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The Outer Banks
Corolla: Best for Wildlife
Visit Corolla to view the Banker Ponies, wild horses that have lived along the Outer Banks for hundreds of years.
Duck: Best for Sunbathing, Sunsets
The beach at Duck is at a slight incline that provides maximum sun exposure and great ocean views. The wide wash of sound and marsh behind the thin strip of beach makes Duck a favorite for sunsets.
Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills: Best for Family Fun
Family vacations to the Outer Banks include seafood buffets, golf carts, mini golf, sunburns, and the occasional carnival ride. Recreate my childhood at Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills, beaches I haunted as a kid.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge: Best for Wildlife
This refuge on Hatteras Island is an incredible spot for watching migratory waterfowl.
Hatteras: Best for Beachcombing, Water Sports
The village of Hatteras on Hatteras Island is a popular surfing destination and also good for shelling.
Other Hatteras Island Beaches: Best for Solitude
The villages of Salvo, Buxton, Rodanthe, Waves, and Avon provide privacy along with modern conveniences.
Ocracoke: Best for Beachcombing, Solitude, Sunrises
Ocracoke Island has the benefits of a vacation town, but you’ll find shell-strewn beaches you have almost all to yourself. Watch the sunrise over what seems like endless miles of ocean.
Beaufort and the Crystal Coast Cape Lookout National Seashore: Best for Long Walks, Solitude
With 56 miles of coastline, you can quickly find yourself alone in nature at Cape Lookout National Seashore. It’s hard to beat these unbroken stretches of beach for long walks.
Shackleford Banks: Best for Wildlife
Shackleford Banks in Cape Lookout National Seashore is a fantastic place to spot wild Banker Ponies.
Atlantic Beach: Best for Water Sports
For great diving, including the chance to explore offshore wrecks in the Graveyard of the Atlantic, go to Atlantic Beach on the Bogue Banks and arrange for a dive charter to pick you up in nearby Morehead City.
Emerald Isle: Best for Family Fun, Water Sports
This Bogue Banks town, popular with surfers for its south-facing beach, is a laid-back, family-friendly getaway.
Wilmington and the Cape Fear Region
Topsail Island: Best for Water Sports
Experienced surfers should head to this island, where the surf is consistent year-round and the wind shapes waves into steep peaks, allowing for aerial maneuvers and sharp cutbacks.
Wrightsville Beach: Best for Sunbathing, Water Sports
This wide, flat beach has sand that’s not too packed, not too powderyperfect for catching some sun. It’s also popular with new and experienced surfers.
Carolina Beach: Best for Family Fun
Carolina Beach State Park offers an abundance of hotels, a pier for fishing, a boardwalk crowded with shops and arcades, and a small carnival groundall great for when kids need a break from sea and sand.
Bald Head Island: Best for Long Walks, Sunrises, Wildlife
My favorite spot for long walks is the 14 miles of beach on Bald Head Island. On south-facing South Beach and east-facing East Beach, there’s ocean on one side and a high dune ridge or maritime forest on the other. More than 225 species of birds have been spotted here. The sunrise over the tumultuous Frying Pan Shoals, which extend toward the ocean from the island’s easternmost tip, is a sight to behold.
Holden Beach, Ocean Isle, and Sunset Beach: Best for Beachcombing, Sunsets
These Brunswick beaches are rich with delicate sand dollars. The aptly named Sunset Beach comes to life when the day’s last rays stretch over the marsh.