Wednesday, May 20, 2015

North Carolina Crystal Coast

Pack up the family for a long vacation or go for a romantic weekend to enjoy great food and a lot of fun on the beautiful North Carolina Crystal Coast.

I just love the sand between my toes, the warmth of the sun beaming down on my skin, the relaxing sound of the waves and the smell of the ocean.
I am very fortunate that I only need to travel a few hours here in my home state of North Carolina to experience those things I love.

The Crystal Cost has over 85 miles of shoreline and many different areas in which to call home away from home.
There are many restaurants, parks, museums, and site seeing for any type of fun you wish to find.If night life is your thing then you will find plenty of it here on the Crystal Coast as well.

Last year my parents, my youngest son and oldest son, along with his family and I decided it was time for a family vacation.I am going to share our family vacation along with reviews and tips, so grab a beverage and lets travel to the beautiful Crystal Coast Of North Carolina.

Morehead City, a quaint waterfront town which my aunts loved so much they decided to make their permanent residents.
Don't get me wrong because when I say quaint I don't mean small, it is the largest town in Carteret County.But this community is so welcoming to visitors you feel like you are in a small country town where everyone knows you.
You will find adorable little boutiques and gift shops, lots of entertainment, and great food.
This is truly a locals town and the locals welcome you with a smile.

This is also the home of the NORTH CAROLINA SEAFOOD FESTIVAL and the Crystal Coast Christmas Flotilla in December when boats are decorated and parade along the Morehead waterfront, a spectacular thing to see.
You will find several eateries which have been long time favorites of travelers and locals alike where people are gathered sharing great food and fun stories.

In this area one of my favorite places to grab a bite to eat, in the car, looking all beaten up from a day in the sun and ocean is a little place called

El's drive-in 3706 Arendell St. Morehead City (252) 648-7161

When I say little I do mean little, but only in size, the food is huge in flavor and service.
You just pull up anywhere in the parking lot and here comes a car hop with a friendly smile ready to take your order and answer any questions you have about the menu.
You will find many familiar favorites on the menu like hotdogs and cheeseburgers, but how about a pizza burger or some of my favorites.
Oyster burgers and shrimp burgers, which they are so famous for.Well as a matter of fact, they are pretty famous for everything, because everything is so good.Tracey, my friend of many years is a cook at El's, and I can tell you she and the others demand perfection when it comes to the food, service and cleanliness of this small little drive-in.
This isn't some fancy place where you worry about licking your fingers, or possibly your arm depending on where those delicious juicy flavors run, but a place where you are going to ask for extra napkins sit in the car with the window down and hope nobody sees you licking your arm.
I am laughing at myself because I am guilty, but I bet if you have eaten here, you know what I mean.

Recently El's drive-in was added to the list of 10 BEST BURGER JOINTS IN NORTH CAROLINA.But this is only one of many credits given to El's drive-in over the years.
Any of you that stick your nose up at a small little mom & pop road side drive in and go to one of those chain fast food places are really going to miss out if you pass this one up. 
I know since I mentioned my friend Tracey working here you may think my opinion could be slightly biased, but I promise I was eating here way before she ever started working here and I will be eating here for many years to come....She could at-least hook me up with a burger tho! LOL

El's website can be found HERE

If you are looking for a sit down dining experience in this area I recommend RUDDY DUCK TAVERN
Located on the waterfront. A great place for a variety of delicious menu options.The fish tacos are one of my favorites here, but I have never been disappointment with anything I ever ordered.I also recommend the Bikini Martini and the Fuzzy Duck for a great cocktail.

Dining Tip For This Area! 
Look for the CARTERET CATCH LOGOS in restaurants and retail markets.It is a guarantee you are getting fresh local seafood caught by resident commercial fisherman.Some restaurants still offer fresh local seafood but are not affiliated with this great program.
Just ask...Is it local? Is it fresh?

Morehead city is a great place to call home or to visit while vacationing anytime of the year.

As you cross the bridge from Morehead city over to Atlantic beach you will want to make sure and stop off at the Channel Marker located on the left, just at the foot of the Atlantic Causeway bridge on the waterfront.

