20 Things To Do In Atlantic Beach

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Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, is on the Bogue Banks barrier island on Bogue Sound in the Atlantic Ocean. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and Bogue Sound on the other, there are many things to do in Atlantic Beach to enjoy fun in the sand, sea and surf.

If you enjoy being close to nature, visit Hope Pole Creek Nature Preserve, Rachel Carson Reserve and Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge. And if you love spending time at the beach, check out Sand Dollar Island, Cape Lookout National Seashore and the Circle Regional Beach Access. History lovers should visit the Beaufort Historic Site, Fort Macon State Park and North Carolina Maritime Museum.

Atlantic Beach, North Carolina

20 Things To Do In Atlantic Beach

1- Go to the Beach

things to do in atlantic beach nc Caucasian pre-teen girl standing on beach holding hat on head.
Going for walks on the sand is one of the top things to do in Atlantic Beach NC.

The beaches at Atlantic Beach are miles-long, clean, sandy beaches where you can go swimming, surfing, and boogie boarding in the waves.

The sand is perfect for building sand castles or strolling along the shoreline.

Several public access points in the town provide people with places to park their cars and walk onto the beach.

The most popular public access point is the Circle Regional Beach Access because it has excellent amenities.

With 64 parking spaces (parking fees are charged in summer), restrooms, picnic tables, and outdoor showers, it is an ideal place to start and end a beach day.

The Circle Regional Beach Access is at 201 West Atlantic Blvd, Atlantic Beach, NC 28512.

2- Explore Cape Lookout National Seashore

fun things to do in atlantic beach
Walkway leading to the Bodie Island lighthouse over marshes of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore against white clouds and a blue morning sky.

The Cape Lookout National Seashore contains 56 miles (90 km) of remote, pristine beaches on barrier islands located a few miles offshore from Atlantic Beach.

One of the most iconic sights of this protected shoreline is a lighthouse from 1859. People recognize it by its black and white diamond pattern.

See wild horses, find seashells, fish from shore, camp on the beach and explore historic sites on the island.

Birders flock to this national park year-round to look for the 250 species of birds that reside on or migrate through the islands.

Cape Lookout is a certified Dark Sky Park, making this a popular destination for stargazers, especially during meteor showers and other celestial events.

Cape Lookout National Seashore is on Cape Lookout Rd, Harkers Island, NC 28531.

3- Discover History At Fort Macon State Park

Fort Macon State Park has a fully-restored fort built before the Civil War.

Daily tours through the fort showcase exhibits about the fort’s history and the surrounding park area, while interpreters provide visitors with frequent cannon and musket demonstrations.

The beach at the state park offers swimming, kayaking and shell hunting.

Birdwatchers can find more than 300 bird species on four miles (6.4 km) of trails that wind through the salt marshes and dunes.

Amenities include a visitor centre, seasonal concession stand, seasonal bathhouse, a foot rinsing station, beach access to both the ocean and inlet sides of the island and restrooms.

No camping is available at this location.

Fort Macon State Park is at 2303 E Fort Macon Rd, Atlantic Beach, NC 28512.

4- Step Back In Time At Beaufort Historic Site

A quick fifteen-minute drive from Atlantic Beach, the Beaufort Historic Site offers visitors a glimpse of the coastal life of North Carolinians during the 18th and 19th centuries.

A 12-block section of the town was established in 1713 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Within this area, residents restored about 150 homes.

Each house has a plaque that provides detailed information about when it was constructed and who its original inhabitants were.

Interpreters guide tours through the centre of this historic part of the town at the Beaufort Historic Site.

These tours are available year-round from Monday to Saturday.

The Beaufort Historic Site is at 130 Turner St, Beaufort, NC 28516.

5- Hike In Hope Pole Creek Nature Preserve

The Hoop Pole Creek Nature Preserve is 31 acres (12 ha) of maritime forest in the centre of Atlantic Beach.

This preserve protects hundreds of live oak trees, some of which might be hundreds of years old.

