The Pup's Travel Guide to NC's Crystal Coast & Outer Banks

Date: April 11, 2018

Subscribe to Isabella + Penelope

It’s hard to believe it’s already April! In the blink of an eye, it’s going to be time to pack up the car and hit the road for summer vacation. If you live in or around North Carolina, chances are you’ve vacationed in the Outer Banks at some point.

isabella-and-penelope-outer-banks-1.jpgIt seems time slows down there. Small beach towns surrounded by water - what’s more relaxing? 

And while many towns like Wrightsville Beach, Cape Hatteras and Cape Fear are recognized as the OBX and are flocked to by beach-going tourists each summer, my family (and dogs!) prefers spending our summer vacations along the Crystal Coast and Southern Outer Banks.

Not only are towns along the Crystal Coast and SOBX a little easier to get to from Charlotte, but they’re also a little quieter and incredibly dog-friendly. 

Emerald Isle, Atlantic Beach, Morehead City, and Beaufort are some of my favorite dog-friendly beach cities to visit. Read on for some of the best dog-friendly accommodation options, restaurants, and activities within these cities so you can plan your vacation.

isabella-and-penelope-emerald-isle-beach-nc-1.pngThe Southern Outer Banks (SOBX)

When it comes to the Southern Outer Banks and Crystal Coast, the SOBX is where you’ll want to stay. Emerald Isle down to Atlantic Beach offers many dog-friendly lodging options right on the water with beach access. After all, that’s your primary reasons for visiting, right?

Both of these cities are positioned between the Atlantic Ocean and the Bogue Sound, providing water views on both sides. 

Emerald Isle, NC

Emerald Isle is a small town on Bogue Banks Island and was recently named “Best Beach in North Carolina” by USA TODAY.

isabella-and-penelope-emerald-isle-beach-nc.pngWhile the town has plenty of activities to partake in such as shopping, miniature golf, an aquarium, and go-karts, there aren’t many things that are dog-friendly besides the beach. However, Emerald Isle’s beach is the benefit of staying here and there are plenty of dog-friendly activities and restaurants in the neighboring towns.

Along the stretch from Emerald Isle to Indian Beach are tons of dog-friendly housing options right on the water, and Fido can accompany you on the beach as long as he’s on a leash. Check out Emerald Isle Realty for a list of dog-friendly rental homes. 

Emerald Isle also has a paved walkway adjacent to the road that is primarily shaded and great for walking your pup.

Atlantic Beach, NC

Atlantic Beach is right at the end of the SOBX near the bridge crossing the Bogue Sound, allowing for easy access to the Crystal Coast towns. It’s down the island from Emerald Isle with the small towns of Salter Path, Pine Knoll Shores, and Indian Beach separating the two. 

isabella-and-penelope-hilton-doubletree-atlantic-beach-nc.pngWhenever my husband, Alex, and I take Isabella and Penelope to the SOBX, we stay in Atlantic Beach at the Hilton Doubletree. The Doubletree by Hilton Atlantic Beach is dog-friendly, is right on the beach and is in such a great location. 

The main reason we stay at the Doubletree with Isabella and Penelope is so we can travel with less than if we were to stay at a rental home in Emerald Isle. The Doubletree offers large beach umbrellas, towels and chaise chairs for rent on the beach, complete with setup and breakdown. 

If you’ve ever taken a trip with your dog to the beach before, you understand why I love this service so much. 

It’s really nice to be able to go head down to the beach with Isabella and Penelope, and only have to bring our cooler and beach toys. The girls have ample shade from the umbrella (so necessary!), and Alex and I have places to lounge where the girls won’t get our towels all sandy.

isabella-and-penelope-mollys-beachside-bar-and-pier-atlantic-beach-nc.pngFurther, the Hilton Doubletree Atlantic Beach has a pier with a dog-friendly restaurant, Molly’s Beachside Bar & Grill, attached. 

Molly’s Beachside Bar & Grill is a causal inside/outside restaurant serving burgers, fried shrimp baskets, and other coastal food options. During our stay, we regularly take Isabella and Penelope with us to sit in the dining area on the pier and enjoy drinks and meals. The view is unparalleled. 

Plus, beachgoers can grab drinks and food from Molly’s to enjoy while lounging on the beach throughout the day as well.

