10 Best Beaches in North Carolina To Visit

family making sandcastle on the beach

With a shoreline stretching over 320 miles along the East Coast, North Carolina has some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. From the Outer Banks to Brunswick County, there's no shortage of quaint beach towns to explore. 

10 Best Beaches in North Carolina To Visit

Corolla Beach, North Carolina
Image Credit: aceshot1/Shutterstock.

North Carolina beaches boast some of the best fishing, boating, and breathtaking sunrises along the east coast. A laid-back attitude permeates the coast of North Carolina, making it the perfect destination for your next family-friendly getaway or a quiet island retreat.

1. Carolina Beach

Carolina Beach, North Carolina
Image Credit: Annebethmi at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

Carolina Beach is located a short drive from Wilmington, North Carolina, and is one of the more popular beaches in the state. Visitors will enjoy the renowned boardwalk, which features shops, restaurants, and amusement rides. There is plenty to do in Carolina Beach, whether you enjoy kayaking, hiking in the Carolina Beach State Park, or casting a line on an off-shore fishing charter. 

2. Corolla

Corolla Beach, North Carolina
Image Credit: OBXlove – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

is a peaceful and secluded beach destination on the Outer Banks' northern shores. Known for its wild horse tours, Corolla is home to descendants of the Spanish Mustangs brought by explorers nearly 500 years ago. The wide-open beach is ideal for driving along with a four-wheel-drive vehicle. While in Corolla, visit the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and stop by the Historic Corolla Village.

3. Atlantic Beach

Atlantic Beach, North Carolina
Image Credit: James Willamor from Raleigh, NC, USA – Atlantic Beach, NC, CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Atlantic Beach is a family-friendly destination on North Carolina's Crystal Coast. Spend your days fishing on one of the many piers, paddle boarding in the Bogue Sound, or visiting Fort Macon. Atlantic Beach is a popular spot for sea turtles to lay their eggs. You can learn more about the local wildlife at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, a short distance from Atlantic Beach. 


Emerald Isle Beach, North Carolina
Image Credit: DiscoA340 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

Named for its lush landscape and crystal waters, Emerald Isle offers 12 miles of gorgeous shoreline. The small-town appeal and plentiful activities make Emerald Isle one of the best beaches in the state. Emerald Isle provides many boat charters for fishing, or visitors can cast a line off the Bogue Inlet Pier. There's no better way to spend a family day on Emerald Isle than by taking the kids to Salty Pirate Water Park.

5. Topsail Island

Topsail Island Beach, North Carolina
Image Credit: William Poteat – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

Legend has it that pirates hid behind Topsail Island with just their topsails showing, hence the name. Topsail Island is a 26-mile-long barrier island off the North Carolina coast with three charming seaside towns; North Topsail Beach, Surf City, and Topsail Beach. The island's southernmost point, Serenity Point, offers fantastic sunset views. Topsail is also known for its sea turtle preservation. While in town, visit the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center to learn more about marine turtles.

6. Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Image Credit: DiscoA340 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

If you want nightlife, great food, and beach time, Wrightsville Beach has it all. With plenty of water sports activities such as surfing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding, you can satisfy even the most discerning water junkie. Wrightsville Beach is recognized as the birthplace of North Carolina surfing. If you enjoy fishing, visit Johnnie Mercers Pier, or take a fishing charter from the beach.

7. Oak Island

Oak Island Beach, North Carolina
Image Credit: Michael Au – CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Located along the southernmost part of North Carolina, Oak Island has attracted visitors since the early 19th century. Oak Island is a south-facing island with impressive sunrises over the Atlantic and sunset over the Inter Coastal Waterway. When not relaxing on the beach, visit the Oak Island Lighthouse and Fort Caswell. Take a short drive to the charming town of Southport to visit the NC Maritime Museum. Oak Island Beach also allows leashed dogs year-round.

8. Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach, North Carolina
Image Credit: Kyle Taylor from London, 84 Countries – Sunset Beach – 088Uploaded by tm, CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

The panoramic views of Sunset Beach offer a peaceful environment to reconnect with nature. Your family will enjoy walking to Bird Island Reserve, 1,200 acres of beautiful salt marsh and tidal creeks. While at Bird Island, visit the Kindred Spirit Mailbox, where visitors can share their wishes, thoughts, prayers, and dreams. Take a break from the sun at the Museum of Coastal Carolina or the Ingram Planetarium.

9. Duck

Duck Beach, North Carolina
Image Credit: Live Beaches.

Despite its small size, the town of Duck has massive appeal. The name Duck comes from its popularity in waterfowl hunting in the Currituck and Albemarle Sounds since the late 1800s. Today, thousands of visitors each year enjoy water sports, fine dining, and shopping in Duck. A must-do while in Duck is to visit the original Duck Donuts, made-to-order, custom-topped cake donuts.

10. Nags Head

Nags Head Beach, North Carolina
Image Credit: Jarek Tuszyński / CC-BY-SA-3.0/Wiki Commons.

Since the mid-1800s, Nags Head Beach has been one of the most popular destinations in the Outer Banks. On historic Cottage Row, you can rent an oceanfront cottage for an old-school Nags Head experience. Jockey's Ridge State Park is home to the largest sand dune system on the Atlantic coast. Climb the 200 steps to the top of the Bodie Island Lighthouse, and you'll be rewarded with sweeping views of Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Website | + posts

Jessica is a travel and lifestyle writer based in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is also a travel agent specializing in family vacations. Jessica started her website, B Honest Media, in 2008 to share her journey of parenting four boys. She now shares her knowledge on family travel, technology for kids, meals for families, and product reviews. Jessica loves helping families find unique and fun ways to connect. She enjoys reading sappy romance novels and going to the movies with her husband when she isn't traveling.