Atlantic Beach is a small town of 1,500 people (as of 2016) in the Crystal Coast region North Carolina. A popular seaside vacation town since the 1920s, Atlantic Beach is on Bogue Banks, part of the southern Outer Banks chain of barrier islands, between Bogue Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. The nearby communities of Pine Knoll Shores and Salter Path are often considered to be part of Atlantic Beach.
The most direct way to reach Atlantic Beach, if you're coming from the direction of Raleigh, is down US-70 to Havelock. Atlantic Beach is on NC-58, which runs the length of Bogue Banks. It's only possible to cross to the island at two points: from Morehead City into Atlantic Beach on the eastern end, and from Cape Carteret to Emerald Isle on the western end. Both crossings are large bridges with pleasant scenic views.
The island of Bogue Banks is only 26 miles from one end to the other, but due to the reduced speed limit, you'll need about 45 minutes to travel the entire length. At some points, the island narrows to only a third of a mile wide, giving you excellent views of the ocean and the sound. Mile marker signposts are placed along Highway 58 every half-mile, and these are often used for giving directions.
There is no public transportation on the island, but you can hitch a lift with one of several reliable taxi companies.
- 1 Fort Macon State Park, ☏ . Daily 9AM-5:30PM (except Christmas Day). Fort Macon is a five-sided brick and stone fort with 26 vaulted rooms, which was used during the 18th and 19th centuries to protect the area from naval attacks by pirates or enemy warships. Today the site features exhibits about the fort's history, restored quarters, and occasional re-enactments. Guided tours are available. Visitors can also fish, hike, swim and picnic in the park grounds surrounding the fort.
- 2 The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, 1 Roosevelt Blvd, toll-free: . The aquarium takes visitors on a tour of North Carolina’s amazing aquatic life "from the mountains to the sea." The journey is arranged in five galleries: Mountain, Piedmont, Coastal Plain, Tidal Waters and Ocean. Among the 38 innovative exhibits are re-created shipwrecks that showcase the diverse marine life attracted to these sunken vessels. The 306,000-gallon Living Shipwreck display in the Ocean Gallery features a three-quarter-size replica of a German U-boat that was sunk off Cape Lookout in World War II. The Queen Anne’s Revenge duplicates the 18th century artifacts in Beaufort Inlet thought to be the wreckage of the pirate Blackbeard’s flagship. Visitors also get a view of a pair of playful river otters, a roaring mountain waterfall, a sea turtle rehabilitation area, and a jellyfish gallery. Touch pools allow personal contact with stingrays, hermit crabs, whelks and other creatures. The Aquarium offers an array of activities and field trips, and has facilities for weddings, celebrations and meetings. Visitors also will find a large gift shop and a snack bar.
- The heart of downtown is the Circle, the local name for the culmination of the Atlantic Beach Causeway in a traffic circle by the beach. The Circle is fringed with souvenir shops and a boardwalk along the beach; large groups of teens and young adults are often to be found playing volleyball, sunbathing or listening to music. The area is being renovated, with upscale retail shops and restaurants joining the touristy kitsch.
- There are miles of beautiful beaches where you can take a stroll or sunbathe; they can be fairly busy during the day, unless you walk beyond the crowds (particularly around Fort Macon), but they're also quite pretty for moonlight strolls at night. There are beach access points up and down the coast; some are only available to residents of the adjacent hotel or condo, but there are several with large parking lots for public access.
- Atlantic Station Cinemas (W Fort Macon Road in the Atlantic Station Shopping Center (mile marker 3)), ☏ . The only movie theatre in town, with four screens, snack counter and arcade games.
- By far the most popular dance with the Crystal Coast community is the amusingly-named shag, which some even claim was invented in Atlantic Beach. It's usually done to classic beach music. If you want to take shagging lessons (yes, we know), they're offered at Memories Beach and Shag Club, 128 E Fort Macon Road (mile marker 1.5), +1 252-240-7424.
- Go for a hike along the Hoop Pole Creek Nature Trail, off Highway 58, in a 31-acre maritime forest.
- If you like sailing, there are plenty of opportunities for it on the Intracoastal Waterway of Bogue Sound, or in the Atlantic Ocean.
- Outer Banks Sail and Kayak, 612 Atlantic Beach Causeway, ☏ . M-Sa 9AM-6PM, Su 1PM-6PM. Daily sailing and kayak rentals, group and private instruction, sunset sails and dinner cruises. Sailing classes are $60-90; ocean cruises are $45-75; hourly rentals are $10-15 for kayaks and $30-40 for sailboats.
