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The 15 Best Beaches In North Carolina (Summer 2020)

Among beach locales along America’s Atlantic coast, North Carolina ranks as one of the most fun-filled, with a variety of activities to enjoy, from fishing charters to surfing. Swimming anywhere along the North Carolina coast is generally safe and fun, but look for beaches with lifeguards, pay attention to beach warning flags and other signs, and watch out for signs of rip currents. 

 

The region offers a range of options for accommodations, cuisine that features fresh seafood as well as family favorites like burgers and subs, and exciting nightlife that includes live music, lounges, and gorgeous sunsets.

 

From Carova Beach on the border with Virginia down to Oak Island in the south, we’ll take a look at some of the best beaches in North Carolina and hit all the highlights you won’t want to miss.

1. Wrightsville Beach

Located on the Atlantic shoreline, Wrightsville Beach is just east of Wilmington, North Carolina. Duke University and the Research Triangle sit inland, approximately two hours away, and Charlotte, which offers an international airport and American Airlines hub, is three and a half hours away.

Getting To Wrightsville Beach

From the Washington, DC area, take highway 95 south, or if you are approaching from the west, catch highway 85 out of Atlanta. Connect with Highway 74 to get to Wrightsville. Once you arrive, you can easily explore the region in a rental car or bike.

Parking At Wrightsville Beach

You’ll find paid parking lots near the beach, on South Lumina, East and West Salisbury, North Lumina, and at Wynn Plaza. If you park on a residential street, you must have a residential decal or hangtag. Most of the time you can find a spot.

Photos Of Wrightsville Beach

seagull flying over the horizon at sunset at wrightsville beach north carolina
houses on the water by wrightsville beach north carolina

Wrightsville Beach offers more than ten miles of riding paths along the beach as well as routes that take you into historic areas in nearby Wilmington or the surrounding wetlands. Plenty of beachfront shops rent equipment and offer lessons.

Good For Yes / No

 

Surfing

 

 

Yes

 

Swimming

 

 

No

 

Fishing

 

 

Yes

 

Snorkeling

 

 

Yes

 

Kite Surfing

 

 

Yes

 

Paddle Boarding

 

 

Yes

 

Beach Sports

 

 

Yes

With so many fun activities from water sports to museums to boat tours, Wrightsville Beach is one of the best beaches in North Carolina for kids, teens, and families. If a slower pace is more your style, relax on the beach with a good book or take a dolphin cruise.

Good For Yes / No

 

Young Adults

 

 

Yes

 

Families

 

 

Yes

 

Elderly

 

 

Yes

Wrightsville Beach Weather

Late summer in North Carolina can be hot and muggy, but from mid-April through early June, afternoon temperatures are in the high eighties. April and May can be overcast, but rain is more common in July and August.

Top 5 Places To Stay Near Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville Beach offers a range of accommodations, and while large resorts like the Holiday Inn Resort and Blockade Runner Beach Resort offer impressive amenities, many mid-size chains provide excellent options as well.

  • Staybridge Suites Wilmington E
  • Springhill Suites by Marriott Wilmington Mayfaire
  • Front Street Inn
  • Homewood Suites Wilmington / Mayfaire
  • Hampton Inn Wilmington – Smith Creek Station
  •  

Top 5 Things To Do Near Wrightsville Beach

Sailing, fishing, and surfing are among the top activities at Wrightsville Beach, but visitors also enjoy the surrounding wetlands and gardens.

  • Shallotte River Swamp Park
  • Wrightsville SUP
  • Wrightsville Kayak Company
  • New Hanover County Arboretum
  • Airlie Gardens

Top 5 Restaurants Near Wrightsville Beach

Although seafood certainly abounds in Wrightsville Beach, there are plenty of options for American, Asian, Mexican, and Italian cuisines. Breweries, bistros, and tea houses are also available.

  • Bdobo Mongolian Grill
  • Spoonfed Kitchen & Bake Shop
  • Ceviche’s
  • The Donut Inn
  • Shark Bar and Kitchen

2. Ocracoke Island Beach

Ocracoke Island is located on Pamlico Sound, just southwest of Cape Hatteras National Seashore and just north of Portsmouth Island. On the mainland, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge sits to the north.

 

The closest large city is Raleigh, some five hours inland.

