The Best Carolina Beach Towns – Where To Stay And Eat At Each Destination

Folly Beach Pier In South Carolina near Charleston At Sunrise

South Carolina is home to 2,876 miles of tidal coastline while North Carolina features 300-plus miles of barrier-island beaches. Between the two, there are bustling beach towns and tiny quiet islands, boardwalks and lighthouses. No matter your vacation vibe, we’ve got a recommendation just right for you this summer. Here are our 16 favorite Carolina beach towns.

Kiawah Island 

Kiawah Island is one of the Carolinas’ most exclusive beachfront destinations. Known for its top notch golf courses—Kiawah Island Golf Resort hosted the 2012 PGA Championship and is scheduled to host again in 2021—Kiawah is also a place of tranquility. Head straight to Kiawah Island Beachwalker Park: Ten miles of public coastline tempt park goers from within Beachwalker Park, along the western edge of the island. Visitors can also veer off for a gentle stroll through old oaks, pines, iconic palmettos, and yucca plants. 

Best place to stay: The Sanctuary

Best place to eat: The Ocean Room

Distance from Charlotte: 3.5 hours

Seagulls at Folly Beach SC at sunrise

Edisto Beach – One Of Our Favorite Carolina Beach Towns If You Love Nature

Edisto prides itself on being one of South Carolina’s last uncommercialized beaches. Nearly everything—from the restaurants to the lodging—is all locally-owned. Visitors can experience the island in its natural splendor or challenge your mind and learn something new at the town’s famous Edisto Island Serpentarium. Eco tours are available at the island’s state park to take you around the island, and there are scores of cozy rentals perfect for a quiet weekend on South Carolina’s coast. It’s also well located, with Isle of Palms, Sullivans, and Mt. Pleasant nearby, too.

Best place to stay: Club Wyndham

Best place to eat: Ella & Ollie’s

Distance from Charlotte: 2.5 hours

Topsail Beach, NC

Topsail Beach, NC is one of our favorite Carolina beach towns. It provides lots of opportunities for private beach access; expect less crowds, and a pristine shoreline. For those who want a taste of Topsail living, stop by one of the area’s many local restaurants for fresh seafood or even visit the Missiles and More museum to see a bit of forgotten history.

Best place to stay: Topsail Shores Inn

Best place to eat: Beach Shop & Grill

Distance from Charlotte: 4 hours

Emerald Isle Beach, NC 

Emerald Isle is best known for its uniquely gorgeous green waters, due to the proximity of the Gulf Stream. This proximity also means Emerald offers a warmer option to the cold waters often found along other parts of the Outer Banks, and the isle waters are home to many interesting and beautiful marine creatures. If you go scuba diving, you may even get to explore a shipwreck or two!

Best place to stay: Sound of the Sea

Best place to eat: The Trading Post

Distance from Charlotte: 5 hours

Isle of Palms, SC – One Of Our Favorite Carolina Beach Towns If You Love Sea Turtles

Neighboring Sullivans Island, Isle of Palms is home to two well-known golf courses, the Links Course and the Harbour Course. Isle of Palms is the perfect beach getaway; it offers premiere golf for those who’d rather work on their game than their tan lines, luxurious spas and boutique shopping, and is only a 20 minute drive from downtown Charleston.

Best place to stay: Wild Dunes Resort 

Best place to eat: Acme Lowcountry Kitchen

Distance from Charlotte: 3.5 hours

Kure Beach, NC

For those looking for a beach that’s a little more secluded, the one at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area is an excellent choice. About a half hour away from Wilmington, NC, this beach is maintained in conjunction with the historic Fort Fisher area. Visitors can spend the day at the nearby Fort Fisher Aquarium, then relax by the serene waves.  

Where to stay: The Lighthouse at Kure Beach

Where to eat: Kure Beach Diner

Distance from Charlotte: 4 hours

Bodie Island Lighthouse in the OBX

Hilton Head Island, SC

Hilton Head Island is known for year-round beautiful weather and, of course, the lighthouse. The island is also home to a beautiful beach and world-class golf courses. This is a luxurious beach getaway perfect for the whole family. 

Best place to stay: Sonesta Resort 

Best place to eat: Chez Georges Bistro & Bar

Distance from Charlotte: 4 hours

Wrightsville Beach, NC

Wrightsville Beach, a short drive from Wilmington,  is known as “one of the best beaches in the South” for its crystal blue water and great surf. This four-mile stretch of beach is the closest beach to Charlotte with the best watersport activity potential. This lively beach is the go-to spot for watersport enthusiasts: Take a surfing lesson, learn how to windsurf, or take the paddleboard out for a swim. 

