The Carolinas are known for having the best of both worlds—colorful mountains perfect for hikes and beautiful beaches ready for all kinds of fun plans. When the weather turns hot and the nights turn long, the yearning for that salty sea air only gets stronger. That’s when it’s time to pack up the car and head to the coast. Check out our list of must-see Carolina beach destinations before planning that upcoming trip:
Wrightsville Beach, NC
Located just ten minutes from Wilmington, NC, Wrightsville Beach is a popular destination for both visitors and locals alike. The nearby university means it’s a bit livelier than some of the other beaches on our list, so it’s a great choice for those looking to have fun and maybe even play a pickup game of volleyball with some new friends. Wrightsville Beach also features numerous beach bars right along its strip, as well as a thriving nightlife just a short drive away in downtown Wilmington. Interested in spending more time in the water than out of it? National Geographic has even named Wrightsville Beach one of its top surfing towns.
Fort Fisher SRA, 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.
Topsail Beach, NC
Topsail Beach, NC is the perfect destination for those who want to spend a weekend at a nice beach house with some friends or family. There are a lot of opportunities for private beach access at Topsail, so visitors don’t necessarily have to worry about others crowding their space. For those who want a taste of Topsail living, they can 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.
Folly Beach, SC
At just a short drive’s distance from Charleston, Folly Beach is the go-to spot for people who want a laid-back trip and an excellent water sports destination. Known as the Edge of America to the locals, this Carolina beach is a charming town beloved by many: Paddleboarders and kayakers love touring the saltwater estuaries, while surfers from all over the Carolinas flock to Folly Beach for the high waves and challenging tide. It’s famous for surf spots like The Washout, where waves have even reached 10 feet high. Just don’t forget to check out the many surf shops in the area to stock up on new gear before you test out the water.
Kiawah Island Beach, SC
This stunning paradise is a perfect place to combine relaxation and luxury. Its natural beauty is unmatched. You’ll find yourself with incredible views of all kinds of creatures like Bottlenose dolphins, Loggerhead sea turtles and more. If you are traveling with kids or are just young at heart, classic beach games like cornhole and spikeball are available for rent for the day or for the week. You can also rent surfboards, paddleboards and other equipment for water-related fun. No matter what kind of activities you have planned for your beach day, the 10 miles of private shoreline Kiawah offers will make your day as luxurious as it is fun.
Cape Hatteras, NC
Natural, beautiful and featuring a historic lighthouse? Cape Hatteras offers breathtaking views from its pristine sand to its iconic black-and-white striped lighthouse. You can even turn your beach day into a Carolina beach night with Cape Hatteras’s four campgrounds: Oregon Inlet, Cape Point, Frisco and Ocracoke. Nighttime visitors are able to reserve spots to climb to the top of the lighthouse during the full moon.
Emerald Isle Beach, NC
Emerald Isle is best known for its uniquely gorgeous green waters. The beach is close enough to the Gulf Stream to make the waters appear a breathtaking turquoise color. This proximity to the Gulf also means Emerald offers a warmer option to the cold waters often found along other parts of the Outer Banks. The isle waters are the home of many interesting and beautiful marine creatures for you to see. If you go scuba diving, you might even get to explore a shipwreck or two!
Isle of Palms, SC
Only 12 miles from historic Charleston, Isle of Palms is every adventurer’s dream. This beautiful beach offers fishing, surfing, paddleboarding, kayaking, sailing, and even the ability to charter a boat. If you’d prefer to stay on land, Isle of Palms is also a prime spot for photography or a game of golf. Two courses designed by Tom Fazio, a golf course architect with over 50 years of golf course designing experience, are open to the public for a fee.