Beautiful blue waves lap against powdery pale sand along much of the Tar Heel State's 300 miles of shoreline. But North Carolina also boasts coves that once sheltered pirates and remote colonial-settled towns, where herds of wild mustangs still roam. Find the best beaches for every kind of play, right here.
Photo: Michael DeFreitas/robertharding/Getty
Two miles of golden barrier-island sands lounge between Bogue Sound and the ocean. Visitors can also wander along the old-school pier, then grab chowder, spicy shrimp, and Key lime pie at a crab shack.
Take a three-mile boat ride to dramatic barrier islands – part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore – popular for shelling, fishing, birding, and camping. The lighthouse area remains a standout, balancing a pristine beach with a bathhouse.
The northernmost reaches of the Outer Banks are home to North Carolina's state horse: the colonial Spanish mustang. Visit these spirited animals with the experts who manage them: the Corolla Wild Horse Fund (all proceeds benefit the herds).
Photo: Susan Hall Mahon
Rare for the East Coast, south-facing beaches allow for both sunrise and sunset views from the same lounger! Swim in the Atlantic, then stroll 10 minutes cross-island for tranquil views of Bogue Sound.
Photo: Deb Snelson/Getty
Clean, wide, well-tended beaches–with free parking–lure both surfers and beach babies to the sands surrounding this iconic fishing pier. The partially wind-powered, Platinum LEED-certified structure shelters a North Carolina Aquarium outpost.
This golden stretch of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore offers a heady mix of wind- and water-sports, plus top-notch shelling. Surfers especially prize the big breakers: a reminder of the area's "Graveyard of the Atlantic" maritime history.