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20 of the Best Beaches in North Carolina

By | Last Updated : 27th May 2022

The coastline of North Carolina is an excellent getaway spot for adventure seekers and families. It features beautiful golden and white sandy beaches, expansive marshlands, and maritime forests that allow visitors to explore or relax in the picturesque setting. You could also engage in various activities as the beach boasts endless water sports, wildlife watching opportunities, and nearby attractions.

Though North Carolina beaches are a hotspot in summer, you could also consider visiting them during the shoulder season. The crowd is less during the time, but the beaches do not lose their charm. While some sandy stretches are a short drive from the main cities, others require a ferry ride to access them.

Beaches in North Carolina

1. Nags Head Beach

Nags Head Beach in North Carolina

One of the most visited attractions on the Outer Banks is the Nags Head Beach. The sandy dunes are remarkable to walk on, while the various amenities allow visitors to indulge in fun activities. With an adjoining scenic trail, you could explore the surroundings or try hand gliding here for an adventurous time.

If you plan to extend your stay, you’ll find ample hotels and restaurants dotting the coastline. If you have sufficient time left, you could also drive to the nearby sightseeing spots like Bodie Island Lighthouse and Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

Activities: Swimming, fishing, boating, kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing, kite surfing, hand surfing, hiking, biking, sightseeing

Best Time to Visit: May to October

Dog/Pet Friendly: Yes

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2. Atlantic Beach

Atlantic Beach in North Carolina

Atlantic Beach is a spectacular beach town on Crystal Coast. The long and wide stretches of clean beaches and several modern amenities make it a favorite among families. You can find several boat rentals and a fishing pier here. If you prefer staying on land, you could wander on the four trails to admire the landscape. Do check out the time and date of the Beach Music Festivals held here.

After you have had your fill of the beach, you could take a tour of the nearby North Carolina Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores to see the various fish, sharks, stingrays, and otters.

Activities: Swimming, fishing, boating, kayaking, scuba diving, surfing

Best Time to Visit: April to early June; mid-September to late October

Dog/Pet Friendly: Yes

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3. Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina

If you are in or around Wilmington, you could take a short drive to Wrightsville Beach for a weekend getaway. With over 40 different access points, finding a nice spot to soak in the sun is easy. The glistening water attracts water enthusiasts to spend time in ample activities, from surfing to scuba diving. For those who enjoy birdwatching, you could head to the beach’s southern point, where rangers give you an insight into the beach-nesting birds while you witness them.

Activities: Swimming, boating, surfing, jet-skiing, kayaking, paddleboarding, scuba diving, fishing, birdwatching

Best Time to Visit: March to May; September to November

Dog/Pet Friendly: Pets on leash are allowed only from October through March.

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4. Emerald Isle

Emerald Isle in North Carolina

This beach on Bogue Banks Island is a hub for beachgoers. The pristine water of Crystal Coast and the 12 miles of white sands make it an excellent place to swim. Anglers, too, are in for a treat as they can enjoy catching mackerel or sea mullet from boat charters or cast the fishing rod off the Bogue Inlet Pier. The picnic pavilions and hiking trails meandering through the woods allow visitors to enjoy the picturesque setting of the place. Do bring your binoculars as you could also get glimpses of birds like ibis, egrets, and woodpeckers as you tread along the trails. Kids, too, can have an excellent time at the water slides, shallow pools, and tubes within the adjoining waterpark.

Activities: Swimming, fishing, boating, kayaking, jet-skiing,  paddleboarding, surfing, golfing, picnicking

Best Time to Visit: May, October, and April                                                                                                                                                    

Dog/Pet Friendly: Yes

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5. Topsail Island Beaches

Topsail Island Beaches in North Carolina

The 26-mile Topsail Island features three gorgeous and serene beaches for visitors to enjoy. According to folklore, the island was named after the topsails or high masts of the pirates’ ships. Merchant ship captains could spot them even after the ships hid behind the inlet and used it as a signal to turn back to safety.