Getting To Ocracoke Island Beach

Reaching the island is an adventure in and of itself, as it is only accessible via ferry. Take highway 12 along the Outer Banks to the Hatteras, Swan Quarter, or Cedar Island Ferries, which all accept both passengers and vehicles.

 

Be sure to call ahead to check for weather delays, and note that the Swan Quarter and Cedar Island lines require reservations. Rides on the Hatteras ferry are free, while the Swan Quarter and Cedar Island routes have toll roads. The Ocracoke Express offers a fourth, passenger-only option.

Parking At Ocracoke Island Beach

There are six public parking areas north of the village, and street parking is allowed, but be aware of restricted areas. Vehicles are allowed on the beach. Most of the time you can find a spot.

Photos Of Ocracoke Island Beach

Ocracoke Island offers Springer’s Point Preserve as well as the Ocracoke Lighthouse, Preservation Museum, and Island Visitor’s center.

 

Horseback riding is a popular activity, and wave runners are available for rent.

Good For Yes / No

 

Surfing

 

 

Yes

 

Swimming

 

 

No

 

Fishing

 

 

Yes

 

Snorkeling

 

 

Yes

 

Kite Surfing

 

 

Yes

 

Paddle Boarding

 

 

Yes

 

Beach Sports

 

 

No

Families, couples, and older people will enjoy the historical attractions Ocracoke has to offer, and there are plenty of water sports for teens. The Visitor Center can give you plenty of information about points of interest, beach regulations, exhibits and attractions, and programs sponsored by the National Parks Service.

Good For Yes / No

 

Young Adults

 

 

Yes

 

Families

 

 

Yes

 

Elderly

 

 

Yes

Ocracoke Island Beach Weather

Temperatures on Ocracoke Island range from the mid 50’s in early March to the mid 80’s in August. Year-round, the average temperature is about 70 degrees, and you can enjoy most outdoor activities from early spring through late fall.

Top 5 Places To Stay Near Okracoke Island Beach

Wrightsville Beach offers a range of accommodations, and while large resorts like the Holiday Inn Resort and Blockade Runner Beach Resort offer impressive amenities, many mid-size chains provide excellent options as well.

  • Staybridge Suites Wilmington E
  • Springhill Suites by Marriott Wilmington Mayfaire
  • Front Street Inn
  • Homewood Suites Wilmington / Mayfaire
  • Hampton Inn Wilmington – Smith Creek Station
  •  

Top 5 Things To Do Near Okracoke Island Beach

Sailing, fishing, and surfing are among the top activities at Wrightsville Beach, but visitors also enjoy the surrounding wetlands and gardens.

  • Shallotte River Swamp Park
  • Wrightsville SUP
  • Wrightsville Kayak Company
  • New Hanover County Arboretum
  • Airlie Gardens

Top 5 Restaurants Near Okracoke Island Beach

Although seafood certainly abounds in Wrightsville Beach, there are plenty of options for American, Asian, Mexican, and Italian cuisines. Breweries, bistros, and tea houses are also available.

  • Bdobo Mongolian Grill
  • Spoonfed Kitchen & Bake Shop
  • Ceviche’s
  • The Donut Inn
  • Shark Bar and Kitchen

3. Emerald Isle Beach

Emerald Isle Beach is across the Bogue Sound from the Croatan National Forest. Morehead City lies to the north, and Jacksonville is southeast. Rocky Point is farther south on Highway 40, which runs northeast to Rose Hill and eventually Raleigh.

Getting To Emerald Isle Beach

From Raleigh, take highway 40 southeast, then pick up state highway 24 in Kenansville. From Wilmington, take highway 40 north and switch to state highway 53 until you can get on 24 outside White Oak.

 

Highway 24 leads to state highway 58, which crosses the channel onto the island.

Parking At Emerald Isle Beach

You can park and access the beach via 3rd Street, Emerald Drive to the east, or Islander Drive in the west. Ocean Drive offers four-wheel-drive access for off-roading during the winter. The city assesses a beach access parking fee of $10 per vehicle per day. 

Sometimes, you can find a spot.

