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These Beaches in North Carolina Will Have You Packing Your Bags

Beaches in North Carolina
North Carolina lies on the east coast of the US and is a popular seaside destination. Here's a look at some of the best beaches adorning its 300-mile coastline.
Prabhakar Pillai
Last Updated: Jul 25, 2017
Our memories of the ocean will linger on, long after our footprints in the sand are gone.
Although this quote is from an anonymous philosopher, one would be hard-pressed to find someone who cannot relate to it. The blue, playful water, the eternal sounds of the seashore - the guttural baritone of the waves complemented by the high tremolo of the whistling wind - and the soft sand combine to create a much-desired "getting away from it all" sensation that calms and pleases us at once. The abstract stuff aside, the tangible side of our primordial admiration of oceans and beaches lies in the number of tourists who flock to beaches all over the world as soon as they get the chance. Beaches are always a popular travel destination, waiting to greet and soothe us with open arms. They are excellent spots to get rid of that pent-up weekday boredom.

The east coast of the United States is replete with stunning beaches that can make for a perfect weekend getaway or a fantastic family vacation. North Carolina houses many of those. North Carolina's beaches can be, broadly, geographically divided into 3 regions:
  1. The Outer Banks (OBX) includes many popular beaches, such as Avon, Hatteras, Rodanthe, Corolla, Ocracoke, etc. Part of the Outer Banks is preserved by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
  2. The Crystal Coast includes beaches on the Bogue Banks, Harkers Island, Shackleford Banks, etc. 'Crystal Coast' is a moniker coined to promote tourism.
  3. Cape Fear includes beaches such as Wilmington, Carolina, Kure and Wrightsville.
Here's what I think are the best beaches of North Carolina.
Ocracoke Island
Ocracoke Island
Home to the notorious pirate 'Blackbeard' Edward Teach, Ocracoke Island, originally called Wokokkon, was only permanently settled after Blackbeard's death in 1718. This Outer Banks island was named as the best beach in America by Stephen Leatherman, better known as 'Dr. Beach', in 2007 and consistently features in the lists of the best beaches in the world.
Other than the excellent beach, Ocracoke also houses the second oldest lighthouse in the US, although it is no longer open to climb. Another popular attraction is the vibrant music scene of Ocracoke, with a large number of local musicians.
Topsail Beach
Topsail Beach
A relatively unknown beach community, Topsail is an undiscovered gem in the Cape Fear region. Due to the relatively low tourist influx (although the numbers are gradually increasing), Topsail has remained a quaint town, famous for its spectacular beaches and seafood. The residents of Topsail Beach are eager to maintain Topsail's natural beauty, particularly demonstrated by the Topsail Turtle Project, which is entirely run by volunteers.
Like many other islands in the vicinity, Topsail Beach is supposed to have a pirate history. The name itself was supposedly given to the island by virtue of the 'topsails' of pirate ships, which was the only portion of the ships that could be seen, hiding in wait for merchant vessels to pass by.
Surf City
Surf City
Situated on the barrier island of Topsail Island, Surf City is a typical beach town - quiet, sunny and peaceful.
Like all small beach communities, summer is the period of maximum tourist activity, while the local population utilizes winter as a well-earned break from the hectic daily schedule of the tourist season (this applies to the following beaches as well, unless otherwise mentioned). Surfing and fishing are the most popular activities in this beach town.
Hatteras Island
Hatteras Island
If you are enthusiastic about fishing, Hatteras is the place for you. Agencies in Hatteras can set up customized fishing trips for you, whatever your requirements may be. And even if words such as bobbler, bait, night crawler, and shank don't mean anything to you, Hatteras is also quite close to the concurrence of the colder Labrador current and the warm Gulf current, which results in a great surf and a wonderful beach.
Bald Head Island
Bald Head Island
Apart from its beach, this lovely town is renowned as a retirement home. The old-world charm of the picturesque town is preserved to the extent that cars are not allowed on the island; residents commute in stylized electric golf carts or bicycles. The main attraction on Bald Head Island is the 'old baldy' lighthouse, which offers a beautiful view of the surrounding coastal country.
Nags Head
Nags Head town
Another town famous for its not-so-honorable past, Nags Head (most probably) derives its name from the mules, or nags used to bring about shipwrecks, which were then looted by locals. A lantern attached to the nag, which would then be left free to roam on beaches on dark nights, would confuse incoming ships about the whereabouts of the coast and cause miscalculations, leading to shipwrecks.