You could sit and relax at the narrow stretch of sand here or visit Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Reservation to see the various rescued sea turtles. In the evening, take a walk to the Serenity Point, located at the island’s southernmost tip, to witness the stunning sunset. 

Activities: Swimming, boating, jet-skiing, kayaking, paddleboarding, surfing, fishing, picnicking

Best Time to Visit: End-March to June

Dog/Pet Friendly: Yes. Keeping them on a leash, particularly from May 15 to September 30, is necessary.

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6. Duck

Duck in North Carolina

Duck is a small town on the island of Outer Banks, lying between the Atlantic Ocean and Currituck Sound. Except for the few hotels, it is primarily an unspoiled piece of paradise. You could spend time collecting shells with your kids or cooling off in the water. With lifeguards on duty and red flags flying to warn swimmers about the strong currents, the beach is safe for novice swimmers and children. Besides these, the beach town also hosts several special events annually, including Duck Jazz Festival and Duck Yuletide Celebration.

Activities: Swimming, boating, jet-skiing, kayaking, paddleboarding, parasailing, fishing, cruising, picnicking

Best Time to Visit: March to May; September to November

Dog/Pet Friendly: Yes

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7. Carova Beach

Carova Beach in North Carolina

The 11 miles of coastline lie in Currituck in the Outer Banks. Accessible only by four-wheel drive, Carova Beach allows you to spend an excellent private time away from the crowd. You would find plenty of beach houses and lodges to stay overnight. The warm turquoise water is ideal for engaging yourself in various water activities. You could also drive to the neighboring Corolla Beach to witness a few gorgeous wild horses.

Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, surfing, birdwatching, fishing

Best Time to Visit: March to May; September to November

Dog/Pet Friendly: Yes

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8. Corolla

Corolla in North Carolina

The stretches of sand in Corolla are home to beautiful Spanish Mustang horses. You could take a stroll here to catch their sight or choose a guided 4×4 open-air tour for a closer experience. After seeing them, you could either relax on the beach or explore the place and climb the Currituck Beach Lighthouse to take in the sweeping views of the Outer Banks. Once you complete your exploration, you could head to Corolla Adventure Park for some adventure with your family.

Activities: Swimming, boating, water skiing, kayaking, surfing, kiteboarding

Best Time to Visit: March to May; September to November

Dog/Pet Friendly: Yes

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9. Holden Beach

Holden Beach in North Carolina

Tourists visiting Holden Beach are mainly attracted to the untouched beauty of the small beach town in Brunswick Islands. While it is home to several birds, you could also view whales and dolphins in the water, particularly if visiting during low tide. When you feel hungry, you can eat at the nearby restaurants that offer beautiful views of the Intracoastal Waterway. With plenty of beach houses, resorts, and vacation rentals within the area, you could indeed plan to visit Holden Beach for a summer respite.

Activities: Swimming, boating, fishing, jet-skiing, kayaking, surfing, paddleboarding, picnicking, golfing, birdwatching, biking

Best Time to Visit: May, April, October

Dog/Pet Friendly: Pets are allowed from May 20 to September 10, except between 5 PM and 9 PM.

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10. Kure Beach

Kure Beach in North Carolina

The beach’s close distance from downtown Wilmington, several water sports, and nearby attractions make Kure Beach ideal for a day’s trip. While adventure lovers can enjoy boogie boarding on the water, the beach also houses the state’s oldest fishing pier, where you can spend a relaxing time catching bluefish, redfish, and trout.

To take a break from the beach activities, you can head to the Fort Fisher State Historic Site of the Civil War Era. After learning about its history, you can visit the aquarium there to see various aquatic species like otters, sea turtles, and alligators. The Ocean Front Park and Pavilion are also in the vicinity, where your children can have an excellent time in the playground.