718 Atlantic Beach Cswy  (252) 247-2344

I have eaten at the Channel Marker on two different trips to this area.Once was about 5 or 6 years ago and then again on last years trip.
My first experience was when my husband and I went with our youngest son which was around 2 or 3 at the time.We chose this place because I was told they had fresh NC seafood, and the parking lot was packed when we had passed by it coming in.
My husband ordered a fried combination platter which had some of the best fried seafood including shrimp and oysters I ever had.The portion was large enough for him and my little one to share a plate.
Being the foodie I am, I wanted something I had never had so I ordered the seafood lasagna which was made with a white cream sauce and loaded with seafood, layered between perfectly cooked lasagna.It was absolutely one of my favorite new things.
My husband ordered a salad that night and decided to give it to my little boy.It didn't look like the average garden salad we normally ordered and basically just looked like some type of salad greens and nothing else.My little one devoured that salad.I couldn't figure out why he liked it so well.
I gave it a taste myself and then I knew why, it was the dressing.It seemed to be just a glaze of some sorts and if I had to guess I would say a reduced balsamic dressing.
It was slightly sweet, and that my friends, is what had my little one chomping down like a rabbit.
I never forgot that salad and said if I ever make it back to the Channel Marker I am having that salad.... AND I DID!

When my salad arrived this year it was just like I remembered and tasted just as good.Fresh mixed greens with shaved Parmesan and that fantastic dressing.

 We had a party of 8 so we also decided to try some other favorites like this delicious Spinach and Artichoke Dip.Served steaming hot with plenty of spinach, artichoke and a oasis of delicious cheese.

Fried Calamari which happens to be a favorite of my oldest son and I.

The Calamari at the Channel Marker was not only breaded perfectly with a very light coating but also fried to perfection.Not at all chewy which I have found to be very common at some restaurants.
Everyone loved all the appetizers.

They had a saxophone player that night and it was a welcome treat to sit back and listen while I enjoyed my beverage waiting on the main course.
When it came time for me to order my entree I remembered how delicious my husbands platter had been all those years ago.I ordered fried oysters and bay scallops. I was very please except when my plate arrived, I only had 2 hush-puppies!!!!!
It wasn't just my plate either.The others in my party only received 2 as well.
You can have more if you ask, but at that time it was an additional charge.
Honestly, they are very good and I would have gladly paid for more, but having all those delicious appetizers and then the beautiful platter of seafood in front of me, I just decided two would be plenty.

The scallops tasted like they had just been pulled from the bay a few hours before and if they were I wouldn't be surprised.The Channel Market proudly uses North Carolina Seafood.

My oysters, equally delicious and fresh, but they did seem to be a little greasy to me.No one else in our party had this complaint so maybe it was just me.
One of the others ordered just a fried oyster platter and her oysters were almost as big a my head.I kid you not...Huge!Wish I would have gotten that pic.
I myself probably couldn't have handle those because they were not as cooked on the inside as I would like, but she had no problem at all gobbling them up.

I gobbled my plate up as well, good thing I got this pic before it was all gone.

If I could say one thing about the service on this trip it would be it was extremely slow.
Not like our first visit years ago.
We went in pretty early to avoid a crowd, and the wait time to be seated was not even 5 minutes, which we all liked.
But from ordering drinks, to getting refills, to getting our orders placed and brought to the table, we all thought it was very slow.
This would not keep me from coming back again because the service in the past was so good.

Oh the atmosphere! I almost forgot!
There is dining inside or out on the beautiful deck over looking the water.We sat outside the first trip and this last trip we enjoyed our meal inside.I highly recommend if the weather is permitting to dine outside.It is beautiful in the day and memorizing at night.I didn't get a good shot of the outside deck but my oldest son and I did stop for a quick pic together on the deck and a large tour boat had just went by all lit up.I wish we could have timed the picture taking better and it would have been up close for you to see.If we look a little tired in this picture it's because we are.A day in the sun at the beach....well you know.

Did I mention you can dock the boat here at the restaurant as well?
Overall I can say, I do recommend the Channel Marker for a good meal and fantastic view.
Channel Marker Website CLICK HERE
Channel Marker on facebook CLICK HERE

Atlantic Beach, just over the bridge from Morehead city, where you can visit FORT MACON STATE PARK, have a nice variety of dining options and many accommodations to choose from.
This is also where the only fishing pier at Atlantic Beach can be found.
If you dont fish, it's still a spectacular place just to people watch and take in a beautiful view of the ocean day or night.
Oceanana Fishing Pier

The pier is located at the famous Oceanana Resort.

