Best North Carolina beach? 10Best readers say Emerald Isle!

Oak Island, Holden, Atlantic and Carolina Beaches also winners

North Carolina is home to two national seashores, seven coastal lighthouses and more than 300 miles of barrier island beaches, nearly all of it accessible. Sandy expanses in the Tar Heel State are often remote and rarely crowded, and a charming Southern coastal town is rarely far away. 

  • Kure Beach
    Kure Beach

    Kure Beach has a little something for everyone. Show up early for sunrise, stay late for sunset, kiteboard or windsurf on the gentle waves, fish from the towering pier or explore sunken shipwrecks just offshore.
    Photo courtesy of Red / Flickr

  • Sunset Beach
    Sunset Beach

    Beach goers won't find boardwalks or high rises at Sunset Beach, but what they will find is a seemingly endless stretch of sand. Since the beach is south-facing, it's possible not only to watch the sunset from the aptly named beach, but the sunrise as well.
    Photo courtesy of Keith Kissel / Flickr

  • Wrightsville Beach
    Wrightsville Beach

    The shape of the coast at Wrightsbille Beach, north of the Cape Fear River, creates ideal waves that attract surfers from all over the East Coast. The town of Wrightsville Beach has enough stuff to find everything you need without all the tourist traps you don't particularly want.
    Photo courtesy of iStock / Muratani

  • Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach
    Ocracoke

    Ocracoke is rife with natural beauty; minimal development has allowed much of its native flora and fauna to flourish – it’s wetlands are a haven for birds, turtles and other beautiful, diverse residents. Its beaches? Well, they’re a haven for human visitors, who come in droves eager for active and staid relaxation that could come as easily in the form of sandcastle-building as boogie boarding.
    Photo courtesy of NPS Photo

  • Topsail Beach
    Surf City

    With only 500 residents, Topsail Beach has plenty of sandy shore to go around. A boardwalk takes visitors down to the beach (noticeably lacking in high rise development). Beachcombing is a popular pastime – it's common to find shells and shark teeth, as well as  conch shells in the late summer and early fall.
    Photo courtesy of Pender County

  • Carolina Beach
    Carolina Beach

    For a laid-back and down-to-earth beach vacation on the Atlantic coast, look no further than Carolina Beach. The vintage Carolina Beach Boardwalk bustles in summer, as families stroll past shops, restaurants and bars on the way to the seaside amusement park.
    Photo courtesy of chucka_nc / Flickr

  • Atlantic Beach
    Atlantic Beach

    A charming seaside town on North Carolina's Crystal Coast, Atlantic Beach sits on Bogue Banks barrier island – popular among families for its clean water and soft sand beach. The town is more private homes than big resorts, giving the beach a quieter, more laid back vibe.
    Photo courtesy of James Willamor / Flickr

  • Holden Beach
    Holden Beach

    Holden Beach, ranked among the best family beaches in the nation, blends small town charm with a beautiful and unspoiled beach situated at the southern tip of the state. The wide beach is uncrowded, even in the height of summer.
    Photo courtesy of ktshawx / Flickr

  • Oak Island Beach
    Oak Island

    Situated within easy driving distance of Wilmington, Oak Island's beaches offer more than 60 public access points, as well as two fishing piers, a marina and several boat ramps, making it a favorite for water sports enthusiasts. 
    Photo courtesy of iStock / alex grichenko

  • Emerald Isle
    Emerald Isle

    Situated on the western end of Bogue Banks, Emerald Isle features 12 miles of largely undeveloped shoreline offering stunning views of both the Atlantic Ocean and Bogue Inlet. While plenty of beach goers come simply to soak up the sun, the beach and Bogue Inlet Pier are popular for fishing as well.
    Photo courtesy of iStock / StillFrameStoryteller

The top 10 winners in the category Best North Carolina Beach are as follows:

  1. Emerald Isle
  2. Oak Island Beach
  3. Holden Beach
  4. Atlantic Beach
  5. Carolina Beach
  6. Topsail Beach - Surf City
  7. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach
  8. Wrightsville Beach
  9. Sunset Beach
  10. Kure Beach

A panel of experts partnered with 10Best editors to picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Congratulations to these 10 winning beaches!

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