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Best Beaches in North Carolina

U.S. News Best Vacations Badge

From a family-friendly vacation to a Nicholas Sparks-inspired getaway, the coast of North Carolina is characterized by wide, sandy beaches with conserved dunes, beachfront rental houses and a laid-back approach to life. To decide which stretches of shoreline are worth your vacation days, U.S. News considered scenic beauty, nearby amenities and the opinions of experts and travelers. Got a favorite? Vote below to help determine next year's ranking.

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#1 Cape Hatteras

#1 in Best Beaches in North Carolina

Located on the easternmost island of the Outer Banks, the nearly 70-mile Cape Hatteras is known for its unspoiled beaches and black-and-white-striped lighthouse. Off-road vehicles are allowed on the sparsely crowded sands and there are four campgrounds available. While here, catch a glimpse of sea turtles during nesting season or for a special treat, make reservations to climb to the top of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse at night during a full moon.

Cape Hatteras
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#2 Corolla/Currituck Beach

#2 in Best Beaches in North Carolina

Flanked by the Atlantic Ocean and the Currituck Sound, Corolla is praised for its seclusion along the northern coast of the Outer Banks. While you can spend time exploring the area's lighthouse or historic district, the main activity here is relaxing on the wide beaches. Plus, you're likely to see the wild Spanish Mustang horses that roam the island, though if you want to get closer, guided tours are available.

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#3 Bald Head Island

#3 in Best Beaches in North Carolina

Devoid of cars and only accessible by ferry, Bald Head Island is ideal for travelers seeking some serious rest and relaxation. Aside from beachfront rental properties and the highly rated Bald Head Island Club golf course, most of the island's 12,000 acres are undeveloped, so expect the 14 miles of shoreline here to be serene and pristine. To get around, rent a golf cart or bicycle.

Bald Head Island
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#4 Nags Head

#4 in Best Beaches in North Carolina

This sliver of land is one of the most popular destinations along the Outer Banks because of its relatively easy accessibility and wealth of amenities. The area boasts seemingly endless sand dunes, multiple piers for fishing and the nearby Bodie Island Lighthouse. You can also drive your four-wheel drive vehicle onto the beach during the offseason (October to April).

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#5 Duck

#5 in Best Beaches in North Carolina

Not incorporated until 2002, this small town south of Corolla embodies what the Outer Banks is all about. While you'll find plenty of rental properties that range from modest to expansive, you'll find few hotels and very little development. And that's just how locals and vacationers like it. The beaches themselves are expansive and offer plenty of opportunities for seashell collecting.

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#6 Emerald Isle

#6 in Best Beaches in North Carolina

Families return to Emerald Isle year after year for its clean beaches, relaxed atmosphere and popular fishing pier. You'll find more hotels here than along other parts of the Carolina coast, as well as an outpost of the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.

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#7 Oak Island

#7 in Best Beaches in North Carolina

This sleepy island sits about 30 miles south of Wilmington and offers 60 public beach access points and two fishing piers. A quick 20-minute drive will land you in Southport which has served as the setting for multiple movies including "A Walk to Remember," "The Secret Life of Bees" and "Safe Haven." Today, you'll find quaint shops and lots of local seafood restaurants.

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#8 Ocracoke Island

#8 in Best Beaches in North Carolina

Ocracoke Island may be a bit more difficult to get to than other spots on the Outer Banks, but travelers say the views from the coast are worth it. Only accessible by boat or air, Ocracoke is full of history. Most notably, the island served as the former stomping ground of the pirate known as Blackbeard. There's also a small British cemetery that houses the remains of some WWII soldiers.

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#9 Topsail Island

#9 in Best Beaches in North Carolina

Pronounced "Tops'l", this island gets its name from folklore that pirate ships would hide behind the inlet with their topsails showing. Today, this 26-mile-long island is home to three main beach areas: Topsail Beach, North Topsail Beach and Surf City. While here, visit the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center and check out the southernmost point of the island (known as Serenity Point) for amazing sunset views.

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#10 Atlantic Beach

#10 in Best Beaches in North Carolina

Just 12 miles north of Emerald Isle, Atlantic Beach is one of the most developed beach areas in the state, offering many amenities that families love, including a fishing pier and bike and water sports equipment rentals. From here, you'll still have easy access to the aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and the Civil War-era Fort Macon State Park.

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