The Best Beaches in North Carolina
Two miles of golden barrier-island sands lounge between Bogue Sound and the ocean. Visitors can also wander along the old-school pier, then grab chowder, spicy shrimp, and Key lime pie at a crab shack.
Bear Island, Hammocks Beach State Park, Swansboro
Accessible only by ferry, kayak or private boat, this serene barrier island boasts more than three miles of pale, seashell-spangled beaches, often flanked by large dunes. Amenities include lifeguards (seasonally), a bathhouse, and 14 primitive campsites.
Cape Lookout Lighthouse, Harkers Island
Take a three-mile boat ride to dramatic barrier islands – part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore – popular for shelling, fishing, birding, and camping. The lighthouse area remains a standout, balancing a pristine beach with a bathhouse.
Pale sand expanses—lapped by gentle surf and seagrassed dunes—draw more fishers and families than wild partiers now. But visitors can still get nostalgic on the old-timey boardwalk with fireworks, carnival rides, and a classic snack-stop: Britt's Donuts.
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The northernmost reaches of the Outer Banks are home to North Carolina's state horse: the colonial Spanish mustang. Visit these spirited animals with the experts who manage them: the Corolla Wild Horse Fund (all proceeds benefit the herds).
Rare for the East Coast, south-facing beaches allow for both sunrise and sunset views from the same lounger! Swim in the Atlantic, then stroll 10 minutes cross-island for tranquil views of Bogue Sound.
This tiny barrier island remains a laid-back family favorite. Expect even more silky gold sand as an early 2017, $15 million beach-replenishment wraps up. Pack along flashlights and a bucket to try ghost crabbing at night.
Jennette's Pier, Nags Head
Clean, wide, well-tended beaches–with free parking–lure both surfers and beach babies to the sands surrounding this iconic fishing pier. The partially wind-powered, Platinum LEED-certified structure shelters a North Carolina Aquarium outpost.
Jockey's Ridge State Park, Nags Head
The East Coast's tallest natural dune system attracts sandboarders (October 1 to March 31), as well as hang-gliders year-round. Catch a lesson with Kitty Hawk Kites. Prefer to stay grounded? Try the 360-foot boardwalk or 1.5-mile Tracks in the Sand trail.
A half-hour's drive south of Wilmington, this coastal town boasts the oldest fishing pier on the Atlantic coast. Hit the seashore, stroll the boardwalk, or visit the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher State Historic Site, 2.4 miles south.
Pedestrians can catch a $1 ferry to the former hideout of Blackbeard the Pirate (bikes $3, cars $15). Wander along wild, shell-strewn, ocean beaches, protected by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Old Lighthouse Beach, Hatteras Island
This golden stretch of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore offers a heady mix of wind- and water-sports, plus top-notch shelling. Surfers especially prize the big breakers: a reminder of the area's "Graveyard of the Atlantic" maritime history.
South Beach, Bald Head Island
A 20-minute ferry from Southport, this outcrop in the Cape Fear River contains no cars—just bicycles and golf carts. Surfers and kite boarders should hit the oceanside break (The Shoals), while families prefer calmer South Beach.
Fine, pale sand blankets this broad shoreline, where turtles nest in the dunes. From the pier, stroll 1.4 miles west to Bird Island and its famous Kindred Spirit Mailbox, where visitors share confessions.
Waves crash on wide chalk-pale sands in this vacation hotspot. Kids can hang ten with WB Surf Camp, while older adventurers surf, kayak, parasail, paddleboard, or windsurf.