Photos Of Emerald Isle Beach

Emerald Isle Beach Photo 1
Emerald Isle Beach Photo 2

Visit the Salty Pirate Waterpark on Emerald Isle, take the family on an adventure at one of the area’s motorsport parks, or get a taste of history at Fort Macon. Older visitors can enjoy museums, galleries, or a walk along the pier.

Good For Yes / No

 

Surfing

 

 

Yes

 

Swimming

 

 

No

 

Fishing

 

 

Yes

 

Snorkeling

 

 

Yes

 

Kite Surfing

 

 

Yes

 

Paddle Boarding

 

 

Yes

 

Beach Sports

 

 

No

Emerald Isle Beach offers plenty of different activities and attractions to appeal to people of all ages, and nearby golf courses offer a relaxing option for parents and older people.

Good For Yes / No

 

Young Adults

 

 

Yes

 

Families

 

 

Yes

 

Elderly

 

 

Yes

Emerald Isle Beach Weather

The average temperature on Emerald Isle is 62 degrees. Visit in early March through May, as it gets fairly hot through the summer and precipitation is likely, with relative humidity of 73%.

Top 5 Places To Stay Near Emerald Isle Beach

Emerald Isle offers several mid-priced hotels and motels with great views, outdoor pools, and easy access to attractions like Fort Macon State Park and the aquarium.

  • Best Western Plus Silver Creek 
  • Sound of the Sea Pool Gate
  • Point Emerald Villas
  • The Inn at Pine Knoll Shores
  • Atlantis Lodge

Top 5 Things To Do Near Emerald Isle Beach

Visit the Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier or rent some bicycles and take a trek along the shore. Water parks and boat charters offer adventure, and the Emerald Plantation brings you quaint local shops and a movie theater.

  • Hwy 58 Bicycles
  • Wellness Massage & Yoga
  • Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier
  • Salty Pirate Water Park
  • Crystal Coast Boat Charters & Rentals

Top 5 Restaurants Near Emerald Isle Beach

Enjoy quick, simple meals like sandwiches and pizza or more exotic fare like Thai or Caribbean. Moderately priced bistros, sports bars, and kid-friendly spots are readily accessible, but fancier choices are limited.

  • Thai Sticky Rice
  • The Shark’s Den Sports Bar & Grill
  • The Trading Post
  • The Village Market
  • Caribsea

4. Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach sits on the Intercoastal Waterway in Brunswick County, North Carolina, in the southern end of the state. Bird Island Coastal Reserve lies between the beach and the border with South Carolina, and surrounding towns include Grissettown and Calabash.

Getting To Sunset Beach

Take Highway 40 from Raleigh, or if you’re approaching from the north, get on 95 and head south through Rocky Mount. State highway 17 will lead you to the beach. From Atlanta, get on Interstate 85 and pick up interstate 20 outside Columbia.

Parking At Sunset Beach

Parking is available near Sunset Beach Pier. You can also find spaces on side streets, but these are limited. Street parking on West Main Street & Sunset Boulevard South offers the best beach access option. Most of the time you can find a spot.

Photos Of Sunset Beach

In addition to less physical activities like the Ingram Planetarium, visitors to Sunset Beach can join the hundreds of thousands of people who, since the 1930s, have written down their deepest thoughts and left them in the Kindred Spirit Mailbox.

Good For Yes / No

 

Surfing

 

 

No

 

Swimming

 

 

No

 

Fishing

 

 

Yes

 

Snorkeling

 

 

Yes

 

Kite Surfing

 

 

No

 

Paddle Boarding

 

 

Yes

 

Beach Sports

 

 

Yes

Sunset Beach does not have lifeguards, so swimming is at your own risk. For this reason, it might not be the best option for families with young kids. However, there are plenty of activities like boating, golf, and fishing, which older teens and adults will enjoy.

Good For Yes / No

 

Young Adults

 

 

Yes

 

Families

 

 

No

 

Elderly

 

 

Yes

Sunset Beach Weather

The hot season in Sunset Beach runs from the end of May through September, with average temperatures in the low to mid 80’s. Humidity and the chance of daily precipitation are also high, so visiting in the spring or early summer may be more enjoyable.

Top 5 Places To Stay Near Sunset Beach

Enjoy great accommodations with beautiful views in mid-priced hotels and inns near Sunset Beach. You’ll find additional properties, including large resorts, less than seven miles north in Ocean Isle.