A one-mile-long (1.6 km) nature trail winds through the preserve and over a boardwalk.

You can walk, run and bike on this trail.

This trail is handicapped accessible and provides a shady, quiet place to see some of the habitats, maritime forests, dunes, estuaries and salt marshes that once covered the entire region.

Wildlife, such as deer, turtles, lizards, and birds, live in the preserve.

The Hope Pole Creek Nature Preserve trailhead is adjacent to the Atlantic Station Shopping Center at 1010 W Fort Macon Rd, Atlantic Beach, NC 28512.

6- See The Turtles At Shackleford Banks

Shackleford Banks is a barrier island offshore of Fort Macon State Park and one of the three islands comprising the Cape Lookout National Seashore.

Shackleford Banks is the home of the famous wild horses that have existed here for over 400 years.

It’s the easiest barrier island to access because the National Park Service contracts with a ferry service that offers two routes from the mainland that travel to the island.

Shelling, paddling, surfing, and fishing are the primary activities that visitors enjoy on this island.

Bird and wildlife watching, especially during the loggerhead turtle nesting season, are also popular activities.

7- Learn About The Ocean At North Carolina Aquarium 

top things to do in atlantic beach
Two young boys enjoy the view at an aquarium.

The North Carolina Aquarium has three campuses located along the North Carolina coastline.

The aquarium campus at Pine Knoll Shores is only a ten-minute drive from Atlantic Beach.

At this aquarium, visitors can see a living shipwreck exhibit where a replica of a German U-boat wreck off the North Carolina coast provides a habitat for sharks, fish and a sea turtle.

Children can learn all about Loggerhead Sea Turtles in the Loggerhead Odyssey exhibit.

The Mountain, Piedmont, Tidal Waters, and Ocean Galleries offer people a close look at the different aquatic habitats in the state and the animals inhabiting them.

The Marsh Boardwalk takes visitors outside the aquarium to see the Snake Pavilion and overlooks that extend into Bogue Sound.

North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is at 1 Roosevelt Blvd, Pine Knoll Shores, NC 28512.

8- Relax At Atlantic Beach Town Park

Atlantic Beach Town Park is a fun place to go if you’re on a budget.

This park has an 18-hole miniature golf course, a large skatepark, a splash pad, a half-court basketball court, a playground, a picnic shelter, restrooms, and a concession stand.

The price to play miniature golf is $5 per person and children ages six and under are free.

Other than the concession stand and miniature golf, using the rest of the park is free and open during the spring and summer seasons.

Movie nights also occur every Friday night during the summer season.

Public beach access is nearby, so families can enjoy a full day of activities without driving anyplace else.

The Atlantic Beach Town Park is at 915 W Fort Macon Rd, Atlantic Beach, NC 28512.

9- Go Fishing

things to do in atlantic beach nc when it rains
Enjoying the sun, sand and surf is one of the things to do in Atlantic Beach NC.

The anglers visiting Atlantic Beach can find fish offshore and in inlet waters year-round.

Each season brings new species into the area and provides anglers with many fishing successes.

During the spring season, Bluefish, Gray Trout, Sea Bass and Striped Bass put up a good fight for anglers who hook into them.

In the summer, Spanish Mackerel, Flounder, Mahi Mahi, Tuna, and Snook give anglers many opportunities to catch fish.

Fishing for King Mackerel only happens during the fall.

In the winter, Sailfish and Spotted Seatrout are popular sportfishing targets.

Many fishing cruises leave Atlantic Beach for half-day or full-day tours, going to many places to find fish.

10- Visit The North Carolina Maritime Museum

The North Carolina Maritime Museum of North Carolina has several branches, one of which is in Beaufort.

The museum educates visitors about maritime cultural heritage and the natural history of coastal North Carolina.

Exhibits at the museum display information and artifacts related to the seafood industry, ships, shipwrecks, whaling, boat building and local marine life.