Activities: Swimming, boating, boogie boarding, jet-skiing, kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing, picnicking

Best Time to Visit: mid-September to October

Dog/Pet Friendly: Dogs are allowed on leash only from October through March.

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11. Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach in North Carolina

Located in close proximity to South Carolina, the town of Sunset Beach lies within Brunswick County. As its name indicates, the beaches here are south-facing in a way that they offer some of the most splendid sunset views for an unforgettable experience. The ideal time to witness the sunset is from end-November through early March. You could also visit the neighboring Bird Island, which is famous for the Kindred Spirit Mailbox, where visitors often drop a piece of paper containing their wishes and prayers. 

Activities: Swimming, boating, fishing, jet-skiing, kayaking, surfing, paddleboarding, picnicking, golfing, birdwatching, biking

Best Time to Visit: May, October, and April 

Dog/Pet Friendly: Yes, but they must be kept on leash. However, they are not allowed from Memorial Day through Labor Day during the time between 8 PM and 6 PM.

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12. Hammocks Beach State Park

Hammocks Beach State Park in North Carolina

The 11 miles of coastline lie in Currituck in the Outer Banks. Accessible only by four-wheel drive, Carova Beach allows you to spend an excellent private time away from the crowd. You would find plenty of beach houses and lodges to stay overnight. The warm turquoise water is ideal for engaging yourself in various water activities. You could also drive to the neighboring Corolla Beach to witness a few gorgeous wild horses.

Activities: Swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, camping, fishing

Best Time to Visit: April to October

Dog/Pet Friendly: Yes

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13. Carolina Beach

Carolina Beach in North Carolina

Carolina Beach, located close to Wilmington, has been attracting visitors since the 1800s with its boardwalk, beaches, and numerous amenities and attractions. While walking along the wooden pathway is a sought-after activity among the beachgoers, many also enjoy stand-up paddleboarding on the water. Numerous shops, restaurants, and bike and boat rentals are lined along the boardwalk.

After spending some time here, you can walk to the adjoining Carolina Beach State Park to engage in more exciting activities. Here, you will find a Flytrap Trail, walking along which you can spot Venus flytraps and witness blooming wildflower.

Activities: Swimming, boating, fishing, jet-skiing, kayaking, paddleboarding, surfing,

Best Time to Visit: March to May; September to November

Dog/Pet Friendly: Dogs are allowed on the beach. However, they are not permissible in the beach area between 9 AM to 5 PM from April through September.

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14. Ocracoke Island Beaches

Ocracoke Island Beaches in North Carolina

To enjoy a blend of history and fun-filled beach activities, visiting Ocracoke Island would be an excellent option. You could reach it only by private boat, plane, or a ferry from Cedar Island, Swan Quarter, or Hatteras Island.

Ocracoke Island was once a hangout spot for Blackbeard, the famous pirate. You will also find a small burial ground dating back to World War 2. Besides its historical significance, the island features 16 miles of sandy beaches to explore. Many sightseeing spots, including Ocracoke Preservation Museum, Springer’s Point, and the state’s oldest lighthouse, named Ocracoke Island Lighthouse, are located  in the vicinity.

Activities: Swimming, boating, jet-skiing, kayaking, paddleboarding, parasailing, fishing, cruising, picnicking

Best Time to Visit: March and April

Dog/Pet Friendly: Yes

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15. Bald Head Island Beaches

Bald Head Island Beaches in North Carolina

The quiet beaches of Bald Head Island, with 14 miles of undeveloped shorelines, attract visitors who wish to spend a peaceful and relaxing vacation. Do remember that the only way to reach the island is by taking a ferry from Southport. No cars are permissible, and if you want to explore, you can rent a golf cart or bike.

While you are on the island, you could check out the state’s oldest standing lighthouse, Old Baldy, and climb it to take in the breathtaking panoramic views of the area. Wildlife enthusiasts can keep their eyes peeled for the various bird species, sea turtles, and foxes. To indulge in more activities, be sure to head to the well-known 18-hole golf course to play a match.

