A Guide to North Carolina’s Top Beaches

04 May 2024

Explore this bucket list of coastal treasures this summer

North Carolina's coastline stretches across 322 miles, offering a diverse array of over 25 distinct beaches, each with its own unique charm and attractions. From the lively boardwalks of Carolina Beach to the secluded shores of Bald Head Island, there's no shortage of coastal towns to explore. This comprehensive guide will take you on a journey from the northernmost section of the Outer Banks down to the Brunswick Islands, showcasing the beauty and allure of North Carolina's coastal gems.

Outer Banks

The Outer Banks, a string of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, is renowned for its rugged beauty and rich history. Visit:

  •  Corolla Beach: Located in the northernmost section of the Outer Banks, Corolla Beach is famous for its pristine stretches of sand and breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors often spot wild horses roaming along the shore, adding to the area's natural allure.
  •  Duck Beach: Just south of Corolla, Duck Beach offers a laid-back atmosphere and scenic beauty. The town of Duck boasts a charming waterfront boardwalk, boutique shops, and upscale dining options, making it a popular destination for families and couples alike.
  • Kitty Hawk Beach: Kitty Hawk Beach holds historical significance as the site of the Wright brothers' first powered flight in 1903. Today, visitors can explore the Wright Brothers National Memorial and enjoy miles of sandy shoreline ideal for sunbathing, beachcombing, and water sports.
  •  Kill Devil Hills Beach: Adjacent to Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills is a bustling beach town known for its lively atmosphere and array of recreational activities. The beachfront boasts public beach accesses, perfect for swimming, surfing, and fishing, while nearby attractions include sand dunes, parks, and eclectic shops.
  •  Nags Head Beach: South of Kill Devil Hills lies Nags Head Beach, a popular destination for families and outdoor enthusiasts. With its wide sandy shores and rolling waves, Nags Head offers ample opportunities for swimming, surfing, and kite flying. The area is also home to Jockey's Ridge State Park, featuring the tallest sand dunes on the East Coast.
  •  Cape Hatteras National Seashore: Stretching south from Nags Head, Cape Hatteras National Seashore encompasses miles of pristine coastline, including some of the most iconic beaches in the Outer Banks. From the rugged beauty of South Beach to the historic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, this protected area offers endless opportunities for exploration and outdoor adventure.
  •  Ocracoke Island: Accessible only by ferry, Ocracoke Island is a secluded paradise known for its unspoiled beaches and laid-back vibe. Visitors can relax on miles of pristine shoreline, explore the charming village of Ocracoke with its historic sites and local shops, or take a leisurely bike ride along scenic paths.

Crystal Coast

The Crystal Coast of North Carolina boasts a collection of stunning beaches along its picturesque coastline. Visit:

  •  Atlantic Beach: Atlantic Beach is one of the most popular destinations on the Crystal Coast, offering miles of sandy shoreline, gentle waves, and a vibrant beach town atmosphere. Visitors can enjoy swimming, sunbathing, surfing, and a variety of water sports. The nearby Atlantic Beach Causeway provides access to shopping, dining, and recreational activities.
  •  Emerald Isle Beach: Emerald Isle Beach is known for its breathtaking beauty and family-friendly atmosphere. With its wide sandy beaches and sparkling waters, it's the perfect spot for building sandcastles, beachcombing, and enjoying spectacular sunsets. The town of Emerald Isle offers a range of amenities, including parks, playgrounds, and beachfront accommodations.
  •  Indian Beach: Nestled between Atlantic Beach and Emerald Isle, Indian Beach offers a tranquil escape with its uncrowded shores and natural beauty. This secluded stretch of coastline is ideal for relaxation and outdoor activities like fishing, kayaking, and birdwatching. Visitors can also explore nearby attractions such as the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.
  •  Pine Knoll Shores: Pine Knoll Shores boasts pristine beaches, lush maritime forests, and abundant wildlife. The Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area preserves a scenic stretch of coastline ideal for hiking, nature walks, and wildlife viewing. The town also offers public beach accesses, picnic areas, and educational programs at the nearby North Carolina Aquarium.
  •  Salter Path: Located between Indian Beach and Pine Knoll Shores, Salter Path is a small coastal community known for its quiet charm and natural beauty. The beach here offers a peaceful retreat away from the crowds, perfect for leisurely strolls, shell hunting, and enjoying the serene coastal scenery.
  •  Beaufort: While not a traditional beach destination, Beaufort is a historic waterfront town located near the southern end of the Crystal Coast. Visitors can explore the picturesque downtown area, stroll along the boardwalk overlooking Taylor's Creek, and take a ferry to nearby barrier islands such as Shackleford Banks and Cape Lookout, which offer pristine beaches and opportunities for shelling, wildlife viewing, and exploration.