While in Atlantic Beach, check out Fort Macon. While dogs cannot go inside the fort, it’s an amazing sight to see from the beach.

isabella-and-penelope-beaufort-nc.pngThe Crystal Coast

While cities within the Southern Outer Banks are often considered part of the Crystal Coast as well, the Crystal Coast is namely towns such as Morehead City and Beaufort. And while these two towns are positioned along the sound and not the Atlantic Ocean, they both offer an array of dog-friendly activities and are worth the visit.

If you’re staying in Emerald Isle or Atlantic Beach, both Morehead City and Beaufort are just a skip and a hop away, and they are where you will find a majority of dog-friendly restaurants and activities within the area.

Beaufort, NC

I’m a firm believer that unless you take to the sea, you will never fully experience the Outer Banks and Crystal Coast. That’s why I love Crystal Coast Boat Rentals & Charters.  

isabella-and-penelope-outer-banks-4.pngCrystal Coast Boat Rentals & Charters offer skiffs or pontoons available for half day or full day rental, and your dog is able to accompany you for the ride. 

Keep in mind, driving a boat in the ocean is very different than in a lake or river. And if you’re not familiar with the tides and how they impact the water level in the sound, I highly suggest hiring a guide for a small fee. 

In parts of the sound, the water level changes so drastically that it’s easy to bottom out on the sand if you’re not paying attention. And in all honesty, having a guide also allows you to kick back and really enjoy the view of uninhabited islands, wild horses, lighthouses, dolphins, and small beach towns. 

isabella-and-penelope-crystal-coast-nc-boat-ride.pngWe love to rent a boat and explore the islands with Isabella and Penelope. We’ll find an uninhabited island off Beaufort or Morehead City, anchor the boat and hop out to explore. Often, we’ll discover wild horses and sometimes sea turtles. Last time we were on Sugarloaf Island, Penny almost came face to face with a wild horse!

Some of the islands appear only when low tide arises. Sand Dollar Island is one of those. Ask your guide to take you there during low tide - I promise you’ll leave with handfuls. 

Beaufort is also full of great restaurants, many with fresh seafood, right on the sound. I’ve listed a few of our favorite dog-friendly restaurants in Beaufort, NC below.

  • Queen Anne’s Revenge - Offering fresh seafood, sandwiches, pizza, and a variety of drink options, Queen Anne’s Revenge is a great dog-friendly restaurant in Beaufort. The restaurant has a large deck right on the water where you can dine with your pups, and oftentimes, they have live music.
  • The Dock House - This is our favorite restaurant to take Isabella and Penelope to. The Dock House has a second-floor patio looking out on the water and the harbor. Many nights, the restaurant has live music, and the menu is very diverse. 
  • Front Street Grill at Stillwater - The Front Street Grill is another waterfront restaurant offering dog-friendly patio seating. Across the water on Carrot Island, wild horses can often be seen while you’re dining. The menu is full of fresh seafood dishes and the RhumBar has a variety of house cocktails. 
  • Backstreet Pub - Backstreet Pub is a unique local hangout known as “the friendliest, funkiest little bar from Maine to Venezuela.” There is almost always live music as many musicians will even gather for improv jams, and the courtyard is dog-friendly.

Morehead City, NC

isabella-and-penelope-dog-friendly-restaurant-beaufort-nc.pngMorehead City is another cute coastal town with a variety of dog-friendly restaurants. I’ve listed our favorites below. 

  • Floyd’s 1921 Restaurant - Floyd’s is full of locally sourced fare, and the patio outside the long house is dog-friendly. Whether you’re looking for fresh seafood, Southern Tapas, Southern style fixins, or great pasta, Floyd’s 1921 Restaurant has it. 
  • Tight Lines Pub & Brewing Co. - Tight Lines also offers dog-friendly patio seating, American pub fare, and a brewery atmosphere. 
  • Circa 81 Tapas and Cocktaileria - Focusing on farm/sea to table cuisine, Circa 81 is delectable! The outside patio is dog-friendly, and this restaurant provides a flavor like no other. 

isabella-and-penelope-atlantic-beach-nc.pngPlan Your Visit to the Crystal Coast and SOBX!

You and your pup are going to have so much fun vacationing along the Crystal Coast and the Southern Outer Banks! Spending time adventuring there with Isabella and Penelope are some of my favorite memories, and I look forward to returning every summer. 

If you have any questions about any of the dog-friendly activities listed above, or if you have any questions about the towns mentioned in general, leave a comment below!