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8 Best Beaches In North Carolina To Spend Your Vacation

Millions of vacationers flock to the shores of North Carolina each year to bask in the sand and sea at some of the state’s best beaches. Whether the shores look like near copies of breathtaking Caribbean beaches, or are only accessible by 4-wheel drive, there’s something that makes each unique. With over 300 miles of coastline to choose from and countless beachfront vacation rentals to book from FlipKey, we’ve listed some of the best North Carolina beaches and what makes them so perfect to help you decide.

Wrightsville Beach

A beautiful day at one of North Carolina's best beaches, Wrightsville Beach

A beautiful day at one of North Carolina’s best beaches, Wrightsville Beach

Known for its crystal-clear waters and wide, sandy beaches, Wrightsville Beach attracts vacationers from all over the country. The town boasts an impeccable strip of sprawling beach that stretches for four miles down the coast of North Carolina. There are 44 public access points to the beach, and its accessibility is one of the reasons it is considered one of the best North Carolina beaches. The vast number of access points also allows crowds to be spread out throughout the length of the beach, so it never feels overly crowded and there’s always enough room to lie out in the sand.

There are 13 staffed lifeguard stands from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Additionally, lifeguards patrol the beaches via all-terrain vehicles and a boat making it easy to address any emergencies. They are on duty from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., seven days a week from May until September. For the convenience of patrons, Wrightsville Beach also has seven public restrooms that are accessible along the beaches.

In addition to being a great place for sunning and swimming, Wrightsville Beach has long been considered a paradise for surfers and kiteboarders of all levels. Here, the waters are shallow and the waves are gentle during the summer, so visitors new to such watersports can give it a try. Later in the season when the winds pick up, stellar waves become the setting for many regional and national surfing competitions. It is important to note that surfing is not permitted in front of lifeguard stands during the summer season, though. These areas are clearly marked by black and white checkered flags, so be on the lookout. Whether you’re surfing, swimming or sunning at Wrightsville Beach you’ll love this North Carolina vacation spot.

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Nags Head

A fishing pier in Nags Head, North Carolina

A fishing pier in Nags Head, North Carolina

Nags Head epitomizes the laidback beach vibe that the Outer Banks is so well-known for, and it has been beckoning travelers to its shores for years. The area is home to the iconic Nags Head style of architecture with hip roofs and propped-shutters, and its abundance of homes will make it easy to find a vacation rental that meets your family’s needs. Because Nags Head is such a classic North Carolina beach town it does see more tourists than other towns along the Outer Banks, but its wide beaches allow crowds to be disbursed along its soft sands.

The area has many public beach access points, so vacationers can find a quiet spot along the water to lounge for the day. Many beaches have bath houses available and are handicap accessible, and from Memorial Day through Labor Day, both stationary and mobile lifeguard teams patrol the beaches daily to keep patrons safe. They’re typically on duty from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and different colored flags will indicate water conditions to swimmers. If you see a red flag flying, stay out of the water as rough waters could result in harm or at least a hefty fine for those who ignore them.

Nags Head is also home to the largest living sand dune on the East Coast. Pay a visit to Jockey’s Ridge State Park to see it and climb the ever-changing dunes here. This is a great place to bring the kids to explore as beachgoers must stay off the protected sand dunes that line many of the Nags Head beaches.

This North Carolina beach town is a great to spot far-out dolphins swimming in the glistening waters, see anglers reeling in fresh catch and to be a beachgoer frolicking in the warm waters. Beach fires are allowed with a permit, so you can make a full day out of your trip to the beach and watch a spectacular sunset over the water in the evening.

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Wild horses on Carova Beach, North Carolina

Wild horses on Carova Beach, North Carolina

A visit to Carova is like a step back in time…in a good way. There are no paved roads, gas stations or restaurants in this North Carolina vacation spot, so your Carova vacation rental choice is all the more important. Choose one with easy access to the beach and then stock up on the essentials before your arrival, so you can truly retreat to the beach. The area is known for its rustic beach cottages and weathered homes, and it’s a place for a quiet beach escape without distractions.

