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Sling a beach towel over your shoulder and slip on your flip flops if you are headed to Atlantic Beach, where the sand and waves are clean and alluring and the scenery is extraordinary any time of day or night. Although visitors can arrive by boat traveling on the Intracoastal Waterway, there are two bridges that eventually lead to Atlantic Beach. From the mainland in Morehead City on a four-lane high-rise bridge access to Atlantic Beach is quick and easy. The scenic route, about twenty-two miles, travels the length of the island from Emerald Isle to Atlantic Beach. This strip of land is referred to by locals as Bogue Banks and the water between the mainland and the island is called Bogue Sound.
A Touch of History
In the past, Atlantic Beach could only be reached by boat. It had its humble beginning with a small pavilion on the beach way back in 1887. The ferry business thrived during that time of growing construction and interest in vacationing on the Atlantic Ocean. During the rush of tourist commerce, what is known as Atlantic Beach was referred to as Money Island Beach. Eventually, Morehead City and Beaufort investors combined their efforts to build a bridge from Morehead City to Atlantic Beach 1928. The original bridge connecting Atlantic Beach to the mainland was a toll bridge. In the 1950’s the toll bridge was replaced by a drawbridge and tolls were dropped. The State of North Carolina bought the bridge in 1934. The present day Atlantic Causeway Bridge which is a four-lane high-rise construction was built in the late 1980’s.
Among the famous personalities that have owned or traveled to Bogue Banks is Alice Hoffman, aunt of the wife of President Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. Alice Hoffman bequeathed When the Roosevelts inherited the property of Pine Knoll Shores, they imagined a planned community in order to preserve the ecology of the maritime forest that envelopes the land. Thus, the paths at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shore are named after the family that owned the property - the Alice Hoffman Trail and the Theodore Roosevelt Trail.
What You Need to Know
Folks who visited the beach over a century ago enjoyed the same wide beaches and the majestic sunrises and set sets that attract locals and tourists today. Today permanent residents of the island are afforded free parking, but visitors who plan to make several trips or are on an extended stay nearby and enjoy the beach regularly will want to purchase a $50 seasonal parking ticket at the Atlantic Beach Town Hall at 125 West Fort Macon Road Atlantic Beach, NC.
Just so you’ll know, the barrier island is home to five communities, Atlantic Beach being the oldest of the bunch. Traveling west from Atlantic Beach (population about 1,500), on the main drag - Highway 58 - you will enter Pine Knoll Shores (population about 1,300), then Salter Path (population about 300), Indian Beach (population about 110) and finally Emerald Isle (population about 4,000) where you cross the Cameron Langston Bridge into Cape Carteret (population 1,900) on the mainland at the intersection of Highway 24 and Highway 58.
From sunrise to sunset, Atlantic Beach has an ideal view of the brilliant skies, because Bogue Banks runs east to west facing the Atlantic ocean on the south. Take a morning dip in the ocean with a magnificent view of the rising sun, then stroll in the evening on the beach and watch the fiery orange sun drop into the horizon.
Atlantic Beach has plenty of fine hotels, condominiums, and houses on and near the beach where you can kick up your feet after a long day at the beach when you’re on vacation. But many folks come back so often, then move to Atlantic Beach permanently. Whether you’re looking for the ideal vacation rental or moving here with the family, contact one of the many outstanding Atlantic Beach realtors. Atlantic Beach is an ideal place where you can rent a house right on the beach or further back with a waterfront view and have an unforgettable family reunion.
Shops on the Beach
Stop by Atlantic Beach Surf Shop to rent a surfboard and to buy any supplies you need for a day on the waves. This shop has everything for your board, as well as sunglasses, t-shirts, sandals, and many more accessories. Bert’s Surf Shop, which also has every imaginable item a surfer could wish for, has three locations on Bogue Banks - one in Atlantic Beach and two down the road in Emerald Isle.