- If you're more of a fisherman, you can take a stroll down one of the local piers. Because of damage by hurricanes Bertha, Fran and Bonnie in the 1990s, and real-estate developers afterwards, the piers in the area are dwindling. Out of eight that once existed on the island, there are only two left today, one of which is in Atlantic Beach:
- Oceanana, 700 E Fort Macon Road, ☏ . Fishing pier attached to the Oceanana Family Resort.
- Captain Stacy Fishing Center, Atlantic Beach Causeway, ☏ , toll-free: . Deep-sea fishing cruises, shark fishing, 24-hour overnight bottom fishing trips, moonlight cruises and harbor tours, and privately chartered tours. Deep-sea cruises are $45 for shark fishing, $60 half-day, $90 full day (adult prices); overnight trips are $160.
Beach shops are abundant, if you're desperately in need of a surfboard, beach towel, flip-flops, sunglasses, or a lucite dolphin sculpture. Two of the more prominent ones are listed below, but you'll see plenty of others in the nearby vicinity:
- Wings, 100 Atlantic Beach Causeway, +1 252-240-2628; and 200 W Fort Macon Road, +1 252-240-5363. The largest beach shop on the island, with beach apparel, souvenirs and accessories.
- Bert's Surf Shop, 304 W Fort Macon Rd, ☏ . A local chain (North Carolina plus Myrtle Beach) offering beachwear, surfing gear, skateboards and accessories.
Otherwise, you mostly have the traditional beach gifts: seashells, things carved out of seashells, things made from seashells, things made from driftwood, salt-water taffy and nautical-themed items. A lot of it is tacky and cheap; some of it is really nice quality.
A couple of specialty shops that might come in handy for your seaside vacation needs:
- Kites Unlimited & BirdStuff, etc., 1010 W Fort Macon Rd, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Atlantic Station Shopping Center. If you want a kite to fly on the beach, this should be your first stop; they also sell banners, flags, windsocks, and games. The shop sponsors a kite-flying group in the area on weekends, and a kite-flying festival in late October.
- Freeman's Discount Bait and Tackle, 108 Atlantic Beach Causeway, ☏ , toll-free: . Open daily. The oldest bait and tackle shop on the island, with over 1200 feet of retail space. Offers rods and reels, inshore and offshore tackle, bait (fresh or frozen, live or artificial) and in-house rod and reel repair.
- Amos Mosquito's Swampside Cafe, 703 Highway 58 (mile marker 2), ☏ . Open for dinner W-Sa; call for winter hours. Swamp decor and atmosphere- including Spanish moss, cattails and swamp sounds- with a panoramic view of Bogue Sound. Emphasizes fresh, in-season vegetables and seafood; the homemade potato chips, crabcakes and tableside s'mores are popular, and Thursday is sushi night. $10.50-22.95.
- Big Oak Drive-In, 1167 Salter Path Rd, ☏ . Praised by many for having the best shrimpburgers on the island ($4.95 for a large).
- Crab's Claw, 201 W Atlantic Blvd, ☏ . Not always open off-season, so it's best to call ahead to check their hours. Oceanfront fine dining serving Harkers Island littleneck clams, crabcakes, conch fritters, steamer pots and other local seafood delicacies.
- Island Grille, 401 Money Island Dr, ☏ . Fine dining in a casual atmosphere, with plenty of fresh seafood. Locals know that the best nights to come are Monday and Tuesday, when the restaurant offers two entrees for the price of one. $12-20.
- New York Deli (Causeway Shopping Center), ☏ .
- Watermark Restaurant (Atlantic Station Shopping Center on Hwy 58 (mile marker 3)), ☏ . Open for dinner seven days a week. A very popular local restaurant specializing in beef and seafood; the fried shrimp is a revelation, delicately fried and very juicy.
- White Swan Barbecue & Fried Chicken, Hwy 58 (mile marker 4.5), ☏ . Open daily in summer. Operating since 1949, specializing in Eastern North Carolina pulled pork barbecue, Southern fried chicken, Brunswick stew and homemade side dishes.
If you want to mix your own drinks, there's an ABC store at 101 Cedar Lane, +1 252-726-3221, open M-Sa. Otherwise, you can check out one of the local nightspots:
- Beach Tavern (BT), 413 W Fort Macon Rd, ☏ . Right near the center of town, is a bar and restaurant that is an AB tradition. It attracts all kinds of folks, from locals to tourists, and features pool tables and liquor. Cash only, but there is an ATM.
- Channel Marker, ☏ . Atlantic Beach Causeway. Just on the island side of the bridge, this popular nightspot (an ordinary restaurant during the day) has a waterfront bar and a large deck overlooking Bogue Sound.
