North Carolina is renowned for its breathtaking natural beaches, many of which remain undeveloped, dotted with small coastal towns and hidden gems along the coastline. To uncover the top ten beach towns in North Carolina, keep reading.
10 Best Beach Towns in North Carolina
- Nags Head
- Kitty Hawk
- Carolina Beach
- Wrightsville Beach
- Oak Island
Edenton, a quiet town located on the Albemarle Sound, takes the crown for being the best beach town in North Carolina. With a population of 4,391 people, Edenton boasts a 300-year-old history as the first Colonial Capital of North Carolina. The town features numerous historic homes and buildings that have been repurposed into bed and breakfasts, shops, and restaurants. The Chowan County Courthouse, which was built in 1767, is one of the town’s highlights. Edenton is also famous for its cypress trees that grow in the water, ranging in age from 500 to 2,000 years old.
2. Nags Head
Nags Head, located along the Outer Banks, is a wonderful NC beach town that boasts a population of 3,182. It is an ideal destination for families, offering a plethora of activities such as mini golf, restaurants, and some of the most serene beaches in North Carolina. Nags Head is also home to a number of outlet malls and beach shops, including Gallery Row and the Historic District. Fishing enthusiasts will also find plenty of options here, with Janette’s Pier being the main attraction. This impressive pier extends 1,000 feet out into the Atlantic ocean and is home to a variety of fish species, including Spanish mackerel, bluefish, triggerfish, sea mullet, croakers, pigfish, and several types of sharks.
Southport, situated in Brunswick County near the mouth of the Cape Fear River, is a charming coastal town in North Carolina renowned for its picturesque beauty. With a population of 8,396 as per the 2020 census, the town sees a significant surge in its numbers during summers, with 30,000 to 50,000 people flocking to its shores. Southport has also been a popular filming location for several local movies produced in Wilmington. The town’s unique location on the oceanfront has led to several restaurants being built right on the water, offering easy access to boaters.
With a population of 758, Duck is known for its unique and eccentric charm. This coastal town stands out for its lack of big box stores and its local, low-key vibe. One of Duck’s most famous attractions is its one-mile-long elevated boardwalk that stretches over the water and connects a variety of local boutiques, restaurants, and bars.
In addition to relaxing walks along the boardwalk, visitors can engage in a variety of other activities in Duck, such as fishing, crabbing, and cycling. The town is also known for its annual Duck Jazz Festival, which occurs every October during the second week of the month.
5. Kitty Hawk
If you’re looking for a beautiful North Carolina beach town, look no further than Kitty Hawk. This charming coastal town is situated just north of Kill Devil Hills and boasts breathtaking beaches with soft, golden sand – ideal for taking leisurely walks and soaking up the sun. Most of the town’s attractions are situated along the highway, including inviting family restaurants, fun mini golf courses, fascinating museums, and delightful beach shops. With so much to see and do, Kitty Hawk is a must-visit destination for beach lovers of all ages.
Orville and Wilbur Wright, the inventors of the airplane, chose Kitty Hawk as the location to make history with their first flight. Therefore, this town holds great historical significance as the birthplace of flight. The Wright Brothers National Memorial, situated to the south of Kitty Hawk, serves as a tribute to their pioneering achievements.
6. Carolina Beach
Carolina Beach, situated close to Wilmington, is renowned for its picturesque beaches and beachfront patios. The Carolina Beach Boardwalk, an iconic attraction known for its vintage allure, brims with exhilarating activities, including carnival rides, an arcade, a carousel, and ice cream parlors. In the summer season, the boardwalk lights up with spectacular fireworks display every Thursday night and hosts live music concerts featuring talented musicians from diverse backgrounds.
Carolina Beach boasts some of the best surfing spots in North Carolina, thanks to its vast and velvety sandy beaches.
Carolina Beach is an ideal spot for both surfers and beachgoers looking for a peaceful day by the sea.
7. Wrightsville Beach
If you’re looking for a destination that offers an exhilarating surfing experience, Wrightsville Beach is the place to be! Besides surfing, you can also indulge in other water sports, such as paddle boarding and kayaking. Apart from the thrilling water activities, there are many other attractions around Wrightsville that you can explore, such as the History Museum and the Coastal Education Center. If you happen to be here during the summer, don’t miss the farmers market that takes place from the middle of May to the end of September. Getting to Wrightsville Beach is easy and quick as it’s just a short drive away from Wilmington. To catch a breathtaking sunset, head to Crystal Pier, which is one of the most popular gathering spots in the area.
Calabash, located in North Carolina, is a charming beach town that is famous for its excellent cuisine. The town proudly calls itself the “Seafood Capital of the World,” and rightly so, given the wide range of restaurants serving delicious seafood. Apart from dining, Calabash is also a great place for shopping, with a plethora of retail stores to explore. Its unique combination of great food and shopping makes it one of the best beach towns to visit in North Carolina.
The town park is full of life on summer Tuesdays with a free concert that showcases bands playing various musical genres. Visitors can indulge in a range of treats, from handcrafted ice cream to mouth-watering dishes, sold by nearby vendors.
9. Oak Island
Nestled between Myrtle Beach and Wilmington, on the southern shores of North Carolina, you’ll find the serene town of Oak Island. This coastal gem is part of the Brunswick Island chain and boasts stunning white sandy beaches, perfect for a peaceful stroll. A mere 45-minute drive from Wilmington, Oak Island is also accessible by boat from Southport. The pier at Oak Island is a haven for fishing enthusiasts, while those seeking a more adventurous experience can opt for deep-sea fishing via charter boat. The town’s laid-back and tranquil vibe is undoubtedly its greatest allure.
Nestled in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Avon is a charming beach town that won’t break the bank. The town boasts a prime location, allowing visitors easy access to some of the best coastal attractions. While primarily known for its retail shops and restaurants along the highway, Avon’s real gem lies in its breathtaking beach and nearby attractions, which continue to draw in crowds year after year.
Avon Pier is a must-visit spot in Avon, where you can take a leisurely stroll for just a dollar and marvel at its distinctive zigzag walkway. The views of the coastline from here are simply stunning, and if you’re lucky enough to visit on a day when the waves are big, you might get to witness surfers riding the waves right next to the pier. Apart from being a popular gathering spot, Avon Pier is also a favorite among fishing enthusiasts, especially for those looking to catch large drum fish.
North Carolina Beach Towns Bottom Line
North Carolina’s beach towns have become a popular destination for many due to their serene and unspoiled nature. Unlike other tourist hotspots, these towns have managed to maintain their charm without massive boardwalks and hordes of visitors. The stunning scenery and laid-back atmosphere are the key attractions for those seeking a relaxing getaway.
Choosing the best Carolina coastal beach town for you ultimately comes down to personal preferences. If you’re seeking entertainment options, towns like Southport or Wrightsville may be more suitable for you. However, if you’re in need of pure relaxation, Avon and Oak Island are excellent choices. Regardless of your decision, each town boasts a unique culture and history that is worth exploring.
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