Best Islands to Live On: Emerald Isle, North Carolina

Let’s pause and dream about moving to an island. Start with Maui: It’s nice … and expensive. Fiji? A dreamy commitment. Dial it back a few time zones, and follow a one-mile bridge to North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks (aka, Crystal Coast). A spot called Emerald Isle is similar to faraway escape: natural, quiet, beach-centric. But it’s different in that you can get back to the mainland in a car.

1.The Cost of Island Life

Cross the highway 58 bridge from Cape Carteret to Emerald Isle and the difference is immediate. It’s breezier, beachier, prettier, and yes, costlier. This is where the advantage over a remote island comes into play: more affordable groceries and gas are back over the bridge, 10 minutes away. Rent a vacation home: www.emeraldislerealty.comRobert Stephens

Backyard Path

Nobody else uses this beach access (it leads directly from the pool to the ocean). One family leaves footprints: the one living here.Robert Stephens

On-the-beach Homes

Locally, this house is referred to as a “Sand Castle.” It’s appropriate: 5,400 square feet of living space; four master bedrooms overlooking the ocean; a pool; six bathrooms. Pick it up and place it on Maui, and it’s $17 million. Place it in the Florida Keys and it’s $5 million. Here it’s $1.8 mil to own, as low as $3,640 to rent for a month. See the range of housing costs: www.emeraldislereality.comRobert Stephens

On-the-Island Homes

This home might not claim sandcastle status, but with 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, and a short walk to the beach, it can claim dream-life status. For $450,000 you’re on the island’s prettiest spot — and that’s a big statement. Compare homes: _ _Emerald Isle Realty

How a Day Starts

Just as you find on distant islands, people go to bed early on Emerald Isle. The best part of the day is sunrise. By 6 a.m., a handful of people are on the beach with a coffee cup in one hand and a dog leash in the other.Courtesy Crystal Coast

Island Jobs

Entrepreneurial spirit is a necessity on any island. But the Crystal Coast has a huge advantage: that bridge to the mainland. Chef Clarke Merrell opened his tapas restaurant, Circa 81, in Morehead City four years ago. "It's the only place where you can sample duck breast, sweet potato quesadillas, gnocchi, pineapple-cake martini, and shrimp and grits, and not feel uncomfortable when you leave." The restaurant has gone so well that he has since launched three olive-oil markets and a taco truck. "When I drive home from work at night, I call my wife and ask her to make something for dinner. It's usually a peanut butter and jelly sandwich."Robert Stephens

The Weekend

On Maui there are territorial fights among surfers. On Emerald Isle there’s way too much beach and far too few surfers to stir up anything resembling a confrontation.Robert Stephens

Islands Jobs, Part II

Another example of smart business is Hot Wax Surf Shop. Besides renting a kayak or a board for $20+ and arranging lessons for $125+, owner Mike Crews shares local wisdom. "September and October are the best times for waves and privacy," he says. Some of his employees have come to raise families "where there's clean air, no traffic jams, and a safe school."Robert Stephens

Way Out of Touch

Those are our tracks. They’re from a “mule train” or a flatbed truck that delivered us like melons over dunes, past Cape Lookout Lighthouse, to the southernmost point of the Outer Banks. Seashells that had washed up two days earlier had not been picked through.Robert Stephens

Island Jobs, Part III

Yet another entrepreneur. Captain George Aswad moved to the area from Brooklyn ten years ago. He went from a high-paying job running the Staten Island Ferry to running small pleasure boats to hard-to-reach islands. “I made far more money up there, but moving here was the best decision my wife and I ever made.”Robert Stephens

Wild Life

Captain George’s boats are the best way to access the Shackleford Banks, where 104 ponies swim, run, and comb the beaches, just like us.Courtesy Crystal Coast

Best Family Dinner

Dinner at Amos Mosquitos is an experience like none other. It starts with fried pickles and cornbread. Escalates into the best sesame seared tuna on the East Coast (served here by our waitress, Sugar Plum). Is further spiced with watermelon, asaparagus, and a cucumber and peach vinaigrette. And is capped with a mini-campfire on the table for roasting marshmallows and building s'mores. The restaurant's co-owner, Sandy Howard, says they've served 15,000 of the desserts in 15 years, and never had a table catch fire.Robert Stephens

Why We'd Move Here

To emphasize, there are no chain hotels or all-inclusives on Emerald Isle. The beach is as quiet as it was created to be. Start Planning: www.crystalcoastnc.orgRobert Stephens