When it comes to hitting the road for a North Carolina vacation, you sure are in luck. From one end to the other, the state stretches across land with plenty of opportunities for outdoor activity. There are mountains, lakes, rivers, bustling cities, and everyone's favorite beaches. There are over 300 miles of coastline bumping up against the Atlantic ocean.
So, today we're going to take a trip down the coast to visit our five favorite places to swim in Vacation Destinations: Beach Edition.
The first stop, on the northeast side of the state, is an insanely popular destination, the OBX. This thin line of islands is all that separates mainland North Carolina from the direct waves and sandy beaches along the Atlantic. Spots included in this area are Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, Rodanthe, Hatteras, and Okracoke to name a few.
Being basically a long island chain, the Outer Banks is full of beaches. Some beaches, like the one closest to Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, feel like the wind is beating you with sand if you're there during March. Others, like Nags Head or Ocracoke Island are more welcoming.
Here are our favorite beaches in the OBX:
Heading back down the coast, we end up at another place North Carolinians and beyond flock to, Atlantic Beach. This area is famous in the region for being a picturesque beach town. Not only is it a tourist draw, but it also has a lot of history. Atlantic Beach is the only one in the nation that is minority-owned, also known as the Black Pearl.
For two miles, everyone has free access to the beach at any time. That might be why it's one of the most visited beaches in the state. There's plenty of room for the whole family to grab their swim gear, get sandcastle equipment, and stake out the best spot for the day. Parking is $1 every 30 minutes with a maximum of $12.
Once the sun sets, that's when the interior comes alive through restaurants, bars, and karaoke.
Back to the highway and headed south! Just outside of Wilmington is one of the cleanest beaches in all of the south. Wrightsville Beach is also well known by fans of late 90s dramas as the location for Dawson's Creek. That wasn't the first time the area was notable. Its first mention in history was when the whole area was given to Charles Harrison in 1725 by the King in order to establish a town there.
Today, there are four miles of very well-maintained beaches with a village to back it up. If you're staying local, you could probably walk to one of the 44 access points. There are a handful of places to park, such as the town hall, visitor center, and the beach museum. It costs $5 an hour after the first two and is enforced from the first of March through Halloween.
This beach is just a stone's throw from our last stop, so the water and sand here are still exceptionally nice. Beyond the ocean, Carolina Beach is home to a state park of the same name, as well as part of the Cape Fear River. Captain John Harper started bringing people from the mainland to the beach in 1887 on his ferry poignantly named Passport.
Before going swimming, you might want to drop by the beloved boardwalk within walking distance. As one visitor shared, "Walking by the shops, the boardwalk offers the most amazing views. There are plenty of picnic tables, wooden swings, and places to eat after a long day at the beach. It's the best combination!"
There are over 40 spots to get onto the sand and, like the last beach, it costs $5 an hour to park from March through October. If you're having a fun time, leave all the alcohol at home or in your hotel room. It's illegal to bring it to the beach or state park.
Alright, we've reached the southernmost tip of the coastline here in North Carolina. This is basically the last major beach before hitting South Carolina. The last stop on our tour is in the least populated town. Being one of the lesser-visited beaches makes it a secret you might not want to share.
Another great part of Ocean Isle Beach is that it's free to hang out by the water and park. You can actually download a map from the city or stop by the visitor center to obtain a map with all the access points, including handicap access. Free parking comes with free public restrooms. This might be the most convenient beach on the list.
The sun is high, the water is cold, and the suits are on! That's right, it's swimming season. Our journey of Vacation Destinations: Beach Edition has come to an end, but yours has just begun. Why not take the whole summer to explore the best beaches North Carolina has to offer?
Remember, the beaches are great but the towns have wonderful additions to offer after you've had a chance to dry out. Whichever location you choose, be sure to check out the local museums, activities, events, and restaurants to have a well-rounded stay.