There’s something about Emerald Isle that just draws you in. Maybe it’s the soft, white sand beaches sloping gently into the transparent waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Or perhaps it’s the laid-back Crystal Coast atmosphere, where people still take time to stop and chat on the street. Whatever it is, Emerald Isle is a popular destination for travelers from all over.
Although the official population barely tops 4,000 people, this tiny beach town transforms into a tourist paradise during summertime. With 50,000 people per week visiting during peak season, Emerald Isle North Carolina is a fantastic place to travel to – whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, a family vacation, or a place to let loose with your friends.
Here are 12 things to do in Emerald Isle NC that you don’t want to miss!
WALK EMERALD ISLE WOODS PARK
Since Emerald Isle is surrounded by natural beauty, it’s only right that we begin our list in the wild. And where better to start than with Emerald Isle Woods Park? This park is one of the newest in the suburban area, having only been open for a few years, but it’s already become a favorite among tourists and residents.
Take a walk along the nature trails, stopping to smell the flowers or listen to the birds. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, rent a kayak and explore the canals that wind through the park. The park is also famous for its disc golf course, which is an excellent group activity. Disc golf works just like regular golf, except instead of hitting a ball into a hole, you throw a frisbee into a basket.
During your visit to the 41-acre park, you’re bound to see some interesting wildlife as you wind through the course. There’s also a dock where visitors like to gather to watch the wildlife below.
TAKE SURF LESSONS
Due to its location on the coast, Emerald Isle is a great place to catch some waves. Beginners and pros alike will enjoy spending a day surfing at one of the many beaches. If you’re new to the sport, don’t worry – plenty of places offer surf lessons.
One of our favorites is Hot Wax Surf Shop, which is run by a group of friendly, experienced instructors. They’ll teach you everything you need to know to stay safe while surfing and have a great time doing it. They also offer tours of the local area, so you can learn about the history and culture of Emerald Isle while riding the waves.
If you’d rather go at it alone, you can always rent a surfboard from them. Of course, there are water sports aplenty in Emerald Isle. In addition to surfing, you can go stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing, and more. You’ll find there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the water here.
The waves here are usually knee-high to waist-high, with the occasional head-high wave thrown in. The water is clean and clear, and the beaches are well-maintained. As for temperature, the water is usually in the high-70s, making it comfortable for a refreshing dip.
LEARN A BIT OF HISTORY AT FORT MACON STATE PARK
One of the more famous attractions in Emerald Isle is Fort Macon State Park. This 17th century fort was built to protect the coast from pirates and foreign invaders. It’s seen its fair share of action over the years, having been involved in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.
Located on Bogue Banks, the fort offers stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. Today, visitors can take tours of the fort and learn about its role in American history. There are also a number of hiking and biking trails in the park and picnic areas, so it’s possible to spend a full day outdoors. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some dolphins swimming offshore.
There are five facades that you can explore, as well as an exhibit on the Civil War. The best time to visit is during one of the park’s many events, including everything from concerts to reenactments.
JET SKI THE AFTERNOON AWAY
Do you want to feel the thrill of a motorcycle’s speed without the potential danger? Then you need to go jet skiing. Emerald Isle is the perfect place to try this watersport, as plenty of companies offer rentals. AB Watersports is one of the most popular, offering both jet ski and boat rentals.
They have a wide range of jet skis to choose from, so you can find one perfect for your skill level. And if you’ve never ridden a jet ski before, don’t worry – the staff is more than happy to give you a quick lesson.
Once you’re out on the water, you’ll be able to explore some of the most beautiful scenery Emerald Isle offers. Nearby Atlantic Beach is a popular spot for jet skiing, as there are miles of open waters to explore. From the coastline to the canals, there’s so much to see. And if you get tired of jet skiing, you can always take a break and go for a swim. Just be sure to stay safe and always wear a life jacket.
TAKE THE KIDS TO SALTY PIRATE WATER PARK
Emerald Isle is known as a family-friendly destination, and there’s no better place to bring the kids than Salty Pirate Water Park. Embodying the Pirate spirit of the Outer Banks, this thematic water park offers a refreshing break from the summer heat.
With slides, a lazy river, and a kids’ play area, there’s something for everyone at Salty Pirate Water Park. And if you get hungry, you can grab a bite at one of the park’s many food stands.
The water park was recently renovated during an extension project, so it’s better than ever. And with new rides and attractions being added all the time, there’s always something new to explore.
LOOK FOR SHELLS AT THE POINT
Emerald Isle is situated on Bogue Banks, a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina. And one of the best places to find shells is at The Point, located at the westernmost tip of the island. The Point is a popular spot for locals and visitors, as it offers stunning ocean views. It’s not too crowded, so you can relax and enjoy the quiet atmosphere.
And if you’re looking for shells, you’ll be in luck. The Point is known for its abundance of seashells, which are brought in by the tides. You can find conch shells, sand dollars, and everything in between. Just be sure to leave some for the next person!
Note that there is no parking on The Point, so you’ll need to park in the public lot a few blocks away. Alternatively, you can bike or walk to The Point.
KAYAK TO HAMMOCKS BEACH STATE PARK
Next, we have Hammocks Beach State Park. The park, which includes passage through Bear Island, is only accessible by boat or ferry. You can also rent a canoe or kayak for a more intimate experience.
Hammocks Beach State Park is a haven for nature lovers, as it’s filled with live oak trees and salt marshes. It’s also great for birdwatching since they feed and nest in the marshes.
Endangered sea turtles also come to the park to lay their eggs. So if you’re lucky, you might spot one while kayaking! Primitive camping is available in the park for those who want to stay overnight.
