Tourism Overview

Tourism - Carteret Economic DevelopmentCarteret County, part of the Southern Outer Banks, is known as the “The Crystal Coast” because of its 81 miles of white sandy beaches. The location of the coast is unique…the sun rises and sets over the ocean. The beaches face south rather than east from the southern point of Core Banks at Cape Lookout to the west end of Bogue Banks. In addition, the north winds calm the ocean water close to the beaches while the Crystal Coast’s proximity to the Gulf Stream keeps water temperatures mild. The waters have an abundance of aquatic life; the offshore Gulf Stream features the northern range of southern species and the southern range of northern species.

Tourism is one of the area’s largest and fast growing industries and a major component of the Carteret County economy. More than 3,300 tourism-related jobs have been created over the past several years with an annual payroll of $61.75 million in 2015. In fact, tourism and travel in 2015 generated $336.90 million dollars in revenue, which is a 3.33% increase over 2014…placing the County in the top 17 in North Carolina.

The state and local tax revenues from travel and tourism amounted to $34.93 million and represented a $507 tax savings to each county resident. Total net occupancy tax collections (at 6%) for the fiscal year 2016 equaled $6,800,842. The county received $3,439,425 for beach nourishment while the Carteret County Tourism Development Authority (TDA) received $3,361,417. The North Carolina General Assembly House Bill 553 changed the distribution starting January 2014 to 50% for beach nourishment and 50% for the Tourism Development Authority.

Crystal Coast Tourism Authority (TDA)

The Crystal Coast Tourism Authority (TDA) exists to serve visitors and residents of North Carolina’s Crystal Coast please contact the TDA for extensive information on our beaches, things to do, places to stay, scheduling your next meeting, golf and dining.


Beaches - Carteret Economic Development

The Crystal Coast Tourism Authority (TDA) exists to serve visitors and residents of North Carolina’s Crystal Coast please contact the TDA for extensive information on our beaches, things to do, places to stay, scheduling your next meeting, golf and dining.

  • Pristine. Uncrowded. Friendly. Those are the 3 words you will often hear when people describe the beaches of the Crystal Coast.

  • Pristine…because of the Crystal Coast’s proximity to the Gulf Stream the waters are not only a magnificent turquoise color but they are also rich with marine life such as seashells, fish, turtles and dolphins.

  • Friendly…because you will enjoy the Southern hospitality and a slower pace of life while visiting the Crystal Coast. 

Eco Escapes

The Coastile and the Waters

Cape Lookout - Carteret Economic DevelopmentAn 85-mile stretch of crystalline blue water and pearlescent shoreline, the Crystal Coast is blessed with warm, clear waters due to the Gulf Stream gently caressing the coast. The east and west orientation of the beaches allows for visitors to watch the sun both to rise and set into the sparkling Atlantic waters. Thanks to the protective southward curve of the barrier islands along the coast, the coldest the waters get on the Crystal Coast in winter are the warmest the waters get in Boston in the summer.

Cape Lookout National Seashore

The Cape Lookout National Seashore is a 56-mile strand of silken beaches that make up the coastal islands of eastern North Carolina, one of the few remaining natural barrier island chains in the world, accessible only by boat. Those seeking the freedom to experience complete solitude and an opportunity to discover endangered animals in their natural habitats can also explore the beach to find a multitude of large unbroken conch shells. Frequently dotting the beaches and woven in between the sand dunes are families and shore fishermen camping with tents pitched — fishing, hiking, and delving into all that mother-nature has to offer. History comes alive at the Cape Lookout Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters built in the mid-1800’s to warn passing ships of the dangerous coastal waters. Standing at 163 feet tall, the lighthouse was painted with a distinctive black and white diamond pattern in order to distinguish it from other North Carolina lighthouses and is open to visitors to climb a few weekends each year, with future enhancements allowing for year-round access.

Shackelford Banks

Shackelford Banks - Carteret Economic DevelopmentFor more than 300 years the wild horses of Shackleford Banks have taken care of their young, frolicked on pristine deserted beaches and foraged for food with not a saddle or fence in sight. The horses have enjoyed the protections afforded by Cape Lookout National Seashore in cooperation with the Foundation for Shackleford Horses dedicated to maintaining the animals’ way of life. Scientists, historians and nature lovers alike have speculated the origins of the Shackleford horses, or “Banker ponies” – the most popular being that the horses swam ashore after a Spanish ship exploring the new world met with a tragic fate off of North Carolina’s shores. Visitors make their way to the island by private boat or on one of the ferries running from Harkers Island, Beaufort and Morehead City.

