5 Reasons North Carolina Has the Best Beaches in the U.S.

Wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs on the dunes and beach in northern Currituck Outer Banks
© BHamms/Shutterstock.com

Written by Katie Downey

Updated: August 5, 2023

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The North Carolina coast is an unforgettable and serene experience that everyone should enjoy at least once in their life. Whether you live in North Carolina or just plan to visit, you can’t go wrong when visiting the beaches. There is something special and overall comfortable about visiting a beach where people are friendly and the attitude of the locals is relaxed. In NC, the locals are almost always friendly and helpful, regardless of if you’re dining at a restaurant or relaxing by the ocean. Kindness goes a long way; in this case, it can make your stay a lot more fun, increasing the chances of you returning another time.

It’s more than pleasant people that lure people to return time and time again to the NC coast. The temperature, breeze, water, and sand make this inviting place even better than most other states’ beaches. Of course, it’s always warm when you decide to hit the beach unless you’re one of the locals. In that case, we can add a few more reasons why the NC beaches are the best places on the coast.

In this article, we will explore some of the biggest reasons people say the NC beaches are the very best around. Sharing the best beaches with everyone is bittersweet, but those places rely heavily on tourism to stay alive, and we all certainly want them to stay around. The local businesses are one of the reasons the NC beaches are so wonderful.

Infographic of 5 Reasons North Carolina Has the Best Beaches in the U.S.
Visitors to North Carolina beaches can experience fantastic scenery, unique animals, and great weather.

Amazing Longtime-Running Local Joints

Cooked Shrimp

Local NC restaurants have some of the best seafood out there and depend heavily on tourism to stay afloat.


This one might be low on your priority list when visiting a beach, but hopefully, it will be much higher once you read why. Like anywhere on the coast or anywhere that draws tourists, the NC coast has certain public establishments you’ll likely visit anytime you journey out that way. On the NC coast, those mom-and-pop places are everywhere.

In fact, most of what you will see along the coastal communities are shops and restaurants not owned by some corporate conglomerate but by locals who have poured their lives into running the beach shops. A lot of love goes into those shanties and board shops. During the off-season, they can barely pay the light bill, but as tourists flock to the beach, they roll out their specials and kindness and manage to break even or close enough, year after year. There’s something very comfortable about nostalgia, and the NC coast is brimming with it.

The Scenery

Colorful sunrise on a North Carolina beach, waves breaking on a sandy shore framed by dune grass. Duck, NC

The quiet morning beauty you get to enjoy when visiting an NC beach, like Duck, is timeless and good for the soul.

©Jeremy Tyree/Shutterstock.com

Most beaches have pretty great scenery, but nothing compares to that found on the NC coast. It’s the quiet stillness of the morning and the way the rising sun paints the sky with brilliant reds, oranges, purples, and pinks. The beaches are generally empty at sunrise except for a few quiet photographers and a handful of runners.

Experiencing the clean sand, lulling waves, and fresh air is one of NC beaches’ best and most peaceful parts. The dunes are almost always pristine, and most people stay off them. Sometimes you can see some sea turtle or coastal bird nests roped off with caution tape. The shoreline is clean and not littered with trash like some other popular beaches.

The Wildlife

The wild Spanish Colonial Mustang is the state horse of North Carolina.

The wild Spanish Colonial Mustang is the state


of North Carolina.


The NC coast is home to unique creatures to top off the equally fantastic scenery. Below are some of the more exciting types of animals on the coast. Some of the others you will commonly see are green anoles, rabbits, wild boar, mink, beaver, muskrat, loads of frog and tree frog species, salamanders, toads, turtles, many types of snakes, spiders, and insects. The beach is also home to loads of feral cats. They tend to live in the brush or urban areas on the beach and eat trash or food left out by kind people who specifically care for feral cats.

No matter how tempting it might be to befriend and feed the wildlife, please don’t do it. Just enjoy the wildlife from afar and let them remain wild.

Sea Turtle

If you mess with these turtles on the NC coast you will face fines of up to $50,000 plus jail time.