Staying in the present tense, though, Nags Head is a famous - and peaceful, if I may add - beach resort, although not 'tranquil' in the same sense as Bald Head. But despite the relative modernization, Nags Head retains an excellent beach, not to mention the Jockey's Ridge State Park and popular fishing piers.
Holden Beach
Holden Beach
Holden Beach is, to paraphrase Chandler Bing, more of a place to have a summer 'vacation' than to have a summer 'break - woohoo'. Holden Beach retains a pristine quality in its beautiful environs. Despite an inevitable degree of modernization, Holden Beach holds a high rank for its family appeal, a claim supported by National Geographic's Traveler.
Fishing is, of course, a favorite pastime among visitors, along with bicycling, boating and windsurfing. The annual Festival by the Sea, held in October, attracts many visitors as well. Another of Holden Beach's treasures is the Loggerhead sea turtles, which nest at this pristine waterfront. The hatchlings usually emerge between July-October.
Due to it being located close to the University of North Carolina, this beautiful beach stays active past the summer seasons, with the tourist influx carrying on up to November.
Along with the typical oceanfront pastimes of surfing et al., Wrightsville is also a popular bird watching destination; many shorebirds nest along the coast of North Carolina. Sea turtles also thrive on the southern barrier island of Masonboro Island. Johnnie Mercer's Pier in Wrightsville is one of the few remaining wooden piers and is an excellent spot to tug the line.
Emerald Isle
Emerald Isle can be termed as unique in this list. It doesn't have a historical significance like Ocracoke, nor surfing hotspots like Surf City, nor tourist destinations like the Old Baldy lighthouse or the Jockey's Ridge. Emerald Isle's reputation as a beach resort is based almost exclusively on what matters most - its beaches. It is an excellent vacation spot for fishing, and the aquatic wildlife is fascinating as well. It is especially famous for sea turtles.
Originally owned by Henry Fort and inherited by his daughter Anita Maulick upon his death, Emerald Isle was purchased and developed by seven partners in the 1950s and 60s. The name 'Emerald Isle' was given while the area was under development. There are several possible explanations for the somewhat ambiguous title; the most plausible one is that the developers, while being flown over the area, named it so due to the extensive forest cover over the newly purchased land.
The 'Seafood Capital of the World' Calabash and its adjoining beach community Sunset Beach, only lying about 5 miles apart, are the southernmost major coastal towns of North Carolina. While Calabash holds a high rank in the world cuisine map thanks to its 'Calabash-style' seafood, Sunset Beach is famous not only for its beach, but also for the numerous golf courses which lie on its periphery.
The pontoon bridge in Sunset Beach is also a popular tourist attraction. Although it is no longer the only route in and out of the tranquil town, the bridge has been preserved by the Old Bridge Preservation Society and is being developed as the core of a museum about the town's history. Like most coastal towns, Sunset Beach also has a fishing pier for the avid fisherman.
Due to the alluring combination of the relaxing atmosphere, beautiful beaches and the stunning seafood, Calabash and Sunset Beach are a personal favorite.
I do, of course, confess that the beaches included on this list are a personal choice, but I really don't see anyone not going nuts about them. Apart from these, the North Carolinian coastline also offers these excellent choices.
Pine Knoll Shores: Center of the Bogue Banks
Atlantic Beach: It is the oldest beach community in the Bogue Banks. You get to witness great sunrises and sunsets. Fishing is a major activity here. You will find restaurants, nightclubs, bars, family attractions and many more.
Atlantic Beach
Carolina Beach: Warm, fertile waters support large numbers of aquatic wildlife. It is home to the North Carolina Aquarium. Other enjoyable activities that you can be a part of are surfing, kayaking, boating, etc.
Carolina Beach
Rodanthe: Popular water sports destination
Rodanthe Beach
Kill Devil Hills: Site of the first flight by the Wright brothers
Kill Devil Hills beach
Duck: Named, obviously, for the large numbers of the waterfowl in the surroundings
Ocean Isle Beach: Golfing (on the nearby mainland) and turtle watching can be enjoyed (from May-October).
Kure Beach: Home to one of the state-owned aquariums; along with fishing you can participate in nature programs.
Kure Beach
Bodie Island: Houses the Bodie Island Light, one of the most famous lighthouses of the Outer Banks
Bodie Island
North Carolina's beaches are generally considered to be safe during the prime tourist season, summer and early fall. Naturally for coastal towns, seafood is a major cuisine and industry in most towns, although Calabash holds the reign over that department. Carolinian beach communities, especially those on the Outer Banks are dormant towns, going into a state of near-hibernation between tourist seasons, and thus provide the perfect pristine touch to the naturally beautiful wonders, that is its beaches.