Discover Emerald Isle and the Crystal Coast

Written by Jessica James

August 8, 2022
Home >> Destinations >> North America >> United States >> North Carolina >> Discover Emerald Isle and the Crystal Coast

Emerald Isle, NC, is one of five coastal towns that make up the Crystal Coast on Bogue Island. Here’s what to do during your coastal getaway.

Though not as well-known as the Outer Banks, Emerald Isle, NC, and the entire Crystal Coast are gaining a reputation for being the new “coastal getaway” in a state well known for its beautiful beaches.

Referred to as the Southern Outer Banks, Emerald Isle has everything anyone could want in a beach town—but I love it more for what it doesn’t have. There is limited commercial sprawl throughout the 21 miles of Crystal Coast, and chain stores are almost nonexistent.

Emerald Isle

Both the water and the landscape give Emerald Isle its name. Photo by Jessica James

Instead, family-run businesses provide the necessary services, and large swaths of tropical mangrove trees give you the feeling you’re visiting a nature preserve.

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Enjoy Sun, Sand, and Surf

Emerald Isle, NC, is one of five coastal towns that make up the Crystal Coast on Bogue Island. If you’re going to this ocean getaway, you probably want to spend a good bit of your time enjoying the water.

Whether you enjoy swimming, surfing, kayaking, water sports, or just enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of the ocean, Emerald Isle’s 12 miles of beach offers something for everyone’s tastes.

Emerald Isle shelling on the beaches.

Shelling on beaches is always a treat for those who enjoy beachcombing or walking. Photo by Jessica James

Although I enjoy staying in an oceanfront rental when I can, it’s not a problem in Emerald Isle if you don’t. The community offers public beach accesses along the coastline, some of which have picnic pavilions, playgrounds, volleyball courts, and boat and kayak launches.

Sunrise or Sunset? Take Your Pick At Emerald Isle

If you look at Emerald Isle beach on a map, you’ll see it faces south, not east, due to the curve of Bogue Island. I highly recommend visiting The Point at the western tip of Emerald Isle, where you can catch a sunrise over the water or a spectacular sunset—take your pick!

Emerald Isle sunsets and sunrises.

Sunsets on the beach are a free show each day when you visit Emerald Isle, NC. Photo by Jessica James

You get to The Point through Coast Guard Road in Emerald Isle. Parking is limited, but the view makes it worth the time to visit.

Pro Tip: Taking your pet on vacation? Since I have a new rescue dog, I was happy to discover plenty of pet-friendly accommodations in Emerald Isle, and leashed dogs are permitted on the beach. (I saw many happily chasing balls into the surf as well).

Emerald Isle is Bike-Friendly

A unique aspect of Emerald Isle is that walking, biking—and even golf carts—seem more popular for getting around than cars. You can bring your bikes or rent them from family-owned Hwy 58 Bikes. (Bonus: They will even deliver them to your door).

In addition to two newer bike trails that take you down Emerald Drive and Coast Guard Road, there is a scenic 11-mile paved bike path that runs from the small town of Indian Beach to The Point of Emerald Isle.

If Golf Carts are more your style, you can find four- and six-seaters at Emerald Isle Golf Carts.

Going Fishing

Emerald Isle is well-known for surf, pier, and charter boat fishing for those whose perfect vacation day involves fishing.

Fishing on Emerald Isle.

Emerald Isle and the entire Crystal Coast of North Carolina is a great place to learn how to fish. Photo by Jessica James

Generations of families have also fished from the landmark Bogue Inlet Pier. The pier was built in the 1950s. Locals say you can expect to catch anything from speckled trout and king mackerel to wahoo and red drum.

Emerald Isle Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier.

The iconic Bogue Inlet fishing pier is a great place to fish or spend the day at the beach. Photo by Jessica James

I don’t fish, but the 1000-foot pier is still an iconic place to visit. Some of the best big saltwater catches along the East Coast have taken place from the dock. It’s fun to see the many generations of families teaching their children how to cast.

Emerald Isle fishing pier.

The iconic 1000-foot Bogue Inlet fishing pier is a must-see in Emerald Isle. Some of the biggest saltwater catches along the East Coast have taken place from the pier. Photo by Jessica James

Pro Tip: Parking is always free for fishermen, but it is $20 on Friday, Saturday and Sundays during the summer months if you want to visit the pier’s beach. It’s a great place to spend the day because you can find shade under the dock and a great restaurant on site.

