Christmas on the Coast
Festive flotillas, impressive lights and a chowder crawl all add to the sweet Southern charm of the holidays along the coast.
Crystal Coast, N.C.
The southern stretch of the Outer Banks, known as the Crystal Coast, loves celebrating the holidays. In Morehead City, catch breakfast with Santa at Floyd’s 1921, a historic home-turned-restaurant at the corner of 4th and Bridges streets. Don’t miss the Crystal Coast Christmas Flotilla on Dec. 2, when boats, yachts, kayaks and other vessels deck out for the season and float down to Beaufort, where judges from the North Carolina Maritime Museum pick a winner. Morehead City also hosts a popular holiday parade, with floats, hot chocolate and Santa, downtown along Arendell Street. The full town is decorated the Monday before Thanksgiving.
Sanitary Fish Market and Restaurant has been a Morehead City staple since 1938, offering fried anything-from-the-sea, plus she-crab soup, oyster stew and conch chowder. Southern Salt along the waterfront, and Parrott’s on 11th in old downtown Morehead City are also local picks.
The Bask Hotel at Big Rock Landing in downtown Morehead City offers stunning views of the flotilla, while nearby Beaufort boasts bed and breakfasts The Pecan Tree , Ann Street and Inlet inns.
Secure a spot along the waterfront for the annual Holiday Flotilla in Wrightsville Beach, N.C. The event kicks off on Nov. 24 with the Atlantic Marine Launch Party with The Embers featuring Craig Woolard, plus a festive tree lighting celebration and, of course, jolly old Saint Nick. Dec. 9, take a holiday-themed stroll through the past at both the Burgwin-Wright House and Bellamy Mansion Museum for an event showcasing Victorian decorations, in-costume interpreters and a miniature animal petting zoo.
Visit Chef Dean Neff on Market Street at Wilmington’s award-winning PinPoint Restaurant for a daily-changing menu featuring local, seasonal fare, like the inventive octopus and pickled shrimp shiso wraps, sourced fresh from nearby farmers and fishermen.
Opt for the flotilla weekend package at the longstanding Blockade Runner Beach Resort , whose harbor-front rooms provide the ideal viewing spot. Or go for a boutique stay at a historic bed and breakfast. The Graystone Inn and The Verandas , are both great options.
Outer Banks, N.C.
From Duck down to Hatteras, this iconic stretch of barrier island beachfront oozes coastal charm, especially during the holidays when cooler temperatures make for cozy nights. In Manteo, sparkling candy canes, reindeer and Christmas trees dot the winding paths of The Elizabethan Gardens during WinterLights, a festive garden transformation from late November to early December. Stroll the merry paths, then warm up by the fire pit or find cheer inside with a cup of cocoa.
Convenient to any number of beachfront restaurants, Manteo boasts the Avenue Waterfront Grille, overlooking Shallowbag Bay and the Manteo Marina. Start with the signature blue crab dip, then opt for a house specialty like the blackened shrimp and grits, fish tacos or a fresh local catch.
Cozy and comfortable, The Tranquil House Inn’s rooms overlook the historic Manteo waterfront. After a day of exploring, spend the evening with complimentary wine, cheese and waterfront views.
Myrtle Beach, S.C.
If you make it to Myrtle Beach the weekend of Nov. 9-12, you can experience a Victorian Christmas at the Dickens Christmas Show and Festivals. The event features strolling minstrels and period-clad vendors offering gourmet foods, imported gifts, crafts and other holiday goodies. Get in the “spirit” of the season with the Annual MarshWalk Santa Crawl in Murrells Inlet on Dec. 16. Enjoy exclusive drink specials and earn prizes for wearing your most festive attire. Head to North Myrtle Beach for the Great Christmas Light Show (on select nights from Nov. 25 to Dec. 30). Over 1.7 million lights make up the more than 400 light displays along this 1.5-mile drive. Post tour, visit Santa’s Village for some hot chocolate, s’mores and a chance to tell Santa what you want for Christmas!
Get a real taste of the South at Big Mike’s Soul Food, serving up home-cooked fried chicken, collard greens and mac and cheese. Opt for a waterside view and some of the best seafood in the area at Sea Captain’s House.
Pamper yourself with a luxury stay by the water at the Marina Inn at Grand Dunesor the oceanfront Myrtle Beach Marriott Resort & Spa at Grande Dunes .
Charleston is magical any time of year, but sparkling lights flirting among the palmettos is a sight worth seeing. Walk where carriages aren’t allowed and learn a little something on a historic “Charleston Strolls” holiday walking tour. Weekends in December, visit Marion Square for decorations and lights and a Holiday Market, plus other cultural, festive events in celebration of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. For some family fun, head over to the Children's Village, which features holiday face painting, crafts and other festive music and other activities, free with admission at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens during the month of December. Drive through the Holiday Festival of Lights at James Island County Park or stop the car and hop on the holiday train. Giant greeting cards are created by area students and there’s even a Victorian carousel sure to spark wonder in your little ones. Visit the stately oaks and impressive Drayton Hall, a 275-year-old estate in the South Carolina Lowcountry, which hosts a candlelit African American Spirituals Concert.
For a one-fell-swoop sampling of food in the Holy City, sign up for the Charleston Holiday Progressive Dinner, a three-location dinner connected by carriage ride. Hors d’oeuvres at historic Kings Courtyard Inn at 198 King Street lead to Circa 1886 at 149 Wentworth Street, where diners will enjoy a three-course meal before finally delighting — if there’s room left — in coffee and dessert at historic John Rutledge House Inn at 116 Broad Street.
King Street’s Fulton Lane Inn has been a go-to since 1994, and for good reason: the family-owned inn has an interesting history, dating back to 1889, when it started as a YMCA. Originally the first floor housed an indoor swimming pool, while the second and third floor rooms were rented to members and their guests. Other overnight options include Ansonborough Inn, a historic boutique hotel, and French Quarter Inn, a boutique contemporary hotel, both.
Your coastal Christmas is calling! Stop by your local AAA office to plan your holiday getaway.
(Go Magazine Nov/Dec 2017)
(photos courtesy of Outer Banks CVB, Charleston CVB, Crystal Coast CVB, Wilmington and Area Beaches CVB)