10 Best Beach Towns in North Carolina
- Nags Head
- Kitty Hawk
- Carolina Beach
- Wrightsville Beach
- Oak Island
The best beach town in North Carolina is Edenton. Located on the Albemarle Sound, Edenton is a quiet town with a population of 4,391 people. Edenton is the first Colonial Capital of North Carolina with a 300-year-old history. Edenton features many historic homes and buildings that have been repurposed into bed and breakfasts, shops, and restaurants. One of the town's highlights is the Chowan County Courthouse, which was built in 1767. In addition, Edenton is known for its cypress trees that grow in the water, ranging in age from 500 to 2,000 years old.
2. Nags Head
Nags Head is another fantastic NC beach town. It is located along the Outer Banks and has a population of 3,182. Nags Head is a great place for families with activities such as mini golf, restaurants, and some of the most relaxing beaches in North Carolina. Nags Heads has plenty of outlet malls and beach shops, including Gallery Row and the Historic District. Nags Head also has numerous fishing piers, with Janette’s Pier being the main attraction. This massive pier extends 1,000 feet out into the Atlantic ocean. If you decide to fish, you might catch Spanish mackerel, bluefish, triggerfish, sea mullet, croakers, pigfish, and several species of shark.
Southport is one of the best North Carolina coastal towns. It is located in Brunswick County near the mouth of the Cape Fear River. As of the 2020 census, Southport’s population was 8,396, although its summer population swells up to 30,000 to 50,000 people. Southport is known for being the location of many local movies filmed by production companies based in Wilmington. Being an oceanside town, many restaurants are built right on the water allowing for easy boat access!
Duck is considered to be one of the more eccentric and unique towns along the coast, with a population of 758. Duck is known for its lack of big box stores and its very local, low-key feel. The town is also famous for its one-mile-long elevated boardwalk that extends over the water, connecting various local boutiques, restaurants, and bars.
Other activities include fishing from the boardwalk, crabbing on the sounds, or cycling along the six-mile Duck Trail. The town also hosts the Duck Jazz Festival each year. It takes place in the second week of October.
5. Kitty Hawk
Kitty Hawk is another one of the best North Carolina coast towns. It is located just north of Kill Devil Hills and is known for its stunning beaches with golden sand, perfect for taking leisurely walks. The majority of the town’s attractions are located along the highway, including family restaurants, mini golf courses, museums, and beach shops.
Kitty Hawk is also historically significant as it is the birthplace of flight, where Orville and Wilbur Wright invented the airplane. The Wright Brothers National Memorial is located to the south of the town.
6. Carolina Beach
Located near Wilmington, Carolina Beach is well known for its scenic beaches and beachfront patios. The iconic Carolina Beach Boardwalk, famous for its vintage charm, is overflowing with exciting activities, such as carnival rides, a carousel, an arcade, and ice cream shops. During the summer months, the boardwalk lights up with fireworks every Thursday night and features live music concerts by a diverse range of musicians.
Carolina Beach is widely recognized as one of North Carolina’s premier surfing spots, with its expansive and soft sandy beaches.
Whether you’re a surfer or simply seeking a relaxing day at the beach, Carolina Beach is the perfect destination.
7. Wrightsville Beach
Wrightsville Beach is a great destination for surfing, paddle boarding, and kayaking. Attractions around Wrightsville include the History Museum and the Coastal Education Center. The farmers market takes place throughout the summer, from the middle of May to the end of September. Wrightsville Beach is just a short drive from Wilmington, so getting here is easy and quick. One of the most popular gathering spots is at Crystal Pier, which is especially great to see when the sun is setting.
Calabash is a town known for having great food and charm. The town claims to be the “Seafood Capital of the World,” and there is some validity to that statement from the variety of restaurants. Beyond dining, Calabash provides ample opportunities for shopping, with a diverse selection of retail stores to choose from.
On summer Tuesdays, the town park comes alive with a free concert featuring bands playing a variety of musical genres. Nearby, vendors sell a range of treats, from handcrafted ice cream to mouth-watering dishes.
9. Oak Island
On the southern shores of North Carolina, located between Myrtle Beach and Wilmington, lies Oak Island. Part of the Brunswick Island chain, it has scenic and very natural, white sandy beaches. Oak Island is about a 45-minute drive from Wilmington and is a short boat trip away from Southport. Oak Island’s pier provides great fishing, and deep-sea fishing is also available via charter boat. The best thing about Oak Island is the low-key, relaxing atmosphere of the town.
Avon is a budget-friendly North Carolina beach town located on the Outer Banks. The town offers close proximity to some of the top attractions along the coast. Despite being primarily comprised of retail shops and restaurants along the highway, its stunning beach and nearby attractions make it a popular destination.
A popular gathering spot in Avon is the Avon Pier, where for just a dollar, you can stroll out onto the pier and admire its unique, zigzag walkway. The views of the coastline from here are breathtaking, and on days when the waves are big, you may even spot surfers riding the waves beside the pier. Avon Pier is also a popular fishing spot, particularly for catching large drum fish.
North Carolina Beach Towns Bottom Line
For many people, one of the attractions of North Carolina’s beach towns is that they haven’t been developed with massive, crowded boardwalks and crowds of tourists. North Carolina’s beaches remain popular due to their fantastic scenery and low-key atmosphere.
Which Carolina coastal beach town is best for you depends on personal preferences. Some towns like Southport or Wrightsville will offer more entertainment options, while other like Avon and Oak Island will be purely relaxation based! Whichever you choose to visit, each town has a unique culture and history.