The historic Cape Lookout Lighthouse
Charming Downtown Beaufort
Straight out of a postcard, Cape Lookout National Seashore is a 56-mile stretch of immaculate shoreline, which plays home to the historic Cape Lookout Lighthouse. One of the few lighthouses in the United States that operates during the day, and the only marked by the direction-bearing black diamond pattern, the 163-foot-high-structure is a popular climbing spot among visitors and is only accessible by boat. The windy trek to the top is more than worth it thanks to endless 360-degree views, perfect for capturing that panoramic iPhone shot. If staying grounded is more your speed, camping, clamming, shelling, fishing and beach strolls are all ideal alternatives.
Horse around at the beautiful and mysterious Shackleford Banks, a 9-mile nature sanctuary where more than 100 wild horses roam freely. Best seen by boat (we’re fans of the Island Express Ferry Service), the Spanish Colonial horses are rumored to have swam from sinking ships hundreds of years ago, while others report they were brought over by early European explorers. If you’re lucky, you may even see these majestic creatures take a dip and paddle their way to a nearby marsh. Top tip: Bring good binoculars for the best horse-watching experience, as coming in contact with them is a big no-no. @islandferryadventures
Immerse yourself in North Carolina’s wondrous wildlife at the Croatan National Forest, the only true coastal forest on the East Coast. More than 150,000 acres of marsh, pocosins (raised swamps) and saltwater estuaries make for the perfect locale for stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing and more. Emerald Isle’s Hot Wax Surf Shop is the region’s go-to rental hot spot with in-the-know instructors who are more than willing to lead the outdoor-averse into the great unknown. If the beach life is more your scene, hop on a surfboard, skimmer or body board and let Hot Wax’s born and bred waterbabies do the rest. Rentals from $20, private lessons from $125, @hotwaxsurfandpaddlesports
From waterfront restaurants and souvenir shops to coastal-themed art galleries and historic Southern mansions, Downtown Beaufort offers something for everyone. Culture vultures should head to the fascinating Maritime Museum, the official repository for artifacts from Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge, while Snapchat and Instagram junkies should book a guided walking tour. Hungry Town Tours’ summer program kicks off July 1 and includes a culinary walking tour, bike tour, early-morning-risers tour and a Nicholas Sparks Ride to Remember tour, which takes guests to the places that are referenced in or inspired the author’s romantic novels. Tours from $20 per person, @hungrytowntours
Seaside cotton-candy mansions beckon on the pristine beaches of the Crystal Coast and thanks to Emerald Isle Realty, endless options abound. Roughly 700 condos, cottages, villas and “sandcastles” (with up to 10 bedrooms!) can comfortably sleep you, your gaggle of besties and even the pups on a nightly, weekly or monthly basis. Complimentary concierge services include early-bird continental breakfast, access to tickets to local attractions, plus insider recommendations to the region’s hottest restos—they’ll even handle the reservation for you. Or if you’re just here to get your bronze on, book a beach package, and Emerald Isle will deliver chairs, lounges, umbrellas and even bikes so you’ll never have to lift a finger. Weekly rates from $700, @eirealtync
EAT & DRINK
No matter the city, finding tacos and a good margarita are a must, and Morehead City’s La Perla Restaurant & Bar is the flavor fiesta you’ve been looking for. The hibiscus margarita gets the party started, while the fresh ceviche and trio of tacos will have your taste buds singing. Adventurous eaters will love the pork and plantain empanadas, jade coconut scallops and West Indian goat curry. But don’t get too attached, the menu is ever-changing depending on what’s in season.
Dine like a local at the charming Beaufort Grocery Co., a family-owned 25-year mainstay in Downtown Beaufort. Deli-style sandwiches reign supreme during lunch with top marks going to the Apple Granny and Charles’ Cranky Crab sandwiches. The Saganaki appetizer (Kasseri cheese flamed in brandy and served with fresh BeauGro bread) equally impresses. Return when the sun sets and pull up a chair on the outdoor patio for mouthwatering seafood and meat options, or stop by on Sunday for a booze-filled brunch.
Under-the-sea cuisine turns into a full-blown waterfront party at the annual North Carolina Seafood Festival Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 in nearby Morehead City. Indulge in an endless maze of tasting tents highlighting the coast’s fresh seafood fare; enjoy live music from visiting bands; take in the beautiful seaside sights as you watch sailors glide by during the Sailing Regatta and the annual boat show; watch fishermen duke it out for the biggest catch during the fishing tournament; and burn it all off (so you can indulge all over again!) at the Twin Bridges 8K Road Race. Fireworks, carnival games and rides are sure to make you feel like a kid again. @ncseafoodfest
Soak in the salty air while taking in primo water views at the cool and kitschy Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant & Bar. Kick off the meal with a local canned brew (grab a mosquito-printed koozie up front) and order a round of appetizers like warm cheesy lobster dip and conch puppies. Keep the seaside theme going with the filet and crabcake plate or Mediterranean seafood pasta. Insider tip: Visit on Thursdays for one-day-only sushi deals and late-night karaoke. Just don’t forget to leave without trying the chocolate peanut butter ice cream pie. @amosmosquitos
If your foodie cravings can’t hold off until the 13th Annual Beaufort Wine and Food Festival (April 26 to 30, 2017), join the org for its inaugural Beaufort Brewin’ Beer Festival Sept. 23 and 24. Expect two full days of suds sampling, craft beer-driven luncheons and dinners, plus an inside look at local breweries via seminars featuring the region’s top beer masters. All of this leads up to the weekend’s main course, a beer tasting meets barbecue competition dubbed Beer, Bubbles and BBQ featuring all the pulled pork, baby back ribs and IPA you can handle. Close out the 48 hours of gluttony at the Runnin’ on Empty Road Race bright and early Sept. 24 at 7:30am. Race registration from $25, @beaufortwineandfood