Atlantic Beach is a quiet little town along the Crystal Coast of North Carolina featuring a beautiful stretch of beach, incredible restaurants, and fun activities. This is the perfect place for a relaxing vacation away from the stress of everyday life.
If you’re looking for things to do in Atlantic Beach then you’re sure to find something on this list. While the town may be small, it is definitely not lacking in adventure and interesting character.
The town is full of friendly people and you won’t find a place where you feel more at home away from home. Once you visit you’ll want to return again and again. I know I did.
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Things to Do in Atlantic Beach, NC
Here are some of my favorite things to do in Atlantic Beach. Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive, but it will give you a good start to exploring the town and the surrounding area.
Head to the Beach
We’ll get the obvious out of the way first. The top thing to do here is visit the beach! There are multiple public beach accesses but if you stay at a beachfront property then they will give you direct access to the beach and it’s usually less crowded.
Watersports like parasailing, SUP, and kayaking are popular here and you can even rent jet skis or boats from AB Watersports. If watersports aren’t your thing then rent a fat-tire bike (or Beach Cruiser) so you can bike on the beach.
You can always go the old-fashioned way and bring your beach chairs and some games. No need to complicate a good thing.
This state park is all about a Civil War-era fort at the very end of Bogue Banks – the far east end of the island that Atlantic Beach is on. The fort has been restored and there are fun indoor and outdoor exhibits to explore.
*Please note the exhibits are currently closed due to damage from Hurricane Florence. They have not announced a reopening date.
There is also a beach here where you can sunbathe, search for shells, or surf fish. You can take three different hiking trails in the park – one along the beach, another is a short quarter-mile loop, and the third is a new 3.2-mile nature trail.
The staff here offer guided tours and they have cannon and musket demonstrations throughout the year. If you are a history buff this is the place for you.
If you cross the bridge back to mainland North Carolina you’ll be in Morehead City. You’ll turn right on Highway 70 and be in Beaufort in less than 15 minutes. This is absolutely the cutest little town you’ll find.
It’s been given various “Best Small Town” awards and even voted “America’s Favorite Town” by Travel + Leisure Magazine. The downtown area is historic, quaint, and perfect for a day of exploring.
Take a tour with Hungry Town Tours where you can walk or bike. They have tons of tours to choose from so you’re sure to find something your group will love. The couple that owns the company and runs the tours is very sweet and so knowledgeable about the area.
Along the main drag, you’ll find many specialty and boutique shops. The town is incredibly dog friendly so a lot of shops will have water bowls sitting outside.
Make sure to eat at a few of the restaurants in town during your stay in Atlantic Beach also. Beaufort Grocery Company, Finz Grill & Bar, and Clawson’s are staples.
Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores
Many people leave the aquarium for a rainy day but any day is a good day to come check out these animals. The aquarium is slightly small compared to the ones in larger cities, but it is very affordable to visit.
It generally takes people about two hours to tour the exhibits and don’t forget there is a boardwalk outside where you can see all kinds of animals in the wild and it leads to their snake exhibit.
The aquarium literally takes you from the Mountains to the Sea (part of their slogan) as you start in the Mountain Gallery then make your way through the Piedmont and Coastal Plains and end up in the Ocean Gallery.
There are also two nature trails nearby that you can enjoy. The Alice Hoffman Nature Trail which you’ll find if you continue down the boardwalk is the first. The second is the Roosevelt Nature Trail which is just across the parking lot.
The trails at Fort Macon State Park have already been mentioned but the Elliot Coues Nature Trail is worth mentioning again. This is the 3.2-mile trail and is one of the best in the area.
Closer to the town of Atlantic Beach, there is another nature trail called Hoop Pole Creek. This is a mix of paved trail and boardwalk that gives you an idea of what the area looked like before development. This is an easy 1-mile trail.
If you visit during the dead of summer, you may want to skip this activity or try wearing plenty of bug spray. The bugs can be pretty brutal. It’s a pleasant walk during the cooler months though.
Shackleford Banks or Rachel Carson Reserve
Shackleford Banks is an island just across the Channel from Beaufort past the Rachel Carson Reserve. A ferry services both places but the Rachel Carson Reserve is close enough that you could kayak from downtown Beaufort as it’s just across Taylor Creek.
Shackleford is perfect for beach lovers who want a secluded stretch of sand. The Rachel Carson Reserve is a collection of islands perfect for the adventurous soul. Here you can kayak, hike, and do lots of bird watching. You’ll also find the wild horses in both locations.
Both of these sites are federally protected. Shackleford is part of the National Park System with the Cape Lookout National Seashore and the Rachel Carson Reserve is part of the North Carolina National Estuarine Reserve system.
Cape Lookout National Seashore
When most people think about the Cape Lookout National Seashore they think of the iconic lighthouse. However, there is more to these barrier islands than climbing the lighthouse.
This National Seashore is made up of three different islands – Shackleford Banks, South Core Banks, and North Core Banks. There are not many amenities on the islands so you’ll need to bring everything you need for the day.
This can include any food and water, sunscreen, a change of clothes, and any gear for swimming or fishing. Make sure you bring trash bags to pack out your trash as well.
There is plenty to do here like shelling, swimming, fishing, and they even have historic villages to tour. If you want to extend your trip more than a day then stay at their cabins or tent sites. This is a popular place for dark sky photography.
Between Atlantic Beach and Beaufort, you can literally shop till you drop. In Atlantic Beach be sure to check out Island Traders, the Surf Shops – AB Surf Shop, Marsh’s, and Bert’s – and Lotus y la Luna.
If you walk down Front or Turner Street in downtown Beaufort you are sure to find multiple boutiques to stop in and take a look around. Beaufort Pet Provisions, Beaufort Linen Co., and Southern Frock are all fun places to look.
The North Carolina coast is known throughout the US for its fishing opportunities. There are all kinds of ways that you can get out and fish from surf fishing to deep-sea fishing to pier fishing.
Surf fishing and deep-sea fishing are the most fun by far but pier fishing is the easiest. The pier at Atlantic Beach is the Oceanana Fishing Pier. You do have to pay a fee to access it. The pier house sells tackle and anything else you may need for your trip.
There are plenty of places to surf fish if that’s what you’d like to do. A few of the best places are Fort Macon State Park, Radio Island, and Cape Lookout. This requires longer rods that you can cast far out into the ocean. Visit Chasin’ Tails Bait & Tackle if you need gear.
If you have no experience fishing then it could be fun to take a charter and go deep-sea fishing. Don’t do this if you get motion sickness because you will be miserable. If you don’t normally get motion sickness then you can still take Dramamine as a safety layer.
It’s no fun being sick on your stomach out in the middle of the ocean. Deep-sea fishing can be incredibly exciting when the fish are biting.
The best part is that you get to keep what you catch! You can take the fish to a local restaurant and they will fix it for you. Ask your captain or first mate for recommendations.
Related to fishing, you can’t come to the beach and not eat seafood. I guess you can if you’re allergic or you don’t like it but otherwise there is no excuse.
You won’t find fresher fish than on the coast so take advantage of it. Some popular dishes are Mahi Mahi, Tuna, and Grouper. At Finz Bar & Grill in Beaufort, you’ll find the best fish tacos so don’t miss out on that.
It’s important to choose fish that have been locally sourced and species that are not overfished. Your server can usually tell you more information and some restaurants even have information cards about this. Don’t hesitate to ask.
Guest Bio: Anna is a content creator for PaddlingSpace.com where you can find information on all things kayaking. She spends every possible moment in the outdoors with her husband and hiking buddy, Barley, her German Shepherd pup.