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Sweet Carolina

Get active on North Carolina’s unpretentious Crystal Coast—just a 90-minute flight from the ATL.

STAY 
Emerald Isle Realty
Forget luxe resorts (there aren’t any): It’s all about beach homes at the Crystal Coast. But these cotton-candy colored houses are anything but humble—check out the offerings from Emerald Isle Realty, including 10-bedroom mansions decked out with flat-screen TVs galore, private pools, industrial-sized kitchens and more, available for rent weekly or monthly. Rates from $250, emeraldislerealty.com, @eirealtync

EAT & SIP
Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant & Bar
The freshly caught seafood at Amos Mosquito’s is hard to beat. Start off with a round of cheesy lobster dip and, on Thursdays only, a selection of spectacular sushi rolls. Follow up with seared sesame tuna with sautéed edamame and jasmine rice, and, for dessert, roast your own s’mores at the table. A round of karaoke in the bar will make you feel like a local. amosmosquitos.com, @amosmosquitos

PLAY
Hot Wax Surf Shop
Hang 10 with some hot surfer dudes when you book a lesson through Hot Wax. If you’re not ready for the big waves, rent a paddleboard or kayak to explore the calmer waters around Bogue Sound. You’ll get a full body workout and a tan—score! hotwaxsurf.com, @hotwaxsurf

Fort Macon State Park
A visit to the Civil War fort at Fort Macon is way cooler than it sounds—trust us. Take a self-guided tour or partake in other activities around the park—fishing, beach hiking, picnicking and swimming. Stand at the inlet to imagine what it was like to be a pirate: Blackbeard is rumored to have passed through here with his crew! ncparks.gov, @ncparks

Shackleford Banks
Hop a ferry (try the no-frills Local Yokel for a ride to remember) to the 9-mile-long island of Shackleford Banks and be enchanted by the herd of 100-plus wild horses who roam there, believed to be descended from Spanish ancestors who resided there some 400 years ago. If you’re lucky, you might even see a baby foal (aww!). tourcapelookout.com

Cape Lookout
Work on those glutes (it’s swimsuit season, after all) and capture an incredible view of the coast by making the 165-foot trek up the working Cape Lookout Lighthouse, located on the pristine Cape Lookout National Seashore. Accessible by boat only, the island offers prime ground for picnics, fishing, clamming and beach walking (oh so romantic!). nps.gov/calo, @capelookoutnps

Bill Collector
There’s few things better than a private yacht charter along the Morehead waterfront with a stunning sunset to set the mood—but you can try, by toting your own snacks (wine and cheese, anyone?), hooking up your best iPod tunes and chatting up the seamen. The locals on the Bill Collector cruiser keep their beer and bait in the same cooler, curse like sailors (oh, wait, they are!) and make for one heck of a good time. moreheadcity.nc.gov, @townofmorehead

Historic Beaufort
The quaint town of Beaufort, dating way back to the early 1700s, is a trip back in time. With a population of barely 4,000, it makes for a prime place to get away from it all. Beautifully restored homes, inns, and bed and breakfasts dot the magnolia-lined streets. The double-decker bus tour and self-guided walking tours are the best way to see it all. historicbeaufortnc.com, @ncbeaufort

Hwy 58 Bicycles
When you’ve tired of your toes in the sand, put pedal to the metal by renting some wheels (starting at $20 per day) from Hwy 58. Cruise along the waterfront to burn off all the cals you’re going to eat at dinner, taking in the fresh salty air and gorgeous views. hwy58bicycles.com, @hwy58bicycles

For more information on North Carolina's Crystal Coast, visit crystalcoastnc.org or follow them on Twitter, @crystalcoast_nc.