North Carolina Beaches

"Endless beaches" is hardly an overstatement when it comes to North Carolina's coast. White or khaki sands and pristine seas are common themes from the north end's Outer Banks to the Central Coast's unspoiled Cape Lookout and the cottage-lined southern shores.

Barrier islands and rambling shores comprise more than 300 miles of coastline, where you can explore lighthouses, aquariums, museums, woodlands, and historic sites galore. Playtime means golf, carnival rides, fishing, and water sports. The 100-mile-long Outer Banks region ranges from the north end's quiet Corolla, where wild horses roam, to shopping and nightlife in Nags Head, to untouched beaches of the Hatteras National Seashore on the far south end. The Crystal Coast beams with the historical maritime town of Beaufort and the artsy made-for-movies town of Southport. Wilmington’s eclectic downtown—including more than 200 blocks of historic district—gives the Cape Fear region an urban beat.

Hang Ten

You can hardly walk a North Carolina beach without encountering a surfer. The Outer Banks (especially Cape Hatteras), Wrightsville Beach, and Ocean Isle 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

Nags Head

Couples, families, and friends all find options along Nags Head, where 11 miles of beaches include many with lifeguards. Plenty of accommodations—vacation homes, hotels, and cozy inns—line the shore, and getting onto the beach is no problem. There are 41 public access points, many with wheelchair access, so you’re always within a short driving distance.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Long stretches of unspoiled beaches hidden behind tall dunes, interspersed with small villages, along this 60-mile geographical treasure 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, where wild horses roam. 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 (discreet) lookout for loggerhead sea turtles nesting at night.

Wrightsville Beach

Quiet and moderately upscale, with longtime family homes and striking contemporary cottages jamming the lifeguard-protected shore, Wrightsville Beach is a perfect family or couple’s retreat. The white-sand beaches are sports lovers' favorites. Surfers, kayakers, paddleboarders, and bodyboarders dig Wrightsville's tasty waves while anglers love its concrete fishing pier. College kids fill downtown clubs at night. Arrive early, as 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 the Kure Beach 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, somewhat funky, boardwalk with arcades, carnival rides, candy, and ice cream.

Published 11/14/2017

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