Looking for a calm and relaxing place to get away from the daily hustle and bustle? Well, look no further! Whether you’re on the hunt for waves, sun, or simply a little peace and quiet, you’ll find the perfect coastal getaway among numerous North Carolina vacation rentals. Here are our top 15 best beaches to visit in North Carolina:
Visit The Top 15 North Carolina Beaches
1. Atlantic Beach
Located in Carteret County, NC, Atlantic Beach is one of five communities in the Bogue Banks portion of “North Carolina’s Crystal Coast,” aptly named for its crystal water beaches. This sunny spot is popular for a big group getaway with friends or a family vacation. The infamous pirate Blackbeard ran his flagship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge, aground a few miles from the beach, and buccaneers of all ages can learn more about the ship’s history at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in nearby Beaufort.
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2. Bald Head Island
Bald Head Island is situated in Brunswick County, NC, near the city of Wilmington. Only accessible by ferry from the town of Southport, the abundance of sea turtle nests have led many visitors to coin the phrase, “I’m on Turtle Time,” in reference to the “care-free/car-free” environment of Bald Head Island. For beach-goers, there is a delightful, long stretch of sandy coastline along Cape Fear. The island is also home to a now out-of-service lighthouse fondly called “Old Baldy,” which is the oldest lighthouse in the state, built all the way back in 1817.
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3. Carolina Beach
Located in New Hanover County, Carolina Beach’s white sand shoreline is perfect for surfing, fishing, and seafood. The rides and games of the beach boardwalk make this spot a particularly kid-friendly location. If you’re the type that prefers a stroll to sitting out in the sun, the town’s small strip includes several local eateries, including the famously delicious Britts Donuts shop. Summer visitors can often enjoy an evening of live music and fireworks.
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4. Carova Beach
Carova Beach is the most isolated of North Carolina’s Outer Banks beaches, largely due to the lack of paved roads. However, those looking for a private getaway with clean white sands may love this out-of-the-way destination. Animal lovers can also keep their eyes peeled for the gorgeous wild mustangs roaming the shore. Carova Beach is generally accessible by 4x4s only, and vacation rental homes are available for accommodation. It is strongly recommended that guests make reservations several months to a year in advance of their trip, as spots fill up quickly.
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5. Coquina Beach
Coquina Beach is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and gets its name for the colorful coquina clams that amass on the margins of the beach. This beach features golden sun-kissed sand dunes and is home to the shipwreck of Laura Barnes, a 4-masted schooner that was blown off-course from Maine in 1921. Coquina Beach is ideal for those who like to surf, swim, fish, and birdwatch. The best time to visit is during the warm spring and summer months, when the shore becomes a beachcomber’s heaven with various shells, coquina clams, sea glass, and the occasional starfish or sand dollar.
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6. Topsail Beach
Situated in Pender County, Topsail Beach is a common summer nesting place for the loggerhead sea turtle. This beach boasts the best conch shells on the East Coast, and there is also justifiable pride for the entertainment and dining options in nearby Surf City. Visitors have a whole array of beachside activities to choose from: sunbathing, surfing, fishing, boating — and even ice skating!
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7. Shackleford Banks
Shackleford Banks is located in Carteret County, NC. and is part of the Shackleford Banks National Seashore. This seaside town is home to feral “Banker” horses that can occasionally be spotted along the coast. This is a great place to go shelling, scalloping, and camping. In the summer, Shackleford Banks becomes a nesting area for loggerhead sea turtles which come back to the shore each summer to lay their eggs before they return to sea.
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8. Kure Beach
Colorful homes and billowing palmetto trees line Kure Beach, a white sandy beach located in New Hanover County, NC. History buffs can visit the Civil War relic Fort Fisher, while nature lovers take in the variety of marine critters at the aquarium including alligators, venomous snakes, sharks, stingrays, moray eels, seahorses, and sea turtles. Kure Beach is also a good place to get in a round of golf or explore the ocean by surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, or fishing. With its multitudes of shops and family-owned restaurants, Kure Beach is sure to please even the pickiest traveler.
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9. Harkers Island
Situated in Carteret County, NC, Harkers Island has a little of everything: white sand beaches perfect for sunbathing, nature trails for hiking, and Cape Lookout lighthouse for historical exploration. The main industries of this town are duck hunting, fishing, boat building, and traditional waterfowl decoy carving. Interestingly, as a result of being in largely in isolation from the rest of the Outer Banks for 250 years, the local people of Harkers Island speak a very distinct dialect commonly known as “High Tider,” which can be traced back to Elizabethan England.
