North Carolina’s barrier-island beaches are nothing short of spectacular. Soft sandy shores backed by inviting sand dunes, clear waters, historic lighthouses, and fun family activities make this a great place to bring your children. The sea is usually fairly calm around the islands, but rough weather can make it more challenging so it’s important to check the latest weather reports. Riptides are common so look out for red flags. Each island has multiple beaches and amenities can vary depending on where you go, but you’re seldom too far from stores, restrooms, and places to eat.
Atlantic Beach is a friendly town with expansive beaches. There are various public parks and beaches in town and many excellent amenities. Fishing, sailing, and other ocean sports are popular here. Hiking and cycling along the coastal paths are both great ways to enjoy the scenery. There’s plenty of beachfront accommodation and lots of places to stop and eat. You don’t need to walk far from the shore to find stores selling everything from artisanal souvenirs to snacks and cold drinks. There are fun activities like mini-golf and regular events. Porta-potty restrooms are available on the beach with better facilities in town. Lifeguards in ATVs roam the beaches during the summer season.
Bald Head Island
Bald Head Island offers 14 miles of pristine beaches to explore. Note that more remote sections will have fewer amenities. Kite-flying is a popular children’s activity here, thanks to the large beaches with their tidal flats. Ocean sports include surfing, paddle-surfing, kite-boarding, and fishing. South Beach is the most popular with families; the waters are warm and generally very calm, ideal for swimming and paddling. North Beach and West Beach offer lovely sunset views, while East Beach is best for surfing. Lifeguards roam the island during the summer. Restrooms are available, and you’ll easily find concessions, small stores, and cafes close to the beaches.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
The sandy beaches and maritime woodlands of Cape Hatteras National Seashore are home to a wonderful variety of birds and animals, from sea turtles, seals, and piping plovers to deer and otters. Restrooms are available at intervals along the beach. Fishing is excellent, with both fresh and saltwater angling available. You can also catch crabs. Many ocean sports are on offer, including snorkeling, surfing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, and kayaking. The ocean is ideal for swimming but some sections can get a little rough for smaller children. On this small island, you’re never too far from a store, a snack bar, or a cafe. That said, you might want to pack a cooler if you’re heading for a more secluded spot. Lifeguards are on duty during the summer but patrols don’t cover every beach.
Carolina Beach is a friendly town with lots to offer. The beaches are extensive and diverse, ranging from great surfing spots to quieter areas with milder waves and warmer temperatures. Activities include fishing, kayaking, sailing, kite-boarding, windsurfing, and swimming. The extensive boardwalk and fishing pier is a great place to stroll as well as fish. There are plenty of amenities on or close to most beaches on the island, including restrooms. It’s easy to find a fun place to eat not far from the beach. Lifeguards patrol the strand during the summer months.
Currituck Beach, Corolla
The main beach of the Currituck Beach island, Corolla, is very well developed. Wooden boardwalks, installed to protect the lovely but delicate sand dunes, provide excellent beach access. The best-appointed sections are near Currituck Lighthouse and Yaupon Lane. Here you’ll find wheelchair access, showers, restrooms, and a lifeguard aid station (other stations are located at intervals along the beach). There are a range of activities, including ocean sports, fishing, and swimming. Outside of the protected beach area, you can enjoy some exciting four-wheel-drive adventures.
The resort town of Duck is home to some excellent beaches. This friendly town has plenty of beachfront accommodation, amusements, and fun events. The water is clean and ideal for swimming. All kinds of ocean sports are available, from swimming and snorkeling to surfing and kite-boarding. Motorized personal watercraft such as jet-skis are permitted, but only in Currituck Sound. Lifeguards are on patrol.
A lively town with lots to do, Emerald Isle has some wonderful beaches. Waves are moderate and the shore is sandy and fun to play on. Ocean activities include swimming, surfing, snorkeling, scuba sailing, fishing, diving, and boating. On days when red flags are flying on the beach, you can head into town and visit the water park. There are Porta-potties and restrooms at intervals along the beach. You’ll also find fun and quirky stores, seasonal food outlets, and lifeguards on duty in the summer.
Fort Fisher State Park
With six miles of sparkling-clean beaches and salt marshes teeming with wild birds and animals, Fort Fisher State Recreation Area is a fantastic destination for your family. The waves are generally gentle and the sea is great for swimming. You can enjoy many popular ocean sports here. Angling from the shore is popular. There’s a four-wheel-drive beach where you can drive registered vehicles and enticing hiking trails. Restrooms are available. Lifeguards are on duty and rangers patrol the park during the summer.
Kill Devil Hills/Kitty Hawk
Best known for the Wright Brothers Monument, Kill Devil Hills has some brilliant beaches. Most of the activity centers around Avalon Fishing Pier, a boardwalk that offers great angling. There are lots of amusements and places to buy souvenirs or snacks. Parking is generous and there are plenty of access points. It’s a well-developed beach with convenient restrooms, showers, multiple lifeguard stations, and excellent disabled access. You can enjoy all kinds of ocean sports here, although motorized personal watercraft are prohibited.
As well as scenic ferry trips, Kure Beach offers paddle-boarding, kayaking, snorkeling, and other ocean sports. The ocean here is perfect for swimming and it’s a great place to fish. The town is a historic area with lots to see. Families will love North Carolina Aquarium’s Adventure Reef, an outdoor adventure play area. The beach is beautiful and has amenities such as restrooms, a fishing pier, showers, and lifeguard stations.
The beach at Nags Head has gentle waves and is very well-developed, with great access all the way along. You can swim, go kayaking, take out a paddle-board or just relax under one of the colorful beach umbrellas. All kinds of water-sports are on offer and fishing is permitted. Restrooms are available and the Visitor Center has everything you need for a fun day at the beach. Wheelchairs are available. Lifeguard stations are staffed through the summer. At other times, lifeguards patrol in ATVs.
Topsail Island offers a beautiful stretch of white-gold sand, with waves that are generally moderate. It’s a family-friendly beach with lots of amenities, including restrooms, stores, and places to eat. All your favorite ocean sports are on offer, including kayaking, paddle-boarding, swimming, and snorkeling. Lifeguards monitor the beach during the summer months.
With its exhilarating waves, Wrightsville Beach offers great spots for surfing. Kayaking, paddle-boarding and other ocean sports are popular here. There are plenty of amenities on the beach itself, including restrooms. There are concessions and souvenirs on sale. Because the beach is just a stone’s-throw from town, you can easily walk across the road to find even more options for food, shopping, and entertainment. Year-round activities make sure that everyone is entertained. Lifeguards monitor the beach during the summer.