The Emerald Isle, NC Travel Guide

By David Sobotta

I have been living near Emerald Isle for over four years now. You often get a different perspective of an area when you are a local.

While I cannot guarantee anyone a perfect vacation if you come for a visit, I can tell you that the beaches of Emerald Isle, neighboring Salter Path, and Pine Knoll Shores can restore your appreciation of the natural world.

You will not find the night life of a Myrtle Beach in Emerald Isle. But you will find safe, uncrowded beaches that are there for the enjoyment of the people who take the time to walk them.

Emerald Isle is proud of its image as one of the last family beaches. Almost everyone that visits falls in love and comes back again and again.

As in any area with hundreds of individual accomodations available for rent, your individual experience is going to have a lot to do with the property that you rent or the motel you choose.

If you are renting a beach property, the best suggestion is that you pay careful attention to your rental company's reputation.

I can assure that all rental companies depend on repeat business so they want to make your trip enjoyable so you will come back next year.

You can find the latest accomodation information at the Crystal Costal Travel Plannng site.

The Beaufort Historical Society also provides accommodation information.

Before you come, you should know that Emerald Isle is not a large place. However, along the Crystal Coast, even with the current estimate of only 3,800 year round residents, Emerald Isle is still one of the larger towns in Carteret County. Our county only has 64,000 permanent residents.

Of course that population goes way up in the summer both across the county and in Emerald Isle.

When you compare Emerald Isle to many of the other east coast beaches, it is very uncrowded and relatively easy to enjoy your own private space on the beach. There are no high rise condominiums to pack the beaches.

Part of what attracted me to Emerald Isle is that it reminds me of the Carolina beaches of my youth. You can still walk on a fishing pier in the evening or even go fishing on the beach.

The days on Emerald Isle seem to slow down. There always is plenty of time to enjoy an ice cream cone or a walk on the beach. A vacation in our uncrowed area lets you surf fish, swim, or just relax on the beach without getting in anyone's way.

While in the last few years, a number of large oceanfront homes, locally know as sandcastles have become popular for family reunions, it is still possible in Emerald Isle to find reasonably priced accomodations within walking distance of the beaches. The Islander Motel is even being converted to one of those new condotels.

What Emerald Isle might lack in night life, it makes up for in convenient services for visitors and full time residents. Even on the popular Satruday and Sunday check in days for the rentals, it is possible to slide into area grocery stores without too much inconvenience. Emerald Isle has its own Food Lion grocery store, and just across the bridge in Cape Carteret is a Lowe's Food Store. There is also another Food Lion and a Piggly Wiggly in Swansboro just a few miles away.

There is a CVS Drugstore on the Island, an Ace Hardware, an ABC Store, and the Captain Willis Seafood Market among other places to buy seafood. Emerald Planation and some of the other strip malls provide plenty of shopping and specialty stores including a number of places with fishing tackle for the guys. There are a number of shops for the ladies in Swansboro about ten minutes away. The Beaufort historic district and its shops and museum are only thirty five minutes from Emerald Isle.

A few restaurants call Emerald Isle home and there are more on the neighboring mainland. I have a restaurant website with some recommendations of ones that I have enjoyed. It is worth noting that many of the area restaurants are small, and it is a great challenge to maintain consistency when they are overwhelmed so be patient. The wait is worth it. I think the restaurants along the Crystal Coast do a fine job of preparing some exceptional seafood.

You can often get better service and even tastier meals during peak season by adopting a slightly different meal schedule than the general population.

There are a number of attractions in the Emerald Isle area including some wonderful trails, two golf courses (Silver Creek and Star Hill), a driving range, three minature golf courses, bumper boats, bike trails and a water slide. There is also beach volleyball at the western regional access. Of course with a new salt water fishing license, you have lots of places to try your luck fishing including the Bogue Inlet Pier where you can always count on some fishing action. There are also a number of fishing guides in the area for those who want almost guaranteed success.

If you want to camp there is the Croatan National Forest Campground in Cedar Point which has a boat ramp for small boats. Larger boats can also be launched in Cedar Point at the state managed ramp and at the marinas in Swansboro, Cedar Point, and Emerald Isle.

There are places on the Island to rent bikes for leisurely rides on the nicely done bike paths that parallel Emerald Drive. Of course you can also walk the paths and enjoy the benches that are strategically placed along the way.

Emerald Isle even provides beach wheel chairs daily on a first come first served basis from the town Fire Department.

Probably one of the nicest things about Emerald Isle is that the beach seems to have room for everyone who wants to enjoy the beach. The range of accomodations and the relative ease of finding a parking space at either the eastern or western regional beach accesses makes going to the beach something that everyone can enjoy.

There are a few parking spots tucked away at the small lot at Third Street Beach or if you want to sneak next door to Salter Path you can enjoy the beautiful elevated walkway in the Roosevelt Natural Area. There is also parking out near the The Point which is one of my favorite spots. I am hoping to get a permit so I can drive my truck on the beach during fall fishing season.

Vacationing on Emerald Isle is a restful experience. When you are done enjoying the beach for the day, you enjoy some fantastic seafood at one of the area restaurants which are easily accessible in Emerald Isle, Cedar Point, Cape Carteret, and Swansboro. You are not going to fight huge traffic jams to go out to dinner. If you are here in peak season and choose to go to dinner between six and eight in the evening, you will likely have to wait unless you are clever enough to find some of our local spots a little off the beaten path like T&Ws Oyster House on Route 58.

If you want to miss the crowds, have a late lunch and then enjoy some ice cream for dinner from Ben & Jerry's, The Sweet Spot, the Dairy Queen, or the Custard Place on Coast Guard Road.

An additional resource for planning your trip is the official Crystal Coast Travel Planner.

You can also find out lots of local information by checking the website of The Island Review or Dropping Anchor. Dropping Anchor's March 07 issue was about the history of Emerald Isle and is available online as a downloadable PDF.

There are pictures of the area at my Picasa Web Albums and Flickr sites. I also have companion travel guides to Beaufort and Swansboro.

Another source of great information is Emerald Isle's website.

Remember also that Emerald Isle is more than just a summer beach, there's a great Christmas parade held every year and the Saint Patrick's Day Festival is one of the most enjoyable around. Even walking the beach in January can be very pleasant.

Whatever you do when you visit the Island, I hope you go home having walked the beaches. May the taste of fresh seafood remain in your memory until you can visit again.

My last wish is that you come away from Emerald Isle with an appreciation for the clear waters of the Crystal Coast and how it important it is that we protect them. If you can do that I would rate your vacation as a success.

I want to thank Emerald Isle's Mayor Art Schools for taking the time to help me through some areas that I had yet to figure out.

Check out this boat trip to Shackleford Banks for more local scenery.

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David's Southern Outer Banks Information Site