The North Carolina coast is perfect for anything from a family vacation to a romantic getaway in the style of Nicholas Sparks. It has wide, sandy beaches with dunes that protect them, rental homes right on the beach, and a laid-back attitude.
The best beaches in North Carolina were chosen by U.S. News based on a number of factors, such as natural beauty, access to services, and the opinions of experts and beachgoers. What do you like best?
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1. Emerald Isle
Families keep coming back to Emerald Isle year after year because it has 12 miles of clean beaches, a laid-back vibe, and a famous fishing pier.
There are many good things about living on this beach. Emerald Island has a long coastline and a lot of different beach facilities, such as parking, showers, and picnic shelters.
This part of North Carolina’s Crystal Coast also includes Indian Beach and Pine Knoll Shores, where you can find the North Carolina Aquarium.
2. Bald Head Island
Bald Head Island is great for people who want peace and quiet because you can’t drive there. Instead, you’ll need a golf cart or a bike to get around. The island’s 12,000 acres are mostly undeveloped, except for a few rental homes near the water and the well-known Bald Head Island Club golf course.
Because of this, the island’s 14 miles of coastline, including South Beach and North Beach, are quiet and unspoiled. More than 260 kinds of birds live on the island, and alligators and foxes add to the natural beauty of the place.
3. Cape Hatteras
Don’t confuse it with Hatteras Village. The almost 70-mile Cape Hatteras is best known for the clean beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the black-and-white striped lighthouse. Off-road vehicles can drive on the dunes, and there are four campsites for people who want to stay the night.
Plan ahead to see the full moon from the top of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. The best time to see these endangered animals is when they are nesting.
4. Corolla/Currituck Beach
Corolla is a popular tourist spot because of how peaceful it is. It is on the northern coast of the Outer Banks, between the Atlantic Ocean and Currituck Sound.
You can visit the area’s lighthouse or historic district, but the best thing to do here is to drive your four-wheel-drive vehicle to the large beaches and relax there.
You might also see some of the wild Spanish Mustang horses that roam the island, but if you want to get close to them, you should go with a guide.
5. Ocracoke Island
Some parts of the Outer Banks are easier to get to than Ocracoke Island, but visitors say that the island’s beautiful beaches are well worth the trouble. Travelers love Lifeguard Beach for how safe it is and how convenient it is, with things like public bathrooms and drinking fountains.
Ocracoke has a lot of history, and you can only get there by plane or by boat. Most famously, the island was where the pirate known as Blackbeard used to live.
There is a small cemetery where some British soldiers from World War II are buried, and every May, a ceremony is held to honor them.
6. Topsail Island
The name of the island, “Tops’l,” comes from a story that pirate ships would hide here with their topsails flying. Today, there are three major beach towns on this 26-mile-long island. They are Topsail Beach, North Topsail Beach, and Surf City.
At Serenity Point, the island’s southernmost point, you can watch a beautiful sunset. At the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, you can learn about the island’s efforts to save and care for sea turtles.
7. Oak Island
This quiet island is about 30 miles southwest of Wilmington. It has two fishing piers and 65 public beach access points, 10 of which are accessible to people with disabilities. Long Beach and Caswell Beach are popular places to visit because they have long stretches of beach and are friendly to families.
In Southport, which is just a 12-mile drive away, movies like “A Walk to Remember,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” and “Safe Haven” were filmed. Southport also has a number of wonderful seafood restaurants and cute shops.
8. Wrightsville Beach
Wrightsville Beach is a great place to work out if you want to go to the beach. Near the shore, you can do things like kayaking, surfing, and scuba diving. You can also find jogging paths and golf courses. If you prefer, you can also spread out on the beach.
There are about 40 different entry points, and many of them have bathrooms and showers. After a long day in the sun, you can unwind with dinner and a drink at one of the many taverns or restaurants in the area that have live music.
9. Atlantic Beach
Atlantic Beach is one of the most developed beaches in North Carolina. It is only 12 miles north of Emerald Isle and has a fishing pier, as well as places to rent equipment for biking and water sports.
Because of the work of the Walk Atlantic Beach group, there are now four well-marked walking paths in the city that tourists can use to get to know it. Are you ready to go it alone?
You can drive to both the aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores and the Civil War-era fort at Fort Macon State Park.
This small town south of Corolla shows what the Outer Banks are all about. Even though there are a lot of homes to rent, from the smallest to the biggest, there aren’t a lot of hotels or new buildings.
Both people who live there and people who come to visit like this. There are a lot of seashells to find and a lot of sand to explore. During the off-season, you can go to the Duck Jazz Festival, which happens every year in October.
11. Nags Head
This small piece of land is one of the most popular vacation spots on the Outer Banks because it is easy to get to and has a lot to offer. The Bodie Island Lighthouse, fishing piers, and endless sand dunes are just some of the things to see and do in this area.
Hang gliding and kitesurfing are two of the many outdoor activities you can do in Nags Head. You can also ride your bike or skateboard there. During the off-season, you can also drive your four-wheel-drive car onto the beach (October to April).
12. Carolina Beach
The Carolina Beach boardwalk has been a popular place for vacationers since the late 1800s. This wooden boardwalk used to be very simple, but now it has a lot of shops, places to eat, and even a small amusement park.
On the other side of the boardwalk are the best waves and the softest sand. As a break from the beach and boardwalk, you could go for a walk in Carolina Beach State Park and try to find a Venus’ flytrap.
13. Kitty Hawk
Kitty Hawk is a popular tourist spot because it is where Orville and Wilbur Wright were born. In 1903, their historic first flight took place in the nearby Kill Devil Hills. People like to visit Kitty Hawk because it has a beach with golden sand where dogs are welcome.
There are also lots of outdoor activities here. The Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve is in the middle of town and covers about 2,000 acres. It has a lot of fun things to do for visitors.
14. Kure Beach
Kure Beach is a great place for a family beach vacation because there are so many things to do there besides building sandcastles.
Aside from the obvious beach activities like boogie boarding, swimming, and building sandcastles, kids in the area can also play disc golf at Joe Eakes Park, fish from the pier, and learn about North Carolina’s military history at Fort Fisher State Historic Site.