Christmas on the Crystal Coast
Twinkling lights on sea and shore, festive shopping options in charming coastal towns, chef-inspired dishes created from the catch of the day and ongoing activities for the entire family – it’s no wonder North Carolina’s Crystal Coast has been called a hidden gem for winter travelers.
With its mild climate and miles of coastline, the Outer Banks include distinctive regions stretching from the iconic diamond lighthouse on the southern point at Cape Lookout to the family-friendly offerings of Cape Carteret to the west. In between, lush, natural areas including Emerald Isle, Indian Beach, Pine Knoll Shores, Atlantic Beach and Harkers Island feature fabulous fishing and shelling opportunities; while Beaufort, Down East and Morehead City entice visitors to dine, shop, stay and play in their inviting communities.
“December is a great time to be here,” says Carol Lohr, executive director of the Crystal Coast Tourism Development Authority. “The Core Sound Waterfowl Weekend is certainly not to be missed the first weekend of December.”
She continues by adding that visitors always enjoy the decoys and demonstrations, along with the region’s famed Down East clam chowder and scallop fritters before heading over to the annual Crystal Coast Flotilla.
“All the homes and businesses are decorated,” Lohr says of the festive atmosphere as kayaks, skiffs, yachts and commercial vessels make their way from Morehead City to Beaufort. “Santa arrives by boat, and everyone enjoys seeing the boats decorated for the parade,” she adds.
That same weekend, Emerald Isle Parks and Recreation hosts the sixth annual Holiday Arts and Crafts Fair featuring unique items from area artisans. The festivities continue throughout the month with the annual Gingerbread Festival, Beaufort Holiday Art Walk and candlelit tours of homes decked out in their holiday finery.
A perennial favorite, Christmas at The Barnyard in Newport, expands the working farm’s popular daytime activities to include evening tours with a nightly visit from the North Pole’s most famous resident. Owner Kim Nead explains that The Barnyard is home to African Boer goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, rabbits, turkeys, horses, alpacas, a donkey and a friendly petting pig. “Not only are we a full working farm from start to finish – we do breeding and raising – but we’re also primarily a petting farm,” she says of the year-round attraction.
Holiday lights draw locals and visitors alike to the farm’s special seasonal tours, which begin the Friday after Thanksgiving and run through most of December. “We light our barns, our fences, trees – anything we find we can put lights on,” Nead laughs. After a guided walking tour, guests can enjoy time petting the animals and sitting by a campfire with a warm cup of hot chocolate.
In addition to the regular holiday tours, Nead says The Barnyard hosts at least one live Nativity each season. “We tell the story by the Christmas music we all know and love,” she explains. As the Nativity pageant begins, the barn is quiet and still, but that soon changes. “By the time we’re finished, the whole barn is lit and filled up with animals,” Nead says, adding exact dates of Nativity showings can be found on The Barnyard’s website, thebarnyardnc.com, and Facebook page.
As the clock winds down on 2017, Lohr says the region will ring in the New Year with true coastal style. Where else will you find a crab pot drop to usher in 2018? The Crystal Coast Countdown incorporates family-oriented events across multiple communities throughout the day. In the evening, guests gather at the Morehead City waterfront for entertainment, children’s activities, shopping, food, fireworks and the countdown. Lohr notes the crab pot actually drops twice – once earlier in the evening for little ones to enjoy and then again at midnight. “It’s a great time to be out and ring in the New Year on the Crystal Coast,” she says.
Off to a Great Start
As the calendar flips to 2018, visitors can enjoy a full array of vacation options while scoring some of the year’s best deals. “A number of accommodations and restaurants offer discounts and packages,” Lohr explains. Bed-and-breakfast guesthouses, cottages and condos, and resorts and inns often feature significantly reduced rates during the winter value season.
“The beaches are typically less crowded, and all of our attractions are open year round with the exception of being able to climb the Cape Lookout lighthouse,” Lohr says. “Our fresh-from-docks seafood is readily available, and our fishing is fantastic through January, including Bluefin tuna.” Shelling, she adds, is also a great winter activity.
By foot, boat, bike, bus, plane or horseback, visitors have plenty of ways to learn more about the history and natural beauty of the Crystal Coast. The brave can explore the legend of Blackbeard or follow in haunted footsteps as part of the Beaufort Ghost Walk. For those who prefer culinary adventures, numerous tours feature the area’s famed food scene, and eco tours offer unique insight into the wild beauty of the Outer Banks.
Year-round attractions are also available, including a vibrant arts and entertainment scene, delectable dining, unique shopping, museums and more. Whether exploring the mysteries of the deep at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores or taking advantage of the mild winter climate for the perfect round of golf, Lohr says a visit to the Crystal Coast gets the year off to a great start.
For more information on all there is to see and do, visit crystalcoastnc.org.
– Cindy Sanders