Morehead City, NC

We recently went down east (which may actually be part of Downeast, I'm still working that out) to Morehead City. We've passed through the city on numerous occasions in the past. Fleeting impressions gleaned from the car as we traveled to Beaufort or other places along the Crystal Coast told me it seemed like a nice place. Clean, modern, a port city with massive boat facilities, it looked interesting, so of course we had to check it out.

I brought along The Natural Traveler and Coastal North Carolina, both of which usually provide some direction about activities at a destination. Well...not this time. I learned a bit about the history (Union Forces occupied the city after Fort Macon fell) but that was about it.

So it may surprise you to learn we had a nice time.

We decided to start with lunch. Our thinking, beyond filling our stomachs, was that we'd double check the books and chat with anyone willing to talk about the town while we tasted local fare. We do this often, and to a great degree, the folks are friendly and more than willing to chat.

On the recommendation of The Natural Traveler, we chose the Sanitary Fish Market and Restaurant. The sign for this establishment is visible from the road, and in the past, we snickered at the name as we drove by. But the book used the phrases "clean", "fame", and "seafood", so we went.

I have to warn you, I accidentally left our camera at home, so I had to take pictures with my cell phone.

Opened in 1938, the restaurant sits on the waterfront overlooking Bogue Sound (if I'm reading it correctly, my Gazetteer indicates it's Money Island Bay.) Bits of framed history paper the walls, and we took in what we could as we followed the hostess over the glistening planked floor to a seat beside the window. Yes!

As the book indicated we would, we enjoyed a good meal for a good price, though because I can't eat fried foods, I ordered grilled chicken. Either the owner reads this blog and recognized us, or he firmly believes in providing customers with a quality experience--I believe the latter--because he stated such in a conversation we overheard.

You can bet we'll stop here more often.

Like most things in Morehead City, the restaurant overlooks the water. One can view it while dining, or while strolling along the boardwalk we spotted behind the eatery:

As I've mentioned in the past, it's often difficult to get a pulse on the local culture during an initial scouting trip. As I once told NC native and poet, Julie Buffaloe Yoder, until we're familiar with an area, I can "get the basic recipe, but I lack the secret ingredients that make the dish savory". Julie's poetry gives me a deep, vivid look into the soul of many Downeasterners, so I turned to another native skilled with a pen for insight into Morehead City. After sharing a bit about the history, Sarah Salter told me:

The Morehead culture is one of hard work, dedication, deep love and loyalty. Those folks are the salt of the earth. Literally. They have salt water in their veins. A lot of that is reflected in their language, their laughter, and their zest for life.

She went on to tell of the transformation from a predominantly fishing village, to one heavily reliant on tourism. No surprise there, since the entire NC coast is a favorite tourist destination. Nevertheless, fish and water are still the lifeblood of this town. In addition to serving as a state port, sport fishing and boating are popular activities. Their annual seafood festival is quite popular, and along the paved waterfront is a marina where one can charter a boat to fish or take a day cruise:

The waterfront also has a nice selection of shops, including at least one bookstore. If you haven't noticed, we love bookstores. Local shops are the best because they tend to carry regional books not available at chain stores; items one wouldn't know existed to search for on Amazon. I've picked up half a bookshelf worth of publications during our trips, and on this outing, I found Island Born and Bred: A Collection of Harkers Island Food, Fun, Fact and Fiction. I may toss the recipes (I so don't cook) but I'll definitely keep the pages of hand drawn maps, recollections, poems, and information provided by Harkers Island Natives. I'd love to quote a few lines from a page I randomly chose while typing this, but I best get permission first. No sense being a copyright hound only to break the law myself.

In short, Morehead City is a great place to stop if you're in, or passing through the area, especially since it's conveniently located near Bogue Banks and Beaufort. We'll definitely go back to check out that half-day cruise. We've yet to explore the Carolina waterways, and it's time to rectify that mistake. And if my husband can find the tangle of fishing poles I stored somewhere so we can do some decent fishing, we'll run down to Morehead City to see what options are available there.

Until then, for more information on Morehead City, go to

For more information on the good restaurant with the funny name, go to


Karen A. Mann said...

Just discovered your blog today, and happy to see you went to my hometown, Morehead City. Make sure to check out El's Drive-in for shrimp burgers, and Patsy Pond nature trail on Hwy 24 for a short hike.

Kimberli said...

Hi Karen. Thanks for the recommendations. The Patsy Pond trail is on the To Do list. I know this is anathama around here, but I don't like shrimp! However, we may check out the Drive-in anyway.

Thanks for dropping by!

Julie said...

Yay, Sanitary! Yay, El's! You're both right. They are awesome places to eat. I'm glad they're both still around. El's was the place to go when I was a teenager.

You don't like shrimp? No way! That's okay, though. More for me:) I could eat five pounds by myself. Maybe that's a bit of hyperbole, but it's not too far from the truth. Do you like clams?

Thanks for the mention. I really appreciate it. I'm impressed with how revitalized Morehead has become in the past decade or so.

Morehead's not part of Down East, but it's a great place. Down East begins beyond Beaufort, after the North River bridge. But what do I know? I'm a dingbatter now...Ha! Ha!

The way you describe the people you met is right on. They're really good people and so friendly. It's definitely worth the trip. I love your quote from Sarah Salter. She sums it up perfectly.

The Harkers Island cookbook sounds good, too. Thanks for another beautiful post, Kimberli. You always make my day bright.

Kimberli said...

Thanks! I was wondering if MC was outside of the Downeast zone. Thanks for clarifying that.

Seriously, I hate shrimp. Lobster, too. Back when I could eat clams, I did if they were fried. But I can't eat fried food anymore (don't tell anyone. They'll kick me out of the state.)

I hope you didn't mind the mention. You fit in that spot perfectly! I loved drawing on two natives in what now feels like a gravational zone, both of whom have a love for the land. I gleaned much from this trip.

Yes, do check out that Harkers Island cookbook. I'm enjoying it so far (I can't believe I just said that about a cookbook.) I'd like your opinion on it.