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The best North Carolina beaches: Vacation in one of these gorgeous paradises

Take a relaxing trip to one of these gorgeous North Carolina beaches

Shoreline of Nags Head, NC
Nags Head, North Carolina Nathan Anderson via Unsplash

Visiting the beach puts you in touch with nature and with your soul. Listening to waves crash as the sun rises, taking in the salty air, and listening to the seagulls are a sensory treat, letting you escape the hustle and bustle of the everyday. Being on the coast puts you at peace. 

North Carolina is one of the best places to do just that, with 322 miles of ocean shoreline and unique towns that capture the coastal spirit. Whether you want a remote getaway among the dunes or a vibrant beach town, the southern state has something for everyone. Here are the best North Carolina beaches.

The North Carolina coast: a refreshing escape

Between work and obligations, finding time to truly escape can be a challenge. When you do, picking the ideal setting — whether the mountains, coast, or country — can also be a hassle. The beaches of North Carolina combine pristine shoreline, modern amenities, and local flavor, so you can get away from it all, reset, and recharge. These are our favorites.

Cape Hatteras

Sunrise over Cape Hatteras
Cape Hatteras, North Carolina Joe Dudeck via unsplash

Cape Hatteras National Seashore comprises 70 miles of unspoiled coastline along North Carolina’s Outer Banks, dotted with lighthouses, villages, and wildlife. Catch some of the best surf in the east near Hatteras Village and take in its iconic black and white lighthouse. Take your SUV or truck on the beach and try your hand at surf fishing. In the summer, look for sea turtles and get in touch with the ocean spirit.

REAL Watersports is a surfing superstore with surfboards, kiteboards, and associated equipment. If you’re new to board sports, attend one of Real’s lessons or camps, and walk away with the foundation for a lifetime of fun. 

Emerald Isle

Surfers at Emerald Isle, NC
Emerald Isle, North Carolina Will Suddreth via Unsplash

If you have a family or just want to unwind, Emerald Isle’s 12 miles of coast has what you need. A relaxed vibe permeates the town, and clean beaches let you set up camp anywhere you like. Grab a six-pack and visit the fishing pier for a day under the sun, taking in the sights and sounds of the Atlantic and hopefully reeling in a fish or two. 

Beach amenities make each trip a breeze, with public showers, parking, and picnic pavilions. Visit the Western Region Access Point for volleyball courts, where you can let loose and play to your heart’s content.

Nags Head

Lighthouse in Nags Head NC
Nags Head, North Carolina Joe Dudeck via Unsplash / Unsplash

Situated along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Nags Head has a quiet, relaxed feel and offers abundant recreational fun. At Jockey’s Ridge State Park, enjoy the Atlantic Coast’s tallest living sand dune system and fly a kite in the strong island wind. Take a hang gliding lesson and re-live the Wright Brother’s first flight that took place in nearby Kitty Hawk. On Roanoke Sound, go paddleboarding among untouched wetlands, gliding among great blue herons and ibises. 

After a day under the sun, visit the Blue Moon Beach Grill, which has a unique, satisfying fare like a softshell crab BLT or halibut ceviche. With plenty of outdoor seating, you can relax and enjoy with your buddies.


Horse among sand dunes Corolla
Corolla, North Carolina Cindie Hansen via Unsplash

On the northern end of the Outer Banks, Corolla has a remote feel and the allure of wild horses. On wide-open beaches, set up a chair, grab a cold one, and dive into your favorite book. Take your off-roader for an excursion through the sand and look out for Spanish wild horses. 

In Historic Corolla Village, stroll unpaved streets and, visit the Wild Horse Museum, and see restored buildings like the Parker House and the Gray-Lewark House. To cap the day, watch the Currituck Lighthouse tower over the surroundings.

Atlantic Beach

Moon in the sky over Atlantic Beach, NC
Atlantic Beach, North Carolina Clay LeConey / Unsplash

Atlantic Beach offers a balanced coastal vacation with plenty of beaches, shopping, and restaurants. For a fishing thrill like no other, try a guided trip to the Gulf Stream and hunt for blue marlin and tuna. Numerous marinas let you explore sounds and marshes by boat to find good fishing spots or just to explore. 

Explore the area’s ecosystem with a one-mile hike through the Hoop Pole Creek Nature Trail, where you’ll find a maritime forest and salt marshes, along with songbirds and turtles. As the sun sets, enjoy waterfront dining at Moonrakers, a regular recipient of “The Award of Excellence” by Wine Spectator. 

North Carolina has something for every beachgoer

Corolla, North Carolina morning fishing
Corolla, North Carolina Mike Burke via Unsplash

Being near the ocean is the heart of a coastal vacation. The sea’s power and solace are a treat in and of itself. Beyond that, priorities diverge, with some visitors wanting water sports fun and others rest and relaxation. Each of these beaches offers something a little different while retaining the NC coast’s pristine qualities. No matter which you pick, you’ll have a trip to remember. 

Mark Reif
Mark Reif is a writer from Stowe, Vermont. During the winter, he works as a snowboard coach and rides more than 100 days. The…
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