Don't be fooled by the name resort, it may not be like any fancy resort you have visited before.
I thought my Mom would die when we pulled up to this place for our vacation last year and I said "We are here, home away from home". She let me know real quick that this was like no other resort she had ever stayed at.The building is old and outdated on the outside, but many rooms went through renovations over the past couple of years.
Once I told Mom how fabulous this place actually was and how her mother had stayed here with me and my oldest son many years ago, she calmed down.

The Oceanana is a great place to take the kids because they have their own play ground, bikes, swings, forts and games.With everything so close together unlike some of the larger resorts, parents can sit back, relax and let the kids enjoy themselves.There is a large outdoor pool that has a kiddie side and plenty of umbrellas for those wishing to avoid the sun.
The room we booked, which I believe was called a down east room was a decent size, clean and had a microwave and refrigerator in a separate room and plenty of storage area.

Great tip if you are on a budget:
Book a room with a microwave and refrigerator.
You may pay a little more up front, but if you have kids who eat you out of house and home, it can really save money in the long run.

You will also find this is a very popular place for the fishermen to stay due to the awesome pier I mentioned earlier. Also located here is the Oceanana Pier House Grill which you can get breakfast, lunch, dinner, or grab a cold beverage before walking on the pier.You will also find fishing tackle in case you forgot something.

The Oceanana Resort has ice cream socials for the guest on weekends, a annual July 4th party and the famous Bougue sound watermelon parties in season.The watermelon parties are great fun to attend, and all the guest gather around just to watch Sammy's knife skills.

Guest make new friends with each other and catch up with the ones who have been returning for years.
There is complimentary coffee 24/7 and rocking chairs to sit back in and just relax.
Covered areas around the property for those wishing to join in on all the fun but stay out of the sun.
In season they also have a complimentary tropical breakfast served outside each morning.
The breakfast has pretty much stayed the same over the years and was just like I remembered.Powdered doughnuts, hot and cold cereals, boiled eggs, fresh fruit, pastries, hot/cold cereals and fruit juices.

Another great perk which is one of my favorites is that there is no extra charge for beach set up of umbrellas and chairs.I will tell you, after visiting some higher price more upscale resorts, these cost's can add up during the week.
Beach set up at other places normally costing about $20 a day for two chairs and one umbrella.
Free here for guest, and as many adult and children's chairs as you need. 
It is a complete complimentary service, they do all the set up.
Just bring your towel, sunscreen, and beach toys for a fun filled day right on the beach.Pack a lunch to enjoy or walk on over to the pier house to grab some lunch and cool down with a cold beverage or Ice cream.

The only negative experience we had while staying at the Oceanana was with the grills.
They provide grills for guest to use in the outdoor kitchen along with needed utensils for grilling.
The grills seemed a little old but usable.My problem came about when all the utensils had been left dirty by a guest before us.
I went to the office and brought this to their attention and they said they would have someone come and clean them.It took forever as we were waiting to grill our steaks and when someone did come they just rinsed the utensils and didn't wash them properly.
I took a set of dirty tongs back to the office to show them and once again they said they would send someone.
Again taking forever, and by that time Dad had started cooking already and trying to flip steaks with a knife we had brought from home.We never got what we felt was a proper apology to this whole incident and I am hoping that this is not a recurring problem for other guest and just a one time bad experience that happened to us.

I still highly recommend the Oceanana resort as a family fun, fantastic vacation getaway.Just remember the frills are put into all the great amenities and not spent on the outside of the hotel, which by the way is one of the oldest and most popular resorts in this area.Make sure to make reservations early, they book quickly.

One of my favorite places for fried seafood in this area is The Shark Shack!
Shark Shack 100 South Durham Ave. Atlantic Beach N.C. (252) 723-5266

I have been eating here since the first time I ever visited Atlantic Beach as an adult.
I remember driving down the road many many years ago looking for a place to eat.As soon as I seen this little shack with the palm trees out front I knew I had to stop.I am all about eating somewhere with a unique, fun, or different atmosphere.
As a seafood lover trying a seafood place for the first time I said a little prayer and then had my first try of fried grouper bites.I have been taking big bites of the Shark Shack's food every since. 

This visit I was craving one of their shrimp burgers which I think is the best anywhere around.
Trust me, I have had my share of shrimp burgers from many places.

None compares to this!!!!!!!!!

