Whether you call North Carolina home or you’re planning a getaway to check out the Atlantic coast, it’s the ideal destination for natural beauty.
With some of the most beautiful beaches, we’ve done the work to find the best beaches in North Carolina so that we can share them with you.
Whether you’re looking to take a family vacation or to take an adventurous trip with friends, gather up your beach gear and let’s check out the top spots!
1. Bald Head Island
Beautiful Bald Head Island is home to 14 miles of undeveloped North Carolina beaches accessible by a 20-minute scenic ferry ride. Once there, we recommend renting a golf cart or bicycle since cars aren’t permitted.
Bald Head has a long history, with Native Americans originally occupying the island. Pirates took refuge in the island’s creeks when in the 1500s when Europeans began arriving.
Today, Bald Head is in the Smith Land Trust, making further development illegal. So, you’ll get to enjoy arguably the quietest beach in North Carolina.
There are only a few inns on Bald Head Island, which sit near the ferry landing. You can also rent private homes further down the beach through websites like Airbnb.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of the island’s beaches (if that’s even possible!), there are several must-do activities. These include Old Baldy Lighthouse, Bald Head Island Conservancy, and Kent Mitchell Nature Trail.
Temperatures average as low as 32°F in the winter and as high as 89°F in the summer.
Learn more here about Bald Head Island’s ferry departure times, luggage policies, etc.
2. Emerald Isle
Emerald Isle is one of the best beaches in North Carolina featuring the infamous 85-mile Crystal Coast.
Whalers and fishers settled in the area during colonial times, which was formerly home to Native Americans. Until 1971, the only way to arrive was by ferry. Nowadays, you can arrive at Emerald Isle Beach by the Cameron Langston Bridge.
This is one of the best family beaches, perfect for shelling and building sandcastles. Meanwhile, the water is great for swimming and activities.
Emerald Isle Beach offers countless outdoor activities. Meander down the Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier, then head stroll through Emerald Isle Woods Park for a break from the sun. The Salty Pirate Waterpark is a fun place for little ones to release their energy.
There are several hotels and inns on and around Emerald Isle Beach. However, for a true North Carolina coast beach experience, we recommend renting a beach house. Don’t forget to check out some local ice cream shops, too!
Emerald Isle beach gets into the mid-50s for highs during the winter and the upper 80s during the summer. So, pack accordingly!
3. Ocracoke Island Beach
Not only is Ocracoke Beach one of the best beaches in North Carolina, but it’s also the second-best beach in the United States. It’s the most secluded of the Outer Banks beaches because you can only access it by air or water.
Ocracoke Island is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Park and it comes with many amenities. Restrooms, showers, ORV ramps, and accessible beach ramps are just a few of the conveniences offered. Also, lifeguards are on duty during the months between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
While you’re exploring the beach, make sure to keep an eye out for seashells. If you’re a fisherman, there are many charter fishing opportunities. And, surfers love riding the waves at Ocracoke Island.
Be prepared to layer well if you visit in the winter. You can expect lows in the 30s, with the windchill often making it feel even colder. Summers are beautiful, though, with temperatures in the 80s.
4. Cape Hatteras Beach
Cape Hatteras Beach is another of our favorite North Carolina beaches in the Outer Banks. The island is famous for its preserved coastline, which expands 16 miles. In fact, Congress declared Cape Hatteras the first National Seashore in 1937.
Today, the sand dunes and beach remain in a natural state, in great part to the support of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Some of the classic things to do at Cape Hatteras Beach include kayaking and kiteboarding. Museum-lovers enjoy the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum and Frisco Native American Museum.
To drive on the beach, you can obtain a permit at a National Park Service ranger station. You can even horseback ride along the ocean!
The national park offers plenty of picnic tables and grills. You’ll also have access to well-kept restrooms and showers.
Hatteras Beach has a similar climate to the other beaches we’ve covered so far. If you don’t mind cooler temperatures, we recommend visiting in the winter to avoid the crowds.
5. Carolina Beach
This beach is located at Carolina Beach State Park in a lively North Carolina beach town. Back in the day, Tuscarora Indians called Carolina Beach home before English settlers landed there in the 1700s.
In 1887, the first hotel was built and Carolina Beach started being marketed for tourism. Nowadays, it’s one of the most popular beaches for locals in Wilmington. It has a modern feel and is home to many restaurants and bars.
There are dozens of beach vacation rentals and hotels in the area. Stay at an oceanfront hotel or more affordable places further from the ocean.