Crystal Coast Kayaking

Kayaking - Carteret Economic DevelopmentExplorers seeking the ultimate outdoor excursion can float along the intricately laced inlets and waterways zigzagging through the Crystal Coast, with the mossy earthen aromas of North Carolina’s maritime forests filling the air. Paddling, as any true kayaking or canoeing enthusiast calls it, is a challenging yet enjoyable experience with hundreds of guided excursions available for every interest and schedule. From guided nature photography tours to bird watching explorations, every new paddling adventure is sure to get the muscles burning and the adrenaline pumping.

Croatan National Forest

Croatan National Forest - Carteret Economic DevelopmentRich in nature’s splendor, the Croatan National Forest puts visitors in touch with North Carolina’s native woodland environment. Camping, picnicking and adventure trails winding their way throughout the forest give nature enthusiasts ample opportunities to view the natural eye-candy in the forest including “pitcher plants,” bald cypress trees and long leaf pines.
Visitors with a keen eye and an extensive attention span might catch a glimpse of a white-tailed dear, wild turkey, black bear, otter, gray squirrel or even an alligator. Bird watching enthusiasts delight in the variety of avian life available, including ospreys, bald eagles and red-cockaded woodpeckers.

Bird Watching

Quickly gaining ground as one of the top eco-interests among nature lovers, bird watching has taken flight on the Crystal Coast. The spring is an excellent time to view shorebirds from the tiny Piping Plover and the majestic Tundra Swans to egrets and White and Glossy Ibises, while the fall is the peak time for viewing Sharp-shinned Hawks, Peregrine Falcons and frigate birds. Cape Lookout National Seashore is home to two-thirds of the nests found in North Carolina for the Piping Plover, listed on the federal list of endangered species. Crystal Coast bird watching is active at anytime of the year and there are endless ways to watch and admire the birds whether by nature or paddle trail.


Fishing - Carteret Economic Development

Visitors to the Crystal Coast are serious about their fishing and that should be no surprise given the warm waters of the Gulf Stream current that have provided idyllic conditions. The Crystal Coast has one of the longest fishing seasons on the Atlantic giving visitors the freedom to fish all year long with at least one breed of fish abundant at any time of year. In the fall there are plentiful schools of false albacore, red drum, and sea trout; the winter is popular for striped bass and blue fin tuna; cobia in the spring and the summer is known for the rich population of white and blue marlin, sailfish, dolphin and wahoo. There is a range of options for those wishing to try their hand at catching a “big one” including private chartered fishing excursions or the more affordable, family friendly, head-boat fishing tours that take anywhere from 50 to 100 people.


Diving - Carteret Economic DevelopmentAs one of the two spots in North America where the warm waters of the Gulf Stream caress the coast, diving enthusiasts refer to the Crystal Coast as a “wreck diver’s dream,” with near perfect conditions and crystal clear water with the average temperature hovering around 80 degrees and more than 75 feet of visibility. A mysterious realm awaiting exploration known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” more than 2,000 vessels have made their watery graves along the North Carolina coast. It is for this reason that the Crystal Coast has been consistently recognized as having the best wreck diving in the United States and sited as a “top wreck diving destination in North America” by Scuba Diving magazine in 2005. In addition to wreck diving, divers also experience underwater photography clinics as well as shark and spear fishing dives. Guided dives, equipment rentals, nitrox fills and training are available through several local dive shops such as the Olympus Dive Center.

Delightful Distractions

North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores

NC Aquarium - Carteret Economic DevelopmentVisitors to the new will be awe-struck by the more than 3,000 specimens of North Carolina’s most colorful aquatic life. The aquarium concentrates on eco-systems all native to North Carolina with different exhibits emphasizing various marine habitats. The “Living Shipwreck” will feature a life-sized replica of a German U-352 submarine and Blackbeard’s infamous ship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge with a 60-foot viewing window. Plans are in the works for a stingray touch-tank, a river otter exhibit, mountain trout pool, jellyfish gallery and sport fishing exhibit. The aquarium itself resides in its own native North Carolina habitat, the 300-acre Roosevelt Maritime Forest.

Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center

Core Sound Waterfowl Museum - Carteret Economic DevelopmentBuilt as a tribute to the history and heritage of the residents of Harker’s Island, and to preserve the practice of decoy carving, the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum recently relocated to a brand new facility. Decoy carving, a popular pastime of the area, involves skilled artisans carving a perfect replica of a duck from a block of wood. The ducks were used, quite literally, as decoys during duck hunting season. The museum frequently hosts live demonstrations from actual decoy carvers in their “decoy-carving workshop.”



