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Southeastern North Carolina Beaches

Whatever flavor beach suites your tastes, Southeastern NC has a sandy shore just for you.
Posted: November 18, 2017 by Honor Rudd

Southeastern North Carolina is home to some of the most pristine and beautiful beaches in all the world. These shores are nursery, resting place, and home to vast and varied creatures of the land and sea, some of which can be found no place else on earth. 

This region’s sandy beaches feature a mild climate, and varying degrees of development which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors throughout the year. Whether you’re in search of a sleepy beach vacation, an exciting sportsman’s getaway, a quiet day of shelling, or a fun and relaxing weekend away, there’s a beach here for you. There are surf shops and boutiques, amazing restaurants, countless small businesses renting everything you could possibly require, and innumerable means of entertainment for those rainy days, or when you’re ready for a break from all that Carolina salt and sun! 

Our shores are a popular nesting place for multiple varieties of sea turtle, respite for numerous shorebirds, and the site of countless memories of boating, surfing, fishing, sand castle building, and absolute relaxation that will last a lifetime. But of all our diverse beaches, which is the one you’ll want to call Home? 

This 26-mile barrier island begins just south of Jacksonville and Camp Lejune in Onslow County, and stretches along North Carolina’s Atlantic Coast into Pender County just north of Hampstead, encompassing the towns of North Topsail Beach, Surf City, and Topsail Beach. 

Things to do

Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is located in Surf City. This 13,600-square-foot hospital heads up diagnosing, treating, and rehabbing North Carolina’s sea turtles.  Visitors to the center have the opportunity to tour various exhibits in the great hall, and view the Sea Turtle Sick Bay (their ICU) through windows. 

Surf City Pier is 937 feet long, featuring a grill with outdoor seating, a bait, tackle and souvenir shop, and an alcohol-free, family environment.
Soundside Park features a climbing wall and climbing fish, slides, swings, sound-side boardwalks, viewing decks, and fishing piers. 

The island also features the Missiles and More Museum, multiple art galleries, and the legendary Topsail Skating Rink.

The Beaches

Topsail Beach allows dogs on the beach all year, but they must be on a 20-foot or shorter leash from May 15 through September 30. Topsail is one of the few beaches that allows horseback riding. Riders must obtain a permit from the Topsail Beach Police Department and horses are only permitted from October 1 to March 30. Vehicles can be driven on the beach with a permit from October 1 to March 31 for fishing only. 

North Topsail Beach allows dogs all year, but they must be on a leash no longer than 25 feet. 

Wrightsville Beach is just a short trip over the Intracoastal Waterway draw bridge from Wilmington. This highly walkable and dog-friendly town features plenty of sidewalks and a lot to do! Lumina Avenue is lined with restaurants, bars, boutiques, and more!

Things to do

Wrightsville Beach Museum of History educates and entertains visitors with the colorful history of this beautiful island, highlighting “the struggles between progress and remaining true to the spirit of our past.” They strive to “link the past to the present, valuing both.” 

The John Nesbitt Loop, known by locals as simply “The Loop” is a 2.45-mile path around the heart of Wrightsville Beach. “This sidewalk trail offers scenic views, restrooms located in Wrightsville Beach Park, water fountains, pet water fountains, and pet waste disposal bags.  Come enjoy the outdoors with a walk or run along the ever popular Loop!”

Wrightsville Beach Park features 2 outdoor basketball courts, 4 tennis courts, 3 volleyball pits, softball field, soccer/flag football field, rec room, and an all-inclusive playground built with differently-abled children in mind.

Johnny Mercer’s Pier is the only concrete fishing pier in North Carolina, extending more than 1200 feet into the ocean. 

The Fred and Alice Stanback Coastal Education Center is a regional hub for coastal education, offering educational and fun activities and classes. “The center’s grounds serve as a ‘Living Classroom’ with native plants, rain gardens, stormwater reduction demonstrations, low-impact development landscaping, and hosts of other projects.”
Leashed dogs are allowed on the beach from October 1 through March 30 only, and alcohol is prohibited. 