  • Seahouse Villas
  • The Sunset Inn
  • Sea Trail Resort Villas
  • Ocean Isle Inn
  • The Winds Resort Beach Club

Top 5 Things To Do Near Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach offers fishing and boat charters as well as ATV tours, kayaking and kite surfing. Take a short walk across the Intercoastal Waterway and visit Bird Island, a 1,500-acre wildlife habitat, or enjoy golf at one of the area’s many courses.

  • J&L Kayak Ecoventures
  • Shallotte River Swamp Park
  • Hurricane Fleet
  • Island Hoppers Bicycle 
  • Sunset Beach Fishing Pier

Top 5 Restaurants Near Sunset Beach

From quick sandwiches and fantastic onion rings to amazing barbecue, Sunset Beach diners can enjoy all kinds of cuisines – and of course, there’s plenty of fresh seafood from which to choose.

  • MMM Que Rico
  • Waterfront Seafood Shack
  • Calabash Deli
  • Bennett’s Grill and Cafe
  • La Cucina Italian Grill

5. Carolina Beach

Located just twelve miles south of Wilmington, Carolina Beach abuts the Carolina Beach State Park and is bordered by the Cape Fear River to the west. Silver Lake, Winnabow, and Bolivia are among the nearby towns, and Kure Beach and Bald Head Island lie along the shore to the South.

Getting To Carolina Beach

From Wilmington, take US 421 south to US 117. Then take Independence Boulevard to Carolina Beach Road. Or fly into Charlotte and then drive east on US 74, picking up US 401 and then I 95 north. Switch to US 421 south and follow it to Carolina Beach.

Parking At Carolina Beach

Find and pay for parking with the convenient Paymobile app for your smartphone. Plenty of metered and free lots line Canal Drive or you can opt for metered street parking along Carolina Beach Avenue North or South. Parking regulations are  enforced between 8 am and 7 pm from April through October. Most of the time you can find a spot.

Photos Of Carolina Beach

photo of carolina beach north carolina

In addition to plenty of watersports, Carolina beach is known for its live music and events like free movies and festivals.

Good For Yes / No

 

Surfing

 

 

Yes

 

Swimming

 

 

Yes

 

Fishing

 

 

Yes

 

Snorkeling

 

 

No

 

Kite Surfing

 

 

Yes

 

Paddle Boarding

 

 

Yes

 

Beach Sports

 

 

No

Families and older people enjoy Carolina Beach for its laid back vibe and the availability of non-sporting activities like concerts, but there’s also plenty of fun to be had on the beach itself.

Good For Yes / No

 

Young Adults

 

 

Yes

 

Families

 

 

Yes

 

Elderly

 

 

Yes

Carolina Beach Weather

Temperatures in Carolina Beach rarely climb higher than the low 90’s. Still, as is the case for many of the best beaches in North Carolina, lower humidity from April through June and from mid-September through late October makes for a more comfortable visit.

Top 5 Places To Stay Near Carolina Beach

Find affordable accommodations ranging from national hotel chains to locally-owned gems throughout Carolina Beach. Gorgeous sea views and amenities like tiki bars, pools, kitchenettes, and on-site exercise facilities make your stay memorable.

  • Hampton Inn & Suites Carolina Beach & Oceanfront
  • Beach House Inn & Suites
  • Carolina Beach Inn
  • Courtyard by Marriott Carolina Beach & Oceanfront
  • SeaWitch Motel

Top 5 Things To Do Near Carolina Beach

Visitors to Carolina Beach enjoy ziplining, ATV tours, surfing, and kayaking as well as more relaxing activities like beach yoga. Escape rooms and helicopter tours offer unique experiences, and biking is a great way to enjoy the shoreline.

  • Shallotte River Swamp Park
  • Tony Silvagni Surf School
  • Pleasure Island Bike Rentals
  • High Tide Helicopters
  • iEscape Rooms

Top 5 Restaurants Near Carolina Beach

Carolina Beach offers plenty of choices when it comes to seafood, plus Thai, Southern, Mediterranean, and Mexican fare. Visitors can also enjoy cocktails and snacks at any of the area’s bars and pubs.

