15 Best Beaches in North Carolina

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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With its bustling cities and amazing mountain towns, North Carolina is a state with plenty of sightseeing options. It also features more than 300 miles of coastline to choose from and thousands of waterfront vacation rentals to book.

If you are looking for a nice and quiet place for your next summer coastal vacation, the state of North Carolina should definitely be considered as an option. Whether the beaches are picturesque and beautiful, or accessible only by boat, there is something that makes the shores of North Carolina special.

Let’s take a look at the 15 best beaches in North Carolina:

1. Atlantic Beach

Atlantic BeachSource: James Willamor / Flickr
Atlantic Beach

Situated on Bogue Banks which is one of the barrier islands of North Carolina, Atlantic Beach is part of the famous North Carolina’s Crystal Coast. It features crystal clear waters and is the perfect place for a family vacation.

Atlantic Beach offers a wide range of eateries that should satisfy every traveler. You will find everything from ice cream shops and fast-food joints to glamorous restaurants with 5-course menus. When it comes to shopping, there are a couple of surf shops and several beach boutiques.

After spending a day on the beach, check out the North Carolina Aquarium that is located in the center of the island, it’s one of the most popular attractions here.

You most likely won’t find many resorts and fancy hotels at Atlantic Beach, just private homes available for rent at affordable prices.

2. Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville BeachSource: Charles Chadwick Talton / shutterstock
Wrightsville Beach

Well-known for its wide sandy beaches and deep blue waters, Wrightsville Beach is one of the best beaches in North Carolina and attracts many travelers from all over the U.S.

There are 44 public access points to Wrightsville Beach, which means the crowds of visitors usually spread out throughout the stretch, so you won’t be fighting for space.

Wrightsville Beach is also a hot spot for kite-boarders and surfers. Even inexperienced surfers can practice their skills here since during the summer season the waves are quite gentle and the waters are shallow. Beware that surfing is strictly forbidden right in front of the lifeguard stands.

3. Nags Head

Nags HeadSource: FloridaStock / shutterstock
Nags Head

Nags Head features a classic Outer Banks vibe and is a great spot for anyone who loves spending time at the beach. Expect to find a mixture of beach activities and nearby amusements, including mini-golf courses, go-kart tracks for kids, and dozens of ice cream shops. This pet-friendly beach also attracts many vacationers who like to ride on horseback.

Once you’ve had enough beach time, head out to some of the most popular attractions in the area such as the Jockey’s Ridge State Park that is famous for its scenic hikes, Jeannette’s Pier, or Bodie Island Lighthouse that offers amazing views of the surrounding areas.

You will also find a variety of restaurants in the neighborhood that serve BBQ dishes and delicious seafood snacks.

4. Carova

Carova Beach North CarolinaSource: www.outerbanks.com

One of the most isolated beaches in all of North Carolina, Carova is a perfect destination for adventurous vacationers who are looking to get away from the urban lifestyle and crowded beaches.

One of the reasons why Carova is such an isolated place is the fact that there are not many paved roads in the area. The beach is only accessible by 4-wheel drive and there are no restaurants or gas stations nearby. Make sure to stock up on food and essentials, as there are also no large supermarkets here.

The actual beaches are extremely clean and the water is warm, especially during the summer season. Carova Beach may not be the best place for families with children due to the lack of amenities and lifeguard stations, but it’s definitely an interesting destination for everyone who likes privacy and loves wildlife.

When it comes to accommodation, private rental homes are the only available option.

5. Carolina Beach

Carolina BeachSource: ncmichael2k3 / Flickr
Carolina Beach

Carolina Beach is located in New Hanover County and features a white-sand shoreline that is just perfect for fishing and surfing. The kids love this place with its variety of rides and games on the boardwalk. The boardwalk also features live music performances, as well as other events throughout the year.

If you get bored of sitting in the sun, make sure to check out the nearby Carolina Beach State Park that offers a number of amenities including a marina, several campsites, and hiking trails. There are rare plants to see such as the venus flytrap located in the wetlands area of the park.

A couple of restaurants, an ice cream store, and a delicious donut shop are situated on the small strip.

6. Topsail Island

Topsail IslandSource: Brandon Bishop / shutterstock
Topsail Island

With a population of only 500 residents, Topsail Island is a charming destination that still somehow ménages to preserve its natural beauty and features three amazing beach communities. Surf City, North Topsail Beach, and Topsail Beach stretch along 26 miles of coastline and the lack of commercialization provides a peaceful environment.

This island used to be only accessible by boat, but today, there are two bridges in use.

The temperature is mild year-round and the waters are relatively warm, even after the summer season. Thanks to the lack of steep cliffs and drop-offs, the beaches are great for families with children.

Expect to find many seashells from the Atlantic Ocean and enjoy water sports like boating and kayaking along the Intercoastal Waterway. You might also have the chance to meet the popular Loggerhead Sea Turtles that come close to the dunes to lay their eggs.

7. Emerald Isle

Emerald IsleSource: Bryan Pollard / shutterstock
Emerald Isle

Emerald Isle is located in Carteret County at the end of Bogue Banks, offering 12 miles of spectacular shoreline. There is only one oceanfront hotel in the area called the Islander Hotel & Resort, but many private rentals and condos are available for rent.

The beaches are family-friendly and if you’re lucky, you can even spot a dolphin or two. Emerald Isle is proud of its unspoiled vibe and welcomes tourists who are searching for a relaxing vacation without 5-star amenities and services.

If you get hungry, check out all the cool restaurants in the neighborhood. Big Oak Drive-In & Bar-B-Q are famous for their shrimp burgers, while Jackie’s American Grille is an upscale Italian restaurant that serves the best pasta ever.