I promise, I did not do any photo editing on this.The shrimp really are this big, plump and juicy. The shrimp are breaded perfectly with a light coating so you are really getting your $ worth in shrimp and not a heavy breading.The Shark Shack gives you so many shrimp they fall off the bun.I ordered fries with mine because I happen to like shoestring cut fries.You can also choose hush-puppies, slaw or pasta salad as a side if you like.I have never tried any other side myself besides the fries.If you are not into seafood, then go on and grab something else from the menu, my little boy chose a hotdog that day.

This is a fun place to eat too.The front of the Shark Shack has a lawn with corn hole for guest to play.

My Dad and oldest Son enjoying a friendly game while the kids play on the deck

They keep a basket with toys and chalk to keep the kids entertained and some adults as well..LOL
I had to leave my tag at my favorite place.

I highly recommend the Shark Shack. It is my hands down favorite in this area for a casual fun experience with delicious seafood.
Shark Shack on facebook CLICK HERE

Beaufort, which is probably my favorite little area on the Crystal Coast to spend a day of shopping, eating, strolling down the boardwalk and watching the yachts come in..You park the car or dock the boat and walk around enjoying spectacular foods from award winning restaurants, enjoy historical tours, specialty shops, or let the kids enjoy a fun filled trip on a pirate ship.This area is where the tour boats are located and they offer a wide variety of different boat tours.

There is so much to do and see in Beaufort I recommend you check out HUNGRY TOWN TOURS for a variety of different guided foot and bike tours at various price points to fit most anyone's budget.
FOODIES PAY ATTENTION!!!!   They have many culinary tours like the N.C. SHRIMP TOUR, where you will enjoy fresh local shrimp samplings and fresh shrimp packaged for you to take home at the end of the tour.
Take the Beaufort LUNCH BOX TOUR where you will enjoy a great 2 hour tour of historical Beaufort and then enjoy a glass of wine and a picnic lunch.The picnic lunch is delicious.To see a list of complete tours visit their site by CLICKING HERE

You can literally spend all day in Beaufort and will find many artisan offerings whether you decide to have a guide or see it all on your own.Put this area on your must visit list, you will not be disappointed.

On my last trip to Beaufort we ate lunch at The Dock House Restaurant on the boardwalk which overlooks Taylor's Creek with a great waterfront view.
This joint jumps with live music and also has a bar/lounge upstairs for dining and also features The Coffee Bean where they can brew up a mean cup of coffee or some of those fancy coffee drinks, capachinos and such. Don't expect anything fancy and the dress code is definitely casual.
I had read some not so good reviews on this place before hand so I knew I was taking a risk when we decided to eat here.I did notice most all of the bad reviews seemed to be older.Honestly I went because of the view and the uniqueness of the building.

The Dock House 500 Front Street Beaufort N.C. (252) 728-4506

And the view was spectacular.
We chose to sit upstairs in the lounge because it was so muggy outside.It had been an overcast about all day and decided to rain cats and dogs soon after we arrived.
Once the rain let up a bit I did go out to the nice upper deck porch outside to enjoy a beverage while waiting on our food.If you are lucky you may just get a glimpse of the wild ponies across the water.

The wait was a little longer than I think it should have been.We did have a party of 8 but the place was not that busy.A variety of food was ordered from everyone at our table from chicken tenders for the kids, to fried seafood.I wish that the others in my group would have been a little more adventurous when ordering because some of the chef's specials sounded very unique and delicious. I find that most of the time going with a chef's special instead of the menu items makes for a tasty, fresh, new experience. No one really raved about the food except me.It was so hot and muggy outside I just couldn't bring myself to order anything hot or fried.I did something I hardly ever do and ordered the cold plate.I was so happy I did, and must apologize for such a bad pic, it does not do this plate justice at all it is so blurry.

My plate came with chilled shrimp, chicken salad, pasta salad and a crab salad.
The shrimp were absolutely delicious.They were cooked perfectly with shells on, then chilled. They were not overly seasoned, you could taste the shrimp and the freshness of the sea.
The pasta salad was nothing to brag on and was the only thing I left on the plate.
The chicken salad was good and definitely made fresh, reminded me of moms old fashioned chicken salad.
MY FAVORITE WAS The Crab Salad!!!!!!
It was absolutely the BEST I have ever eaten.It was obvious that the crab salad was made fresh in house and had an abundance of real crab.I shared a small taste with mom because it was so good, and of course she immediately grabbed our waiter and had him go ask the chef for the recipe.No luck!
Would I recommend the Dock House? I would, and I would visit here again just for the crab salad, the view and to try some of the chef's specials.
The Dock House Website CLICK HERE
The Dock House On Facebook CLICK HERE 

EMERALD ISLE, among many other things in this area, this is where you can find amusements.
Fun for the whole family, you know like go carts, mini golf, bumper boats and arcades.
We always try to have at-least one evening with the kids here and to be honest, we have just as much fun as they do.
We visited Fun World where you can do all these fun things.

