The 7 Best-Kept Secret Beaches in North Carolina
Avoid the tourist traps and discover these gorgeous hidden gems — with plenty of space for your beach blanket.
You don't go to the beach to stare at the back of someone else's beach chair. So when it's vacation time, do you pick the hot beach spot along with the rest of the vacationing horde? Or do you take a risk and go with the lesser-known (but maybe not as perfect) spot all on your lonesome? Fortunately, with these seven picks, you don't have to choose. You can get it all.
1. Emerald Isle Beach, North Carolina
Find this jewel of the southern Outer Banks on the Crystal Coast of North Carolina. Emerald Isle, NC began as a small fishing community and is now home to a wide variety of ice cream shops, martini bars, and bistros. Beaches are not usually crowded, making it a good place for swimming, body boarding, and shelling—just watch out for its population of nesting sea turtles. The Bogue Island Fishing Pier reflects the history of the town itself and makes a great fishing spot for some of the best saltwater catches along the East Coast. Whether you visit the beach shops or “Emerald Plantation” the main nightlife for visitors, the gem-like shoreline will likely be your new favorite destination.
2. Hammocks Beach State Park, Swansboro, NC
Known for adventure out amongst the dunes, this beach— also known as Bear Island—is a three-mile long barrier island. You’ll have to take the park’s ferry boat or bring your own kayak, canoe, or paddleboard to get there, but along your way you might see endangered sea turtles or nesting birds among the marine life and sand dunes. This island in Swansboro, NC is one of the most unspoiled beaches on the Atlantic Coast, serving as a getaway for those who welcome adventure and want nothing more than the sand, sea, and sky. For the less adventurous, it also has facilities, including a bathhouse, swimming pool, and indoor showers.
3. Nag’s Head Beach, NC
Located on the Outer Banks, there’s a reason Nags Head, NC is nationally recognized for its oceanfront hotels—it combines great hotels, great food and entertainment, and the kind of welcoming vibe that the Outer Banks are known for. The beach is pet friendly and 4x4 friendly, and holds tons of annual events like Taste of the Beach, Nag’s Head Bike Week, and the Outer Bank Seafood Festival. With the music and the oceanfront views, it’s the perfect place for a romantic getaway or a family vacation.
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4. Ocracoke Beach, Ocracoke Island, NC
A treasure of the Outer Banks, this is one of the most pristine, secluded beaches in the state. People have been coming (in small numbers) to the 9.5 square mile stretch of sand since the early 1700s. The surrounding waters have seen thousands of shipwrecks, and even a British Cemetery in the middle of the village after a British boat was sunk offshore by a German sub in WWII. This maritime village offers fresh local seafood served in locally-owned restaurants, along with unique shops, fishing, and beautiful sunsets. And just a short walk or bike ride away is Ocracoke Island Lighthouse—North Carolina’s oldest operating lighthouse. From ferry rides, boating, and horse riding this island has something to offer everyone.
5. Avon Beach, NC
Widely known as the center of Hatteras Island, this beach in Avon, NC is known for being clean, quiet, and a great place for vacationing families. Exceptional shelling and fishing can be found just a mile or two outside of the town’s limits, but you’ll have to take a 4-wheel drive vehicle to get there. Because the area is so secluded, shell hunters will find undisturbed piles of shells to pick through, whether it’s high or low tide. This area offers a secluded and private vacation without sacrificing modern amenities in its beautifully maintained classic cottages.
6. Atlantic Beach, NC
Whether you’re visiting the Tipsy Turtle Tavern or the Atlantic Beach Surf Shop, or just heading out onto its white sands, you’re sure to find whatever it is you’re looking for in Atlantic Beach, NC. From fine dining options a stone’s throw from the waterfront to grab-and-go sandwiches, this beach has a huge variety of restaurants. Known for its abundance of public beaches, the town’s a great escape for visitors from near and far.
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7. Wrightsville Beach, NC
The Wrightsville Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau calls Wrightsville North Carolina’s “most accessible beach,” which means you’re going to spend less time commuting to and from its white sands and blue water and more time with your butt planted firmly in sand. This beach town directly east of Wilmington is famous for its water sports, with countless outlets for kayaking, paddleboarding and surfing.