When planning a vacation to Carova, it is important to remember that 4-wheel drive vehicles are required here, and while it might be easy to be fooled by the appearance of firmly-packed sands, you’ll be sure to get stuck in any other type of vehicle. When driving out to the beach, follow the tire tracks of other cars, and check the tides as they can change frequently making it difficult to drive home.

Carova boasts some of the best North Carolina beaches as the vast, secluded stretches of sand offer a sense of freedom that is difficult to match. The beaches are clean and the waters that lap the shore stay warm for a couple of months, even after the summer ends.This North Carolina vacation spot is a place where wild horses have the right of way while roaming sands and dunes, and vacationers enjoy quintessential beach getaways free from the stresses and hurry of everyday life. The tradeoff for pristine beaches, ample space and a lack of crowds is that there are no fixed lifeguard stations here. While roving lifeguards do pass through on ATVs, Carova beaches might not be best for families looking for an extra set of eyes to watch their children in the water. These beaches also do not offer amenities like concession stands as the natural beauty is the main attraction.

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Stay right near the beach in Corolla, North Carolina.

Stay right near the beach in Corolla, North Carolina.

The beach is the main attraction for vacationers visiting the Outer Banks and Corolla is certainly no exception. Corolla is a seasonal North Carolina beach oasis filled with charming oceanfront rentals and sleepy beach stores. Part of its charm comes from its small-town feel and relatively undeveloped landscape.

Book a Corolla vacation rental for a week to fully enjoy its secluded beaches along the Atlantic Ocean and the Currituck Sound. This North Carolina destination is best for families looking to lounge and play uninterrupted at the beach. Here, the dunes are rolling and windswept and the beaches are wide and gently slope into the ocean, making it a perfect natural playground for children. There are no commercial boardwalks to pollute the area with noise and foot traffic, and lifeguards man the beaches from 9:30-5:50 daily during the summer season, so it is a very safe environment to spend the day.

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Fishing pier pillars at Rodanthe in North Carolina

Fishing pier pillars at Rodanthe in North Carolina

If you’re looking for a vacation with only the simplest of life’s pleasures then Rodanthe has some of the best North Carolina beaches to visit. The town lies at the easternmost part of North Carolina on Hatteras Island and offers many secluded beaches and warm waters for beachgoers to enjoy. It is a beach town so beautiful they even made a movie about it. If you haven’t seen Nights in Rodanthe though, visit this picturesque place for its spectacular beaches and to see raised beach homes lining the dunes and dotting the landscape along the edge of the best North Carolina beaches.

Rodanthe boasts both sound-side beaches along the Pamlico Sound as well as beaches that open into the Atlantic Ocean. If you’re looking for on-the-water fun go to the beaches along the sound. This saltwater lagoon is the largest on the East Coast and has shallow waters that make it easy for kiteboarders, windsurfers, small boaters and waders to navigate. Winds create small waves to propel adventurers and the area is a great open water playground. Mosquitoes and small reptiles can interrupt your beach day though, so make sure to bring bug spray and stay on the lookout for small critters that could become bothersome.

On the ocean-side, you’ll find miles of empty beaches sheltered by towering dunes. There are no lifeguards here, so swim at your own risk or just soak up sun from the comfort of your beach chair. Surf fishing and beach fires are both allowed if you get a permit ahead of time allowing you to spend the entire day at this top North Carolina beach.

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Topsail Island

Topsail Island at sunset

Topsail Island at sunset

While many of the best North Carolina beaches can be found in the Outer Banks, Topsail Island is equally as charming just a bit farther south. The island has three beach communities, Surf City, North Topsail Beach and Topsail Beach, that makeup the 26 miles of untainted coastline along the glistening waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The area is very family-oriented and its lack of commercialization makes it a peaceful place to spend days at the beach.

