The 7 Best North Carolina Beaches To Visit

By: Clarissa Vanner  | 
Beach houses line the shoreline of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Getty Images / Joanna Pecha

From the rolling mountains and airy coastlines to the rich history and friendly locals, there is a lot to see and do in North Carolina. But what really attracts many tourists to this wonderful state is the North Carolina Beaches.  

North Carolina boasts over 300 miles of ocean coastline making it an excellent destination for your next summer vacation.  Whether you’re looking for a relaxing destination to unwind or a destination packed with family fun, North Carolina has it all. Follow along as we discover some of the best beaches in North Carolina that are certainly worth the visit. 


Nags Head

Nags Head is a quaint beach town located on North Carolina’s Outer banks and is well known for its magnificent sand dunes located in Jockey’s Ridge State Park. In fact, the sand dunes are the tallest natural sand dune system in the Eastern United States and will provide you with an exceptional view of the town from the top!

Nags Head takes pride in its small-town atmosphere, clean water, and family-operated businesses. The town boasts 11 miles of oceanfront and ample public beach accesses. Spend the day relaxing by the ocean, or check out the two public fishing piers, the Nags Head Fishing Pier, and the Outer Banks Fishing Pier. Here you can fish for fun, for sport, or you can reel in your dinner — your choice! Take one trip to Nags Head and you’ll quickly discover why it’s one of the best beaches in North Carolina.


Kitty Hawk 

Kitty Hawk has a lot to offer from its sandy beaches to maritime forests that allow tourists to take in the warm sun and water as well as escape to quiet nature trails. That said, the beach in Kitty hawk remains to be the number one attraction for tourists. If you want to enjoy a bevvy with your friends, you’ll be happy to know that visitors can enjoy a beer on the beach (preferably in cans or plastic bottles), however, wine and liquor are not officially permitted. As always, remember to drink responsibly! 

Visitors will also be happy to learn that Kitty Hawk is a dog-friendly beach. Dogs must remain on a 6-foot leash from the Friday before Memorial Day until the day after Labor Day and during the hours of 10 am to 6 pm. All other times of the year dogs must remain on a maximum 12-foot leash. Furthermore, aviation enthusiasts, be sure to check out the Wright Brothers National Memorial after spending the day at the beach! Here you can learn about the history of the Wright Brothers from choosing Kitty hawk as their place to reside, to their first flight from Kill Devil Hills, and more. 


Carolina Beach

If you’re looking for family fun, head to Carolina Beach! Located in New Hanover County, Carolina Beach boasts a stunning white-sand shoreline. Here you can surf, fish, or catch some much-needed Vitamin D. Even though there may be concerns about swimming in the Carolina Beach from the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, Carolina Beach passed it’s latest water test in May 2020. The beach passed water quality tests 95% of the time making it perfectly safe to swim in. That said it’s always best to be on the lookout for swimming alert signs before swimming.

The Carolina Beach boardwalk features plenty of seaside entertainment for the whole family from live music performances to rides at the seaside amusement park and weekly firework displays. When you’re ready to take a break from everything the seaside has to offer, be sure to check out the Carolina Beach State Park. The park offers you the opportunity to explore the marina, the hiking trails, and rare plant species. 


Atlantic Beach

Atlantic Beach is located on a barrier island bordered by the Bogue Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s also nestled among the famous stretch of North Carolina’s Crystal Coast. For those that don’t know, the Crystal Coast earned its name after the crystal clear water and is a sight worth seeing! 

Not only is the water breathtaking but Atlantic Beach is one of the best North Carolina beaches because it boasts friendly locals, has a wide range of restaurants to please every type of traveler, has great shopping opportunities, and has a wonderful coastal environment you don’t want to miss. After spending the day relaxing at the beach, take an 11-minute drive to the center of the island and check out one of the most popular attractions, the North Carolina Aquarium!


Emerald Isle 

Located at the western end of Bogue Banks in Carteret County is Emerald Isle. What makes this beach unique is it only has one oceanfront hotel, the Islander Hotel & Resort. Emerald Isle takes pride in its unspoiled environment which ensures that you’ll have a relaxing vacation. While there may only be only one oceanfront hotel, there are still many private condos and rentals available to visitors for rent. 

Visitors can enjoy the family-friendly beaches, fishing opportunities, and you may even get to see wildlife such as dolphins or nesting sea turtles. When you get hungry check out one of the delicious eateries located in the neighborhood. Here you will find everything from casual restaurants to upscale fine dining. 


Ocracoke Island

Don’t miss your chance to check out the beaches on Ocracoke Island during your visit to North Carolina. The island is only accessible by boat which is an adventure in itself. The island features a quaint laid-back atmosphere and breathtaking beaches you don’t want to miss! The 15 miles of undeveloped beaches and a 4-square mile village will have you feeling like you’re exploring your own private island! There is plenty to see and do on the island from fishing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, searching for shells, surfing, or exploring the touristy beach town. 

After spending the day by the beach, be sure to check out Teach’s Hole, where you can learn about the history of Edward Teach, also better known as the famous Blackbeard pirate. Blackbeard favored Ocracoke Island because of its narrow barrier which served as a perfect trap for passing mariners. When you’re ready to quench your hunger, check out the variety of restaurants Ocracoke has to offer from quaint cafes to burger shacks and fine-dining restaurants — there truly is something for everyone!


Wrightsville Beach 

Wrightsville Beach attracts travelers from all over the United States because of its captivating crystal blue waters and wide sandy beaches making it one of the best beaches located in North Carolina. With 44 public access points, there is plenty of space for visitors to spread out.

There is plenty to do on Wrightsville Beach from surfing and stand-up paddle-boarding to pirate-led treasure hunts and surf camps for kids. You can even turn your beach trip into an educational opportunity by visiting the Coastal Education Center. Here you can learn about the beach’s coastal environment, and enjoy kid-friendly programs such as Touch Tank Tuesdays. Check out the fun family activities Wrightsville Beach has to offer.