Some artifacts at the museum came from famous ships, such as Blackbeard’s flagship Queen Anne’s Revenge. Artifacts from shipwrecks include cannons, belt buckles and grenades.

The museum offers boatbuilding classes at the Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center next to the museum.

The North Carolina Maritime Museum is at 315 Front St, Beaufort, NC 28516.

11- Explore Rachel Carson Reserve

atlantic beach, nc
A nice shot of the receding breakers during sunset at Atlantic Beach North Carolina.

The Rachel Carson Reserve is between the mouths of two rivers near the town of Beaufort.

The reserve is a collection of islands on 2,315 acres (937 ha) containing salt marshes, maritime forests, sand dunes, tidal flats, shrub thickets and estuaries that are important habitats for many wildlife species.

Visitors to the reserve can see terrestrial wildlife, including river otters, grey foxes, raccoons, marsh rabbits and wild horses.

Marine life that uses this reserve includes bottlenose dolphins and sea turtles.

This reserve is a part of the Atlantic Migratory Flyway, and over 200 species of birds use it annually.

The Rachel Carson Reserve provides habitats critical to the survival of many terrestrial, estuarine, and marine species.

Visitors can only access the reserve by ferry, kayak, canoe, or other small watercraft.

12- Learn About Cultural Heritage At Core Sound Waterfowl Museum 

The museum celebrates and preserves the cultural heritage of this region with exhibits that educate visitors about what life is like on the barrier islands.

The “Decoys of Core Sound” exhibit teaches the history and art of using decoys for hunting waterfowl and how decoys have changed over time.

The exhibit called “Living on the Edge” showcases the challenges and hardships associated with living in coastal communities and how they manage hurricanes and rising sea levels.

The museum also has a Reading Room, Gathering Room, Library, and Lookout Tower. Other exhibits include “Honoring Our Coast Guard” and “Children’s Learning Center.”

The Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center are at 1785 Island Rd, Harkers Island, NC 28531.

13- Get An Adrenalin Rush On A Watersport Adventure

fun things to do in atlantic beach nc
Going jetskiing and having fun with other watersports is one of the fun things to do in Atlantic Beach.

Atlantic Beach offers plenty of coastal waters to practice watersports and many places to rent equipment and find lessons to enjoy those sports.

Watersport activities are one of the top-ranked activities in the Atlantic Beach area.

Activities that do not require a lot of skill include jet skiing, canoeing, kayaking, and paddle boarding.

These activities can take place in calm inlets or the ocean, and you can rent waterbikes, banana boats and surfboards.

There are also boats for rent to go to the barrier islands or if you’d rather relax and allow someone else to take care of the trip details, join a cruise.

Whatever watersport adventure you are looking for, Atlantic Beach is the place to find it.

14- Walk Along Oceanana Pier

The Oceanana Pier is a popular place to visit at Atlantic Beach.

Built in 1959, the Oceanana Pier extends from shore almost 1,000 feet (305 m) and you’ll see people fishing all along its length, catching many different species.

The Fishing Center at the Pier House sells bait and tackle and rents fishing rods and reels.

Adults only pay $15 daily, and kids under 12 pay $6 to fish.

You do not need to purchase a North Carolina fishing license to fish here.

The Pier House Restaurant, Barnacle Bar, and Backporch Bar located on the pier provide visitors with places to drink, eat and hang out while looking out over the ocean.

Oceanana Pier is at 700 E Fort Macon Rd, Atlantic Beach, NC 28512.

15- Have Fun At Battle Works Tactical Laser Tag

The Battle Works Tactical Laser Tag arena offers a grown-up, Call-of-Duty type of laser tag, axe-throwing and Nerf battles for over 12s.

The laser tag arena covers more than 12,000 square feet (1,115 square meters) set up as a real-world immersive simulation.

They use realistic-looking weapons that resemble equipment used by Special Operations Teams deployed worldwide.

In addition to the specialized laser tag arena, axe-throwing and a Nerf battle arena are also available for play.

The Nerf battle arena is set up for kids younger than 12 to play.