The Crystal Coast is home to two outstanding art galleries. Vision Gallery and Carteret Contemporary Art collaborate to bring to the coast premier art - by both local and nationally renown artists. Vision Gallery, owned and directed by Lee Dellinger, is located in Atlantic Beach, NC. The Carteret Contemporary Art, which is located in Morehead City, NC, is owned and directed by Charles Jones who mounts gallery exhibits and works with museums to curate shows. Both galleries present new work from artists on a regular basis and work with clients off-site to consult for acquisitions. If you are visiting in the spring or summer, be sure to ask about their exhibition schedule and openings.
Catch of the Day Dining
If you’re coming to the beach to relax, then you’ll want to know about the restaurants that are local favorites such as the Clam Digger Restaurant insider the Clam Digger Inn. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner with outstanding specials every evening. When you are stepping out of the waves, try the Oceanana Pier House Grill conveniently located on the beach. Locals also enjoy the unique setting and friendly atmosphere of Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant & Bar, where fresh in-season seafood is served and where the kids can enjoy making a marshmallow-chocolate-graham-cracker treat (a.k.a s’more) on a brazier at their table. For a break from a burger and fries, visit the California Roll Cafe for a creative salad or choose from a wide selection of sushi rolls, nigiri sushi, and soups. Of course, you don’t want to leave the area before tasting the finest North Carolina barbecue with all the trimmings at White Swan BBQ & Fried chicken. They cater groups from 50 to 2,000, if you want to keep your party at the beach just give them a call.
Atlantic Beach, NC, offers plenty of places that are open late. If you love to dance, you may want to become a member of the Shag Club at the Memories Beach Club, the only one of its kind on the Crystal Coast. This club draws folks from all over eastern North and South Carolina. Even if you’re a beginner, the Memories Beach Club has dance lessons all year round for beginners, intermediate, and advanced levels. The locals will point you to a place for summer nightlife that has been around for over thirty years - The Channel Marker Restaurant. Overlooking Bogue Sound, this fun place to be has a waterfront bar with an atrium lounge where you can tap your toe to live music at least one night a week.
More than Just Sand
Just because the sand and waves on Atlantic Beach are captivating, doesn’t mean there isn't anything else to do in and around Atlantic Beach. Start at the furthest point on the island, Fort Macon State Park - there’s something here for everyone. The historian and war buff will be astounded to see these pristine grounds with a state-of-art museum detailing the Civil War constructed fort and grounds. School children will love to stand by the cannons on the thick walls of the pentagon-shaped fort and peer out to into the Atlantic Ocean imagining Blackbeard’s pirate ship approaching. The famous pirate, Blackbeard, is known to have traversed the waters of Bogue Inland. You’ll understand why this is North Carolina’s most visited state park and why tourists return every year. Summer concerts, cannon firings, and Civil War reenactments make this one of the liveliness places to visit in Atlantic Beach. With a special permit and application, you may have the wedding of your dreams on the beach near the fort or in one of the shelters available on Fort Macon property although not inside the fort itself.
In nearby Salter Path take the family to the Lost Treasure Golf and Raceway where you can spend an enjoyable day on their 18-hole course which winds in and out of caves, ancient ruins, and waterfalls. Also, on the same site are go-cart rides, bumper boats, arcades, and - of course - ice cream. This facility is open from March to September.
Besides the annual firework displays on Atlantic Beach to celebrate Memorial Day and the 4th of July, Atlantic Beach is the site of family fun and fitness on its clean white shore. Carteret County Parks and Recreation conducts a Beach Fun Run series from late May to the middle of August on Tuesdays and Thursday evenings. Pay a minimal fee all at once for seven races and a t-shirt or pay as you go. With the sound of the fog horn, runners of all ages and skills pound the sand for one mile, a 5K or a 10K course.
Among other fun annual events on the beach is New Years Day when a colony of “penguins” of all ages takes the Penguin Plunge in the chilly waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Thousands of onlookers and the hundreds of participants who take the dip do this to raise money for local charities. For those who prefer to stay bundled up against the cold January winds, there is also a New Years Day Kite Fly. Bring your kite or your camera and watch the skies over Atlantic Beach fill with colorful dancing kites.