The Rainy Day Plan

If you wake up to rain on your beach vacation, there’s still plenty to do that will entertain the entire family.

I had the opportunity to tour the North Carolina Aquarium in nearby Pine Knoll Shores. I thoroughly enjoyed the unique look at life “under the sea.”

Emerald Isle's celebrity sea turtle Nimbus.

Nimbus, a sea turtle, saved by the North Carolina Aquarium, is a crowd favorite in a deep water display. Photo by Jessica James

The aquarium has a sea turtle nursery and features a rare all-white turtle saved through their efforts. “Nimbus” has become quite a star with visitors and took the time to swim by me when I was there.

Shopping on Emerald Isle

There are plenty of boutiques and quaint shops in Emerald Isle. However, if you’re looking for a truly unique shopping experience, Emerald Plantation is a must for your bucket list.

Although Emerald Plantation appears underwhelming from the road, don’t let that stop you from taking a look. The mall layout gives you a “boardwalk” feeling, with more shops and restaurants behind the strip of stores you see in the front.

Emerald Isle's boutique shops.

One of the many boutiques at Emerald Plantation. Photo by Jessica James

You will find everything from unique coastal gifts, clothing boutiques, shoes, books, and toys to a general country store with everything you didn’t know you needed.

If you need to refuel while shopping, you can grab a coffee, pizza, burger, and fries—or get a full seafood meal at the family-owned restaurant Rucker Johns. You can even catch a movie at the cinemas.

Pro Tip: Make sure you bring some quarters so you can feed the sea turtles! You’ll find the sea turtle-feeding station behind the fountain near Rucker Johns restaurant. This activity has been a favorite stop for generations of Emerald Isle visitors.

Emerald Isle is a Beach Combers Paradise

I’m one of those people who love to walk on the beach early in the morning looking for shells.

Emerald Isle, discover the sea shells.

You don’t have to look far to find shells on the beaches of Emerald Isle. Photo by Jessica James

With its vast stretches of shoreline and the gentle slope of the ocean floor, Emerald Isle makes a great beachcombing spot. I’ve been to many beaches along the East Coast and found none better than the Crystal Coast.

Pro Tip: If you’re a serious shell-hunter, you’re in luck. There are local excursions to nearby Sand Dollar Island where you are sure to find some extraordinary gifts from the sea.

Hungry Yet?

One of the reasons I love going to coastal towns is to eat seafood, and you will find plenty of restaurants on Emerald Isle that offer delicious coastal fare.

I enjoyed the charm and food at The Trading Post in Emerald Isle, and I’m not the only one. The restaurant has won awards for its signature shrimp-n-grits dish.

Emerald Isle

The Trading Post restaurant offers a trademark shrimp-n-grits meal and coastal cuisine. It is a favorite stop in Emerald Isle. Photo by Jessica James

This restaurant has a coastal atmosphere with live music and an outdoor space where you can burn off the calories by playing cornhole or trying your hand at hula-hoops.

Getting to Emerald Isle, NC

The easiest way to visit Emerald Isle is from the Highway 58 bridge, but you can also get onto Bogue Island from the Atlantic Beach end of the island. It takes a little over 30 minutes to drive from one end of the island to the other, with the posted speed limits between 35 and 45 mph.

Emerald Isle, a great place for building sandcastles.

The sun sets over a deserted sandcastle on the beach. Photo by Jessica James

Emerald Isle, NC, is located on the Intracoastal Waterway, so you can also reach this amazing place by boat.

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Plan Your Getaway to Emerald Isle

Despite not having a lot of touristy chain establishments, the entire Crystal Coast is a great place to explore—and stay busy.

But since vacations are all about rejuvenating the body and spirit—don’t forget to relax. That’s the best part of the Emerald Isle experience. Check out Wander for more to do when you visit North Carolina, along with our other favorite beach vacations.

Emerald Isle, NC, is one of five coastal towns that make up the Crystal Coast on Bogue Island. Here's what to do during your coastal getaway.


Discover Emerald Isle and the Crystal Coast

Written by Jessica James

Jessica James is an award-winning author of historical fiction and suspense/thrillers, whose passions include history and travel. When not writing books, she enjoys wandering the backroads of America and blogging about our nation’s almost-forgotten past at

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