Hey y’all and happy Monday! I’ve been wanting to share an Emerald Isle travel guide. If you follow me on Instagram, then you know that I spent a lot of time at the beach in July. Emerald Isle, NC is my absolute favorite beach, and I have been going there each summer for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, my family would rent a house there for a week or two. Then when I was in high school my family bought a house there, which is a huge blessing because it enables me to take multiple beach trips each year. So today, I want to share more details about why I love Emerald Isle so much, including some of my favorite restaurants and things to do.
For starters, here’s a brief geography lesson for those of y’all who aren’t familiar with the North Carolina coast. Emerald Isle is located at the western end of Bogue Banks island. Bogue Banks faces south into the Atlantic Ocean, and is considered part of the Southern Outer Banks. It is south of North Carolina’s main barrier islands that jut way out from the mainland and are known for the lighthouses. On the other hand, it’s north of the Wilmington area beaches such as Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach, as well as other popular NC beaches including Topsail Island and Holden Beach.
Why I Love Emerald Isle
Part of why I love Emerald Isle, NC so much is because it is familiar and where I grew up going. Some of my best childhood and adolescent memories come from summer vacation at Emerald Isle. My aunt, uncle, and cousins would often rent a nearby house the same week my immediate family was there. Playing Sardines in the beach house was a favorite evening activity for my brother, cousins, and I. Once the adults helped my cousin come up with a pretty outrageous hiding place, and none of us were able to find him until they told us where he was.
In addition, I have fond memories of hanging out with one of my hometown childhood friends whose family also vacations at Emerald Isle. We used to wear our swim team bathing suits and pretend we were Baywatch lifeguards. My brother and I would also team up with my friend and her brother and perform skits for our parents. Then one time my friend and I scared our parents to death by going for a super long walk on the beach that lasted about two hours. (This was well before the days of iPhones and text messaging. I know that technology has its downfalls and often prevents us from being fully present in the moment, but it also has its benefits. I’m sure if this happened today we would have taken our phones with us on our walk to Snapchat and Insta story, and then our parents could have just texted us to see where we were!)
Aside from fond childhood memories though, I also love Emerald Isle because it has the perfect balance of being a quiet and peaceful beach, while still having plenty of other activities. If the weather is nice, I like to spend most of my daytime hours lounging on the beach. However, I also like to have options for shopping, restaurants, etc during the evening hours or if the weather is bad. Emerald Isle fits the bill perfectly because it is not overly crowded and commercialized like Myrtle Beach. On the other hand, some of the other popular beaches in North Carolina are primarily residential, which means you will have to drive a bit for dining and shopping options. With Emerald Isle, there is lots to do on the island, as well as a short drive over the bridge.
So without further ado, here are some of my favorite places to eat and things to do at Emerald Isle. Please note that my Emerald Isle travel guide includes places both in Emerald Isle as well as other towns in the immediate vicinity.
Where to Eat
Rucker Johns is probably my favorite restaurant in Emerald Isle. They have a little bit of everything-burgers, salads, pasta, and seafood. I get the grilled BBQ chicken salad every time I go and it is amazing! All salads at Rucker Johns (both entree and side) come with a gooey, buttery croissant. Yum!
The strawberry daiquiri at Rucker John’s is also amazing!
The Trading Post
The Trading Post is one of Emerald Isle’s newer restaurants. It opened in 2016, and I became obsessed the first time I ever ate there. The menu consists of both surf and turf food with a Southern flair. I’m not a big seafood eater, but so I have gotten the vegetable plate every time I’ve eaten there. The Trading Post has delicious mac & cheese, a must for any Southern eatery.
Even the side salad at The Trading Post is delicious!
They also have a really nice outdoor area to hang out if you have to wait for a table. It’s basically like a backyard-there are rocking chairs and even corn hole boards. On Saturday nights in the summer they have live music out back as well.
Flipperz Family Bar & Grill
Flipperz is actually owned by the same people who own The Trading Post. My favorite thing on the menu is the French Quarter Salad, which has grilled chicken, bacon, hardboiled egg, croutons, cheddar cheese, onion, and cucumber. It comes with a side of delicious sourdough bread. A really cute boutique called Madras & Khaki is attached to Flipperz, and it’s fun to look around in there while you wait for a table. Madras & Khaki sells Lily Grace t-shirts, which are among my favorite for comfy and casual wear. (Check out my previous post for more on Lily Grace.)
Michaelangelo’s Pizza is an Emerald Isle staple. You can order by the slice or by the pie, and eat in or take out. They even do delivery. The slices are huge! (The picture below is actually one slice cut in half to make it easier to eat.)
Yana’s Olde Drugstore Restaurant
Yana’s is my favorite place to go out to breakfast when visiting Emerald Isle. It is actually in Swansboro, a small town a short drive over the bridge. There is not much seating inside Yana’s so be prepared to wait, especially if you have a large group. Luckily, the waterfront in downtown Swansboro is gorgeous and a very pleasant place to walk around if you have to wait. Yana’s has a 1950’s theme. Elvis memorabilia is everywhere, and a juke box plays rock & roll tunes. I usually get a classic scrambled egg with a biscuit and hash browns for my meal, and share a plate of fritters for an appetizer. The peach fritters are my favorite and I always choose them when they are in season.