The Carolina Beach boardwalk is arguably the most famous place to explore in the area (aside from the beach itself, of course!). If you love nature, check out Flytrap Trail and Freeman Park as well.
As a word of warning, Carolina Beach is one of the more crowded Outer Banks beaches. It can be challenging to find parking during the summer, but the crowds die down after Labor Day.
May and October are a great time to visit if you enjoy moderate temperatures since the highs are in the upper 70s.
6. Topsail Island
Topsail Island, a 26-mile long barrier island, boasts miles of expansive beaches. And, it’s a great place to build up your shark tooth collection.
Topsail has a fun history. It got its name because pirates hid on the island, but their topsails remained visible from the ocean. Before World War II, you could only arrive by boat, and people used to search for the pirate Blackbeard’s supposedly buried treasure.
Today, Topsail is a laid-back, family-friendly beach town. High rises aren’t allowed and there are only around 500 permanent residents.
Stay in Surf City to be within walking distance to many beach boutiques, surf shops, and restaurants. Otherwise, there are hotels and vacation rental homes in quieter areas along Topsail Island.
As the city’s name implies, surfing is a popular activity at Topsail Beach. Topsail Beach doesn’t draw in as many crowds as other beaches in North Carolina. This is great news for those looking for a more peaceful vacation.
The high temperature in Topsail ranges from 88°F in July to 55°F in January. Even in July, the lows get into the low 70s, so pack your jacket for the evening.
7. Holden Beach
Holden Beach sits picturesquely on a narrow strip of land straddling the Atlantic Ocean and calm Intercoastal Waterway. In fact, you’ll probably have a hard time believing that in the 1700s, farmers raised cattle on Holden Beach.
Holden Beach officially became a town in 1969, and nowadays, it’s a popular spot for families and beach activities enthusiasts.
In typical North Carolina beach fashion, Holden has a beautiful fishing pier you can walk along. We also recommend looking for dolphins!
Renting a beach house is the most popular option for accommodation in the area. Many options face both the ocean and Intercoastal Waterway.
Parking is limited, so skip the parking lot hassle and make a beeline for a side street. With highs in the 80s and lots of sunshine, don’t forget your sunscreen if you visit in the summer!
8. Oak Island
Oak Island offers some of the best beaches on the eastern seaboard for nature lovers and is home to Oak Island Nature Center.
Many years ago, Native Americans settled in Oak Island. However, it wasn’t until the 1930s when development began happening on the island, starting with a single pavilion. Nowadays, Oak Island has a small-town feel with neighbors who know each other and offer a warm southern welcome to visitors.
Since Oak island is a primarily residential area, many people rent vacation homes. If you wish to have more hotel options, it’s best to stay in nearby Southport.
There are plenty of activities to try your hand at. A couple of these include stand-up paddle boarding or taking a helicopter tour to catch breathtaking views over the island.
The water at Oak Island is typically safe to swim in. However, be mindful of sea turtles and alligators swimming in the water during mating season. In fact, visitors recently spotted a 12-foot-long alligator!
Oak Island’s temperatures are similar to other beaches in North Carolina. The fall and spring are shoulder seasons where you can enjoy moderate temperatures with fewer crowds.
9. Nags Head
Visiting Nags Head comes with bragging rights. At 11 miles long, Nags Head both has the longest beach in the Outer Banks and it’s the largest town.
Nags Head was also the first tourist area in North Carolina, established in the 1830s. After that, people began building vacation cottages. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s when Nags Head started receiving many tourists outside of NC.
“Cottage Row” is now an attraction in Nags Head, where visitors can admire the cottages from five generations ago. The area is a base for many tours and attractions in the Outer Banks.
There is no shortage of hotels in Nags Head. Stay beachside or in town where you’ll be within walking distance of the beach, shops, and restaurants.
During your visit, make sure to explore Jockey’s Ridge State Park and bike along the coast. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can even take a hang-gliding or wakeboarding tour.
An insider’s tip: The southern part of Nags Head has relatively fewer tourists than the northern area.
The winter gets chilly in this area, so bring your coat. Pack your bathing suit for the summer’s 80-degree weather, though!
10. Wrightsville Beach
If you’re looking for an awesome beach in Wilmington, Wrightsville is an excellent option. It’s an especially favorite go-to for surfers.
The history of Wrightsville Beach is very interesting. It became accessible to tourists because of horse carriages that transferred oyster shells inland. In 1899, it officially became a town with only around 50 residents.
Because of its proximity to Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach is now a popular area for local and domestic tourism. However, the number of permanent residents remains small, at around 2,500 people.
