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13 Best North Carolina Beach Towns

There’s no better way to enjoy the summer than a relaxing trip to the beach. Between the ocean waves, the sandy shores, the quaint shops, and the delicious food, a beach vacation is the perfect way to unwind and have fun with your family. So, why not head to North Carolina while the weather’s still warm and check out one of their many adorable beach towns? Whether you prefer a quiet, remote escape or a getaway at a top beach hotel, the Tarheel State has the perfect beach town for you.

Surf City and Topsail Island Topsail Island
Credit: Topsail Island by © Patricia Shrout | Dreamstime.com

Surf City and Topsail Island

Although Surf City and Topsail Island are technically two different places, you can visit both in one fell swoop because the tiny town of Surf City is sandwiched between North and South Topsail. When you enter the area via the infamous swing bridge that connects the mainland to the island, you are dropped right into the center of Surf City – a quaint, little beach town with a unique mix of old-fashioned shops and modern amenities. There are new shopping centers that offer everything from Italian food to an urgent care office. But, you’ll also find gift shops that date back to the 1970s and a diner that’s been serving up fresh food and 22 flavors of hand-dipped ice cream for the past 25 years. Enjoy a day on the uncrowded beaches and then have some authentic Coastal Carolina cuisine at one of the island’s restaurants.

Carolina Beach Carolina Beach
Credit: Carolina Beach by © Brooke Becker | Dreamstime.com

Carolina Beach

Located about one hour to the south of Topsail Island is another popular beach town – Carolina Beach. This small, eclectic town is one of the most laid-back beaches in the area and is where you want to go if you want to have a beach vacation that is both fun and unforgettable. As their motto, “Stay Original,” implies, the town is all about being free-spirited and down to Earth. Besides a beautiful and relatively uncrowded beach, you’ll also find a colorful vintage-style boardwalk complete with an old-school arcade, hiking trails at the Carolina Beach State Park and charming beach hotels. Enjoy paddle boating on the lake or go fishing off of the Carolina Beach Pier.

Wrightsville Beach Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville Beach

On the opposite end of Wilmington, just about 30 minutes from Carolina Beach, is Wrightsville Beach. Although it is a little more crowded here, there is still a classic, laid-back Carolina vibe throughout the island town. Here, you’ll find everything from retro beach bars to upscale oceanfront restaurants, with plenty of open beaches and crystal blue waters to enjoy in between. There’s also a wide variety of accommodations available in Wrightsville, whether you prefer the comfort of a residential bungalow or the amenities of a full-scale resort.

Hatteras Island Hatteras Island
Credit: Hatteras Island by © Aoldman | Dreamstime.com

Hatteras Island

Located in the famous Outer Banks of North Carolina, Hatteras Island is the perfect destination if you are looking to leave all the “hustle and bustle” of your normal life behind. The island, which covers almost half of the entire length of the Outer Banks, offers endless stretches of beach that have been uninterrupted by commercial construction. You’ll find amazing views, pristine sand dunes and plenty of nature to enjoy, as well as a variety of coastal restaurants and a handful of “mom and pop” type shops.

Bald Head Island Bald Head Island, North Carolina
Credit: Bald Head Island, North Carolina by © Iofoto | Dreamstime.com

Bald Head Island

If you really, really want to get away from it all, then you need to take a trip to the inviting area of Bald Head Island, a barrier island that does not allow cars and is only accessible by ferry. That’s right – if you really want to leave it all behind, you can do just that here, including your car. Just park it at the marina in nearby Southport, board the ferry, and ride for 20 minutes until you reach the pristine beaches of Bald Head. Because there are no cars, everything here is accessible by foot or bicycle, including a variety of charming restaurants and shops, golf courses, a spa and more.

Sunset Beach Sunset Beach
Credit: Sunset Beach by ©Edward Lange | Dreamstime.com

Sunset Beach

With a name like Sunset Beach, it’s hard to go wrong. In fact, the long stretches of endless sand and beautiful, serene sunsets garnered the area a spot on National Geographic’s list of the “21 Best Beaches in the World”. Although you won’t find any boardwalks, high-rise hotels or commercial attractions here, you will find plenty of beaches for relaxing, taking a walk or collecting seashells. There is also one very popular tourist attraction in the area – the Kindred Spirit mailbox. This lone mailbox that stands in the middle of an uncrowded area of the beach has been visited by people from all over the world, who leave their thoughts and wishes inside the mailbox for the next visitors (and the Kindred Spirit) to find.

