The 7 Best Beaches in North Carolina (Our Personal Picks)

Last Updated on June 7, 2021

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With 322 miles of ocean shoreline, we have quite a few beaches to explore! While it is impossible to pick a favorite, we at NC Tripping have attempted to narrow it down to the seven best beaches in North Carolina.

We’ve geographically organized this guide from north to south from the attractions-filled Outer Banks and those popular beaches near Wilmington to less-crowded spots in Brunswick County.

If you don’t agree with our picks for the best beaches in North Carolina, that’s okay because your secret is safe for now! So pack your bags with enough sunscreen, sand toys, and cool drinks (no glass) for a fun trip through our favorite spots.

This post is part of our series on the best things to do in North Carolina, especially in Eastern NC.

The Best Beaches in North Carolina

Before anyone gets themselves into a tizzy, keep in mind that this list is based on our opinions and may change over time.

The Outer Banks (Buxton)

Best Beaches in North Carolina.

Of all the beaches in North Carolina, we’ve visited those along the Outer Banks most. There is so much to do on these barrier islands that it always has us coming back. 

You can see multiple lighthouses, learn about the Wright Brothers, fly a kite at Jockey’s Ridge, and much more. There are endless attractions and activities on the Outer Banks, but we think the stretch along Hatteras Island is the best for beachgoers.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a quieter stretch of beach on the Outer Banks than that around Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton. Sure, there are plenty of family-friendly OBX towns surrounded by great beaches and even better restaurants, including Duck and Kill Devil Hills. 

Because of all the attractions in and around the northernmost towns, you’ll find more people. Buxton and its surroundings in the south are harder to reach, which is why you’ll typically find fewer people.

Atlantic Beach

Atlantic Beach Best Beaches in North Carolina

Emerald Isle is the most popular of the beaches in North Carolina’s Bogue Banks, but we’ve grown fonder of Atlantic Beach over the years. Our favorite place to stay on the island is Atlantis Lodge.

This vintage three-story hotel is family-owned and when you stay here, you can enjoy their private stretch of beach. Of course, multiple public accesses await at Atlantic Beach, but it’s hard to top the quiet found around Atlantis Lodge and other properties nearby.

Some great restaurants sit just down the road, including the Shark Shack Crab’s Claw. We’re also big fans of Crystal Coast Brewing, a newer brewery with taps and cans for you to take on the beach.

Bear Island

Bear Island Best Beaches in North Carolina

Bear Island is the first of our favorite beaches in North Carolina that’s only reachable by boat. It’s the only one that’s publicly managed, as it’s part of Hammocks Beach State Park near Swansboro and Jacksonville.

The easiest way to reach Bear Island is to hire a boat (Marsh Cruises) or via the State Park’s ferry when it’s in service. You can also paddle over to the island, either with your own boat or a tour from Hammocks Beach with Paddle NC.

If you arrive in the morning, you may have the island mostly to yourself. That’ll give you plenty of time to search for shells, sand dollars, and shark’s teeth!

The boats begin to arrive around mid-morning or lunchtime, especially during the busier summer months.

Topsail Island

Topsail Best beaches in North Carolina

Topsail Island is home to some amazing stretches of beaches in North Carolina’s Pender and Onslow counties. It includes North Topsail, Surf City, and Topsail Beach and serves as a sea turtle sanctuary. 

With 26 miles of coast, Topsail Island is a popular spot for shelling and shark teeth. This is also one of our favorite places to enjoy the sound side of North Carolina’s beaches.

The sound side of Topsail is wonderful. With many of the houses sitting right along the sleepy water adjacent to the waves, it’s relaxing to stare at. 

The water is calm and gentle and perfect for boating or fishing. So get the best of both worlds and cross the street for the beach. 

Kure Beach

Kure Beach Best beaches in North Carolina

Wilmington is blessed with a wonderful downtown, family-friendly activities, incredible restaurants and breweries, and some of the best beaches in North Carolina.

The always popular Carolina Beach, Wrightsville Beach, and Masonboro Island are great places to visit, but we keep coming back to Kure Beach when staying in the area.

Kure Beach (pronounced cure-ee) is a relatively quiet, family-friendly beach town that’s still close enough to enjoy all of the fun of Wilmington. Its relatively less crowded beaches are complimented by pastel-colored homes and the oldest fishing pier on the Atlantic Coast.

It’s also the closest beach to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. We really enjoy being close to the aquarium and visiting marine life every time we are in the area.

The Fort Fisher Historic Site also makes for a fun experience. Exhibits inside will teach you all about the Civil War’s largest Amphibious Battle and the scenic trail outside will take you around the fort’s remains.

Bald Head Island

Best Beaches in North Carolina Bald Head Island

Hop on a ferry boat from Southport in Brunswick County and leave your car behind for Bald Head Island. If you aren’t staying on the island, you can rent a golf cart or bicycle and travel around the island in style.

Bald Head Island is a carless community of luxurious beach houses and soft wide sand. When brainstorming the best beaches in North Carolina, Bald Head first came to mind.

Wide stretches of white sand and gentle waves make this an incredible spot for everyone, including families. And because of its relative difficulty to reach, you’ll find yourself on the beach with hardly anyone else around! 

Old Baldy Bald Head Island

While on Bald Head Island make sure to visit Old Baldy, North Carolina’s oldest lighthouse. It has withstood the devastation and destruction of many hurricanes and also provides epic views from the top. 

Holden Beach 

Holden Beach North Carolina bridge

Brunswick County wins for having two of the best beaches in North Carolina. However, Holden Beach has quickly become one of our favorites for a quiet vacation spot.

It sits between Bald Head Island and Oak Island to the east and Ocean Isle Beach and Sunset Beach to the west, but it still stands out in our minds. This wonderful place is known as the “family beach of North Carolina,” largely because it’s among the least commercial and mostly a collection of homes.

Even during peak beach season, it is still fairly quiet in comparison to its noisy neighbors. You’ll see many people (including us!) starting days with bike rides along with the “Olden Holden” Trail before heading to the closest beach access.

During the season (typically March to October), you can grab food at a few restaurants near the bridge. Surfer’s Cafe (great burgers!) is next to the Food Lion over the bridge and open throughout the year, in case you visit during the offseason.

Holden Beach is also an easy day trip to Calabash for some fresh, famous seafood.

Disagree with Our Best Beaches in North Carolina?

Suppose you disagree with our picks for the best beaches in North Carolina, good! We’d love to hear more about your picks in the comments section.

Of course, we’re always revisiting places throughout North Carolina, so our opinions might change. In the meantime, we’d love to know about your favorite spots.

More Things to Do (Beyond the Best Beaches in North Carolina)

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