Editor Note: This is also a great side trip if you’re visiting on of our favorite NC beach areas, Onslow County. You can read about our visit in this Jacksonville, NC post.
ENJOY THE EMERALD ISLE BEACHES
No trip to Emerald Isle would be complete without spending some time at the beach. The beaches here are known for their crystal-clear waters and beautiful sunsets. There are many public beaches in Emerald Isle, after all, the coastline stretches for 85 miles. Each beach has its unique atmosphere, and you’ll need to find an access point to enter the beach.
Atlantic Beach is also worth mentioning. While it’s not technically in Emerald Isle, it’s only a short drive away. It’s one of the most popular beaches on the Outer Banks, so it can get crowded during peak season. The Bogue Sound lagoon is also a popular spot for swimming, since it’s sheltered from the waves.
As for things to do, there are plenty of traditional beach bum activities available. You can go swimming, sunbathing, fishing, and more. Just be sure to follow the beach regulations.
The best way to cover all of Emerald Isle’s beaches is by renting some form of watercraft. We recommend a paddle boarding tour, which will give you a workout and an unforgettable experience.
WATCH THE SURF FROM BOGUE INLET FISHING PIER
Another prime spot for fishing (or just enjoying the view) is Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier. The pier, located at the Emerald Isle-Bogue Inlet Bridge, offers stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. The historic wooden pier was built in the late 1950s and has been rebuilt several times since then. It’s one of the longest piers on the North Carolina coast, measuring 4 miles long.
It’s a popular spot because it’s one of the best places to watch the surf. Coming in from the Atlantic, the waves can get pretty big. The sunset is also a sight to behold from the pier.
It’s also a great place for fishing, as you can catch anything from shrimp to flounder. You can rent a rod and bait from the bait shop on-site, but remember to get your fishing license before you go! If you’re feeling hungry, there’s a bait and tackle shop on the pier where you can buy snacks and drinks.
EAT WITH THE LOCALS AT THE TRADING POST
While the previous entries were mainly outdoor activities, we couldn’t leave out this next gastronomic experience. For a dose of Southern hospitality, head to The Trading Post. The restaurant, which is located in the heart of Emerald Isle, is known for its down-home cooking.
The menu features all of your favorite Southern dishes, including fried chicken, shrimp-n-grits, and collard greens. And the portions are large enough to satisfy even the heartiest appetite. But the best part of The Trading Post is the friendly staff. The family-run business makes you feel right at home as if you’re one of their own.
Visit The Trading Post for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They’re also known for their selection of spirits, so be sure to try one of their signature cocktails. You’re sure to leave with a full stomach and a smile on your face.
TALK TO THE FISH AT THE NORTH CAROLINA AQUARIUM
A visit to the North Carolina Aquarium is a fun activity for the whole family. The aquarium on Pine Knoll Shores is one of the best in the state. It features hundreds of species of fish, including sharks, and eels. There’s also other aquatic animals, like the adorable river otters.
The “Waters of the Outer Banks” exposition even lets you see an alligator up close. And if you’re lucky, you might even be able to pet a stingray in the touch tank. The aquarium also offers educational programs, such as behind-the-scenes tours and animal encounters. So not only will you have a blast, but you’ll also learn something new.
While on Pine Knoll Shores, be sure to visit the other attractions in the area. The Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area is a beautiful spot for nature lovers.
HIRE A FISHING CHARTER FOR A GREAT CATCH
To complete your vacation in Emerald Isles, there’s nothing better than cracking open a cold beer and cooking your fresh catch. And there’s no better place to catch fish than on a charter boat.
There are many charter companies in Emerald Isle, so it’s important to do your research before hiring one. We recommend Emerald Isle Adventures, operated by Captain Roy & Captain Lisa Heverly.
The Heverlys have been fishing these waters for years, so they know a thing or two about finding the big ones. They offer half-day and quarter-day charters, as well as evening trips.
Once you’re all geared up, they’ll take you to some of the best fishing spots in the area. Their trips include bait, tackle, rods, reels, and licenses. So whether you’re an experienced angler or a first-timer, Emerald Isle Adventures is sure to give you a charter experience you won’t soon forget.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO NORTH CAROLINA
- YOUR NORTH CAROLINA VACATION
- NORTH CAROLINA BEACHES: 16 Sensational North Carolina Beaches You Need To Visit This Summer
- BEST OF NC: 45+ Best Things To Do In North Carolina For An Amazing Time
- NC RENTALS: 29 Unique North Carolina Rentals For Your Next Getaway
- NC RESORTS: 24 Resorts In North Carolina That Will Have You Packing Your Bags Tonight
- ROMANTIC GETAWAYS: 18 Amazing Romantic Getaways In NC Couples Love
WHERE TO STAY IN EMERALD ISLE NC
Best Beachfront Hotel. Islander Hotel and Resort is Emerald Isle’s ONLY oceanfront hotel and includes an expansive oceanfront pool with cabana, meeting and wedding facilities, marketplace, adjacent park with volleyball courts, and much more. During our peak times of the year, there is an array of activities for the entire family to partake in.
Best Oceanfront Emerald Isles. Queens Court Top Floor Oceanfront Prime Condo is an option for couples or small families. (Properties located directly on Emerald Isles can be a bit harder to find.) This one is a completely renovated oceanfront 1 bedroom, 1 bath, top floor Queens Court condo that boasts some of the best views in the complex.
Affordable Oceanfront Condo Option. Atlantic Beach Resort Condo with Ocean Views isn’t technically on Emerald Isle but a close 3 miles away. And it features it’s own ocean view! This is a two-bedroom, two-bath home but the second bedroom has two twin, a full and a sofa bed.
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