Lea-Hutaff Island

Barrier islands are constantly changing due to winds and ocean currents. Lea-Hutaff, only accessible by boat, was once two islands, but the inlet separating the islands closed in 1998. The Hutaff portion remains privately owned by the Hutaff family but the Lea portion remains open to the public. 

This 5,641-acre uninhabited island and marsh system between Topsail and Figure 8 Islands has been left untouched by off-road vehicles and dredged sand, and features 4 miles of dunes, swales and overwash.

Masonboro Island

One of 10 North Carolina Coastal Reserves, 5,542-acre Masonboro Island is the largest site of the N.C. National Estuarine Research Reserve (NCNERR) system. According to the NC Coastal Reserve, “The island was protected primarily for research and education, traditional uses such as fishing and recreation are allowed as long as they do not interfere with these primary uses.” 

The island is accessible only by boat, which one can launch from public ramps in Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach. As Masonboro Island is home to flora and fauna that are listed as threatened by the Federal Government, as well as a number of “species of concern,” visitors are asked to avoid disturbing vegetation and habitat, but there are trails, beach areas, and open tidal flats available for hiking and primitive camping.

Sea Coast REALTOR® Melissa Dunn says the beaches at Masonboro Island are her favorite. 

One of Carolina Beach’s most touted features is its award-winning boardwalk, which delivers a vintage, seaside experience the likes of which have all but disappeared from the East Coast. It was even named one of our nation’s Top Ten boardwalks by both Food & Wine Magazine and USA Today! Here one can find famous homemade donuts, ice cream and fudge, fresh seafood, arcade games, galleries, and even an amusement park--the Ferris wheel provides a breathtaking birds-eye view of the Atlantic!


The 700-foot, full-service Carolina Beach Fishing Pier is family owned and operated and features a tackle shop, grill, snack bar, and lounge. If you’re interested in competitive fishing, check out the Southeast King Mackerel Tournament, East Coast Got-Em-On King Mackerel Classic Tournament, Carolina Fall Flatfish Tournament, Carolina Fall King Challenge, and the Pleasure Island Surf Fishing Challenge, to name just a few.


Tony Silvagni, USA Surf Team gold medalist, calls Carolina Beach home. With a decade of surf coaching experience, Tony leads his team of instructors in coaching private and group lessons for kids and adults and at all levels of skill from beginners to advanced surfers. 


Carolina Beach State Park includes a visitor’s center with exhibits demonstrating the wonders of this natural environment. This is one of the few places in all the world that you can find a Venus flytrap in the wild. But that’s not the only carnivorous plant you might come across on the island! Pitcher plants are also abundant.

The stretch of sandy beach known as Freeman Park is one of the most popular locations in Carolina Beach. Tourists and locals alike visit the park to fish, boat, crab, cast for minnows, and swim. Camping is allowed only with a permit, and reservations are required between April and September.

Things to Do

Carolina Beach also features a Summer-long Boardwalk Film and Fireworks series and is home to NC’s largest beach music festival, the Carolina Beach Music Festival, just one of the popular live music events held in the area. Other major local events include the Salty Paws Festival (benefiting local animal rescues), the Pleasure Island Chowder Cook-Off, and the Pleasure Island Seafood, Blues and Jazz Festival. Top it off with sunset cruises and nature tours, an annual Christmas Parade, the Holiday Flotilla on the Intracoastal Waterway, and the busy and bustling weekend Farmer’s Market, and there really is always something to do at Carolina Beach. 

Sea Coast REALTOR® Tara English says her favorite local shore is Carolina Beach because it has “Hands down has the best atmosphere. Very relaxing but yet has a ton of things to do.” 

Kure Beach

When you’re in Kure Beach, just 15 miles south of Wilmington, you’re never more than a mile from the clean, expansive beaches along the Atlantic Shore. 

Things to Do

The NC Aquarium at Forth Fisher features salt marsh, tidal pool, and ocean exhibits, dives show and animal encounters, and the opportunity to meet a live albino alligator, a rescued bald eagle, and other furry, scaled, and feathered friends. 