- Patches, 208 West Dr, ☏ . Located on the Atlantic Beach circle; events include weekly pool and dart tournaments, video games and more.
- Planet Red, 1104 W Fort Macon Rd, ☏ . Dance floor, popular with the younger crowd.
- Playtime Sports Grill, 1010 W Fort Macon Rd, ☏ . Full menu, 7 pool tables, 12 TV screens, video games. Bike Night on Fridays with drink and food specials, door prizes, biking apparel and accessories, and more.
As with many coastal areas, visitors can choose between cheap motel or upscale hotel rooms rented by the night, or a beach cottage by the week. Prices are highly variable, usually running between $60 - $150 per night; prices naturally go up with the quality of the lodging establishment and, in particular, proximity to the beach.
- Arrowhead Campground, 1550 Salter Path Rd. Part of the Badin Lake Recreation Area. 170 campsites, over 135 full hookups. Convenience store on-site. $20 for sites without sewer hookup, $26 with sewer hookup.
- Squatter's Campsite, 1475 Salter Path Rd, ☏ .
- Atlantis Lodge, 123 Salter Path Rd (Highway 58 (mile marker 5)), ☏ , toll-free: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Suites with efficiency kitchens, dining, living and sleeping areas with oceanfront decks. Outdoor pool. Pets welcome. Golf packages available.
- Island Inn of Atlantic Beach, 215 W Fort Macon Rd, ☏ . Outdoor pool. Upscale condotel with reasonable daily rates. Microwave, fridge, hair dryer, coffee maker, tile floors, granite counters, designer interiors, some with full kitchen. Close to restaurants, shopping, beach, Fort Macon, NC Aquarium, Crystal Coast Jamboree. $60-190.
- Caribbe Inn, 309 E Fort Macon Rd, ☏ . Aquatic decor with fish murals, boat slips and dock, and the highest health department rating on the beach (100%). $65-90 peak season, $45-60 off-season.
- Clamdigger Inn, ☏ . Highway 58 (mile marker 8.5). All rooms are oceanfront with private balconies. Highly recommended for its reasonable prices, friendly service and convenient location. Outdoor swimming pool. On-site restaurant called The Clam Digger, open all day, serving fresh local seafood, and a cocktail lounge called the Cutty Sark. $64-195 (weekday peak season), $79-249 (weekend peak season), $43-74 (weekday off-season), $49-115 (weekend off-season), all prices double occupancy.
- Hampton Inn & Suites, 118 Salter Path Rd, ☏ , toll-free: . 111 suites. Outdoor swimming pool, fitness center, free hot breakfast.
- Oceanana, 700 E Fort Macon Rd, ☏ . An oceanfront family resort with a private beach, outdoor pool and kiddie pool, attached pier and complimentary tropical breakfast during peak season. Standard rooms are $75 peak season, $62-75 off-season.
- Peppertree Atlantic Beach, 715 W. Fort Macon Rd, ☏ . Along the 28-mile stretch known as the 'Crystal Coast'. Indoor and outdoor pools, picnic areas, and basketball and volleyball courts. Stay in a two-bedroom guest villa that accommodates up to six people, 2 nights for $99.
- Sandpiper Motel, 200 East Fort Macon Rd, ☏ . Motel rooms and efficiencies (microwave, stove, refrigerator, and full bathroom) starting at $69. Outdoor pool, picnic area, cable and HBO, boat and RV parking. Convenient to restaurants, shopping, and entertainment.
- Sheraton Atlantic Beach, 2717 Fort Macon Rd, ☏ . Check-in: 4PM, check-out: 11AM. 200 oceanfront or oceanview nautically-themed rooms. Private 600-foot pier, indoor and outdoor pools. Two restaurants: Shades by the Sea, and Molly's Beachside Bar and Grill.
- Whaler Inn Beach Club, 323 Salter Path Rd, ☏ , toll-free: . Motel rooms, efficiencies (stove and refrigerator, washer/dryer and full bathroom), and one- and two-bedroom units (full kitchen and dishwasher, washer/dryer and two full bathrooms).
- Windjammer Inn, 103 Salter Path Rd, ☏ , toll-free: . All rooms oceanfront, outdoor swimming pool and hot tub, lagoon with waterfalls and fountains. $56-150.
The Crystal Coast area has a variety of other areas to visit:
Further afield, there are some interesting destinations for daytrips:
- Havelock, about 30 minutes north on US-70.
- New Bern, about 1 hour north on US-70.
- Jacksonville, about 1 hour west on US-24.
- Bath, about 3 hours north.
- Ocracoke Island, about 3 hours east.