Battle Works Tactical Laser Tag is at 1010 W Fort Macon Rd, Atlantic Beach, NC 28512.

16- Look For Birds At Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge

top things to do in atlantic beach nc
A willet, Tringa semipalmata, hunting for small prey on the shores of Atlantic Beach.

The Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge is perfect for flatwater activities such as kayaking, canoeing and standup paddleboarding.

The coastal marsh of this refuge is mostly undisturbed and provides high-quality overwintering habitats for many ducks and nesting habitats for marsh birds and water birds.

Threatened species like the Eastern Black Rail and rare species like the McGillivray’s seaside sparrow use this refuge.

The refuge contains approximately 11,000 acres (4,452 hectares) of woodland, pocosin, and coastal marsh habitats.

For those looking for a scenic paddle without the crowds and boat traffic found in other places, the Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge is ideal.

17- Go Paddling In Latham-Whitehurst Nature Park

The Latham-Whitehurst Nature Park, less than an hour north of Atlantic Beach, contains 133 acres (54 ha) of protected coastal land.

Several short and shady walking trails meander through the park.

A 2,000-foot (610m) boardwalk overlooks Broad Creek and has an observation deck, fishing area and kayak/canoe launch.

The flatwater paddling and fishing opportunities offer a fun place for families to go and avoid boating traffic and crowds typically found in the Intercoastal Waterways.

Amenities at the park include two restroom areas, picnic tables, a shelter, and a gazebo.

Latham-Whitehurst Nature Park is at 1095 Broad Creek Rd, New Bern, NC 28560.

18- Visit Sand Dollar Island

things to do in atlantic beach nc area
Visiting Sand dollar Island is one of the things to do from Atlantic Beach NC.

Sand Dollar Island is a large sand bar or sunken island that people can only access at low tide.

It attracts a larger collection of sand dollars than anywhere else on North Carolina’s coast. People can only access the sand bar by boat.

Many boat cruises to Sand Dollar Island are available online.

Visitors to the island can find live sand dollars in the tidal pools left behind at low tide.

No one should remove the live animals, typically brown or purple, with moving bristles on the bottom of their bodies.

Only dead sand dollars, which are white and feel brittle like seashells, may be collected and removed.

19- Go SCUBA Diving

Shipwrecks litter the coast of North Carolina, some dating back hundreds of years to the Spanish conquistadors that landed in this area during the 16th Century.

Because of the thousands of shipwrecks found in the region, this area was nicknamed the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

The diversity and abundance of these wrecks offer wreck divers incredible opportunities to see many species of fish and other animals that hang out around shipwrecks.

In addition to wreck diving, dive tours guide underwater safaris, teach people to spearfish, and explore the ledges and reefs where divers may discover a fossilized shark’s tooth.

Book a SCUBA tour online.

20- Hike The Atlantic Beach Walking Trail Loop

things to do in atlantic beach
Feeling the sand between your toes is one of the top things to do in Atlantic Beach.

The Atlantic Beach Walking Trail Loop has boosted outdoor recreation in Atlantic Beach with signs for “Walk Atlantic Beach” throughout the city telling you where to walk, run and bike through the city to see the highlights.

Four loops take visitors on routes that pass the Pelican Street Pier, Cottage District, the boardwalk and ocean, and the downtown area.

The loop distances range from one to three miles (1.6 to 4.8 km).

Five large maps posted in the town and mile marker signs along each loop show people how to access the trail loops.

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Angie Grier is a spicy señora living in central Mexico with a penchant for freelance writing. Having spent most of her adult life writing as a scientist and then as a teacher, she now contributes articles on a wide variety of topics for print and online media. Originally from the US, she has lived in several different states on the US West and East coasts, the Gulf Coast, and the Upper Midwest. These days, when she’s not camping in the woods in a US national park or shopping in Tonalá or eating chilaquiles, she writes a travel blog detailing her life and adventures in Mexico at www.onaroadleadingsomewhere.com.