Atlantic Beach sparkles in the sunlight; a white Crystal Coast town kissed by the emerald waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Vacations along the 85 miles of coastline of the area begin with fun in the sun, surf and sand. You can migrate from the exciting and wild waves of the Atlantic to the butter-smooth waters of the marshes along the Bogue Sound in a matter of minutes to kick up or tone down your kayaking or paddle boarding adventures. You can take advantage of fishing off of popular piers, self-guided river fishing, or charter fishing tours. Vacation rentals let you get close enough to hear the ocean waves breaking on the beach, at the edge of the national forest among long leaf pine trees, or along quiet creek banks where you hear only the crickets. Here’s a list of the 11 best Atlantic Beach vacation rental locations.

1. Atlantic Beach, North Carolina

restored Civil War fort

More than a stretch of shoreline, Atlantic Beach is a vacation oasis that welcomes you to escape your day-to-day routine. Imagine sauntering down the boardwalk from your waterfront cottage to the beach. After you and the family bask in the sun, splash in the ocean, go sailing or beach combing, shower off the salt and sand as you get ready to seek out other adventures. Fort Macon State Park, just a short walk away, features an education center and a recreational area with a bathhouse. The restored Civil War-era fort was a project of Robert E. Lee when he was a young army engineer.

2. Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina

turtle inside the aquarium

Aquarium creatures mesmerize and charm visitors to the North Carolina Aquarium, in Pine Knoll Shores, where Nimbus, a rare white loggerhead turtle lives. He isn’t a true albino, but he lacks normal pigmentation due to a genetic variation. Since being rescued from a Pine Knoll Shores nest, he is protected in his private habitat. The town is also home to the Crystal Coast Country Club with its picturesque golf course and trails, perfect for the golfer in the family.

3. Indian Beach, North Carolina

vacant jet boat

Your vacation is as wet and wild as you make it at Indian Beach, in between Atlantic Beach and Emerald Isle. Public beach access is available at designated locations, and there is easy access to the Bogue Sound. Trot out your cottage door and splash around with the kids in the surf if you want a tame morning. Or, if you need to rev it up, hop on a jet ski and crash through the waves at speeds that feed your adrenaline.

4. Emerald Isle, North Carolina

water park slide

With 12 miles of pristine beaches and beautiful views of the ocean, Emerald Isle offers your family water sports, swimming and sunbathing. You can also go fishing onshore, offshore, and off the famous Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier. Toward the western end of the island, Salty Pirate Water Slide is a water park where children under 48 inches tall may use the little kids’ pool and slides.

5. Beaufort, North Carolina

white sea vessel
Source: crystalcoastlady.com

Your most difficult decision in Beaufort is what to do next. You can walk through town to visit boutiques, explore the Beaufort Historic Site and NC Maritime Museum, or go kayaking. Crystal Coast Lady offers round-trip ferry trips to Shackleford Banks to look for conchs, whelks, sand dollars, and scotch bonnets. Or, you may prefer a lunch cruise to go dolphin watching and look for wild horses on the outer banks.

6. Morehead City, North Carolina

goggles

Beautiful Morehead City features the Carolina Princess, a charter fishing tour and cruise company in operation since the 1960s. Whether you opt for a half-day or 24 hours of fishing, the captain utilizes his knowledge to make your experience as great as possible. If you want to get a closer look at what’s in the water, the area is popular for snorkeling and scuba diving.

7. Broad Creek, North Carolina

colorful kayaks

The little community of Broad Creek gives you opportunities to slip away quietly and enjoy a few serene days far from the daily grind. Pogie’s features more tours than you can shake a kayak paddle at nature tours, fishing trips, island exploring, and more. You get to decide where to go and whether you want guided or unguided tours.

8. Bogue, North Carolina

relaxing massage

What part of your vacation provides the relaxation? One spectacular answer to that question awaits you in Bogue at Second Wind Eco Tours. The pampering of body and spirit includes beach and paddle board yoga, reflexology, chiropractic, and massage. If you want to find your zen, here it is.

9. Cape Carteret, North Carolina

red bumper boat
Source: Flickr / www.metaphoricalplatypus.com

You can be the family hero when you take the kids to the Golphin Dolphin in Cape Carteret, the biggest outdoor family park in Eastern North Carolina. The Golphin Dolphin and MacDaddy’s are two amusement venues that teamed up to feature miniature golf, bumper boats, go-karts, water wars and batting cages. Indoor and outdoor attractions offer something for all ages in any kind of weather.

10. Newport, North Carolina

man on a kite board

Newport hosts Blown Kiteboarding, which offers lessons for beginners and experienced riders who want to learn paddle boarding, kayaking, kiteboarding, and windsurfing. They offer all of the gear needed including kites, boards, harnesses, water wear, and accessories. Landlubbers can spend some time hiking and examine longleaf pine forests and coastal plants on a couple of well-marked trails in the Patsy Pond area of the Croatan National Forest.

11. Harkers Island, North Carolina

lookout lighthouse

When you stay on Harkers Island, there’s the Cape Lookout Lighthouse to climb and the Core Sound Waterfowl and History Museum to explore on those days when you’re ready for something that doesn’t involve sunbathing, swimming, and surfing. The island still offers, though, family beach fun.