8. Bald Head Island

Bald Head IslandSource: iofoto / shutterstock
Bald Head Island

Located close to the town of Wilmington in Brunswick County, Bald Head Island is only accessible from Southport by ferry and features an abundance of sea turtle nests. Sunbathers will be happy to hear that the coastline along the Cape Fear is a great place for vacations.

There aren’t that many cars on the island and people here prefer to use golf carts to get from one beach to the other.

There are three main beaches on the island. North Beach is the biggest and a perfect place to relax when the tide is low. Watersports like paddle-boarding and kite-boarding are some of the most popular activities here, but beware that currents can be strong during high tide.

If you’re searching for amazing views, head out to West Beach where beautiful vistas await, but rip currents are strong so it’s often impossible to swim and not recommended.

South Beach is definitely the most popular beach among families because of its warm water temperature, cooling breeze, and easy water access.

Besides great beaches, Bald Head Island is also home to one of the oldest lighthouses in the state, the Old Baldy.

9. Lake Lure Beach

Lake Lure BeachSource: Jon Bilous / shutterstock
Lake Lure Beach

Situated on the Broad River, Lake Lure Beach is a man-made lake surrounded by the amazing Blue Ridge Mountains. The lake covers an area of 700 acres with over 20 miles of shoreline. Beachgoers can relax in the sun, swim in the calm waters, or have a picnic on the lakeside sandy beach.

The beach is perfect for families with children and even includes a water park with huge water slides. Visitors will also find a beach house where they can purchase various necessities like towels, drinks, water toys, and sunscreen for a lovely day at Lake Lure beach.

10. Kitty Hawk

Kitty HawkSource: anthony heflin / shutterstock
Kitty Hawk

Visit the historical coastal town of Kitty Hawk and explore its marine forest reserve and fabulous beach. Full of low-rise buildings, the town still has its rustic vibe and maintains its unique character.

There are many accommodation rental companies in town that offer good deals for a perfect coastal getaway vacation. Expect to eat delicious BBQ dishes in local joints, homemade ice creams, and tasty seafood specialties at Kitty Hawk’s restaurants.

The weird name of this coastal town is tied to its Native American roots and one of the main attractions is the memorial site for the Wrights Brothers first flight.

11. Kure Beach

Kure Beach, North CarolinaSource: Gary C. Tognoni / shutterstock
Kure Beach

Located on the Bogue Banks, Kure Beach is famous for its relaxed vibe, beautiful setting, and rich marine life. It is also ideal for watersports such as scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, and surfing.

Travelers who wish to do something other than simply chilling on the beach can visit the civil war relic, Fort Fisher, or check out alligators, stingrays, seahorses, sea turtles, and sharks at the Kure Beach Aquarium.

Kure Beach also features one of the oldest fishing piers on the whole Atlantic coast and a number of local restaurants that serve delicious local specialties. Why not play a round of golf or go for a long walk on one of the many hiking trails in the area..

12. Salvo Beach

Salvo Beach North CarolinaSource: www.outerbanks.com
Salvo Beach

The Outer Banks in North Carolina are home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the region, Salvo Beach. You won’t find many shopping opportunities or attractions in this small town, but the beach itself is enough to attract visitors from far and wide.

Yes, there are other Outer Banks beaches that offer more in terms of amenities and facilities, but the sandy shores of Salvo Beach and its easy assess for water activities makes it the most popular of them all.

Vacationers who are planning to stay here should know that the accommodation options consist of only privately owned rental homes. If you are interested in kiteboarding, head out to the Salvo Day Use Area where fellow kiteboarders show off their skills

For those who prefer calmer waters or are on vacation with children should check out Pamlico Sound.

13. Frisco Beach

Frisco BeachSource: Alexey Smolyanyy / shutterstock
Frisco Beach

Situated on Hatteras Island, Frisco Beach is a perfect beach for swimming due to the lack of sheer drop-offs. If you want to relax and have some quality beach time, you’ve come to the right place.

There are a few restaurants and convenience stores in the area, so you won’t stay hungry for long. If you’re looking for a place to stay, then travelers can pitch up at campgrounds including Frisco Woods Campground and the National Park Service Campground. There are also several rental homes available for rent during the high season.

You can ride go-carts, play a game of mini golf, or check out a company that offers private flight tours from the island!

14. Canadian Hole

 Canadian HoleSource: Cvandyke / shutterstock
Canadian Hole

One of the most famous Pamlico Sound side beaches, Canadian Hole is located on Hatteras Island and offers perfect weather conditions for watersports throughout the year, including kite-boarding, paddle-boarding, and windsurfing.

Thanks to the quiet and warm waters, Canadian hole attracts many young families. The waters are almost flat between summer and autumn and the views of the Hatteras Lighthouse in the evening are amazing.

There are no hotels here, just private rental homes available for rent at affordable prices.

15. Harkers Island

Harkers IslandSource: Stephen B. Goodwin / shutterstock
Harkers Island

If you are looking for white-sand beaches and nature trails for hiking, Harkers Island is the place to go on your summer coastal vacation. The small town is known for boat building, duck hunting, building boars, and waterfowl decoy carving.

The beaches are ideal for sunbathing and some places on the coast allow easy access for swimmers. Make sure to visit the Cape Lookout lighthouse and enjoy the amazing sunset views. Here’s an interesting fact for you – the island has been isolated from rest of the Outer Banks for nearly 300 years, and the locals speak a different dialect!


15 Best Beaches in North Carolina:

  • Atlantic Beach
  • Wrightsville Beach
  • Nags Head
  • Carova
  • Carolina Beach
  • Topsail Island
  • Emerald Isle
  • Bald Head Island
  • Lake Lure Beach
  • Kitty Hawk
  • Kure Beach
  • Salvo Beach
  • Frisco Beach
  • Canadian Hole
  • Harkers Island