With its 301 miles of coastline, just about any spot that meets the Atlantic Ocean is a contender among the top North Carolina beaches to visit. Famous or hidden away, here are our picks:

Duck, NC


Sunrise paddle across the sound

A photo posted by Mountains to Sea Expeditions (@mountainstoseaexpeditions) on

Why do we love Duck? The town is enchanting, the beach is enticing, there’s sightseeing, from the town boardwalk to the specialty and gift shops, such as the Mystic Jewel and Confetti. At every turn, Duck offers some of the best views on the Outer Banks. For some Duck specialties, enjoy Duck Doughnuts (try the maple icing with coconut), the Blue Point, to enjoy the sunset while you dine on pan seared scallops, and the unassuming but always good Costal Cravings, specializing in fresh seafood, reasonably priced and cooked to perfection.

Kitty Hawk, NC

Kitty Hawk Beach Wooden StairsThe public beaches are broad and sea swept, giving a sense of grandeur in any season. Dogs are welcome on the public beaches in Kitty Hawk, as long as you clean up after them.   In addition to the beaches you must see the Monument to the Century of Flight, chronicling the first heavier than air flight of the Wright Brothers, on December 17th, 1903, and so much more. Sandy Run State Park has nice boardwalk for hiking. Eat at Black Pelican, housed in part of the old Kitty Hawk lifesaving station boathouse (order their local version of chowder), or at High Cotton NC BBQ (offering fried chicken, pork BBQ and beef brisket, with fried cabbage, Brunswick stew and chicken with noodles), or at I Got Your Crabs, go for the blue crab nachos, steamed snow crab legs and fried shrimp.

Nags Head, NC

Nags Head, NCNags Head is home to the lovely beaches and sand dunes of Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the best spot for watching the sun go down. Bodie Island Lighthouse offers an amazing view. Consider taking an eco or nature and wildlife tour. Blue Moon Beach Grill and Owens Restaurant are the places to dine. Venture the very short distance to Roanoke Island to stroll the delightful downtown of Manteo, or the lush Elizabethan Gardens, and see the Lost Colony Outdoor Drama bring the historic “Lost Colony” story to life.

Cape Hatteras, NC

Beach Shipwreck Sunrise North CarolinaThe magnificent Cape Hatteras National Seashore must make our list. The Seashore offers three different visitor centers: The Bodie Island Visitor Center is the northernmost, next to the Bodie Island Lighthouse which you can tour depending on the season. The Hatteras Island Visitor Center and Museum of the Sea is in the Cape Hatteras Light Keeper’s Quarters, in Buxton; a great place to learn Outer Banks local and natural history.   The Ocracoke Island Visitor Center is in Ocracoke, near the Ocracoke Light.

Avon, NC

Avon (North Carolina)Avon is for those in the know, a former fishing village that has grown to be a destination for people who like to vacation along gorgeous natural beaches and among lovely seasonal rental cottages. Avon has a small and tight knit community feeling about it, and you are sure to enjoy the fantastic seafood restaurants, such as Ketch 55 and Open Water Grill. Oceana’s Bistro is also a top dining favorite in Avon.

Emerald Isle, NC

Emerald Isle, North Carolina

Emerald Isle is home to the Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier which always offers sweeping views. For the best beach experience head out to the Point, and its big beach. The ocean and the sound are both right there, just drive and park in the small public lot right before the end of Coast Guard Road. Dine at Rucker Johns or have a sandwich and dessert at the Village Market. For special treats, it is The Sweet Spot.

Wrightsville Beach, NC

Wrightsville Beach, NCWrightsville Beach is where the city of Wilmington goes vacationing. It is a quick drive to and from that lovely North Carolina city. The beach is sparkling and is seldom overcrowded. Lifeguards are at various places on the beach. Quiet surrounding of broad soft sand, and soothing surf, and modest development make this enchanting island a real treasure. Dine at South Beach Grill, Blue Waterfront Grill or Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill.

Oak Island, NC

Oak Island, North Carolina

Oak Island has long been a best kept secret for North Carolina vacationers. In fact, it did not even appear on the major auto association’s map until recently. That is good for you, since you can still find uncrowded stretches of beach, whether you go for a season or for a day. Climb the Oak Island Light. Now that the new (second) bridge has been built, more beachgoers are discovering Oak Island. For shelling, it is the far end of the island, where you feel as if you can almost touch Holden Island across the channel. For a meal on the island, we recommend Island Way. Go to Frosty’s for ice cream, and if you are staying near enough, stroll down the beach to have your low key breakfast at Beana’s Kitchen where the locals have theirs. Near by attractions include historic Southport, the Fort Fisher ferry, and the beautifully evocative ruins of old Brunswick Town. Also nearby is Bald Head Island, where access is by ferry from Southport only and no cars are allowed. Depending on the day or season, you could very well have a beach on Bald Head all to yourself.

Holden Beach, NC

Holden Beach, North Carolina

Holden Beach is the sister island to Oak Island, and like its sister, has families coming back for generation upon generation. The beach is clean and calm. The pace is slow, but there’s plenty of bike riding, swimming, tide pooling, sea shelling, kayaking, walking, and watching for sea turtle nests. You may even get to see baby sea turtles hatch. Good dining options include Capt. Pete’s on the Intercostal Waterway near the bridge. It offers great seafood dishes as well as chicken, pasta and steak. Or, Provision Company, quaint and unusual with its big window views and old time service; have their peel-and-eat shrimp, crab cakes and salads in a super casual atmosphere.