  • Surf House
  • Soulflavor
  • Island Burgers and Bites
  • Shuckin’ Shack
  • Ida Thai Cuisine

6. Atlantic Beach

Atlantic Beach is nestled between Bogue Sound and Onslow Bay and sits across from Morehead City on the mainland. To the north, Fort Macon State Park consumes much of the rest of the peninsula, and beyond that Cape Lookout National Seashore rounds Harkers Island and continues up toward Cedar Island.

Getting To Atlantic Beach

US 70, Interstate 40, and US 17 all lead to the coastline and Atlantic Beach. From US 70, turn right and cross the Atlantic Beach – Morehead City Bridge to get onto the island. Once there, state highway 58 takes you up and down the shoreline.

Parking At Atlantic Beach

Paid parking on Atlantic Beach supports the provision of lifeguards, bathhouses, and waste management. Several different lots are accessible to visitors, including the West Boardwalk CAMA Lot, Circle Point Grass Lot, and Circle Pavilion Paved Lot. You can also find one-hour street parking along West Drive and Atlantic Boulevard. I always find a spot.

Photos Of Atlantic Beach

view of atlantic beach north carolina
people at atlantic beach north carolina

Be sure to check out the historic architecture of Fort Macon, which was used as a military prison until 1876. If you visit Atlantic Beach in October, don’t miss the Carolina Kite Festival.

Good For Yes / No

 

Surfing

 

 

Yes

 

Swimming

 

 

Yes

 

Fishing

 

 

Yes

 

Snorkeling

 

 

Yes

 

Kite Surfing

 

 

No

 

Paddle Boarding

 

 

Yes

 

Beach Sports

 

 

Yes

Atlantic Beach offers events and activities for just about everyone. Teens and kids can enjoy playing on the beach, and older people can take in the historical attractions.

Good For Yes / No

 

Young Adults

 

 

Yes

 

Families

 

 

Yes

 

Elderly

 

 

Yes

Atlantic Beach Weather

During the hot season from May to September, the average temperature on Atlantic Beach is 84 degrees, with temperatures peaking in July. August can be very humid and uncomfortable on the warmest days.

Top 5 Places To Stay Near Atlantic Beach

Clean, comfortable, and reasonably-priced hotels and inns are a staple of Atlantic Beach, and visitors enjoy friendly staff members, great views, and easy access to the water.

  • Atlantis Lodge
  • Hampton Inn & Suites Atlantic Beach
  • Windjammer Inn
  • Island Inn of Atlantic Beach
  • Caribbe Inn

Top 4 Things To Do Near Atlantic Beach

Atlantic Beach is one of the best beaches in North Carolina because it offers everything from escape rooms to dolphin charters, so there is no shortage of exciting activities.

  • Crystal Coast Ecotours
  • Lookout Adventures
  • Island Water Sports
  • Game On Escape Rooms

Top 5 Restaurants Near Atlantic Beach

Whether you’re looking for traditional American food, seafood, or interesting combinations like a shrimp omelet, Atlantic Beach has plenty of options. Visitors enjoy fast, friendly service as well as the opportunity to try some of the foods the South is known for, like biscuits, grits, and homemade jam.

  • The Banks Grill
  • Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant & Bar
  • Shark Shack
  • Circa 81
  • Island Grille

7. Bald Head Island

Bald Head Island is near the South Carolina Border, approximately three hours south of Raleigh. Nearby towns include Wilmington, Whiteville, and Wallace, and the Green Swamp Preserve lies about an hour and a half inland and slightly north, on state road 211.

Getting To Bald Head Island

Reach Bald Head Island via Interstate 95 and 40, connecting to US 17 or state road 87. Catch state road 211 and then get on the Southport – Bald Head Island Ferry. It is a passenger-only line, so you will need to park at the terminal.

Parking At Bald Head Island

Cars are not allowed on Bald Head Island. You can park at the ferry landing for $11 per day or $9 during the off-season. There are also a few other paid lots in the area that are a bit cheaper. Most of the time you can find a spot.

Photos Of Bald Head Island

view of bald head island boardwalk from the shore behind grass

Bald Head Island has a championship course that has been named one of the nation’s best golf course renovations by Links magazine. If your interests tend toward history, check out Old Baldy Lighthouse, which was commissioned by Thomas Jefferson.

Good For Yes / No

 

Surfing

 

 

Yes