Emerald Isle, North Carolina

At Emerald Isle, part of North Carolina's Crystal Coast, you can relax on the beach, find coastal adventure, take in nearby sights and dine on local goodness. Start your day at Stir It Up, a local coffee shop where a portion of the proceeds is donated to local charities. Then, hit the beach. You can visit the Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier to see what local anglers are catching while watching surfers take on challenging waves. Try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding, surfing, kayaking and more after renting equipment from the Hot Wax Surf Shop. If you visit in the off-season (Sept. 15 through April 30), you can drive along the beaches for a unique perspective for a small fee.

You'll find plenty more Crystal Coast activity to enjoy nearby. Fort Macon State Park is a Civil War fort surrounded on three sides by water, offering history amid salt marshes and scenic coastal beauty, just a short drive east along the Bogue Banks. The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores showcases water life from the mountains to the sea, so you can see river play, touch stingrays and explore shipwrecks all in one day. For an evening of family fun, visit the Emerald Forest Putt Putt course, where you'll score a free pass if you hit a hole in one. 

To refuel, enjoy an elegant meal at Kathryn's Bistro & Martini Bar or give in to the lure of locally caught seafood at the Crab Shack. For dessert, stop in at the Sweet Spot, where you can choose from shakes, sundaes, scoops and even saltwater taffy. 

If you don't rent your own beach house, stay at the Harborlight Guest House bed and breakfast, where breakfast is served in your suite and the views of the Sound can't be missed. For a more luxurious stay, book a room or suite at the Ocean Club.