North Carolina beaches are found along the state’s east coast and on a collection of barrier islands just off the coast. Along the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Fear River, and countless other bodies of water, the best NC beaches provide a place to have fun in the sun. With so many great beaches, you’ll be bound to find the perfect place to slip away from it and feel the sand beneath your toes. Whether you’re looking for adventure or a quiet getaway, you’re bound to find the perfect place along the Carolina coast.
The northernmost North Carolina beaches are found in the Outer Banks region. Stretching from the Virginia state line down to Ocracoke Island, this region is as diverse as it is scenic, and the Outer Banks images are simply stunning. There’s a long and rich history here where the first English settlement was made in the New World and the Wright Brothers made their first flight. When you’re not visiting the historic sites, you can climb to the top of a lighthouse or relax in one of the island towns. The North Carolina beaches of the Outer Banks are blessed with wide stretches of white sand and sparking ocean waters—an inviting mix in any season. With strong winds and warm waters, the beaches of the Outer Banks are ideal places for kiteboarding, windsurfing, and diving.
The list of the best NC beaches almost always includes this national seashore, which encompasses some 75 miles of the Outer Banks. The National Park Service watches over miles of powder-soft beaches and shoreline ecosystems. Several visitor centers and lighthouses are contained within this national park, which set the stage for park ranger tours and guided talks. Along the beach, you’ll have the chance to enjoy all the typical shoreline activities such as searching for shells and swimming. Some of the beaches are open to four-wheel vehicles, including SUVs that can handle off-road driving.
Crystal Coast and Atlantic Beach
Many of the best NC beaches are located along the Crystal Coast, close to Wilmington. Morehead City, just across the river from the big city, is a starting point for many fishing charters and diving adventures. The barrier island opposite of Morehead City and a close drive from Wilmington is home to three seaside towns and a plethora of North Carolina beaches. Bouge Island has beaches along the Atlantic Ocean along its southern shore and the Bouge Sound to the north. The ocean beaches are quieter, the perfect place to go for a swim or feel the sun on your shoulder. More active sorts tend to flock to the beaches along Bouge Sound. The three cities on the island—Atlantic Beach, Indian Beach, and Emerald Isle—each employ lifeguards during the summer season on both coasts.
Brunswick Islands and Ocean Isle Beach
Heading south from Wilmington, the Brunswick Islands are a little off the beaten path. Leaving behind the mainland, you’ll find a mix of small islands where beaches and sea turtles outnumber the tourists. This doesn’t mean you won’t find any hotels or restaurants to turn your visit to the beach into a full-fledged vacation. Ocean Isle Beach and the other islands are home to an array of North Carolina beaches where you can kick back and enjoy nature’s splendor. Nature trails and kayak routes are abundant on these islands. The southern portion of the Carolina coast also is home to one of the last islands closed to automobiles—Bald Head Island, which lies at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Accessible by ferry, this scenic hideaway is rimmed by beautiful beaches, fishing docks, and marinas.