Nags Head Nags Head, NC
Credit: Nags Head, NC by © Meinzahn | Dreamstime.com

Nags Head

Start planning to this barrier island town this summer now, as Nags Head is known for its gorgeous beaches, fresh seafood offerings, and beachside events. Perched between Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills, this tiny beach town makes an ideal home base for visiting the Outer Banks. The 12 miles of sandy shores are the most popular attraction in Nags Head, but you can also visit the circa-1872 Bodie Island Lighthouse on Cape Hatteras National Seashore or rent rods and go fishing off Jeanette’s Pier. For unique landscapes, head to Jockey’s Ridge State Park, which is the East Coast’s tallest natural dune system and a great place to try out hang gliding.

Kure Beach Kure Beach, North Carolina
Credit: Kure Beach, North Carolina by © Asboard90 | Dreamstime.com

Kure Beach

Just a short drive from Wilmington, Kure Beach is a hassle-free beach destination with a peaceful setting. Beachgoers come here to savor the stunning Atlantic Coast views along the six-mile stretch of undeveloped beach, as well as the wide selection of excellent seafood restaurants. Families with kids can take advantage of the oceanfront park and playground, while history buffs and visit the Fort Fisher State Historic Site and see the site of the largest land-to-sea battle in the Civil War. Accommodations range from old-school motels and cozy oceanfront inns, while vacation rentals offer easy access to the shoreline, local surf shops, and specialty boutiques.

Kitty Hawk Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
Credit: Kitty Hawk, North Carolina by © Debbie Turko | Dreamstime.com

Kitty Hawk

Located north of Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk has a beautiful beach that’s long and wide and perfect for family adventures. Stroll the shoreline, then take advantage of the area’s array of kid-friendly adventures, like family-friendly restaurants, mini golf, and beach shops. You can also visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial, which stands on a hill overlooking the ocean, the sound, and the field where the famous Orville and Wilbur Wright sent the Wright Flyer on its historic set of flights. You can also try surf fishing, pick up unique treasures shelling along the coast, fish off Avalon Fishing Pier, or sample fresh seafood at the local favorite, Colington Cafe.

Duck Duck, NC

Duck

Sunny summer days can be found in Duck, one of North Carolina’s tiniest beach towns. It’s a hotspot in warmer months, offering a chance to enjoy a long list of outdoor adventures, including sailing, kayaking, and golfing. This Outer Banks coastal destination has an expansive beach for basking in the sunshine, collecting seashells, and catching a sunrise, while nearby Duck Town Park has 11 acres of maritime forest to explore, a playground for kids, and picnic spots. If you’re up for an adventure, get out on the water with a guided tour and paddle the Currituck Sound with a kayak or stand-up paddle board.

Atlantic Beach Evening Glow at Atlantic Beach, North Carolina
Credit: Evening Glow at Atlantic Beach, North Carolina by © Cynthia Mccrary | Dreamstime.com

Atlantic Beach

This summer, head to North Carolina’s picturesque Atlantic Beach. Set on a beautiful barrier island bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Bogue Sound, it’s best known for its abundance of public beaches and rich history. Dive into the region’s history at Fort Macon State Park, which is also a popular spot for swimming, beach combing, and dolphin spotting, then stroll the Oceanana Fishing Pier or see surfers taking advantage of the steady swell. The town itself is a great spot for families, boasting a town park with a splash pad, skatepark, and mini golf, while aquatic encounters can be found at the nearby Pine Knoll Shores aquarium.

Avon Avon Pier, Outer Banks, NC
Credit: Avon Pier, Outer Banks, NC by © Cvandyke | Dreamstime.com

Avon

A charming beach town in the Outer Banks, Avon is a delightful place to base yourself in North Carolina for summer. It has a stunning beach and pier you can stroll to admire the coastline views. When the waves are big, you can watch the surfers in action, while fishing is also popular. When it’s time to dine, you’ll find a mix of casual beach restaurants and seafood joints, and shopping is easy with numerous retail stores selling souvenirs and beach gear.

Emerald Isle Emerald Isle, NC
Credit: Emerald Isle, NC by © | Dreamstime.com

Emerald Isle

Families love Emerald Isle, which is the westernmost community on Bogue Banks. With 12 miles of clean, inviting shoreline and clear waters where the kids can make a splash, this area also boasts plenty of public water access and parks. This small-town beach community offers a classic vacation destination for summer, where you’ll find old-fashioned neighborhoods, scenic walking trails in Emerald Isle Woods Park, and kid-friendly attractions like Salty Pirate, a fun-filled water park for little ones.

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