North Carolina has 301 miles of beachfront coastline that runs from the Outer Banks to the border of South Carolina. Whether you are looking for family fun, places to relax and soak up the sun, charter an offshore fishing trip, play golf or check out some of coastal North Carolina history.. you are sure to find the perfect destination on our list of the Top 25 North Carolina beaches for family vacations.
1. Carolina Beach – Carolina Beach is located 15 miles south of Wilmington, NC, on the northern end of Pleasure Island. Immediately upon arrival, you will experience the fun-loving and free-spirited beach vibe that is Carolina Beach. Embrace the unique beachside boardwalk, named one of the top boardwalks in the country by Food & Wine Magazine – where you can browse shops, eateries, and arcades – and feel like a kid again. For those who love boating or fishing, Carolina Beach is home to some of the best on the North Carolina coast. The Carolina Beach Fishing Center and Marina is home to one of North Carolina’s largest selections of recreational fishing fleets and party boats.
2. Corolla – Corolla, NC, is located in Currituck County (the last area you come through before you cross the bridge onto the Outer Banks if you’re coming in from the north). The bulk of the Outer Banks are in Dare County, though Ocracoke Island is a part of Hyde County. It’s north of Duck, NC. If you could drive straight down the beach from Virginia, you’d be in Corolla in no time, but, alas, that’s not allowed since the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge sits on the border of the NC/VA line.
3. Duck – Duck is located on the northern Outer Banks, a barrier island that’s bordered by the sound on one side and the ocean on the other. You drive across the sounds to reach Duck, NC. Arriving from the north, you take the Wright Memorial Bridge (from Currituck County) then travel up N.C. Highway 12. From the west, you drive across the Virginia Dare Bridge from the North Carolina mainland then take U.S. Highway 158 (aka The Bypass or Croatan Highway) to the intersection of N.C. Highway 12 then into Duck. Should you be driving up from Hatteras, you will cross the Herbert Bonner Bridge to Nags Head then Highway 158 to Highway 12.
4. Emerald Isle – Emerald Isle greets Crystal Coast visitors at the western end of Bogue Banks, offering 12 miles of pristine shoreline and incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean and Bogue Inlet. With a variety of lodging options and a focus on family fun, Emerald Isle is a haven for watersports, fishing (onshore, offshore and on the Bogue Inlet Pier), or simply sitting on the sand and enjoying the sound of the waves rolling in.
5. Topsail Island – Situated at the southern end of Topsail Island, off the coast of southeastern North Carolina, the Town of Topsail Beach is the smallest of the three communities located on the 26-mile long island. North Topsail Beach occupies the northernmost section, and Surf City, the largest town on the island, is in the center. The Island is just off US Highway 17, about half-way between Wilmington and Jacksonville. Topsail Island has a rich and varied history.
6. Kill Devil Hills – Kill Devil Hills is the oldest official town on the Outer Banks, and arguably, one of its most popular destinations. Located in the middle of the central Outer Banks and bordered by miles of attractions, activities, shops, and restaurants, (and not to mention miles of ocean,) Kill Devil Hills offers vacationers a world of things to do and see.
7. Kitty Hawk – A small but popular vacation town in the busy central Outer Banks, Kitty Hawk was originally deemed “Chickahawk” by its original Native American residents, meaning a “place to hunt geese.” Over the generations, the name changed slightly, the area became more developed, and the town became the popular tourist destination it is today.
8.Nags Head – Nags Head is arguably one of the Outer Banks’ most established tourism destinations, and the area remains popular with visitors today for its wealth of amenities, sprawling ocean and sound front views, and classic Outer Banks style. In Nags Head, a beach-loving vacationer can find virtually anything to make an OBX vacation perfect, including some of the area’s favorite restaurants, natural and historical attractions, and miles of fun. Visitors come here year after year for the fantastic Outer Banks beaches and ample entertainment, and have been doing so for generations. An ideal mix of on-the-beach relaxation and off-the-beach amusements, Nags Head remains one of the Outer Banks’ most loved vacation destinations.
9. Cape Hatteras National Seashore – Visitors to Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands will simultaneously be visiting the gorgeous Cape Hatteras National Seashore. One of the largest preserved parcels of the Outer Banks, the National Seashore stretches across 70 miles of shoreline, encompassing seven villages on Hatteras Island, and providing visitors with miles of undisturbed, scenic beaches as well as some of the prettiest natural drives on the East Coast.
10.Wrightsville Beach – Known for its crystal blue waters and spacious beach, surfing and standup paddleboard (SUP) competitions, and signature kids’ programs like pirate-led treasure hunts and surf camps, it’s easy to find something to do here. No wonder Wrightsville Beach was voted North Carolina’s best beach.
11.Kure Beach – Take a break from your deadlines to see why life’s a little less hectic at Kure Beach. Here you’ll find the kind of small-town beach you visited as a kid. Home to the oldest fishing pier on the Atlantic Coast, an oceanfront park, a nearby state aquarium and historic fort and beautiful seaside surroundings, Kure Beach provides the perfect setting for you and your family to explore and reconnect in this pure and natural playground.
12. Bald Head Island – Explore this no-cars-allowed island by bike, boat or golf cart and you’ll find yourself amidst varied natural landscapes, including spectacular sand dunes hiding spacious beach homes, pristine beaches, maritime forests and salt marshes teeming with wildlife. The preserved and conservation-friendly island is home to one of the largest sea turtle nesting sites in North Carolina and is listed as one of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s “index beaches.”