If you’ve dreamed of getting PADI certified, Wrightsville Beach is an excellent place to become a scuba diving pro. You can also spend time surfing or wandering along the Johnnie Mercer’s Fishing Pier.
Many big brand hotels and resorts line Wrightsville Beach. If you choose accommodation near the causeway, you’ll be within walking distance of shops, waterfront restaurants, and bars.
Wrightsville Beach has a touristy feel with many modern high-rise hotels and tourist shops. Parking spaces are limited, so you should aim to arrive early to secure a spot.
The temperatures at Wrightsville Beach don’t get as hot or cold as in other areas. Highs are usually in the low 80s while lows get to the mid-50s during the winter.
11. Atlantic Beach
We’re calling all lovers of wide, white sand beaches! Atlantic Beach makes up one of five towns on Bogue Banks along North Carolina’s Crystal Coast.
Atlantic Beach began its development as a tourist town in the 1870s. Despite struggling during the Great Depression, it’s now a bustling beach town, with much of its economy depending on tourism.
If you’re able to pull yourself away from the beautiful seaside, we recommend paying a visit to Atlantic Beach Town Park and Hoop Pole Creek Nature Trail.
Atlantic Beach is home to several modern resorts and hotels. For a central location, consider choosing accommodation near the boardwalk.
January or February is the off-season with nice weather and few people at Atlantic Beach. Highs are in their mid-50s
12. Carova Beach
Carova Beach is home to 12 miles of pristine beaches and offers a tranquil experience. Although Carova was one of the first places that European settlers explored, it was and continues to be one of the least developed areas along North Carolina’s coast.
Needless to say, you can find the best of seashells in this area because of Carova Beach’s remoteness. The waves are great for body boarding, parasailing, and surfing. Wild horses also love hanging out on Carova Beach, so keep your eyes peeled for them!
The park offers restrooms, boat ramps and makes for an excellent beach wedding venue. Vehicles with four-wheel drive are invited to drive on the beach.
Cool winter temperatures bring very few people to the area, so it’s a good time to bundle up and enjoy the beach to yourself. Highs are in the 70s during the late spring and early fall.
13. Duck Beach
This beach is newer to the area, having been incorporated in 2002. The beach and its nearby town offer a day of beach lounging followed by an evening of jazz concerts.
If you want to explore the beach outside of the water, grab a buggy and shop ’til you drop at nearby boutique stores. We also recommend visiting Duck Park, where you have access to a four-slip boat pier, playground, picnic area, and nature trails.
There are some inns that you can stay at around the beach. However, there tend to be more vacation rental properties, which offer an entrance to Duck’s private beaches.
July and August are the hottest months, with highs around 87°F. January and February are the coldest months with highs around 52°F.
14. Corolla Beach
Before it became a tourist destination, Corolla Beach was a popular place for Native Americans to hunt. In the 1800s, European settlers gradually moved to the barrier islands, laying the foundation for Corolla’s small town.
Since the development of a state road in 1984, Corolla now receives an influx of tourists every year, which feeds the local economy.
The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is a must-see during your Corolla Beach visit. You can get a workout in and climb to the top for a breathtaking beach panorama. For even more fun, don’t be surprised if you see some horses strutting along the sand.
For accommodation, Corolla Beach offers chain hotels, bed and breakfasts, and private residences.
The temperatures in Corolla Beach are typically for the North Carolina coast. You can expect temps in the 60s and 70s for highs during the spring and fall, 50s in the winter, and 80s in the summer.
15. Kitty Hawk
Lastly, we present you with Kitty Hawk Beach which offers relaxation, tourist shops, and nature trails.
Kitty Hawk is another of the North Carolina beaches with a unique history. This is where the Wright Brothers first took flight. Upon the completion of a bridge in the 1930s, tourism in the town increased.
This is one of the more pet-friendly beaches on our list. People can swim at Kitty Hawk Beach as long as the red flag isn’t up, which indicates there could be rip currents.
Kitty Hawk has more development than some other areas we’ve shared so there are many hotels and boutiques for various budgets. Regardless of where you stay in the area, you’ll be near both the ocean and coastal reserve.
The weather is warm in Kitty Hawk with average temperatures ranging in the low to upper 80s. The winter cools down to a low in the 50s.
With shark teeth to hunt for, watersports, and white sand beaches, North Carolina offers incredible destinations by the coast.
Whether you’re looking to take a beach vacation or you’re a local in need of sun and sand, we hope you’ll enjoy your time at one of the best beaches in North Carolina!