 Located at 9102 Coat guard Rd Emerald Isle N.C. (252) 354-2313

Dad and I even got in on the fun with one of my favorite games.
Air Hockey!

Take plenty of cash for this fun filled time because I will tell you, there is hours of fun to be had at Fun World but you must purchase tickets for almost everything.

There is one last thing that is a must for me before leaving the Crystal Coast!

It has always been a tradition for us to get fresh local seafood to bring back home and cook later.This trip we were very lucky because now that my aunts are locals they could recommend a place for us to stop at.I was promised I would get outstanding local fresh seafood at a good price.

High Tide Seafood 5032 Arendell St.Morehead City (252) 726-3588 or (252) 240-3554

At High Tide Seafood also known as the blue jeep place.
Johnny Davis the owner, offers a wide variety of fresh catches of the day.
I purchased sea scallops, flounder, and shell on shrimp to bring home.You could tell by first look at all he had to offer it was truly fresh seafood.He had everything iced down properly in coolers, nothing felt slimy or had a fishy or off putting odor.He had a good steady business which made me feel like nothing sat around too long here and was very comforting to know.He was easy to wheel and deal with and really gave me some great prices.I have been told that he will be changing locations, but he can always be found by that blue jeep or by giving him a call.
I joked and told him that if I got sick from any of his seafood I would send my aunts to pay him a very unpleasant visit.
I was assured by Johnny I was getting the best fresh local seafood I could get.

I DID! And here are a couple of the delicious meals we enjoyed with High Tide Seafood prepared here at home.

Creamy Scallops And Bacon is what I knew I would be making with Johnny's delicious Sea Scallops. I was well pleased with his sea scallops and definitely recommend you pick some up if in the area.Recipe can be found by CLICKING HERE

 Seafood platter made with Johnny's flounder and shrimp cooked here at home.

I also made a low country boil with some of the shrimp I got from Johnny.The recipe came from the golden girls (my aunts )
Low Country Boil Recipe can be found by CLICKING HERE

Special Mentions

Sanitary Seafood Market for great seafood cracker meal.I always pick up a couple bags to bring home and bread my seafood in.I have also purchased fresh seafood here and was pleased.

Pine Knolls Shores AQUARIUM

AMOS MOSQUITOS  Restaurant and Bar. Located at Atlantic beach for fantastic food in a lively atmosphere.You will find skeeters is a little more upscale with the menu and has a higher price point than some other places featured in this post but well worth the money and the wait.You will wait because everyone around knows how fabulous the food is.A very nice wine list and a menu to suit land and seafood lovers.
Never ordered anything I wasn't happy with.

Others regions on the Crystal Coast worth visiting
Indian Beach
Cape Lookout

A complete visitors guide for the crystal coast can be found HERE

Click to add a blog post for Shark Shack on Zomato


  1. Never having lived in a coastal community until I moved to Morehead City almost a year ago, there was a lot of seafood I had never experienced. As Jodie has said, when you are in an area where you can easily find local fresh caught seafood, take advantage of it. I have had the pleasure of dining in some of the restaurants Jodie reviewed and some she didn't and I look forward to trying some of the dishes she recommends. Kudos Jodie on a wonderful review of the Crystal Coast and some of the fine restaurants and great food in this area. And, yes, if you want fresh local seafood to cook at home, just look for the "blue jeep".

  2. Jodi.Thank you so much for this great write up.My wife and I have been looking into places to spend our summer vacation.We have never visited the crystal coast before and now we are looking forward to visiting this year.The food sounds amazing and we can't wait to try some of your recommendations.As for the accommodations, I am not sure the resort you chose would suit us.We would really like a place a little more quiet without all the kids since we are retired, and also have a small dog that travels with us.I would love a recommendation from you on another place on the crustal coast that might suit us better.Thank you in advance George & Judith.

    1. Judith, there is a lovely place where you can bring your dog called The Atlantis Lodge.The rooms are spacious, clean and all have great views of the ocean.

  3. I was just reading your post and makes me want to ask my husband for a quick trip up when we have time. I've been wanting to try the shark shack everytime I hear to talk about it



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