In Pine Knoll Shores the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina owns a 62-acre conference grounds that is open for groups to reserve. In the summer they offer outstanding camps for students from third to twelfth grades in a program called Sound to Sea. Live oak trees cover the campus which actually spans from the Atlantic Ocean to Bogue Sound. Throughout the year educational and spiritual programs are also offered for adults. If you love the ocean and all of it’s living creatures, you’ll want to visit the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, which borders Atlantic Beach. Twice a year - Veterans Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day - admission is free to everyone. Mesmerizing exhibits of local and global creatures from under the seas, keep visitors returning. Watch as divers communicate from the Living Shipwreck, a 306,000-gallon tank, while a variety of ocean creatures (including sharks) swim around them.
In another area of the museum step up to the counter to touch a horseshoe crab and help save a turtle at the new turtle weighing display that fascinates and educates the youngest visitors. All year long there are educational programs for children and adults. In July and August, the Aquarium offers exciting summer camp for children. If you still want more of the wonder that the aquarium brings, you can even throw your birthday bash right inside or attend a Sleeping with the Fishes sleepover. Various rooms and even the whole aquarium may be rented for special events. Brides and grooms find this to be a romantic setting and enjoy the convenience of a special events coordinator. For the naturalist who wants to see wildlife in its natural habitat, The Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area borders the NC Aquarium on Roosevelt Drive in Pine Knoll Shores. This 300-acre preserve is maintained by the aquarium staff and the North Carolina State Parks. Two trails - the Alice G. Hoffman Trail and the Roosevelt Trail - lead you on a sound side trek where you’re likely to see wading birds and migratory waterfowl in the salt-marsh.
Pine Knoll Shores is the home of the North Carolina Aquarium, as well as, The Country Club of the Crystal Coast, which offers a range of memberships with amenities to residents and nonresidents. Their facilities include an 18-hole golf club, tennis courts, a swimming pool, a restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Located on the waterfront, The Country Club of the Crystal Coast is an ideal setting for a wedding or any special occasion.
For the couple dreaming of a beach wedding with a pink and blue sunset fading on salty waves, caterers and photographers are on Bogue Banks to lend a hand. White Swan BBQ & Fried Chicken and Crab’s Claw Restaurant are just two businesses in Atlantic Beach which offer catering. For reliable and professional photographs of your wedding, family reunion, or other special occasions contact Coastal Image Photography by Carolyn Temple or George Mitchell Photographic Services. Both of these businesses are located in Morehead City, but both businesses photograph weddings and more on Atlantic Beach.
Catching the Big Fish
While you’re at the beach, why not venture out into the ocean on a fishing trip with the Captain Stacy Fishing Center in Atlantic Beach, NC. They offer half day, full day fishing trips, and shark fishing. Even if you don’t know how to fish, the folks at Capt. Stacy’s will teach you everything you need to know. Don’t miss an opportunity to explore the waters of the Crystal Coast where you can experience overnight bottom fishing. Some of the fish found off the Crystal Coast shores include silver snapper, triggerfish, amberjack, scup, porgies, banded rudderfish, blue fish, dogfish, vermilion snapper, and grouper.
Atlantic Beach and surrounding areas attract fishing fans at the local tournaments. The Atlantic Beach Saltwater Classic King Mackerel Tournament, traditionally held in September, draws crowds of competitors and fans who rush to see the dramatic weigh-ins on the Atlantic Beach Causeway at McCurdy’s Restaurant Dock. This popular King Mackerel fishing competition has one of the country’s largest all-cash purse.
In June the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament - known to locals as Big Rock - has been an area attraction for well over fifty years. The winnings for the nine-day tournament events can amount to over a million dollars. There are fun activities for the whole family and, although the event takes place in various locations, there are public weigh-ins on the nearby Morehead City waterfront. Along with the hustle and bustle of activities and prizes, the tournament benefits charities.