Fort Macon State Park

Fort Macon State Park - Carteret Economic DevelopmentFort Macon offers public access to the surf, sun and sand of the Crystal Coast, as well as a historic landmark. Located at the eastern end of Bogue Banks, one of a series of barrier islands along the North Carolina coast, the park is surrounded on three sides by water: the Atlantic Ocean, Beaufort Inlet and Bogue Sound. This area of undisturbed natural beauty is the perfect place to explore salt marshes and estuaries vital to the coastal ecosystem.

The park is also home to a Civil War fort with a history as intricate and unique as the waterways of the sound. Visit Fort Macon to enjoy the land’s natural beauty and soak up some history.

Crystal Coast Communities

Atlantic Beach

Atlantic Beach Pier - Carteret Economic DevelopmentA haven of sunbathers, Atlantic Beach is home to wide pearlescent beaches and plenty of sunshine. Atlantic Beach, part of the Bogue Banks, is the oldest of five resort towns. Visitors have the liberty to choose from a range of accommodations for all budgets and lifestyles, from a seven bedroom Victorian mansion to a “no frills” beach bungalow. Fort Macon State Park, the site of an historic Civil War skirmish, and not just a few tales of ghostly encounters with uniformed soldiers, is located at the tip of the island and is one of the links in the monumental Civil War Trails. Fort Macon is ideal for active vacationers who like to experience it all, from shore fishing and hiking to swimming and picnicking.


Beaufort - Carteret Economic DevelopmentStepping onto the oak lined streets of historic Beaufort is like stepping into a time long forgotten. The air is saturated with the same ancient salty-sweet ocean scents that have caressed the coast for centuries. It is not uncommon while dining at a waterfront café to see wild horses running freely on Carrot Island, just across the glassy waters of Taylor’s Creek. The intimate bed and breakfasts are the perfect way to compliment any romantic vacation with elegant Victorian suites and charming home-cooked meals. Beaufort is the third oldest town in the state and serves as the county seat of the Crystal Coast. The wreckage of legendary pirate Blackbeard’s infamous ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, rests in its watery grave just three miles off its sandy shores.

Emerald Isle

Emeral Isle Pier - Carteret Economic DevelopmentEmerald Isle is known as the most prominent of the banks on the Crystal Coast. Named for the lush greenery that covers much of the area, Emerald Isle is located at the western end of the Bogue Banks. Accommodations dotting the coastline range from quaint beach cottages and condominiums to mammoth beach houses known locally as “sand castles.” Visitors have the freedom to spend their days exploring un-crowded coastline, dining at casually elegant restaurants, shopping at fanciful boutiques filled with coastal treasures or setting sail on private chartered fishing excursions.


Morehead City

A blessed location along sparklingly clear water with rows of charter fishing boats gently bobbing like fishing lures waiting to usher passengers to their first “big catch,” Morehead City is known for the most diverse fishing on the coast. From its quaint shopping district comprised of art galleries intermixed with antique stores filled with generations of treasured relics, to the colorful, Branson style musical extravaganza known as the Morehead Center for Performing Arts & Events, boredom is simply not a factor for visitors to the area.

Pine Knoll Shores

NC Aquariumr - Carteret Economic DevelopmentOnce owned by America’s own royal family, the descendants of Theodore Roosevelt, Pine Knoll Shores is known as a peaceful residential community with an eco-friendly focus. The area was designed with minimal disturbance to the native maritime forest and sand dunes and is one of the state’s most ecologically sensitive towns. The town is home to the North Carolina Aquarium and the Country Club of the Crystal Coast.




Cape Lookout

Cape Lookout Lighthouse - Carteret Economic DevelopmentReminiscent of times past where wild horses roam freely on deserted beaches, the Cape Lookout National Seashore, with its famed lighthouse, offers escapists a 56-mile stretch of undeveloped shimmering beaches accessible only by boat. Sea oat laced sand dunes and miles of large unbroken conch shells seem like they have been resting there for centuries. In harmony with the natural scenery are fishermen patiently waiting and watching, like shore birds, looking for their next meal to spring out of the frothy blue waters.

Down East

Down East - Carteret Economic DevelopmentThis is not an easy place to get to, Core Sound. The region begins where most folks’ geographic knowledge of North Carolina ends: beyond Morehead City, beyond Beaufort, to the far side of the North River. There, a fat finger of marsh and tangled forest juts north into Pamlico Sound, bounded on the east by the blue-gray sweep of Core Sound’s shallow waters…
It’s a trip through time and space, into the heart of North Carolina’s true Down East. This is a place fashioned by the sea and sand and wind, and the people who call it home. Here, history is a patchwork quilt of ancient whaling stories and round-stern workboats, crabpots and clam rakes, and waters where fishermen and hunters navigate their boats by the church steeples rising over the mainland…

T. Edward Nickens, Our State Magazine, 2000

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