Bald Head Island is North Carolina’s number one spot for nesting sea turtles. The Bald Head Island Conservancy takes out small groups of people to witness the hatching of the sea turtle eggs and the trip the tiny turtles make to the ocean — another place where sea turtles nest is Oak Island.

Oak Island is a more family-based, residential area without a vast number of tourists each year. Sea turtles nest in the lesser disturbed parts of the NC coast. Other sea turtles that nest on the NC coast are hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, and green turtles. As an endangered species protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act, you will look at a significant fine and prison time for harassing sea turtles or their nests. If you get lucky enough to see one, stay away from it.

Spanish Colonial Mustangs

Wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs on the dunes and beach in northern Currituck Outer Banks

Wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs are frequent on the dunes and beaches in northern Currituck Outer Banks.


Many people go to the NC coast to experience wild horses, but few see them. When Spaniard immigrants first came here, they brought horses. Once they started kidnapping and selling the Native American’s children as slaves, the natives no longer cared to remain peaceful. They stole what horses they could and killed as many Spaniards as possible. When the relentless Spaniards gave up and retreated to somewhere with more of their kind, they left the livestock behind. Naturally, the natives let the horses wander free and used some of them for their projects. The horses you see (or maybe don’t see) are ancestors of those first Spanish horses, hence the name.

Most of the wild mustangs are in Corolla, one of the islands that make up the Outer Banks. There is very little vegetation there, and until recently, most of the Outer Banks were some of the most underdeveloped areas in the United States. The Outer Banks are approximately 175 miles of literal sand dunes to protect the inner beach areas.


Raccoon mother with babies

Raccoons are anywhere people are present. People eat food and throw away scraps, attracting these cute burglars.


Raccoons, opossums, squirrels, rats, mice, chipmunks, moles, and other small mammals are plentiful on the NC coast. A big part of that is easy access to food because humans mean trash. These are all animals that might be seen in your backyard if you happen to live on the coast. No matter how tame they seem, they aren’t and will bite when they feel threatened. Raccoons are the number one animal susceptible to catching and carrying rabies other than domesticated pets. It’s better to be safe than sorry anytime you find one of these fuzzy robbers. Even small babies can have rabies. Always contact a wildlife rehabilitator if you encounter a raccoon needing help. The human version of the rabies vaccine is not something you want to go through if you can help it!


A wild female fox nurses her young fox pups in the suburbs of Colorado.

Like raccoons, the foxes tend to hang around restaurants, dumpsters, and residential trash cans.


The beach fox isn’t something you’ll likely see on the busier beaches, especially not during tourist season. Still, if they are hungry enough, you might spot a hungry mama fox scurrying around at dusk, trying to scrounge up some scraps before hurrying back to her nest. When trash is present, it’s sometimes easier to grab a quick meal than to hunt, especially if youngsters are waiting. Surely, any parents reading this will agree.

If you happen to be at a beach with feral cats and people who feed them, you might see a fox. They tend to be opportunistic hunters, so if cat food is out, they will try to come and get some of it. Generally, they are chased off by cats and hide until the cats have finished. Please do not feed them. Foxes are wild animals, and a too-friendly fox will be picked up by animal control and euthanized.

Coastal Deer

white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) running in autumn

It’s hard to find anywhere that isn’t overrun with white-tailed deer, and the NC coast is brimming with deer.

©Mircea Costina/Shutterstock.com

The white-tailed deer has taken over much of the NC coast. These saltwater deer always seem to find a way to exist, even when the vegetation is sparse. There is very little grass at the beach, and even the protected parks have little in the form of the white-tail deer’s usual diet. With an increase in the deer population, there is an increase in vehicular accidents involving deer. Such is the case at Kure Beach near Wilmington, NC.


Birds that eat fish: Osprey

Osprey are raptors that survive off their fine fishing skills, and you can see them on the outskirts of forested areas.

