Discovering the Hidden Gems of the Carolina Coast

The United States has nearly 90 thousand miles of coastline, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Gulf Coast to the Arctic Coast. In North Carolina, though, there are 3,375 miles of coastal paradise that are not to be missed for the ideal family vacation.

Most people when they think of beaches in North Carolina think in extremes. There are a cluster of popular beaches in the southern part of the state, and, of course, the Outer Banks region in the north. What more and more people are realizing, however, is that you can escape the crowded beaches and pizazz by exploring the serene, pristine beaches in the center coastal region of the Tar Heel state.

The California Coast gets all the attention it seems, especially for its dramatic views and surfer dudes. But the Pacific should be just as well known for its frigid temperatures, averaging the low 50s in the north and the high 60s in the south year round. Your kids may be willing to brave these temperatures for a chance to splash in the waves, but it’s just too cold to be conducive to a family swim.

Carolina Coast Beaches

The waters off the coast in North Carolina, however, only reach Pacific lows in the winter. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, summer water temperatures average in the high 70s, even reaching the 80s in August.

Not only is the temperature inviting, the waves are perfect for hours of bobbing and diving, or for boogie and wake boarding, for sea kayaking and kite- and windsurfing. When not frolicking in the water, you can build sandcastles on the beach or walk for miles along the shore collecting shells and soaking up the summer sun. Choose your beach depending on your tastes–there are the more developed areas around Nags Head, the more natural Cape Hatteras National Seashore, exclusive islands like Ocracoke and Bald Head, and budget-friendly beaches like Topsail and Oak Island. Do a little research in advance to find the destination that best suits your needs.

There are miles of peaceful beaches that are as in rich in history and ecology as they are in beauty.  What might be the hidden gem of the “Crystal Coast?” Many say that Hammocks Beach State Park is the perfect destination for those looking for a calm beach environment with some interesting additional perks. Let’s look at some the reasons why this beach park is so appealing.

Hammocks Beach State Park

Hammocks Beach State Park is located near the small town of Swansboro and contains several islands, including the historic, idyllic Bear Island.  A quick, 15-minute ride on a small ferry takes you to the island from the coastland. The three-mile island is full of wildlife, including the endangered logger-head seat turtle.  These magnificent turtles come ashore on the island every few years to nest, create an awe-inspiring scene in which the hatchlings hastily make their way to the sea to begin their life’s journey.

Also, a wide host of birds, ghost crabs, and other wildlife inhabit the island. People also note the excellent, varied seashell collecting possibilities on the island. In addition to a welcome center with information, history, and nature exhibits, park rangers are often available for to give tours and answer questions.

Bear Island & Huggins Island

Bear Island and the nearby Huggins Island also have an appealing value to history buffs, as both islands played a role in the Civil War. In fact, a fort was erected on Huggins Island in 1861, but was burned down shortly thereafter by Union troops.  As a result, the fort is no longer present, but its earthworks fortifications remain as the only remaining Confederate example on the coast of North Carolina. In addition to the Civil War history of the islands, they served as a U-boat monitoring stations during World War II. Going even further back in time, the islands were once a sanctuary for pirates, including the infamous Blackbeard.

Bear and Huggins Island, while in close proximity to each other, are distinctly different environments and experiences. Bear Island is perfect for people looking for a peaceful, sandy beach with a wide-range of amenities. The island offers primitive camping, nature trails, covered picnic tables, a concession stand, showers, and a gazebo. The more rugged Huggins Island is only accessible by private boat and contains a biodiverse maritime forest surrounded by lowland marshes.

North Topsail Beach

In addition to Hammocks Beach State Park, it is certainly worth noting that there are several beautiful beaches dotting the central coast of North Carolina in Onslow County. The small town of North Topsail Beach has long been a haven for those wanting to enjoy a diverse range of fine beaches without the excessive commercialism and hassles of a crowded, busy environment.

Family Fun on the North Carolina Coast

The NC coast offers an abundance of rental properties, with options for budgets big and small, as well as hotels and motels often located steps from the beach. The largest, most elaborate homes can be had for a mere fraction of their summer rates in winter, and while this rules out water activities, the NC coast in winter is beautiful in its isolation, where it’s common to see dolphins frolic up and down the shore and a host of sea birds, including bald eagles.

Besides the beach, North Carolina is home to a rich coastal history. Most significant is Kitty Hawk, the home of the Wright Brother’s first flight. Visit this national landmark and take a docent-guided tour of their aviation accomplishments. Climb the giant dunes from which they launched their flying machines. The coast is also home, from north to south, to nine distinct lighthouses, three aquariums and three historic forts, which means there’s something for everyone whatever your interests.

For a family vacation that emphasizes family, visit North Carolina. The gorgeous coast, combined with the kindness of the locals, will leave you relaxed and refreshed–that is, if you ever want to leave.


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