The North Carolina Coast Feature
- Places to Explore
- Travel Tips
- Fodor's Choice
North Carolina Beaches
"Endless beaches" is hardly an overstatement when it comes to North Carolina's coast. From the north end's Outer Banks to the Central Coast's unspoiled Cape Lookout and the cottage-lined southern shores, white sands, and the pristine sea seem endless.
Continuous barrier islands comprise 300-plus miles of coastline. Explore lighthouses, aquariums, museums, woodlands, and historic sites galore. Playtime means golf, carnival rides, fishing, and water sports. The Outer Banks range from the north end's quiet Corolla, where wild horses roam, to shopping and nightlife in Nags Head, to untouched beaches on the far south end. The Crystal Coast proceeds with the quaint maritime town of Beaufort and onto family-friendly Bogue Banks beach towns. Wilmington's eclectic downtown scene gives the Cape Fear region an urban beat, while Wrightsville Beach, Pleasure Island, and the Brunswick County shore provide everything from old-fashioned boardwalks to exciting surfing safaris.
You can hardly walk a North Carolina beach without encountering a surfer. Watching them ride waves large and small might convince you to grab a "stick" and give the sport a try. The Outer Banks and Wrightsville Beach are surfing hot spots, especially near piers and jetties. It's best to take a class rather than try to teach yourself to surf. Check out the local surf shop for information on classes.
North Carolina's Best Beaches
Couples, families and friends all find options along Nags Head's 11 miles of beach. Plenty of accommodations—homes, hotels, and cozy inns—line the shore, but with 41 public access points, many with lifeguards and handicap access, getting on the beach is no problem, even if you have to drive there.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
The place for recreation and reflection, the many unspoiled beaches hidden behind tall dunes along this 60-mile stretch provide opportunities for shelling, surfing, birding, fishing, camping, lighthouse exploring, or simply getting lost in thought. The park's undeveloped Coquina Beach and Ocracoke Island beaches are considered by locals to be the Outer Banks' loveliest shorelines.
Cape Lookout National Seashore
Exchange real-world stress for the magical wonderlands of this 56-mile stretch extending from the historic Portsmouth Island village to Shackleford Banks' wild horses. The 28,400 acres of uninhabited land and marsh include remote, sandy islands linked to the mainland by nothing more than private ferries. You can climb an old lighthouse, see historic buildings in abandoned fishing villages, set up camp, stay in an old-timey cabin, or keep a lookout for loggerhead sea turtles nesting at night.
This 21-mile-long island is anchored by the family-friendly towns of Atlantic Beach at the east end and Emerald Isle at the west end. Both offer shopping, fishing, parking, and kids' activities.
Quiet and upscale, with longtime family homes and striking contemporary cottages jamming the lifeguard-protected shore, Wrightsville Beach is a perfect family or couples retreat. The white-sand beaches are sports-lovers' favorites. Surfers, kayakers, paddle boarders, and body boarders dig Wrightsville's tasty waves while anglers love its concrete fishing pier. College kids fill downtown clubs at night. Arrive early, as paid parking spaces fill up quickly.
Kure and Carolina Beaches
Aptly named, Pleasure Island offers all sorts of fun for families and singles. On the south end kids will love Kure Beach's aquarium, while history buffs can discover a Civil War fort. Beaches are wide, with plenty of room for fishing and surfing. There's even an old wooden pier. Head north to Carolina Beach for charter-boat fishing excursions and the nostalgic charm of an old-fashioned boardwalk with arcades, carnival rides, candy, and ice cream.
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