©iStock.com/Harry Collins

The NC coast is home to many types of raptors, also known as birds of prey. Some examples are owls, hawks, bald eagles, osprey, and falcons. These birds feed off fish, small mammals, and other birds. Many of the raptors can be seen all along the beach area of NC. The Cliffs of the Neuse River State Park have very high sedimentary cliffs and forests that these birds call home.

Red Wolves

Red Wolf


red wolf

is critically endangered and is slowly returning to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.

©Rejean Bedard/Shutterstock.com

Many people do not know that there are wolves in NC, let alone the NC coast. You will likely never see one, but we are to blame for their shyness and lack of comfort around humans. We are why they’re endangered, after all. These majestic creatures used to roam from Pennsylvania to Florida all the way over to Texas, but that was long ago. There are only a few wild red wolves on the NC Coast, and those are in the Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges. Between 2010-2020 these wolves declined from 130 to 15.

Black Bear

Mother bear gently nibbles at her cub as the lie on the grass

Black bears enjoy the sandy coastal plains and tall grasses of the NC coast.

©Susan Kehoe/Shutterstock.com

The black bear is another creature that many do not know calls the NC coast its home. The Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula is the number one area in the world with the most black bears! The black bears stick to the NC coastal region’s shady forests and open plains, and people rarely see them. This is good because if they were seen often, there would be considerably less of them left. People are their biggest threat, whether trapped, shot at, or hit by vehicles.

The black bears can also be found in the coastal state parks and probably wander out to check the local restaurant dumpsters when they smell especially delicious. Making sure to never leave food or food trash outside of where you are staying is one way to stay safe. Never leave food, candy, or drinks in your vehicle overnight. It is unlikely that you will have a bear visit you, but you don’t want them taking liberties into their paws if they smell something they can’t ignore in your vehicle.

Yellow-Bellied Sliders

Types of pond turtles - Yellow-bellied slider

Yellow-bellied sliders are frequently in any freshwater body near the NC coast.


The yellow-bellied slider is one of the most common turtles in NC, and they are abundant in freshwater areas near NC beaches. They tend to be rather timid; at the slightest movement, they slide off their basking logs and into the water, only to disappear. The yellow-bellied slider’s cousin, the red-eared slider, is a common pet and has sadly been released into areas where the yellow-bellied sliders live, which creates a problem for the native species.

Plenty of other species of turtles exist along the NC coast. More than 20 different types hang out wherever they find fresh water whether it be a pond, lake or ditch. Watch out for these slow friends as they attempt to cross the street. Often times they are looking for a mate.

So Many Coastal Birds

Nesting Brown Pelicans on Queen Bess Island in Coastal Louisiana

Pelicans can be found all over the NC coast, on souvenirs, and also on piers.

©Bonnie Taylor Barry/Shutterstock.com

Snow geese, herons, egrets, pelicans, tundra swans, and woodpeckers are just a few of the hundreds of coast birds you can find along the NC coast. On the Cape Fear River islands near the Southport beaches, you can see many types of coastal birds, some rare and endangered. NC takes its bird and sea turtle conservation very seriously. One place that actively aids hurt or ill loggerhead sea turtles is the Fort Fisher Aquarium. They are known for their research and conservation efforts along the NC coast. Uninhabited islands along the NC coast provide perfect shelters for nesting migratory and coastal birds. Pea Island near the Outer Banks is one such island.



Bobcats frequent the beachy terrain and mostly hunt small mammals.

©Calibas assumed (based on copyright claims)., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – Original / License

Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head is home to many forest animals like bobcats, deer, raccoons, and foxes. The same can be said for the largest surviving maritime forest in Cape Point at Buxton Woods. It is sometimes hard to imagine regular forest wildlife living in such close proximity to the beach, but they are there whether they are seen or heard. With hot daytime temperatures and beachgoers in the summer, you likely won’t see much animal life.




have been making their way to the ocean and have even been caught playing in the waves.


Carolina Beach’s State Park is home to tons of wildlife, from opossums to alligators. While visiting the sandy park, make sure to remain alert so as not to miss any of the camouflaged wildlife. You will see plenty of lizards, frogs, toads, deer, squirrels, and maybe even an alligator! Carolina Beach also has a small manufactured lake that is home to several alligators.

