If you follow me on Instagram, you know I recently had the time of my life during my trip to North Carolina’s Crystal Coast. I spent three days and nights touring various historical sites, local fun destinations and of course eateries (yum!) at the Southern Outer Banks (#SOBX).
Right now is the best time to visit the SOBX as the weather isn’t too hot or cold and you can take advantage of off season rates. Plus if you’re not a fan of crowds (like me) the off season is the optimal time to visit.
If you’re interested in a low key luxury trip, vacationing like a millionaire on an average Joe’s budget, rent one of the deluxe digs. The beach houses range from quaint beach cottages to mammoth houses known locally as “sand castles”.
There is more to do at the Southern Outer Banks than the beach – in fact, there are at least 10 fun activities. Allow me to share a bit of my itinerary and Instagram photos with you that included everything from a culinary bike tour, to visiting the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, to drinks with the Mayor of Atlantic Beach.
Destination #1 : Sunset Libations at The Barnacle
While waiting for our table at Amos Mosquito’s, one of the first things we did was head out to the beach for sunset libations at The Barnacle. It’s a boardwalk destination for cocktails nearly 1,000 feet out into the Atlantic Ocean. While there, we had a toast with the four-term Mayor of Atlantic Beach Trace Cooper. We also listened to live music and watched the locals fish for dinner.
Destination #2: Fried Pickle Pops and S’mores at Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant & Bar
After libations at The Barnacle we walked across the way to Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant & Bar, one of the docks-to-dish restaurants in the area. With a colorful name comes an eclectic selection of traditional fried seafood dishes to sushi and Thai dipping sauces. After a huge platter of fried shrimp, clams and scallops I also tried my hand at making s’mores for the very first time – right at the table. Oh, and did I mention the fried pickle pops were….well, you have to visit and try for yourself.
Destination #3: Lunch at Village Market
Locally owned gourmet deli and sandwich shop, The Village Market is a great destination for a quick bite for breakfast or lunch. The artisan-style sandwiches are built with premium breads, fresh vegetables and homemade dressing. In addition to trying the chunky chicken salad, stop in for some of the most unique, fun and innovative artwork and gifts supporting local artists.
Destination #4: Boat Ride Around Shackleford Banks via Island Express Ferry Services
Hop onto the Island Express Ferry and take a boat ride around Shackleford Banks to visit one of the historical destinations in the area: the island of the wild Spanish horses. That’s right, wild horses. These “Banker Ponies” have taken care of their young, frolicked on pristine deserted beaches and foraged for over 400 years, sans a saddle or fence. The horses are protected by the Cape Lookout National Seashore in cooperation with the Foundation for Shackleford Horses. Scientists and historians speculate that the Banker Ponies swam ashore after a Spanish ship exploring the new world met with tragic fate off of North Carolinas’ shores – after all, Blackbeard the pirate’s ship sank in this area.
Destination #5: Climb Cape Lookout Lighthouse and Visit the Keepers Quarters
Standing 163 feet tall, the Cape Lookout Lighhouse is pained with a distinctive black and white diagonal checkered pattern to distinguish it from other North Carolina light houses and is open to visitors to climb a few weekends each year. Built in the 1800’s to warn passing ships of the dangerous coastal waters, the lighthouse climb is a series of spiral stairs intermittent with windows that look out onto the Crystal Coast. Once at the top, you’ll feel like Rocky Balboa, on top of the world. The panoramic views were absolutely breathtaking and you’ll definitely want to use the pano feature on your iPhone. This was a celebratory occasion for one of my buddies, Jason Frye, as this feat marked his 7th and final North Carolina Lighthouse climb. Cape Lookout National Seashore is open 24 hours and 365 days a year. Operating hours for visitor centers and other services will vary throughout the year.
Destination #6: Hand Crafted Cocktails at Arendell Room
What I love about The Arendell Room is the craftsmanship that goes into making a cocktail. Before this experience, I thought the art of great bartending included a hot guy throwing a shaker in the air, entertaining his guests as much as the hibachi chefs at a Japanese Steakhouse. Wow, was I mistaken (but not the part about the hot guys). The attention to detail that goes into making one of these specialty drinks will spoil you – you won’t want another rushed cocktail thrown at you again. You’ll find this craft cocktail bar amid the downtown strip of Morehead City. The Ardendell room is a clever mix of modern cosmopolitan with a nod to the South, backlit with mason jars lining the wall behind the bar. This cocktail bar is also the brainchild of lawyer, businessman, developer and four-term Mayor of Atlantic Beach, Trace Cooper.
Destination #7: The Hungry Town Bike Tours
Can I tell you, this was the part of the weekend I couldn’t wait to experience? Owned and operated by husband and wife duo Betsy and David Cartier, the hospitality veterans created Hungry Town Bike Tours, a casual exploration through downtown Beaufort, NC. The company, titled after the early name of Beaufort, includes various tours to fit your schedule and budget. First, select your tour (I chose the Beaufort Culinary tour) and your chariot of choice. Then follow Betsy or David through Hungry Town sampling several of Beaufort’s best local restaurants (on my tour, we stopped at Clawson’s 1905 Restaurant & Pub, Finz Grill , The Spouter Inn Restuarant & Bakery and an impromptu stop at Beaufort Olive Oil ). Biking not your thing? The Cartier’s are soon offering Walking Tours (yup, that’s an exclusive folks).
Destination #8: Beaufort Double Decker Bus Tour
History junkies, this one is for you! On the Beaufort Double Decker Bus Tour, narrators dressed in costume tell tales of Beaufort’s rich past of pirates, star-crossed lovers and confederate spies, all aboard a 1967 British double-decker bus. The tour takes you past the North Carolina Martime Museum, historic buildings and old burying grounds. I didn’t have to wait for my invitation to London Fashion Week to board an authentic European double-decker bus after all.
Destination #9: Charter the Mullet Line Trolley and the Sensation for a Night Out
Don’t have a boat? No worries, you don’t need one to sail the Atlantic Ocean. We chartered the Mullet Line Trolley to take us to The Sensation, a 53 foot custom built Jarrett Bay for an evening wine and cheese cruise. For those who prefer to catch a “big one”, you can charter this same boat for a private fishing excursion with five of your friends. Mate Big Country and Captain Dale will take great care of you (and they may even let you try your hand at sailing).
Destination #10: Too tired to cook? Call Over a Personal Chef!
Because who wants to cook after all of the activities of the day? Closing out our weekend, we enjoyed many courses of delicious food prepared by Chef Patrick Hogan of Carlton’s Catering Company. The night began with a toast of bubbly and a Charcuterie Boarda, a sample of various meats (Genoa, Prosciutto, Capocollo), pâtés (smoked trout & smoked salmon) and cheeses (chèvre, parmesan, gorgonzola and sharp cheddar). Once seated at the table, we started with (my favorite) a Caprese salad. Then the real fun began. Chef Hogan served a pasta course (linguini, wild mushrooms, chives, roasted garlic, parsley and thyme), a fish course (Mahi-Mahi, tomato butter, creamy polenta, fried collards and grilled butternut squash with honey and thyme) and a meat course (roasted chicken, fennel and carrot hash, Rosemary butter). My mouth waters as I type – this was a five-star experience served right in the comfort of our sand castle kitchen.
As you can see, there is more to the Crystal Coast than just the beach (but when you’re ready for water activities, be sure to try stand up paddle boarding with Hot Wax Surf & Paddle Sports, jet skiing with Water Sports Rentals , and go crabbing and clamming at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores). Bookmark this page and revisit it when planning your Southern Outer Banks experience. Trust me, this is a destination you don’t want to miss. Bucket list, check!