The Fort Fisher State Historic Site is the location of the Civil War’s largest amphibious battle and features a visitor’s center and gift shop. Divers and snorkelers can explore The Condor, a Civil War blockade runner, and North Carolina’s first heritage dive site. The ship ran aground on October 1, 1864. The 218-foot wreck sits in 25 feet of water 700 yards off the beach, which is open to explore from June through November.

Kure Beach Pier is the oldest fishing pier on the Atlantic Coast, built in 1923. No license is required to fish this 711-foot pier. 

Kure Beach is home to the Boogie in the Park Concert Series and the Annual Seafood Blues & Jazz festival. Kure’s family-friendly beaches feature free parking and numerous public accesses. Alcohol is prohibited. Dogs are allowed from October 1 through March 31. 

Sea Coast REALTOR® Mary Blake says “Fort Fisher is my go-to beach, where I love to walk my dog and get my Zen on!”

Bald Head Island

This resort-style island is accessible only by boat—a 20 minute ferry carries visitors from nearby Southport, NC. Residents and visitors travel the island, which features 14 miles of sandy beaches, by golf cart, bikes, or on foot. 

The island features world-class restaurants and a wide variety of beatific Bed and Breakfasts and Inns. 

Things to Do

Bald Head Island Club features a golf course designed by George Cobb, is staffed by PGA professionals. The Club’s croquet greensward hosts lessons, clinics, and US Croquet Association tournaments, and the Tennis Center is staffed with USPTA pros. 

Enjoy the natural majesty of the island at the Bald Head Woods Maritime Forest Preserve, or via hikes and nature walks offered by the Bald Head Island Conservancy. 

Old Baldy, North Carolina’s oldest standing lighthouse, is part of the Smith Island Museum of History. The island was also home to a British fort and hospital during the Revolutionary War—historic island tours are offered by the Old Baldy Foundation. You can even take a ghost walk and learn all about the island’s storied past. 

Tournaments, clubs, and camps for kids are offered by the Bald Head Island Conservancy, The Shoals Club, Bald Head Island Club, and All About Art. 

Caswell Beach

Caswell Beach was named Best Restored Beach by the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association due to preservation efforts started in the late 1990s. 

Caswell is home to the 153-foot-tall Oak Island Lighthouse, which has been standing since 1958, as well as the Oak Island Golf Course

Dogs are allowed on the beach year-round. From October 1 through April 30 dogs may be off-leash from 3pm till dark. All year dogs may be off leash from dawn until 9am. 

Oak Island features 65 public accesses to 9 miles of sandy beach, a number of which are handicap-accessible. The Oak Island Beach Preservation Society protects the area’s natural resources with funds from the Beach Preservation Trust Fund, under the jurisdiction of the Trust Fund Advisory board and a Committee appointed by the Town Council. They clean and monitor the beach, educate the public, coordinate volunteers, and build structures like bike racks and doggie-bag boxes.


There are a number of parks on the island. The Cabana, and Commissioner’s Park offer oceanfront beach viewing areas. 

Malcolm Register Park features a sheltered picnic area. 

Middleton Park features picnic shelters, concessions and multiple sports fields. 

William “Bill” Smith Park features sports fields, disc golf course, concessions, and a picnic shelter as well as the Salty Dog park, a 4500-square-foot enclosed park with separate small- and large-dog sections. 

Oak Island Skate Park features a 6-foot halfpipe, and a street course with quarterpipe, banks, spine, street spine, fly box, and pyramid. Full pads are required. 
Tidalwaves Canoe Dock offers the perfect place to launch your canoe, kayak, or john boat into Davis Creek. 

The Oak Island Education Center informs visitors about marine life and habitats. 

Holden Beach is nationally regarded as one of the most family-friendly beach destinations in the country.  This quaint coastal village features over 8 miles of sandy beaches and a wonderful small-town atmosphere, drawing numerous tourists seeking a relaxing, wholesome vacation experience. 

Things to Do

Lookwood Folly Country Club offers an 18 hole, par 72 course, designed by Willard Byrd, which is playable by a variety of ability levels. 

Hoden Beach Marina and Fishing Charters as well as Holden Beach Pavilion and Fishing Pier offer a wide range of coastal experiences for the serious sportsman and the entire family. 


