sitting area with a microwave and mini refrigerator.
If you’re on a multigenerational getaway, you can rent a 5-bedroom oceanfront home complete with an observation turret, tower, covered porches, and sundecks. Sandcastle-Spinnakers Reach rents this three-story home with an elevator, a private pool, and all the amenities you would expect. You can rent it by the week during the summer.
5. The Island Is Home To Other Fun Towns
Bogue Banks runs from Emerald Isle to Atlantic Beach with several towns in between. Stay in Emerald Isle or any of the towns, but be sure to travel to the other communities, since each has its own personality.
Judy Crotchett lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, but owns a vacation home in Indian Beach, located between Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach. She says she enjoys the uncrowded beaches and kayaking in the sound, which is steps from her house. She also enjoys taking the golf cart out to watch the sun set over the water. Other residents meet and share a glass of wine to toast the end of the day.
In Beaufort, take a culinary walking tour with Hungry Town Tours, and you’ll eat and drink your way through 300 years of Beaufort’s history. At six culinary stops, you’ll sip wine, taste olive oil, and sample from three restaurants.
Find out why Coastal Living named Beaufort one of the 20 best places to live on the coast in 2018 on a Beaufort Lifestyle & Living Tour. You’ll learn about the Beaufort Historic District, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, with its 285 historic homes, some dating back to the late 1700s. It’s an easy bicycle tour for people of all ages.
Then get an insider’s look at where the locals eat and play on the Hidden Beaufort Tour. You’ll receive a welcome kit highlighting where to go, what to do, and where to eat in Beaufort. The tour includes a guide, bottled water, and bike rental.
Sand Dollar Island And Shackleford Banks
It’s a short ferry ride from Beaufort to Sand Dollar Island and Shackleford Banks. The sandbar is a great place to hunt for sand dollars and has shallow tidal pools that are great for swimming and snorkeling.
In addition to Indian Beach, where she vacations, Crotchett also enjoys the nearby Sand Dollar Island and Shackleford Banks, two popular tourist attractions.
“At Sand Dollar Island, you can pick up all the sand dollars you can carry. On Shackleford Banks, you can see the wild horses and take a short ferry ride to either one or both locations,” she said.
Visit Atlantic Beach to taste beer bottled at the family-owned Crystal Coast Brewing Company. Try their flagship brews or one of the seasonal styles.
Afterward, go for a spa treatment at Complexion MedSpa, an elegant destination for skin and body treatments.
Later, take in a drive-in movie at the Atlantic Beach Town Park.