For an unforgettable vacation, head to Emerald Isle, nestled in North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, a stretch of pristine seafront that straddles postcard-worthy sunny skies and gorgeous surf. From spacious cottages to oceanfront lofts, Emerald Isle vacation rentals are a home away from home. The community is small and cheerful, and the atmosphere is family-friendly, fun, and carefree. Emerald Isle packs a ton of fantastic adventures and activities into a 26-mile stretch. Enjoy things to do from golfing at Emerald Forest Putt Putt to embarking on ecology tours. Here are the top 15 things to do in Emerald Isle to help you plan your coastal getaway.

1. Playland in Emerald Isle

Crash your kids’ next play date with a few rounds in the bumper cars at Playland in Emerald Isle. Playland treats guests to games, waterslides, and mini golf. Perfect your tag game skills in quirky bounce houses, or channel your inner NASCAR star with a spin in a go-kart on the Grand Prix track.

2. The Salty Pirate Water Park

Slide directly into nonstop fun at the Salty Pirate Water Park, not far from Playland and other Emerald Isle family attractions. This place is wall-to-wall twisty waterslides, wading pools, and tubes. Formerly known as Water Boggan of Emerald Isle, this family-owned watery wonderland also contains an arcade and a snack bar.

3. North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores

The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, near Emerald Isle, is one of four North Carolina aquarium locations that combine family fun and education without boring the kids. This aquarium curates daily activities, special events, and free programs. You can plan a birthday party or sleepover at the aquarium, or you can simply stroll and take in the exhibits, many of which are kid and toddler-friendly. For a small extra fee, you can receive a behind-the-scenes tour or a guided outdoor adventure, such as kayaking.

4. Emerald Isle Adventures

What better way to explore Emerald Isle than to sail in its surrounding waters, the Bogue Sound and the Intracoastal Waterway? Emerald Isle Adventures provides boat rentals for eventful days on the water. Hop islands, fish, dolphin-watch, swim, or relax.

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5. Emerald Forest Golf

Turn the entire family into golf enthusiasts at Emerald Forest Golf. With its well-maintained courses, friendly staff, and ice cream shop, this mini golf mecca contains challenges for all ages laid out in a bright, welcoming setting.

6. Island Water Sports

Jet ski or kayak with the kids, and discover your own private beach among the tidal islands of Bogue Sound or a few miles out into the Atlantic. Trained and qualified professionals help you rent the right equipment, and rental fees include safety training, life jackets, and fuel.

7. Second Wind Eco Tours

Explore nearby waterways with Second Wind Eco Tours, which provides ecologically responsible cycling trips and kayak tours. The tours are a great way to find interesting nooks and crannies in and around the Intracoastal Waterway.

8. Take a Day Trip to Swansboro

There’s no need to remain on Emerald Isle during the entire stay at your vacation rental. Swansboro, situated just across the Intracoastal Waterway, is jam-packed with waterfront dining, shopping, and a laid-back coastal atmosphere. Small streets and polychrome clapboard edifices evoke a Norman Rockwell painting, while a seasonal concert series in the Old Towne Square entertains locals and visitors alike. Plus, you won’t find fresher seafood.

9. Try Stand-up Paddle Boarding

Get to know the North Carolina coast with kid-friendly stand-up paddle boarding (SUP). SwnasboroSUP conducts surfing, fishing, paddle-boarding, and kayaking eco-tours with boat-assistance and seasoned staff. You can also rent kayaks, paddle boards, and accessories for your family’s private amusement, and skip the boat-assistance.

10. See Wild Horses

Any horse lover’s in the family? Shackleford Banks, a 25,000-acre barrier island just west of Emerald Isle, is home to wild Shackleford Horses, which descend from a 400-year-old lineage of Spanish Mustangs. The local Park Service manages roughly 100 resident horses. Shackleford Bank affords visitors opportunities for shelling, camping, and fishing as well.

11. Bike Around Town

When in Emerald Isle, bicycle like the locals do. An 11-mile bike path connects the downtown area and Indian Beach with The Point at Bogue Inlet, out on the town limits. The path provides scenic encounters, fresh sea air for the whole family, and an eco-friendly form of transportation to main destinations in town. HWY 58 Bicycles is Emerald Isle’s largest bike rental, with more than 300 varieties and styles in stock.

12. Blue Heron Park

Blue Heron Park is where local families go for low-key outdoor recreation and community interaction. Clean and spacious, this park has public restrooms and bike racks. Host an Emerald Isle family cookout in the park picnic pavilion, or take in the sights beneath the protection of the gazebo’s roof. A playground, basketball court, and two lighted tennis courts ensure you have plenty of enjoyable ways to enjoy your day.

13. Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier

Measuring 1,000 feet, Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier juts out into the Atlantic ocean, ideal for snapping photos or trying to reel in some fish to fry up back at your vacation rental. You can rent rods, purchase bait and tackle, or chill on the observation deck. Prepare for your visit by previewing the view at the pier in real time via the Pier Cam, which broadcasts live daily.

14. Catch a Movie

Take in a first-run blockbuster during its opening weekend in a small town movie theater: Emerald Plantation Cinemas. Renovated and outfitted with upgraded, plush seating, this theater’s charmingly retro facade conceals up-to-date Dolby sound.

15. Emerald Isle Woods Park

On those days when you long for green space and coastal peace, head to Emerald Isle Woods Park. It has 41 verdant acres hemmed on all sides by clean sand dunes and mostly untouched oceanfront. A pier and floating dock provide access to the water for sports, and there are also places to walk, hike, relax, or grill food for a picnic.

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