Best Beaches in North Carolina

What are the top North Carolina beaches?

Where are the best North Carolina vacation spots? Locals and visitors alike know that any Carolina beach ranks high.

When it comes to locating the best beaches in North Carolina, it’s as easy as picking a beach town on a North Carolina map and driving there. The eastern shoreline of North Carolina is all sand, waves, and surf. Not one of its more than 300 miles of beach is anything less than spectacular.

North Carolina beaches do have distinct personalities, however.

Northernmost Cordova Beach, Swan Beach, and Corolla Beach are remote enough for wild horses to still roam there, as are Shackleford Banks and Cape Lookout further south. Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, and Atlantic Beach can become a bit crowded during tourist season, but they are not nearly as commercialized and congested with traffic as Myrtle Beach in South Carolina.

Top Beaches in NC – The Outer Banks, or OBX

Nearly seven million people visit the North Carolina Outer Banks each year, according to the 2010 edition of the Outer Banks Visitors Guide published by Vista Graphics, Inc. That’s quite a cry from the roaming bands of Croatan Indians who first fished and hunted here. It’s also a long way from the small band of European colonists who landed here and whose story is retold each year in Manteo’s The Lost Colony performances on Roanoke Island. Today’s parasailers, hang-gliders, and kite-flyers make use of the same enormous sand dunes and ideal breezes that, in 1903, lifted Wilbur and Orville Wright off the ground and into the pages of aeronautical history.

Tourists call it “The Outer Banks Highway” or the “OBX Highway.” Locals know it as “NC 12.” No matter the nomenclature, two-lane NC Highway 12 stretches 148 miles from Corolla to traverse the entire Outer Banks along sand dunes, ocean, sound, salt marsh, and windswept maritime forest. It links North Carolina beach towns of Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, and Oregon Inlet. Highway 12 goes over two humpbacked bridges along Cape Hatteras National Seashore, through small towns and villages of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras. Two ferries connect villages at strategic points.

This narrow ribbon of the highway has been cut by inlets, covered in shifting sands, and had waves break across its white and yellow lines. Yet it remains the only way for automobiles to traverse the Outer Banks. For beach lovers, it becomes the road to a paradise of sun, ocean, and sky.

From Hatteras, drivers must either turn around or take the free Hatteras-Ocracoke Ferry. From there, they can board the Ocracoke-Cedar Island Ferry and on to the small rural village of Sealevel. Once here, they enter–what else–but more North Carolina beaches?

Top NC Beaches —The Crystal Coast

From Sealevel automobile tourists will drive along the outermost reaches of rural North Carolina, much of it non-commercialized except for the occasional campground, boat landing or passenger ferry over to Cape Lookout. The pace picks up a bit as tourists enter North Carolina’s third oldest town – Beaufort– with its historic waterfront and boat docks that are ideal stopping places for auto traffic and intercoastal waterway traffic.

Excellent restaurants, many known far and wide, abound. They feature local catch and cuisine for every palette. True beach lovers should venture to cross the bridge across Bogue Sound at Morehead City over to Atlantic Beach and visit historic Fort Macon, the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and drive through beach towns whose gifts are every bit as enchanting as their names: Indian Beach, Salter Path and Emerald Isle. Hammocks Beach State Park, near Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base, provides yet another area where wildlife and natural beauty proliferate.

Top North Carolina Beaches in —New Hanover & Brunswick Beaches

Even a Tar Heel who has lived his entire life in North Carolina can never tire of NC beaches. Their scenic beauty and variety have no parallel. North Carolina’s beaches delight those in search of pristine wilderness as well as those whose thrill lies more along the lines of Segway tours, jet skiing, golfing, parasailing or kayaking.

North of Wilmington lies popular beaches named Topsail, Surf City, and Wrightsville Beach. Beach towns continue all the way to the South Carolina line, although they become sparser and less commercialized closer to the state line. Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Southport, Bald Head Island, Oak Island, Holden Beach, Ocean Isle, and Sunset Beach beckon to millions of visitors each year.

Best NC Beaches —It’s Impossible to Pick Just a Few

Poet Shel Silverstein wrote a much-beloved poem entitled, “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” Favorite lines from this not-only-for-children poem resound:

“Yes, we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow/And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go/For the children, they mark, and the children, they know/The place where the sidewalk ends.”

Ask any child who has been to anyone of North Carolina’s beaches. He’ll tell it straight. The sidewalk really does end there. So does much of the stress of the work-a-day world, adults know, too. North Carolina beaches are where fun and relaxation begin.


  • Harrison, Molly. Our State. “Drive Along the Beach Road.” June 2010.
  • Silverstein, Shel. “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”
  • Outer Banks Visitors Guide. “Welcome to the Outer Banks.”

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