North Carolina’s coast is made up of 300 miles of barrier-island beaches, each with its own character and things to do. Quaint coastal towns and unique activities guarantee there’s always something fun to do – something that brings visitors back time and again. These spots are home to stunning white-sand beaches, of course, but there are also historic sites, diverse wildlife, golf courses, and an array of water sports. Here are some of the top North Carolina beaches to put on your bucket list for your next getaway!
1. Emerald Isle
One of the best North Carolina beaches for families is Emerald Isle, with a whole host of activities from the young to the old. While lounging on the beach is perfectly fine, those that get bored easily can go fishing, jetskiing, surfing, kayaking and more. There is also a small water park here which is great for some whole family fun. Come late afternoon, head over to The Point, a tailed-off sandbar where you can end off your day by catching the mesmerizing sunset.
2. Nags Head
Nags Head in the central Outer Banks extends for seven miles and it’s best known for Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Here, you can find the tallest and largest sand dune on the Atlantic coast. You can also go hang gliding and explore nature trails! There are also fishing piers at Nags Head, if you’re into exciting catches. The beautiful beaches are bordered by a variety of rentals, restaurants, hotels, bars and shops, so you’re more likely to run out of energy before you run out of things to do.
3. Atlantic Beach
12 miles north of Emerald Isle, Atlantic Beach is one of the more developed North Carolina beaches, with many amenities, a fishing pier, bike and water sports equipment rentals. Enough of the beach? There are four marked walking trails around the city which you can explore on foot. You’ll also have easy access to the aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores as well as the Civil War-era Fort Macon State Park.
4. Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Cape Hatteras is one of the most famous North Carolina beaches. There are three barrier islands here – Ocracoke, Hatteras, and Bodie Islands – which all have phenomenal stretches of sand. What’s special about them is that the barrier islands are ever-changing, as they shift with each hurricane that hits the North Carolina coast. If you’re here during nesting season, you can also catch a glimpse of sea turtles. And for a special treat, make reservations to climb to the top of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse at night!
5. Wrightsville Beach
Outdoor lovers and active folks will love Wrightsville Beach, which offers everything from surfing and scuba diving to hiking trails and golf courses. This is the birthplace of North Carolina’s surfing scene, so it will undoubtedly satisfy even the most demanding water sports lover. The beach town also offers an assortment of dining and shopping options. Duck into one of the many beach taverns while enjoying live music on the pier!
6. Carolina Beach
A 20-minute drive from Wilmington, Carolina Beach is right near the mouth of Cape Fear River. The beach is backed by a historic wooden boardwalk lined with bars, restaurants, arcades, and places to rent bikes and surfboards. The area also has a permanent midway with a Ferris Wheel and other fun rides for the kids. Nearby, Carolina Beach State Park offers even more outdoor recreation, with hiking trails like the Flytrap Trail where you can see the native Venus Flytrap.