Holden Beach Parks and Recreation offers summer day camps, a summer concert series, and various programs such as pickleball, beach walkers, beginner yoga, duplicate bridge, bocce ball and group bocce. 

Bridgeview Park offers a multipurpose court, bocce ball, picnic shelter, pier, transient boat docks and canoe/kayak launch. 

Holden Beach Dog Park is open from sunrise to sunset. 

According to the town’s Mayor in 2016, Ocean Isle’s civic goal is “to provide the perfect place to create those precious vacation memories.”

Winner of American Shore and Beach Preservation Association Best Restored Beach Award in 2008, Ocean Isle features 30 public beach accesses, six of which are handicap-accessible, along its 7 miles of South-facing beaches. 

Things to Do

Shallotte River Swamp Park is a 60-acre “nature-oriented eco park”, ranked by Trip Advisor as Number One among “Things To Do” in the area. The park features “swamp boat tours, a zipline canopy course, a tree-top aerial challenge course, a self-guided educational nature trail, and a guided swamp buggy tour.” 

If golf is your game, Ocean Isle is your beach! Visit Brick Landing Plantation Golf ClubLeopard’s Chase Golf Club, Lion’s Paw Golf Links, Panther’s Run Golf Links, and Tiger’s Eye Golf Links to hone your swing or enjoy a relaxing day with friends on the links. 

The Museum of Coastal Carolina is North Carolina’s only Natural History Museum located on a barrier island.

Ferry Landing Park features a gazebo, picnic area and fishing pier. Ocean Isle Beach Park features tennis courts, playgrounds, multipurpose field and an amphitheater. 
Ocean Isle Pier is one of the oldest in Brunswick County and features a grill and shop with ice cream, drinks, ice, supplies, bait & tackle, and more!

Ocean Isle Beach is also home of the North Carolina Oyster Festival. 

Named Number 5 of National Geographic’s 21 Best Beaches in the World, Sunset Beach is aptly named—from late fall through early spring one can watch the sun rise and set over the water. 

According to National Geographic, “at the west end of this remote beach, a mile from the access point, a solitary mailbox stands, planted by local Frank Nesmith in the ’70s, and continually replenished with notebooks inviting visitors to jot thoughts, dreams, wishes, and whatever else moves the spirit.” It is referred to as the Kindred Spirit Mailbox. 

Things to Do

Ingram Planetarium boasts an 85-seat SciDome Sky Theater. There, visitors can enjoy educational presentations discussing astronomy and space exploration, as well as enthralling music and laser shows. The Planetarium’s Paul Dennis Science Hall features interactive exhibits as well.

Sunset Beach Town Park features walking trails, waterfront access, a canoe and kayak launch, and a boat ramp. 

The Sunset Beach Swing Bridge & Museum recalls the bridge which, from 1958 through 2011, linked the island to the mainland. The museum features artifacts from the storied past of Sunset Beach and serves as a place for locals to gather and celebrate their small town. 

Golfing opportunities abound in Sunset Beach, Oyster Bay Golf Links, Sandpiper Bay Golf & Country Club, the three courses at Sea Trail Resort, and Thistle Golf Club are all nearby.

No Dogs are allowed on the beach from the Friday before Memorial Day through Labor Day, from 8pm to 6pm. All other times dogs must be on a leash no longer than 10 feet. 

The Southernmost portion of Sunset Beach is Bird Island, a pristine 1300 acre state preserve made up of sandy beaches, salt marshes and tidal creeks.

Sea Coast REALTOR® Sheryl French says that Sunset Beach has a “great safe atmosphere for families. Beach is very flat; at low tide you can safely walk WAY out! Lots of walkway entrances and handicap accessible!!” 

Bird island is Sea Coast REALTOR® Nicole Beth Michaels' favorite. She says “It's past Sunset Beach in NC, has no buildings on it. Fun to get to by boat!”

Whatever flavor beach suites your tastes, Southeastern North Carolina has a sandy shore just for you. Or, as Sea Coast REALTOR® Kelly Sloop put it, “Any Beach is my favorite Beach...we are lucky to live where you just pick any direction and go.” 

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