Cruising down the Carolina coast

Cruising down the Carolina coast

Whether you're looking for the perfect location to take a week-long family vacation or a quick, party-filled weekend, there are plenty of great options along the Carolina coast to choose from.

The seaside towns lining our coast are full of Southern charm and spectacular scenery that are sure to impress even the most sophisticated traveler. Along with the picturesque ocean views, beaches in the Carolinas are also rich in history and folklore.

Here's a glimpse into what the North Carolina coast has to offer.

The Outer Banks are made up of 14 beaches and islands that stretch across the North Carolina coast. From Duck to Hatteras, the Outer Banks are a popular destination for beach-goers who like to stay active. At any moment you can find someone on the water kayaking, kite surfing or parasailing. Make your way over to Jockey's Ridge to climb the sand dunes and hang glide down. There is also the rare opportunity to 4-wheel drive right on the sandy beaches.

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Wilmington, N.C., is a beach community well known for its spectacular views and local festivals. Each spring thousands of tourists flock to the Historic River District for the popular Azalea Festival, a brightly colored, one-of-a-kind, celebration focused on local heritage and Southern hospitality. The town's vibrant nightlife is also a big draw!

Near Wilmington, N.C., is Bald Head Island, famous for its exclusivity and laid back lifestyle. No cars are allowed on the island, so the only means of transportation is by foot, bicycle or golf cart. Vacationers reach the island by ferry. Many Hollywood stars have visited the Bald Head Island to take advantage of its privacy. While there, guests can visit the state's oldest lighthouse, "Old Baldy," built in 1817.

Visit the quaint town of Southport, N.C., (not far from Wilmington) and mosey down the streets that are lined with antique malls and art galleries. The small seaside town has even attracted the attention of Hollywood directors. Both of the movies "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and "Secret Life of Bees" were filmed in the area.

From Southport you can take a leisurely ferry ride over to Historic Fort Fisher to see how and where the Confederate army protected essential supply routes throughout most of the Civil War. After the quick history lesson, visit the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and spend the day learning about its unique underwater creatures. They've even got an albino alligator on display! Travel Channel has voted it one of the Best Aquariums.

Emerald Isle, N.C., is fittingly named for the beautiful emerald green color the ocean water turns during certain times of the day. The non-commercialized beach town hosts an array of cute boutiques and local restaurants with plenty of fresh seafood. Plus, there's an aquarium only minutes away in Pine Knoll Shores. The laid back atmosphere and beach front homes are ideal for a family getaway.

If you're looking for a great fishing spot, drive over to Atlantic Beach, which offers great fishing tours like Captain Stacy's fleet, which will take you on an unforgettable shark fishing trip a few miles off shore.

Commonly known as the "Grave Yard of the Atlantic," the coast of North Carolina is littered with shipwrecks and pirate tales that trace back centuries. Beaufort, N.C., the third oldest town in the state, is teeming with pirate history. In 1718, Blackbeard, one of the Atlantic's most notorious pirates, ran his flagship Queen Anne's Revenge aground in the Beaufort Inlet. The wreckage remained missing until it was discovered 270 years later. Now, artifacts found onboard the ship can currently be seen at the Maritime Museum in Beaufort. There are also plenty of nightly ghost tours that will bring the local pirates back to life!

Not into local haunts? Book a catamaran trip over to the barrier islands to search for shells or see the wild ponies that inhabit the island. Stay at the Beaufort Inn to be within walking distance of everything in town.