15 Best Beaches In North Carolina

It just might be time for a beach getaway. We've narrowed our list of the best beaches to visit in North Carolina.

Nags Head, North Carolina
Photo: obxbound.com

Any way you slice it, North Carolina has lucked out as a state with options. With its charming mountain towns, bustling cities, and quiet sandy beaches, North Carolina makes the cut on any travel list—and we just love exploring every trail-blazing destination, one by one.

Summer is high-time for coastal vacations, but fall provides a welcome respite from the sweltering heat at our very favorite North Carolina beaches. (Winter and spring getaways in these seaside towns are just fine by us, too.) We've narrowed our list of the best beaches to visit in North Carolina to these few incredible spots you need to add to your bucket list. You'll want to sit back and enjoy the sunset at these sandy spots all year long.

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Nags Head, North Carolina

Nags Head, North Carolina

With its classic Outer Banks feel, Nags Head is a great destination for any beach-lover. There's a mix of on-the-beach relaxation (pet-friendly!) and off-the-beach amusements, such as go-kart tracks, a handful of mini-golf courses, a number of ice cream shops, and good restaurants.

Horseback riding on the beach is a popular attraction in the area for visitors, with different excursions and locations to explore! While you're there, visit Jeannette's Pier, Jockey's Ridge State Park, or the Bodie Island Lighthouse. Most people prefer to book one of the many rental properties in the area; so take a look at Twiddy & Company to start your search. nagsheadguide.com

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Wrightsville, North Carolina

Wrightsville, North Carolina

Located just east of Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach is made up of two small islands connected by Shell Road. The small coastal town is home to the second oldest Yacht Club in America, built in 1884. The beach is known as a great destination for watersports, such as kayaking, paddle boarding, and surfing, and Johnnie Mercer's Pier that extends 1,200 feet out into the Atlantic Ocean for great fishing.

Vacation rentals are popular here, but you can book a room at the Shell Island Resort for oceanfront views and beach access with umbrellas and chairs for rent. Head to Dockside Restaurant for a relaxed Carolina seafood spot perched right on the water's edge. visitwrightsvillebeachnc.com

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Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
John Greim

Kitty Hawk is a unique historical coastal town that's made up of a quaint village, beachfront community, and a large maritime forest reserve known as Kitty Hawk Woods. The town maintains its character, charm, and rustic nature-loving touch with traditional coastal low-rise buildings in the village and on the beach; while the origin of the town's quirky name is still debated among residents today. (Most say it's tied to the Native American "Chickeawk" or "Chickahawk" roots of the area.)

Check out the many vacation rental companies for a charming coastal getaway spot that makes you feel like you're a million miles away from your busy life. You can find fresh seafood dives, mouthwatering barbecue joints, and a homemade ice cream haven (called Big Buck's) to keep you full and happy. Kitty Hawk is also the site of the Wrights Brothers first flight, with a memorial about four miles down the beach from Kitty Hawk to commemorate the national historic event. outerbanks.com

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Topsail Island, North Carolina

Topsail Island, North Carolina
A&B Saltwater Adventures

Topsail Island is a 26-mile long barrier island off the coast of North Carolina made up of the communities of Topsail Beach, Surf City, and North Topsail Beach. Its small population (only around 500 full-time residents) and no high-rise development rule helps maintain its natural beauty. In fact, up until World War II, the island was accessible only by boat. Now, two bridges bring visitors to its relaxing beaches and charming attractions.

Loggerhead sea turtles come ashore to nest and lay eggs along Topsail's beachfront from mid-May through August, to the delight of marine life enthusiasts. And the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Surf City is a great place to learn about the island's preservation and conservation initiatives.

Additionally, Topsail used to be rumored as the location of Blackbeard's treasure, reeling in treasure hunters for years searching for the prize in the maritime forests. This island is so full of history and intrigue that it's hard to pass up a trip to one of its small seaside towns as a quiet weekend getaway or exciting family trip! topsailbeach.org

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Oak Island, North Carolina

Oak Island, North Carolina
Oak Island Accommodations

This bustling seaside town is a major summer spot in the southern tip of North Carolina, about 60 miles northeast of Myrtle Beach. In the 1950s, a hurricane wiped out the area, leaving only five buildings in its wake; but Oak Island has now become a popular getaway destination for those desiring a family-friendly beach with a small-town feel.

The town has miles of sandy beaches with piers for fishing, ramps for boating, plenty of water activities, and charming restaurants and shops. It's the perfect place for a relaxing, old-fashioned beach trip that's no-fuss and fancy-free. ncbrunswick.com

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Emerald Isle, North Carolina

Emerald Isle, North Carolina
Emerald Isle Realty

Located at the western end of Bogue Banks, a barrier island, Emerald Isle gives visitors 12 miles of shoreline and views of the Atlantic Ocean as part of the Crystal Coast. The town's only oceanfront hotel, the Islander Hotel & Resort, is a great place to consider for a weekend getaway; but there are plenty of quaint rentals and condos that are just perfect for a family vacation.

