Like most people, we’ve had to cancel several trips due to COVID-19 and have been dying to get out of our city condo and travel somewhere – anywhere. Knowing the virus is still very much at large and airline travel is primarily for essential needs only, we needed to find somewhere within driving distance. Emerald Isle is a bit of stretch since it’s a good 15 hour trip from Chicago but sun, sand and salt water were all trip requirements and geographically speaking, we weren’t going to find anything much closer. Besides, Kevin and I never scare away from a good road trip.
[Note: In case anyone is interested, we broke the drive into three days on our way there. Chicago > Lexington, KY > Asheville, NC > Emerald Isle, NC. It’s not the fastest or most direct route but we wanted to do a bit of exploring on our way and we weren’t sure how Palmer would take to the car now that she’s older and more mobile.]
Disclaimer, most of this trip was simply spent relaxing at the beach directly in front of our house due to COVID-19. I’ll try to focus mostly on places or food we tried.
July 11, 2020 – Arrive on Emerald Isle
The drive from Asheville took just over six hours and we arrived on Emerald Isle just after the 3PM check-in time. [Note: Since most houses flip over on Saturdays, there is quite a bit of traffic onto the Island at this time.] After unloading our things and exploring the house, we immediately changed into our swimsuits and jumped in the pool. The house we rented was nothing special but it was located directly on the beach and had a pool which was perfect with a one-year old. From the pool, we made our way to the beach and let Palmer dip her toes in the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. For dinner that night, we picked up pizza from Michaelangelo’s Pizza and Subs and enjoyed the sunset and a few drinks on the deck with the sound of waves crashing below. The pizza slices were huge and definitely hit the spot after a long travel day but nothing super special.
July 12 & 13, 2020- Beach, Pool, Repeat
Sunday and Monday were spent in near identical fashion – beach, followed by a dip in the pool, a home cooked dinner and sunset walk on the beach. The water was super rough both days – red flags were flying – so we all stayed out for the most part. However, because the waves were so strong, we did get a really big tide pool on the beach that Palmer and her cousins loved splashing around in.
Before our trip, we created a Google Sheet and invited everyone in the family to view/edit it. It included details about the house, as well as a cooking schedule for each night of the week and a running grocery list. Each “family” was instructed to sign up to cook one night which included purchasing all the food/drink supplies needed and a full clean up after. On Sunday my parents grilled surf & turf with delicious fresh shrimp and scallops from Cap’n Willis Seafood Market. On Monday my brother cooked up a taco feast complete with margs, guac and queso.
July 14, 2020 – Beach & Beaufort, NC
On Tuesday, we planned to visit the historic town of Beaufort. We received several recommendations from friends suggesting a few restaurants in town and so we packed up our beach gear, showered and made our way there around 4PM. When we arrived, it was pretty quiet and SUPER HOT. We didn’t have any plans or dinner reservations so we just walked along the main drag checking out some of the stores. Some of our group grabbed iced coffees from Cru Wine Bar, Coffee Shop and Wine Store while others opted for ice cream from the General Store. The town is pretty small so after a walk along the harbor and zero luck on securing a reservation, we decided to go home and cook spaghetti and meatballs, the Darling dinner of choice.
[Note: Many of the restaurants in Beaufort keep strange schedules and are operating at lower capacity. Outdoor seating is limited and most likely first come, first serve and large groups are prohibited due to COVID-19. Definitely call ahead of time because we found that what’s listed online/Google isn’t always accurate.]
July 15, 2020 – Beach and Sunset at The Point
By Tuesday the waves had calmed down so we were finally able to swim in the ocean and it was the perfect respite from the hot sun – plus it was super warm, like bath water. For dinner we grilled out and then put Palmer down and drove to The Point to watch the sunset. Ironically, I have a close girlfriend who happened to also be vacationing on the island and she invited us to watch the sunset from their house at the southern-most point. As promised the sunset was beautiful but it was also really nice to catch up with her and her family. [Note: There is no public parking at The Point and I’ve heard they do ticket vehicles parked on the road.]