Activities: Swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, golfing, birdwatching, wildlife watching

Best Time to Visit: Mid September to late October

Dog/Pet Friendly: Yes

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16. Cape Hatteras

Cape Hatteras in North Carolina

Cape Hatteras stretches about 70 miles, boasting beautiful beaches like Cape Hatteras National Seashore. You could spot the nesting sea turtles or visit the famous black and white patterned lighthouse. Visitors also enjoy taking a guided kayak tour to take in the views of various islands and scenic surroundings. The undeveloped shoreline makes it an ideal place to plan an overnight stay at the campsites or cabins.

Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, camping, hiking, wildlife watching

Best Time to Visit: Late April to early June; mid-September to late October

Dog/Pet Friendly: Yes

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17. Ocean Isle Beach

Ocean Isle Beach in North Carolina

Ocean Isle Beach is a small town and one of the main attractions of Brunswick County. The beaches, saltwater marshes, and dense maritime forests are excellent places to explore. In addition to the water sports like kayaking and surfing, you could also try zip lining at the nearby Shallotte River Swamp Park. Once you feel hungry and tired, you can head to the local restaurants to enjoy seafood. Also, be sure to check out the Museum of Coastal Carolina, where you will get the opportunity to hold a sea star, hermit crab, or urchin in your hands.

Activities: Swimming, boating, body boarding, kayaking, paddleboarding, surfing, fishing, birdwatching

Best Time to Visit: April through October

Dog/Pet Friendly: Dogs are not allowed from Memorial Day to Labor Day between 9 AM to 6 PM.

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18. Kitty Hawk

Kitty Hawk in North Carolina

Famed for being home to the Wright Brothers, who launched their first successful flight from the nearby Kill Devils Hill, Kitty Hawk is now a famous beach attraction. You can take a stroll on the golden sands to soak in the ocean views or walk to the Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve to explore the scenic areas of the Outer Banks. On the way, you would get ample opportunities to spot several wildlife species, including birds, otters, and turtles. If you want to enjoy some historical insights, the Wilbur Wright Memorial is within walking distance.

Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, paddleboarding, hiking, wildlife watching

Best Time to Visit: March to May; September to November

Dog/Pet Friendly: Yes

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19. Oak Island

Oak Island in North Carolina

Oak Island is a sought-after vacation destination as it attracts many with its serene beaches and small-town charm. Though it is popular, there are more than 65 access points to allow the crowd to even out and let visitors enjoy a peaceful setting. The two fishing piers, a marina, and its close access to Southport are the other reasons why visitors choose this beach as a getaway spot. Don’t miss climbing to the top of the Oak Island Lighthouse for a stunning view of pristine sand and water.

Activities: Swimming, boating, jet-skiing, kayaking, paddleboarding, parasailing, fishing, cruising, picnicking

Best Time to Visit: April, May, and October

Dog/Pet Friendly: Yes. Though leashed dogs are recommended all the time, you can put them off-leash from mid-October to mid-March.

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20. Indian Beach

Indian Beach in North Carolina

The turquoise waters and sandy beaches encompassed by lush forests make Indian Beach a tourist’s delight. Lying on the remote part of Crystal Coast, the beach offers various amenities, including public bathrooms and showers, picnic tables, and a wooden boardwalk. You could rent a paddleboard to enjoy accessing Bogue Sound. Several accommodation facilities like condos and vacation rentals provide a comfortable stay to those planning to extend their stay here.

Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing, picnicking

Best Time to Visit: March to May

Dog/Pet Friendly: Dogs on leash are permitted.

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TOP PICKS

Best Beaches for Camping: Hammocks Beach State Park, Carolina Beach, Cape Hatteras

Best Beach for Families: Nags Head, Cape Hatteras, Emerald IsleBest Dog-Friendly Beaches: Oak Island, Corolla Bea

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