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10. Emerald Isle
Situated in Carteret County, NC, Emerald Isle is a great family-friendly location with quiet beaches and the occasional bottlenose dolphin sighting. Fishermen can aim for catches like wahoo, speckled trout, king mackerel, and red drum. Emerald Isle prides itself on an “unspoiled” atmosphere with no oceanfront hotels, so visitors should look to book a vacation home there or in nearby Swansboro or Bogue.
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Tucked away in the northern Outer Banks’ quaint Poplar Branch township, NC, Corolla is an easygoing community brimming with small, local businesses and wide-open, secluded beaches – that is, until summer comes around. While Corolla in the off-season boasts a relatively carefree, unhurried atmosphere, this haven transforms into a must-visit getaway for thousands of visitors during the summer months.
This coastal community is renowned for the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and an animal sanctuary, which has over a hundred wild Banker horses. Officially recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, Currituck Beach Lighthouse is a still-functioning historic structure originally constructed in 1875; from spring to fall, visitors are welcome to check out the museum shop, as well as climb the lighthouse’s 220 steps for a sweeping view comprising the Atlantic Ocean and the inlet Currituck Sound.
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12. Nags Head
Before being developed, this town in Dare County, NC, was home to miles of sand dunes. These days, the remaining sand dunes are located in Jockey’s Ridge State Park, which also offers a seaside forest and the Roanoke Sound. Kite-flying and hang-gliding remain popular sports around this scenic area. Enjoy spending your vacation sunbathing on the warm sand, picnicking on the beach, and swimming in the refreshing blue waters. When you’re ready to move beyond the beach, head over to the eco-friendly Nags Head Pier for a relaxing day full of fishing, or swing by Jeanette’s Pier, a roughly 1000-feet concrete attraction with kid-friendly, maritime exhibits and educational programs at the aquarium.
If you’re feeling puckish, there are an abundance of lovely local eateries in town. For breakfast or lunch, Cafe Lachine is a must-visit with offerings like stuffed French toast, thoughtful sandwiches, and freshly baked pastries, which include favorites such as chocolate croissants, Key lime tarts, and pie. When dinnertime rolls around, indulge in hearty steaks, lobster rolls, and hush puppies at Miller’s Waterfront Restaurant.
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13. Holden Beach
Nestled in Brunswick County, NC, and the greater Myrtle Beach metropolitan area, Holden Beach is an enchanting oceanfront town encompassed by the Lockwoods Folly Inlet, Shallotte Inlet, and the Atlantic. Noted as a decidedly family-friendly beach, this destination is ideal for water sports, biking, sunbathing, and boating.
The Intracoastal Waterway welcomes those fond of kayaking and paddleboating — on occasion, lucky guests paddling in the waters can even spot a dolphin or two. If you plan to visit in the autumn, check out the two-day North Carolina Festival by the Sea at the Holden Beach Pavilion. Look forward to enjoying a vibrant parade; the tournament for especially craft sandcastle-builders; multitudes of arts and crafts booths; and phenomenal food, including fresh seafood.
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14. Wrightsville Beach
A picturesque seaside town in New Hanover County, NC, Wrightsville Beach includes a Harbor Island, an unforgettable interior island, as well as a beach island that stretches approximately four miles. On the beach, enjoy exciting activities such as parasailing, windsurfing, kayaking, and surfing.
In addition, there are plenty of fun things to do for kids — sign up the little ones for surf camp, let them embark on a quest for treasure, a fun program that’s led by a pirate. The history buffs in your group getaway will particularly appreciate the exhibits on local culture at Wrightsville Beach Museum of History. Moreover, tour one of many sites recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, such as the distinct Bradley-Latimer Summer House, an alluring historic structure built in 1855; and the Cape Fear Civil War Shipwreck District, which — true to its name — consists of the remnants of naval shipwrecks from the American Civil War era.
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15. Ocracoke Island
Accessible exclusively via a 2.5-hour ferry ride, this gorgeous hidden gem in the Outer Banks is home to a fishing village and a little over 15 miles of breathtaking undeveloped coastline. Aside from the laid-back, remote beaches, this charming destination boasts Ocracoke Lighthouse, one of the most historic lighthouses in the state that still functions to this day. Towering over 75 feet, this iconic lighthouse allows visitors to climb its steps during the summer season.
A visit to Ocracoke Island isn’t complete without a stop at Springer’s Point Nature Preserve, a beloved attraction featuring sandy walking trails; pockets of pine and cedar forests; and gorgeous marshlands. Those seeking something a bit more wild than usual on the island can venture to the incredible Ocracoke Pony Pen, a lively enclosure filled with shelters and feeding stations for plentiful feral mustangs.
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This article was written by Content Contributor Laura Hu and edited by Anne Harris.