July 16, 2020 – Beach & Crab Shack
Early in the week we decided it would be fun to book a pontoon boat and explore the Bogue Sound and its small islands for a half day. We booked through Crystal Coast Boat Charters and Rentals and it was a complete headache. Long story, short, the boat didn’t have a canopy due to storms earlier in the week and wasn’t running properly the morning of so we ended up cancelling. It was a big disappointment and I don’t love the way the company handled the communication so I wouldn’t recommend them.
After a wasted morning, we made our way back to the house and posted up on the beach for the remainder of the day. It was another perfect beach day so all is well that ends well. That evening we attempted to take some family pictures on the beach and then picked up fried chicken from Bojangles [my mom’s a big fan and we don’t have them in the mid-west] and a bunch of different seafood dishes from Crab Shack. Personally, I wasn’t too impressed with Crab Shack. Everything we got was fried and pretty flavorless.
July 17, 2020 – Beach & Moonrakers
On our last full day, Kevin played golf with my girlfriends husband and family at Star Hill Golf Club while she and I had a beach day with our baby girls. That night we decided to give Beaufort another try. This time we had late dinner reservations at Moonrakers but decided to go early and try to snag a table outside at either Moonrakers or Front Street Grill at Stillwater. We arrived just after 5:30PM and put our name down at both restaurants [they’re right next door to each other]. Luckily, Moonrakers was able to take us early and sat our large group together outside just 30 minutes later.
The food was really good – you must try the calamari, it was amazing – the ambiance outside was incredible with the sailboats cruising by as the sun sets but the service wasn’t great. Honestly though, I guess you can’t expect much during these times. It was just really nice to get out and be able to eat together as a family in such a beautiful setting. After dinner we grabbed blizzards from DQ and then made our way back to the house to pack/clean up since we had an early check-out the next morning.
July 18, 2020 – Check-Out & Blacksburg
Check-out was at 10AM but we were out and on the road by 8AM. We stopped at Muttigans for a coffee on our way off the island and started the 6 hour drive to Blacksburg, VA where we planned to spend the night.
[Note: We broke our return drive into two days. Emerald Isle, NC > Blacksburg, VA > Chicago, IL. This is definitely a more direct route than on our way out but we did deviate slightly to stop in Blacksburg where I went to college so we could eat at my favorite restaurant OF ALL TIME, Cabo Fish Taco, and show Palmer her future campus (wink, wink).]
Accommodations & State Specific Details
We booked the house a little last minute but it was perfect for our family of 11 [one baby, two kids and eight adults]. Everyone had a bed, there were more than enough bathrooms and the common living space was adequate but the highlight was most definitely the location and proximity to the beach. Having a one year old on the beach isn’t always the easiest [think sun, sand, nap & meal schedules, etc.] but because the house was steps from the ocean, we were able to easily manage all of that and still spend time relaxing on the beach. The beach was also pretty empty which was amazing, especially during these COVID times. The house wasn’t near any of the public access points so it was just people with houses on that part of the beach.
Joyce and PDL Beach Properties were very accommodating and easy to work with. Communication was done via email and text and the check-in/out process was contact-less and seamless. The house was clean and came with a pool, well equipped kitchen and and plenty of beach gear. The decor is a bit outdated and the house isn’t huge but we didn’t mind since we spent 90% of our time on the beach or deck overlooking the ocean. Our house was also dog friendly and so is the beach which was perfect since we had Gus with us!
Honestly, I loved our location too because it’s right in the middle of the island. It’s about a 15-minute drive to the grocery store and most restaurants and 30-minutes to Beaufort. I also really liked the area around The Point on the southern side of the island. However, I did hear that the beaches are more crowded and the water more rough. Definitely things to consider depending on what you’re looking for.
To Emerald Isle: We road tripped it from Chicago [Chicago > Lexington, KY > Asheville, NC > Emerald Isle, NC]
Around Emerald Isle: We drove almost everywhere. There is a walking/running/biking path along the main road but a car is necessary.
Currency: US Dollar (USD)
Outlet Adapter: The standard voltage is 120 V. The standard frequency is 60 Hz. The power sockets that are used are of type A and B. Standard United States adapters.
Passport/Visa Requirements: No U.S. Passport required.
Weather: I was skeptical of the weather because leading up to our trip the forecast predicted thunderstorms everyday. While we did get the occasional afternoon rain shower, every day was beautiful with lots of sun, a few clouds and a slight breeze coming off the water. It was also super hot, low 90’s everyday.