We have been living in North Carolina for over a year now and take every chance we get to explore a new location in this beautiful state. However there is one place that we keep going back to again and again; the Atlantic Beach area. Of all the beaches in North Carolina, the more laid back and less crowded beaches are my favorite. I don’t mind to compromise on location, activities, etc. in order to have a calm place for my children to play.

Atlantic Beach is a little town in the middle of the NC coast. Visitors to the coast usually visit one of the more popular beaches, such as; Carolina Beach, The Outer Banks, Nags Head, or even Corolla. However, I find myself returning to Atlantic Beach again and again. Here’s Why.

On my most recent trips to Atlantic Beach, I had the pleasure of going with my momma. It’s always so exciting when she comes to visit. We haven’t lived in the same state in some time now and I miss her so much. We try to visit one another as often as possible, but with her work schedule and my two youngins it gets difficult to get to one another. So, when she came to visit, we made the most of our time together. The girls and I had a blast showing their mammaw around one of our favorite go-to mini vacation spots.

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Croatan National Forest

Of course while in town, relaxing on the beach, playing in the sand and sea are a must. Besides the beach, the town is great because it is located just minutes from The Croatan National Forest. Croatan is a beautiful place and the trails in the forest are a great place to see tidal wildlife. There are several trails and a picnic area. As a momma of two little ones, I especially like the Croatan because there’s a one mile tidal trail that is made up mostly of boardwalk which is wonderful for my stumbling toddlers.

Fort Macon State Park

Another fan favorite for us in Atlantic Beach is Fort Macon State Park. The park is a great place for anyone to visit, but I especially like it since I travel with children because there is an air-conditioned visitors center, bathrooms, water fountains and admission is FREE. Of all the places on our list of places to experience in North Carolina, we can’t stop ourselves from returning to Fort Macon.

There are several short walking trails you can take while you’re there, as well as guided tours of the fort. We always tour the fort on our own, but would love to take a guided tour sometime! Macon is one of the larger forts I have been to and boasts gorgeous views of the ocean. It also has its own beach, which I really love because its always less crowded than the other more popular beaches. My girls love exploring the grounds and running the old brick halls. 

Something to consider before going to Fort Macon with children is that the fort was built for war, not safety. (Signs will remind you of this constantly.) There are steep stairs, wet surfaces, and an upper level to the fort that doesn’t have any sort of railing for safety. I don’t say that to tell you that you shouldn’t go with kids, because I do it all the time and my girls always have a blast. It’s just something to know about. I wouldn’t want to go with both kids by myself at their ages (1 and 2) because I wouldn’t be able to watch out for both of them myself.

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My mom got a kick out of my 5’10” self barely being able to walk the halls of the old armory without scraping my head on the brick ceiling. (Women just weren’t built like me back in the day, haha!)

Fort Macon has a really wonderful Visitors Center. There is a gift shop, picnic area, and a museum. Unfortunately, several exhibit rooms in the museum were shut down due to water damage from hurricane Florence. As someone who loves history, I love visiting the museum. There are diaries from people who lived at Fort Macon as well as artifacts from their time there. My favorite part of the museum are the letters written by Jeannie, the wife of Captain Coues who was at one point the surgeon appointed to Fort Macon. Jeannie mostly wrote letters to her sister and was most often the only woman in the fort. I stand in the exhibit and read her letters every time I’m in the museum. If you never get the opportunity to go and read her letters in person, you can read them online, here.

The beach access at Fort Macon is right across from the parking lot. (parking is free by the way) As you can see, just like at the fort we pretty much has the place to ourselves. For me, a clear beach is always a welcome sight because my girls love to bother uhh, I mean.. make friends with other beach goers.

If you want to add more variety to your days, head south about 15-20 minutes to Emerald Isle beach or Indian beach. Or if you are feeling ambitious head to the southern most part of the Croatan in Cedar Point (about 35 minutes from Atlantic Beach) to experience one of the most incredible boardwalks over the tidelands.

North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knolls

A small side excursion from Atlantic beach is the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knolls. Only ten minutes from Atlantic Beach, the aquarium is wonderful place to stop with young ones while you are in the area. An adult ticket will only cost you $12.95 and a child ticket just $10.95. You can read about our visits to North Carolinas Zoos & Aquariums, HERE.

I love doing in depth research on different locations around the country. Typically people are researching the most popular tourist destination. Don’t get me wrong I go to popular tourist destinations all the time, but never underestimate the less traveled destinations. They might just become some of your favorite go-to vacation spots.

Have you ever been to Atlantic Beach? Are there any underrated places in NC that I should visit? Leave me a comment if theres a place that we’ve all been missing out on!

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