Sometimes getting across the bridge at check-in for your beach vacation can be a challenge. With a short window on both Saturday and Sunday for people to pick up their keys, traffic can get backed up at the bridge. The good news is that we rarely see other traffic problems after the weekend. Our peak traffic season only lasts a few weeks. As we get away from the Fourth of July, traffic decreases, but even later in the season, there are some challenges. With that in mind, I have some simple suggestions that might make your visit more pleasurable. Some are gleaned from what our family used to do before we became permanent residents. Others are based on applying the local knowledge which you develop as a resident. In the end, just a little planning and some minor changes can make a huge difference in maximizing your beach time and having the most fun possible.One of the easiest ways to reduce first-day stress is to pack a cooler with enough food at least for the first evening meal and breakfast of the next day. In the Emerald Isle area, there are six grocery stores. There are four more in Morehead City and another in Atlantic Beach. Even with that many stores, most grocery stores in the area get somewhat crowded on Saturday and Sunday, both in afternoons and the evenings.
While our stores are generally very good at moving people through, if you have a huge cart full of stuff, you can wait some length of time to check out if you shop on Saturday or Sunday later than the morning. If you make that same large shopping trip on Monday morning, you likely will breeze through the checkout. Bringing some food and basics with you can greatly smooth your entry into beach life.
You do not have to completely avoid the grocery stores on the weekend, you just have to pick your battle. I am actually a pro at going to the grocery stores on Saturday and Sunday during the visitor season. My first secret is to never get more than what will fit in one of those small hand baskets. Then the real key to getting in and out of the store quickly is to use the automated check out systems. Usually, the attendant will use their affinity card if you are trying to save on the specials and do not have one of the cards. However, you do not need one of the cards to use the automated machines.
You can also save a trip to the grocery store by stopping at one of the local produce stands. Winberry's in Cedar Point is one of my favorites. It can also get busy on weekends. A stop there, and then at one of the local fish markets, like Clyde Phillips between the Swansboro bridges, is a good way to come up with ingredients for dinner without hitting the grocery store.
Almost no one comes to the beach without eating out a few times. The problem is that most people want to eat out at the same time. Hence the few restaurants near the beaches can get crowded at the most popular times. There are two solutions to this challenge. One is to pick a time that is enough out of the ordinary to let you beat the crowds. The other is to try some of the very good restaurants over on the mainland.
Sometimes the choice when trying to dine out is an hour wait in line or twelve to fifteen minutes in the car. You can often find a good restaurant over on the mainland with a shorter wait than one on the island.
Our A Week at the Beach - The Emerald Isle Travel Guide suggests restaurants and timing that make dining out a little easier. Many of the places to eat are on the mainland, but some are closer than you think in Morehead City. All are ones where I have enjoyed good food.
Another suggestion for saving time and money is to use the automated free standing ice machines instead of making a trip to the grocery store. I am a big fan of getting my ice in the cooler without having a plastic bag which ends up in the landfill. The automated ice machines give me more ice, twenty pounds instead of sixteen when I do not ask for the ice in a bag.
If your accommodations on the beach still require you to drive to get to the beach, you might find the Western Regional Access crowded at times. There are other places you can go to avoid the crowds. Most days there will be fewer people at the Eastern Regional Access about eight miles farther down the beach. Again our travel guide offers more detailed suggestions.
If you want even fewer people and want to be very close to the beach, Third Street Beach is a good choice if you can get along without a restroom and water to wash your feet. I sometimes find it almost deserted. There is also a great beach access with parking at the Roosevelt Natural Area in the Salter Path area.
If someone in the family is willing to do a little walking, you can sample some of the best beaches on Emerald Isle like those at the Point. Just use the CAMA access points on Inlet Drive and park in the small parking lot on Coast Guard Road. It is easy to drop the family and gear at one of the access points and circle the block back to the parking area. The walk back to the beach is five to ten minutes. Parking there is at a premium for a couple of weeks on either side of the Four of July.
There are lots of wonderful things to do at the beach. Just learning a little about the local area will greatly expand your options and perhaps save you some time when things get crowded on the beach.
You might even run into a special treat like a Bogue Sound watermelon if you get off the beaten path. Vacations have changed over the years, but when summer is in full swing, you can still have great fun here at the beach. Some planning and hints from us locals can make it even easier to have that fun.