North Carolina is a favorite go-to summer beach destination for northern east coasters looking for a closer coastal vacation with warm water than north of the Mason-Dixon line. The Outer Banks (OBX) is one of the most visited spots with a reputation for gorgeous beaches (and sharks). With over 300 miles of coastline, you’ll have more than dozens of beaches to choose from.
Top Beaches and Coastal Towns in NC
There are numerous desirable beach towns within the Tar Heel State. Wilmington, although lacking its own beaches, is a fast-growing coastal city of over 115,000. Just twenty minutes south of the city lies Carolina Beach, a fun beach town with its own state park and beautiful boardwalk. That’s just one of many top vacation choices for an oceanside holiday.
Guide to Visiting the Beaches in North Carolina
The North Carolina coast has been attracting visitors and new residents for centuries, dating back to Native American settlers, pirates, European explorers, and notable businesspeople who foresaw the potential of these shores.
With its temperate climate, pristine sands, clear waters, and lively beach towns, it is no surprise why people repeatedly choose Tar Heel State beaches over other options. From the busy boardwalk in Duck to the tranquil vacation homes of Bald Head Island, North Carolina has 322 miles of shoreline. It has more than 25 beaches, each providing a different experience.
People looking for a compromise of beach life and city life should head towards Wilmington, a city with a population of about 122,161 (2020 census) and just a few miles from the coastline. Smaller communities like Duck and Oak Island are revered for being great retirement towns, but families enjoy being there too.
Take a few days for yourself to explore these seaside gems and see what the hype is all about. The Outer Banks is one of the most popular beach regions for a laid-back vacation, but other areas are equally peaceful.
Bogue Banks Island is home to two famous beaches, Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach, both treasured coastal towns with a deep history on their soil. Kitty Hawk is not only renowned for its relaxed environment, low crime rate, affordability, and beautiful beaches, but it’s also the spot where the Wright Brothers kicked off their first controlled power flight.
The average highs along the Outer Banks are 55-86℉, with the coldest month being December and the hottest ones being July and August. The rainiest time of year on the North Carolina coast is August, although July and September can bring decent amounts of precipitation too.
Hurricane season in this state follows suit with the others south of it, having the highest probability of storms from June through November.
While the best times to visit the NC coast might be subjective, many travel websites recommend March through May and September through November for a beach vacation. During these months, there are fewer crowds and cheaper accommodations.
Seasoned beachgoers know about the marine life in North Carolina’s waters, but visitors may not realize that this part of the Atlantic is home to at least ten common shark species. While it’s possible to run into a shark year-round, the winter and early spring are more probable to meet one.
Great Whites, one of the most feared species, do spend time along this part of the east coast.
To reduce your chances of a dangerous shark encounter, follow the beach rules and warnings when they’re issued. Also, never go swimming alone if you can help it.
Popular Beach Activities
The Atlantic Ocean is a great way to cool off during a humid summer or when it’s still warm out in the fall. Some popular watersports include kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, sailing, surfing, swimming, snorkeling, and diving.
Many piers on the North Carolina coast allow fishing off of them. Especially during peak season, it’s not hard to find places that will rent you gear to do all the activities you want.
North Carolina is popular for vacation homes, especially in the Outer Banks. Some resorts and smaller hotels do exist, usually close to the shore. Large families and groups that want direct beach access can find marge homes with multiple rooms in places like Bald Head Island and Duck.
Travelers who enjoy spending the night outdoors will also find campgrounds dotted along the shore, especially towards the north end of the state.
Don’t miss out on some quality beach time on your next trip through North Carolina. Not only will you see American culture at its finest, but you’ll see some of the best beaches along the Atlantic, too.