Numerous times, these gigantic prehistoric lizards have been sighted playing in the ocean waves. They were not hunting or attracted by food. The gators seemed just to want to have a bit of relaxation and do what everyone else enjoys; play in the breaking waves. Some of these beasts have become so worn out that they had to be removed from the beach by a rescue team since they collapsed on the beach and refused to move.

The Weather

Rodanthe North Carolina - July 17 2022: View of people and vacation homes on the beach as seen from the Rodanthe Pier in the Outer Banks

The weather in eastern NC is almost always mild, and the summer is filled with sunshine.

©iStock.com/Kyle Little

The weather on the NC coast is impressive. Very few serious tropical storms hit this area of NC, and what does generally isn’t nearly as bad as Florida. The Outer Banks have sadly been hit by terrible hurricanes over and over because they are literally the outer liner to buffer the non-island beaches. The ocean temperature is another reason folks love the NC coast so much. It isn’t too warm like bathwater as in Florida, and isn’t frigid like the northern beaches. Because of that, the risk of strange bacteria deeming a swimming spot unswimmable is less likely to happen. That doesn’t necessarily mean all NC beaches are perfectly safe and swimmable.

During July, you are generally looking at a daily average high of 86°F and a low of 78°F. The water temp in shallow water will be around 80°F, possibly warmer. This and August are as hot as it gets there. The spring and fall are substantially cooler but lovely, with fewer people and more affordable hotel and Airbnb pricing.


Welcome to North Carolina sign along a beautiful country road.

Anywhere you travel to on the NC coast will delight you with the southern hospitality.

©StacieStauffSmith Photos/Shutterstock.com

As discussed earlier in the article, kindness is so important when choosing to return to a destination spot. If your visit was filled with rude, callous people who seemed bothered anytime you needed anything, you would find somewhere friendlier to stay the next time you went on vacation. There’s nothing like a bad attitude to wreck your carefree vacation. Luckily, in the South, friendliness is everything. Anywhere you travel to on the NC coast will delight you with the southern hospitality.

Local Beach Businesses to Check Out

Whole Maine Lobster Dinner at the Myrtle Beach South Carolina USA restaurant. Steamed seafood dinner

©Mila Vega/Shutterstock.com

The Fat Pelican, Carolina Beach, NC: Coolest pirate bar

Bowman’s at the Beach, Carolina Beach, NC: Best hush puppies

Golden Sands Oceanfront Hotel, Carolina Beach, NC: Oceanfront rooms with a balcony are fantastic; Ocean Grill & Tiki Bar is attached

Jack Mackerel’s Grill, Kure Beach, NC: Try their aioli!

Ocean Grill & Tiki Bar, Carolina Beach, NC: Drink-on-the-pier bar

El Cazador, Carolina Beach, NC: Best Mexican ever

Scotch Bonnet’s Fudge & Gifts, Frisco, NC: Amazing fudge and some one-of-a-kind gifts

Falcon Motel, Buxton, NC: Inexpensive, pool, picnic area with tons of frogs, local shops, walk across the street to the beach

Oak Island Deli & Pub, Oak Island, NC: Great sandwiches and classic American fare in a dive bar that’s family-friendly

Oliver’s On the Cape Fear, Southport, NC: Fantastic view, great food

Sears Landing Dinner & Boat, Surf City, NC: Amazing view and dinner

Summary of 5 Reasons North Carolina Has the Best Beaches in the U.S.

Here’s a recap of five reasons we think North Carolina has the top beaches in the country.

1Mom-and-pop shops and restaurants

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About the Author

Katie Downey is a writer for A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on wildlife, arachnids and insects. Katie has been writing and researching animals for more than a decade. Katie worked in animal rescue and rehabilitation with handicapped cats and farm animals for many years. As a resident of North Carolina, Katie enjoys exploring nature with her son, educating others on the positive role that insects and spiders play in the ecosystem and raising jumping spiders.

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