While most of us are familiar with the beauty of beaches in more tropical locales like Costa Rica or Mexico, it would be a mistake to ignore the beautiful beaches that are a little closer to home. The beaches of North Carolina specifically have seen an explosion in popularity over the last decade, and it is not hard to see why: beautiful sunsets, mild weather, abundant wildlife, and fun attractions can be found all up and down the North Carolina coast. Swimming, surfing, and sunbathing are all popular ways for locals and tourists alike to soak in the sunny climate, but for my money, the best way to enjoy the beach is to take my time walking along the shore just close enough to feel the warm ocean waves wash over my toes. With that in mind, I put together a list of some of the best North Carolina beaches to stroll along until sunset.
Cape Lookout National Seashore: Though it takes a bit of effort to reach this island paradise, it is well worth it. This beach has all the ingredients for a perfect walk. From wild horses to the picture-perfect diamond-painted Cape Lookout Lighthouse, walking along this beach feels like walking into a fairy-tale. And with over 50 miles of beach to explore, there is more wild beauty to take in along this mostly undeveloped beach than you could possibly see in just a day. Fortunately, there are beachfront cabins and campgrounds available so you can spend a warm summer night under the stars after a peaceful day strolling along this magnificent coastline.
Wrightsville Beach: This beach is about as different from Cape Lookout as possible, so it is not for everyone. That said, for those of you who like to people watch as much as you like to birdwatch, this is the place to be! Wrightsville Beach is one of the most popular beaches in North Carolina and is located in Wilmington, which is the most populated beach town in North Carolina. Famous for its surfing, nightlife, and youthful party-scene, you will find no shortage of interesting people and events all up and down its often crowded shoreline. This is far from the most peaceful walk, but for those seeking adventure and excitement, it cannot be beaten.
Topsail Beach: If you like perusing the sand and seashells for treasure, this is the beach for you. Topsail (pronounced “tops’l”) Beach is famous for the numerous shark teeth that can be found along its 26-mile shoreline. Though it is just a stone’s throw away from Wrightsville beach, it has a completely different character. Quiet, peaceful, and beautiful, Topsail Beach is a great compromise between natural beauty and accessibility.
Tracks in the Sand Trail: This is a well-kept secret of the Nag’s Head Beach area. It is not quite a walk along the shoreline as much as it is a hike along the dunes next to the shore. If you come, be sure to bring good water shoes or orthotic sandals — the dunes here are huge and can be a bit challenging for those expecting a simple stroll along the shore. If you are up for the work, however, it is a very rewarding walk. This is an environment and landscape that is hard to find these days since most similar areas have been snatched up by developers long ago.
Cape Hatteras: The iconic black and white striped spiraling lighthouse is perhaps the most famous of North Carolina’s beach attractions. Despite its popularity and amenities, the 70-mile long beach is large enough to keep the sands sparsely crowded. For a truly magical beach excursion, you can plan a night walk to coincide with the emergence of the famous sea turtle nesting grounds on the beach. Just be sure to check with local guidelines, since (for good reason) these turtles are well protected.
It would be impossible to provide an exhaustive list of every beach worth visiting in North Carolina, and I suppose that is a good problem to have. Whether you like searching for shark teeth, meeting new people, or just enjoying the sunset, one of the best ways to enjoy the waterfront is to slowly saunter along the shoreline taking in the salt air and listening to the waves. These beaches are too beautiful and too close to home to miss out on — so put that beach bag together soon because summer is right around the corner.