Topsail Area 

Topsail, North Carolina, is renowned for its serene beaches, relaxed atmosphere, and charming coastal communities. Visit:

  •  Topsail Beach: Topsail Beach is the southernmost town on the island and offers a quiet, laid-back atmosphere. The beach boasts pristine sands, gentle waves, and stunning ocean views. Visitors can enjoy swimming, sunbathing, fishing, and shell hunting along the shoreline. Topsail Beach also features public beach accesses, picnic areas, and convenient amenities.
  •  Surf City Beach: Surf City is located in the heart of Topsail Island and is known for its vibrant beach scene and family-friendly attractions. Surf City Beach offers wide stretches of sand, ideal for sunbathing, beach games, and water activities like surfing and paddleboarding. The town's iconic Surf City Pier is a popular spot for fishing, sightseeing, and enjoying panoramic views of the coastline.
  •  North Topsail Beach: North Topsail Beach is the northernmost town on Topsail Island and offers a more secluded and peaceful beach experience. This pristine stretch of coastline is perfect for relaxing walks, shell collecting, and enjoying the natural beauty of the island. North Topsail Beach is also a popular destination for birdwatching, as it provides habitat for a variety of coastal bird species.

Wilmington Area

The Wilmington, North Carolina area is blessed with several beautiful beaches along its coastline. Vitis:

  •  Wrightsville Beach: Located just east of Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the area. It features wide sandy shores, clear blue waters, and excellent conditions for swimming, surfing, and other water sports. Wrightsville Beach also boasts a lively boardwalk with shops, restaurants, and attractions, making it a bustling hub of activity.
  •  Carolina Beach: Carolina Beach offers a classic beach experience with a vibrant boardwalk, amusement rides, arcades, and live entertainment during the summer months. The beach itself features soft sand, rolling waves, and plenty of space for sunbathing and beach games. Visitors can also explore nearby attractions such as Carolina Beach State Park and the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
  •  Kure Beach: Kure Beach is known for its relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere and pristine shoreline. This charming beach town offers uncrowded beaches, excellent fishing opportunities, and scenic views of the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors can explore the historic Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, visit the North Carolina Aquarium, or simply relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the area.
  •  Masonboro Island: Masonboro Island is an undeveloped barrier island located just south of Wrightsville Beach. Accessible only by boat, this pristine island offers miles of secluded beaches, marshes, and maritime forests. It's a popular destination for boating, kayaking, paddleboarding, and wildlife viewing, providing a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the mainland.

Brunswick Islands

The Brunswick Islands area of North Carolina boasts a collection of stunning beaches along its picturesque coastline. Visit:

  •  Sunset Beach: Sunset Beach is renowned for its tranquil atmosphere, wide sandy shores, and breathtaking sunsets. This pristine beach offers a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, perfect for leisurely walks, shell hunting, and relaxation. Visitors can also explore Bird Island, a nearby nature preserve known for its diverse wildlife and scenic beauty.
  •  Ocean Isle Beach: Ocean Isle Beach features seven miles of pristine coastline, making it a popular destination for beachgoers and families. The beach offers soft sands, gentle waves, and panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors can enjoy swimming, sunbathing, fishing, and water sports, as well as exploring nearby attractions such as the Ocean Isle Beach Pier and the Museum of Coastal Carolina.
  •  Holden Beach: Holden Beach is known for its laid-back vibe, unspoiled beauty, and family-friendly atmosphere. The beach stretches for eight miles along the barrier island, offering ample space for sunbathing, beachcombing, and relaxation. Holden Beach is also a popular destination for fishing, boating, and water sports, with easy access to the Intracoastal Waterway and nearby marshes.
  •  Oak Island Beach: Oak Island Beach is a hidden gem located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. With over ten miles of pristine shoreline, Oak Island offers endless opportunities for swimming, sunbathing, and beach activities. Visitors can also explore the Oak Island Lighthouse, enjoy picnicking at beachfront parks, and indulge in fresh seafood at local restaurants.
  •  Bald Head Island: Bald Head Island is a unique beach destination accessible only by ferry. This secluded paradise offers pristine beaches, maritime forests, and abundant wildlife. Visitors can explore miles of car-free beaches, go birdwatching, kayaking, or paddleboarding, and take in panoramic views from the historic Bald Head Island Lighthouse.

These beaches in the Brunswick Islands area provide a tranquil retreat and offer a variety of recreational activities, making them ideal destinations for visitors looking to experience the beauty of the North Carolina coast. Whether you're seeking relaxation, outdoor adventure, or a taste of coastal charm, there's something for everyone along North Carolina's beautiful coast.

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