With mild temperatures year-round, the shimmering waters that wash over Topsail Island beaches remain warm throughout most months. The shore gently fades into the water, and the lack of a steep drop-off makes these beaches great for families. The Atlantic Ocean deposits lots of seashells along the beaches that face the ocean and a stroll along the sand will reward you with many unique treasures. On the sound-side, enjoy the protected beaches and calm waters that are perfect for kayaking and boating along the Intercoastal Waterway. When planning a family vacation to these top North Carolina beaches, keep in mind that no lifeguards are present on Topsail Island.

In addition to welcoming vacationers during the summer months, the Topsail Island beaches also see many Loggerhead Sea Turtles that visit to nest and lay their eggs near the dunes. These turtles are protected by local organizations that help to ensure nests remain untouched and that turtles can crawl into the sea upon hatching. Topsail Island is a great place to witness coastal wildlife in their natural habitat, just make sure not to disturb any you see.

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Bald Head Island

Sea Oats on dunes at Bald Head Island, NC

Sea Oats on dunes at Bald Head Island, NC

Board a ferry to Bald Head Island for a blissful escape to one of the best North Carolina beaches. Located at the southern end of North Carolina and just off the east side of the Cape Fear River, this beach destination beckons vacationers looking to get away from it all. Few cars are present on the island and visitors and locals alike use golf carts to get from beach to beach during a stay at a spacious Bald Head Island vacation rental.

The island has three main beaches that are named based on their location making it easy for vacationers to remember their favorite. North Beach is very spacious and is a great place to relax during low tide. When the tide is out, families can enjoy searching for shells along the beach or try paddleboarding and kiteboarding when the waters are flat. Waves are minimal, so it is not a good spot for surfing and the currents can be strong during high tide. West Beach is best for an older crowd looking for breathtaking views and beach fires. Rip tides and currents can be strong here preventing beachgoers from floating in the ocean. South Beach is the most popular among families as it is easy to access, is spacious, and has consistently warmer water temperatures than its neighboring beaches. Breezy conditions keep beachgoers comfortable on the shore and create small waves for kids to play in. Finally, East Beach boasts powerful waves that are great for watersports, but not for a relaxing day spent at the beach.

During a stay in Bald Head Island, choose your beach wisely as swimming is at your own risk and no lifeguards are on duty. You can even choose an oceanfront rental right at the beach of your choice for easy access and total convenience while you’re on vacation.

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Emerald Isle

Sunset on Bogue Sound, Emerald Isle, North Carolina

Sunset on Bogue Sound, Emerald Isle, North Carolina

Located on the stunning Crystal Coast, Emerald Isle is one of the best beaches in North Carolina with clear blue waters set against a back drop of shimmering white sands. Here, beauty can be found both above and below the ocean’s surface, as the area is a well-known destination for wreck-diving. The Emerald Isle lies near North Carolina’s “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” and it is a great destination to explore for vacationers who want to spend as much time in the water as possible.

Emerald Isle has public access points along Bogue Sound and the Atlantic Ocean, so that visitors can enjoy every inch of this vacation spot. These public access points are open from sunrise to sunset, and many offer a variety of amenities, such as picnic areas, restrooms, boat launches, playgrounds and volleyball courts. During the summer season, stationed lifeguards are on duty at the Western Regional Beach Access and the Eastern Regional Beach Access, while a mobile lifeguard patrols the area between the two beach access areas via an ATV.

Wildlife is abundant along the coast of North Carolina, and it is important to take precautions both in and out of the water during a visit to Emerald Isle. On land, make sure to use bug spray to repel pesky mosquitoes that hang around on hot and humid days. In the water, keep an eye out for jellyfish and Portuguese Man-of-Wars floating along the ocean’s surface. A run-in with the tentacles of either type of sea creature can be extremely uncomfortable and can be avoided by staying alert. Further out to sea, you will see a variety of colorful and exotic Gulf Stream fish when you go diving along the Crystal Coast.

Any worries you have will leave you during a trip to one of North Carolina’s best beaches. Make your home-away-from a cozy beach bungalow at the end of a sandy road, or stay in an oceanfront condo rental near bustling public beaches. Whatever your preference, you’ll find it along the expansive coast of North Carolina.

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