Best place to stay: Harbor Inn

Best place to eat: Fish House Grill

Distance from Charlotte: 3.5 hours

Sunset Beach, NC 

Sunset Beach belongs to the Brunswick Islands, some of the most beautiful beaches in the Carolinas. It’s a small beach with an even smaller permanent population: This coastal destination encompasses both mainland and barrier island terrain. Sunset Beach got its name from its stunning views and serenity, and is also well known for its wildlife and seafood.

Best place to stay: The Sunset Inn Bed & Breakfast 

Best place to eat: The Boat Landing

Distance from Charlotte: 3.5 hours

Ocean Isle , NC

Ocean Isle, part of Brunswick county, is a little beach town off the coast of North Carolina. This smaller barrier island is famous for its beautiful 4.5 mile beach, and is the perfect quaint spot to take the family with great dining options and private rental stays. It also happens to be one of the closest beaches to Charlotte on our list, so be sure to add it to yours.

Best place to stay: Sloane Vacations— the lack of commercial properties combined with the abundance of beautiful oceanfront properties makes this the perfect vacation rental spot. 

Best place to eat: Purple Onion Cafe

Distance from Charlotte: 3.5 hours  

Folly Beach, SC

It’s hard to say what Folly is better known for: its legendary sunsets or its killer surfing spots. In fact, it seems Folly Beach has a little something for everyone. Home to several endangered species, including loggerhead sea turtles and Wilson’s Plover, naturalists will find something to delight in, while the more urban-oriented will appreciate the beach’s close proximity to downtown Charleston. Drop a fishing line off the Folly Beach pier or take in the sights from a beachside bar.

Best place to stay: The Tides

Best place to eat: The Washout

Distance from Charlotte: 3.5 hours

Outer Banks Wild Horses

Corolla, NC – One Of Our Favorite Carolina Beach Towns If You Love Wild Horses

On the sandy shores of Corolla, wild descendants of colonial Spanish mustangs roam freely, grazing in the saltwater cordgrass and galloping along the sloping shores. Visitors flock to Corolla to witness these majestic creatures in a natural habitat. This, in essence, is the magic of Corolla, where visitors come for the wild horses, but stay for the upscale and recently developed amenities.

Best place to stay: Corolla Village Inn

Best place to eat: Uncle Ike’s Sandbar

Distance from Charlotte: 6 hours

Nags Head and Jockey’s Ridge

Nags Head is one of the Outer Banks’ most established tourist destinations; since the 1960s, this gorgeous destination has catered to guests with a wide selection of restaurants and conveniences. As comfortable as Nags Head proper is, you’d be remiss not to wander further afield to Jockey’s Ridge, the tallest living sand dune on the Atlantic Coast. Perch atop hills of sand and feel like you’ve landed on a distant planet.

Best place to stay: Book a house through Resort Realty  

Best place to eat: Owen’s Restaurant

Distance from Charlotte: 5.5 hours

Bald Head Island, NC – One Of Our Favorite Carolina Beach Towns If You Love To Escape

Bald Head is for the traveler seeking a serene retreat. Accessible only by a private water vessel or a 20-minute ferry ride across the Cape Fear River, Bald Head Island feels miles from its nearby neighbor of Wilmington, both in terms of geography and tempo. This remote getaway elevates beach life, boasting intimate vacation rental neighborhoods, beach, maritime forest, and marshland, and, remarkably, very few hotels or commercial developments looming over beachgoers, making it one o the best Carolina beach towns.

Best place to stay: The Marsh Harbour Inn

Best place to eat: Delphina

Distance from Charlotte: 4.5 hours

Corolla Beach NC - One of the best Carolina Beach Towns

Sullivan’s Island, SC

There are myriad reasons to put Sullivan’s Island at the top of your list of Carolina beach towns this summer. First discovered by English explorers in the 17th century, Sullivan’s Island was well established as a busy shipping port by the 18th century. The setting of a now famous battle, celebrated regionally on ‘Carolina Day,’ was Fort Moultrie. It’s been carefully preserved and is a popular landmark for visitors and residents alike. Visitors who aren’t compelled by Sullivan’s Island’s rich history can instead spend their time in the handful of galleries and restaurants or on the shores and enjoying breathtaking views of Charleston Harbor and quiet beaches.

Best place to stay: The Cottages on Charleston Harbor 

Best place to eat: The Obstinate Daughter

Distance from Charlotte: 3.5 hours

Duck, NC

When you head east to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, visiting Duck – one of the best Carolina beach towns – is a must. Quirky name aside, Duck is a thriving coastal community with an expansive stretch of beautiful beach. Kayak through its unique wetlands, then head back into town to visit the local hotspots. Free of the summer tourists, Duck’s calming waterside boardwalk and local shops will make you feel as if you’ve stumbled upon a hidden island ripe for exploration.

Best place to stay: Sanderling Resort

Best place to eat: Paper Canoe for fresh seafood

Distance from Charlotte: 5.5 hours

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