Make sure to stop by Big Oak Drive-In & Bar-B-Q for its amazing shrimp burger and old-fashioned style. Whether you want to fish from the pier, relax on the sand, or explore the antique shops, there's something for every member of the family. crystalcoastnc.org

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Jacksonville, North Carolina

Jacksonville, North Carolina
Weather Underground

Jacksonville is located right by the Southern Outer Banks and is home to the largest Marine Corps base on the eastern seaboard, making it a truly patriotic coastal town. From its Winterfest in December to its Jazz Festival in February, this beach town gives you plenty of excitement and fun for the whole family. It's also a laidback getaway for those who want to kayak (which is enjoyed on the New River) or tour the historic memorials and memorial gardens. visitjacksonvillenc.com

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Bald Head Island, North Carolina

Aerial view of lighthouse, Bald Head Island, North Carolina

There are no cars are allowed on Bald Head Island, but visitors are able to move around with golf carts or bikes. The island is only accessible by ferry from nearby Southport. The majority of the island's 12,000 acres are undeveloped, with the exception of coastal rental residences and the highly acclaimed Bald Head Island Club golf course. That means that you can anticipate the 14-mile stretch of the shoreline, which includes South Beach and North Beach, to be largely calm and peaceful during your visit. It's also a terrific site to see some of nature's most beautiful creatures: the island is home to over 260 bird species, as well as other animals like alligators and foxes. Beachcombers and seashell hunters will also appreciate the opportunity to find little treasures washed ashore.

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Cape Hatteras, North Carolina

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Getty Images

Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which stretches for about 70 miles, is renowned for its pristine beaches and the striking black-and-white striped Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States. Visitors can make reservations to climb to the top of the decommissioned lighthouse. Also, during their nesting season, there are opportunities to observe sea turtles coming ashore or hatchlings clumsily finding their way into the sea.

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Corolla/Currituck Beach, North Carolina

Single Wild Horse on Beach in Corolla North Carolina
Daniela Duncan/Getty Images

Corolla/Currituck Beach is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Currituck Sound on the other along the Outer Banks' northern coast. Visitors for its tranquility and opportunities to explore the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and historic district. But this area is best known for the wild Spanish Mustang horses that freely roam the island. And visitors can even sign up for guided tours to get a closer look at the wild, majestic creatures.

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Atlantic Beach, North Carolina

Aerial View of Atlantic Beach, North Carolina

Atlantic Beach is one of the most developed beach areas in North Carolina, located along Crystal Coast. There are many amenities for visitors to enjoy, including biking and water sports equipment rentals, and the opportunity to charter a fishing trip. There are four designated walking pathways as part of the Walk Atlantic Beach program which allow visitors to explore the area on foot with more ease.

Sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs on the beach every year from May to October, which means there is a chance visitors later in the year might be able to witness the hatchlings emerging from the sand and make their journey into the waters. Even more, the North Carolina Aquariums at Pine Knoll Shores and the Civil War-era Fort Macon State Park are only a short drive away.

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Carolina Beach, North Carolina

Ocean Runners and Fishing Trawler

The Carolina Beach Boardwalk is a classic American promenade—with a pedestrian-only boardwalk that features bars, restaurants, arcades, bike and surfboard rental shops, and even an amusement park—that beach-goers have been enjoying since the late 1800s. Even more entertainment can be found nearby at the Carolina Beach State Park, which offers a variety of hiking paths, including the Flytrap Trail where visitors can see the native Venus flytrap plant.

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Kure Beach, North Carolina

Sunrise on Kure Beach
Getty Images

There's the sand and surf at Kure Beach, of course, and then there's the Ocean Front Park and Pavilion, which hosts music concerts, open-air markets, and other entertainment venues. Kids can also enjoy the pavilion's playground, making it a family-friendly venture. Even more, visitors can cast a line off the fishing pier, play disc golf at Joe Eakes Park, and learn about the state's military history at Fort Fisher State Historic Site.

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Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina

sea turtle

Cape Lookout National Seashore boasts 56 miles of beach across several barrier islands. One popular spot in this area is Shackleford Banks, which is not only a great place to swim and relax on the beach, but is also home to over 100 feral horses that roam freely. The diamond-painted Cape Lookout Lighthouse is open for visitors to climb and take in the amazing view. Visitors can also take a ranger-led tour, go canoeing or kayaking to explore the islands from the water, or go bird watching.

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Bear Island, Hammocks Beach State Park, North Carolina

Bear Island, Hammocks Beach State Park, Swansboro
Photo: Frances Civils/Creative Commons

Bear Island in Hammocks Beach State Park is a barrier island with undeveloped beach that is only accessible by ferry or boat, which makes it an ideal destination for anyone seeking a quiet, relaxing beach trip. In addition to relaxation in the sand, explore the marshes, Bear Island and the nearby Huggins Island by renting canoes, kayaks, or paddleboards.

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