The Crab Shack
If you like seafood, I recommend making a 15 minute drive to The Crab Shack in Salter Path, located in the middle of Bogue Banks. Although I am not a big seafood eater, I do love the fried shrimp and hushpuppies at The Crab Shack. It is also located on the Bogue Sound, which makes for a nice view while you enjoy a meal.
Coffee & Dessert
In addition to eating at the delicious restaurants in the Emerald Isle area, I love to make a morning latte run to either Stir It Up Coffee Shop or Dunkin Donuts. Yes, I know Dunkin Donuts is a chain, but sometimes I just want some Munchkin donut holes for breakfast so it’s convenient to grab coffee there. Dunkin Donuts is a short drive over the the bridge in Cedar Point.
Stir It Up Coffee Shop
Munchkins and a Latte
I love throwing on a comfy t-shirt and athletic shorts for a morning latte run. (Click here for more details about one of my favorite casual beach morning coffee run outfits.)
Then at least one night while I’m at the beach I have to go to Dairy Queen for a Blizzard. There is a DQ in Emerald Isle, as well as one over the bridge in Swansboro. I like to stop at the one in Swansboro on my way out at the end of my trip. A Blizzard definitely takes away some of the sting of having to leave the beach.
Things to Do: Hang Out on the Beach
So this wouldn’t be a true Emerald Isle travel guide if I didn’t share some pictures of the main attraction, the beach. The beach at Emerald Isle is absolutely gorgeous, especially if it’s sunny and clear, making the water appear blue-green. If the weather is nice, then I will spend hours at a time on the beach, relaxing with a good book.
I used to enjoy boogie boarding in the water, but have stopped swimming in the ocean ever since there have been increased news reports of shark attacks on the Atlantic coast in the past few years. Better safe than sorry! However, if you do swim in the ocean, PLEASE be careful. If you get caught in a rip current, do NOT try to fight the current. Swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current. And if you see red flags indicating unsafe swimming conditions at Emerald Isle, PLEASE take them seriously. There have been two drownings within the past two weeks at Emerald Isle.
Things to Do:Other
In this next portion of my Emerald Isle travel guide, I’m going to share a few things to do at Emerald Isle if you want a break from sunbathing on the beach, if you’re looking for something to do in the evening before or after dinner, or if the weather is bad.
Emerald Forest Miniature Golf
I love playing mini golf at the beach, and Emerald Forest is my favorite place to play in Emerald Isle. I’m super inconsistent at mini golf, but it’s really fun. Here I am celebrating after a rare hole-in-one!
Emerald Plantation is the large shopping center on the left side of the main road shortly after you cross over the bridge onto the island. Although there’s a Food Lion for grocery shopping, most of the other shops and restaurants are local businesses rather than big box stores or chain restaurants. It’s fun to browse in some of the boutiques and gift shops, and there’s also a cute local bookstore. Rucker John’s, Michaelangelo’s Pizza, and Stir It Up Coffee Shop are all located in Emerald Plantation. The back of Emerald Plantation overlooks a pond and is really pretty. In addition, there’s a small movie theater if you want to catch something that’s showing. Typically four or so movies are showing at a time.
This is actually the back patio of Rucker John’s, and the surrounding area is lovely place to hang out if you have to wait for a table.
NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores
If you want to make a 20 minute drive down the island, the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is a great place to spend the morning or afternoon. It’s been several years since I’ve been there, but I want to go back soon.
Alligator at NC Aquarium
Turtle Sand Sculpture at NC Aquarium
In addition to boasting Yana’s, downtown Swansboro is a lovely place to stroll around. There are multiple local shops and boutiques to visit. And the waterfront is such a lovely back drop for photos.
(For details on the outfit I’m wearing in this pic, check out this post.)
Atlantic Beach Surf Shop
Sometimes I like to make the half hour drive to the other end of Bogue Banks and check out Atlantic Beach Surf Shop (aka AB Surf Shop). I’m not a surfer, but their AB Surf Shop merchandise makes fun souvenirs. In addition, they have a boutique that carries many of my favorite preppy brands, including Lilly Pulitzer, Vineyard Vines, Southern Tide, Draper James, and Jack Rogers.
So there you have it, my Emerald Isle travel guide. I feel like I could go on and on about why I love Emerald Isle, as well as more restaurants and activities. But this post covers the highlights! I hope that y’all enjoyed this Emerald Isle travel guide, and that you found it useful if you’re planning a trip. And if you aren’t currently planning a trip to Emerald Isle, hopefully this post made you want to go!
Have you ever been to Emerald Isle? If so, what is your favorite thing to do there? If not, what is your favorite beach to visit?