13. Currituck Beach – The barrier island region of the county attracts the bulk of Currituck’s visitors, due to its miles of shoreline, famed historic attractions, and vast selection of shops, activities and vacation rentals. As such, every Currituck County visitor should make one visit to this famed region, which is distinctive, beautiful, and an ideal vacation destination for beach lovers.
14. Surf City – Surf City is a small, rural beach community and is the largest of the three cities on Topsail. It’s seen as the commercial hub of the island offering a large array of amenities for both living and vacationing. Visitors and vacationers enjoy miniature golf, surf shops, gift shops, and an area favorite, Sound side Park, which offers picnic areas, playground, public boat ramps and boardwalk. Surf City has plenty of bike paths making the navigation of Surf City’s parks and 25 public beach accesses a true pleasure. Then there’s the main attraction—the breathtaking beach with pristine sands and sparkling blue-green Atlantic waters.
15.Ocracoke Island – The four-square mile village is buffered by approximately 15 miles of undeveloped and rarely visited beaches, making the occasional visitor feel like they have their own private island to explore. Fishing, shelling and surfing are all exceptional here, and the town itself is a remarkable mixture of a touristy-beach town, a historic local community, and a laid-back coastal fishing village.
16.Holden Beach – Holden Beach offers small-town charm and unspoiled beauty, which is perhaps why families return year after year to relive old memories and make new ones … like chasing ghost crabs with a flashlight during an evening stroll, or grabbing a bike and pedaling to the far eastern tip of the island to Lockwood Folly Inlet.
17.Frisco Beach – The small town of Frisco located at the southern end of Hatteras Island, is a paradise for beach lovers who want to relax away from all the activity and noise of the mainland, and settle into coastal life. With a few well-loved restaurants, convenience stores, and a variety of inviting yet secluded accommodations, Frisco may be the perfect destination for Outer Banks vacationers who want to leave all the clutter behind, and simply enjoy a vacation on the beach.
18. Pine Knoll Shores – This small coastal town is home to one of the area’s most popular attractions, the North Carolina Aquarium. The aquarium features all kinds of animals, including otters, sharks, sea turtles, penguins, sting rays and more. Surrounding the aquarium is also the untouched reserve known as the Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area. The whole family will enjoy a hike along this scenic nature trail, exploring the area’s natural wildlife and beauty.
19. Atlantic Beach – Atlantic Beach, NC, is known not only for its beaches and sparkling water, but also for its rich history and culture. Atlantic Beach is home to Fort Macon, a popular state park and Civil War Fort, which draws thousands of visitors each year and Queen Anne’s Revenge, the famous pirate flag ship of Blackbeard. Visitors can tour the old fort, take hikes, go fishing, swimming or lounge on the nearby beach and more.
20.Cape Lookout National Seashore – Crystal Coast visitors who want a pristine beach environment won’t have to venture very far, thanks to the outlying Cape Lookout National Seashore. Following the outskirts of Beaufort, Morehead City and Cedar Island, and offering miles of undeveloped shoreline to go around, this uninhabited destination is a fine spot for adventurous shell hunters, fishermen, hikers, birdwatchers, and lighthouse fans to explore the Crystal Coast’s wild side.
21. Coquina Beach – People retreat to Coquina for the scenery and solitude. The moss-covered rocks that add a unique beach aesthetic are embedded with the small coquina and other clams. Just make sure to visit at low tide so you can witness the rocks! This section of the OBX is also famous for surf fishing as 4WD accessible makes it easy for anglers to haul materials (note, you will have to obtain a 4WD permit prior to this).
22. Salvo Beach – Salvo is another one of the Outer Banks’ hidden gems, a small town located on the southern end of the locally-named “Tri-Villages” of Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo. This coastal town has a small collection of tackle stores and variety stores, but not much else, and Salvo vacationers love it that way.
23. Avon – Avon is an old Hatteras Island village that has become synonymous with recreational surf fishing, and the Avon pier is a hot spot for those in pursuit of big gamefish like Red Drum. Just north of Buxton, this once tiny village of watermen and their families has grown to be a highly coveted vacationing experience with pristine, natural beaches and beautiful rental cottages. But Avon still retains its tight knit community feel. Even though you can find fantastic seafood restaurants, a supermarket, and some of the conveniences of home, a rustic atmosphere still permeates in Avon.
24. Sunset Beach – The southern-most Brunswick Islands beach, Sunset Beach, was recently included on National Geographic’s list of 21 Best Beaches In The World, and rightfully so. If it’s sweeping views of seemingly endless sand and peaceful serenity you’re longing for, put this beach at the top of your list. A walk to Bird Island is always a family favorite, as is a visit to the Kindred Spirit Mailbox where visitors are invited to share their thoughts and stories in the pages of the notebooks within.
25.Ocean Isle – If it’s a more relaxing type of fun you’re wanting, amazingly enough, you’re still in the right place at Ocean Isle Beach. Nothing beats basking in the sun on a beach towel for the better part of the day. Local restaurants and hangouts with outdoor decks and waterfront views are always inviting. For a break from the sun, plan a visit to The Museum of Coastal Carolina to encounter more sea life and even a touch tank, or unwind at the award-winning Silver Coast Winery.
We hope you have enjoyed our Top 25 North Carolina beaches for family vacations . Comment below and let us know your favorite vacation spot! Don’t see your destination listed, contact us so we can add it to our list!