5 Family-Friendly North Carolina Beaches
My daughter’s bedroom holds many beach-trip mementos, including baseball caps, souvenir T-shirts, seashells and sand dollars. For our family, summer is not complete without at least one excursion to a Carolina beach. One of the many benefits to living in the Carolinas is the opportunity to visit a variety of beaches within just a few hours. Whether you’re looking for quiet and secluded, or bright lights and lots of activities, there’s a sandy shoreline filled with as much activity – or inactivity – as you desire.
The Outer Banks
6 hours from Charlotte Metro
For families who prefer less crowded beaches and plentiful outdoor activities, the Outer Banks of North Carolina is a good pick. Rich with history, the 200-mile string of barrier islands is home to the first flight of The Wright Brothers in 1903; and the large number of shipwrecks that have occurred off the coast of the Outer Banks earned it the nickname Graveyard of the Atlantic.
Whether you choose to stay on Bodie, Roanoke, Hatteras or Ocracroke Island, you’ll find plenty of sand to build sandcastles, shopping in the charming town of Duck, sand dunes to climb at Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head and entertainment in Manteo at “The Lost Colony” outdoor drama. The production tells the story of the first English settlement on Roanoke Island and its mysterious disappearance. The story remains one of America’s most intriguing chapters in history.
There are also the usual putt-putt golf courses, ice cream stands, bowling and go-carts in Nags Head. Look for wild ponies on the beaches of Corolla or Ocracoke (accessible only by ferry). If four-wheeling interests you, take a trip on Carova Beach, a designated beach near Corolla, located in farthest northeast corner of North Carolina. Accommodations are mostly large rental houses – many with pools – some condominiums and cottages, with a few hotels and motels to round out the options.
What to do when you’ve had too much sun: Visit the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. It is open daily year round. Or, climb to the top of the Currituck Beach and Cape Hatteras lighthouses.
4 hours from Charlotte Metro
Families looking for a break from the frenetic pace of their everyday lives head to the Brunswick beaches each year to enjoy good food, shopping, recreational activities and relaxation. Here, you’ll find eight smaller islands, each unique in their own individual ways. A commercial fishing center in the 1920s, the largest of the islands, Holden Beach, is located on 11 miles of beaches. It maintains a commercial-free atmosphere by keeping all buildings smaller than 35-feet high.
The popular Ocean Isle has 8 miles of beaches and is home to the Museum of Coastal Carolina, and a fishing pier and arcade located at the center of the island. Golf enthusiasts have an array of courses to choose from all within an hour’s drive of the Brunswick Islands, and day trips to North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach are 30-45 minutes away.
For a serene and private beach vacation, take the ferry from Southport to Bald Head Island, where visitors can explore the island on foot, by bike or golf cart. The island is a safe haven for wildlife and has 10,000 acres dedicated to nature preserves. Other Brunswick Island beaches include Oak Island, Sunset Beach and Caswell Beach.
Find cottages and condos to rent, as well as hotels/motels, bed-and-breakfasts and inns.
What to do when you’ve had too much sun: Plan a visit to the quaint town of Calabash for dinner at one of the local restaurants for Calabash-style seafood, fried in cornmeal batter with hush puppies. Visit Callahan’s Calabash Nautical Gifts to pick up everything from souvenir T-shirts to saltwater taffy and yummy fudge in a variety of flavors. The Christmas shop located inside the store is the perfect place to stock up on ornaments, with 100 decorated trees and more than 3 million ornaments.
The Crystal Coast
5 hours from Charlotte Metro
Whether your family loves historical sites or just spending quality time together on calm, sandy beaches, The North Carolina Crystal Coast offers affordable accommodations on more than 86 miles of beaches in Cape Lookout, Emerald Isle, Atlantic Beach, Morehead City and Beaufort. A popular backdrop for best-selling novelist Nicholas Sparks and the third oldest town in the state of North Carolina, Beaufort is home to a popular historic district that is alive on summer evenings with waterfront restaurants and shops, and live music.
Emerald Isle, with abundant outdoor activities such as scuba diving, kayaking and fly fishing, and water that is often described as more green than blue, is typically the most popular locale for visiting families. The Cape Lookout Ferry gives passengers the opportunity to explore uninhabited beaches along the Cape Lookout National Seashore, as well as a lighthouse.
Share the scenery with the wild horses on Shackleford Banks. Atlantic Beach is home to wide pearlescent beaches, providing a picturesque coastline edged with maritime forests. Tour Ft. Macon, North Carolina’s most visited state park. The five-sided service fort was used in both the Civil War and World War II, and also includes a recreation area with lifeguard-protected swimming, a bathhouse and picnic area.
Accommodations include beach cottages, small hotels, inns and bed-and-breakfasts.
What to do when you’ve had too much sun: Visit Mac Daddy’s in Cape Carteret, a new entertainment complex with bowling, billiards, a sports bar and grill and the largest arcade on the Crystal Coast. N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort is filled with history.
4-1/2 hours from Charlotte Metro
Hilton Head’s resort atmosphere lends itself to spa and resort accommodations and luxury rental homes, as well as hotels and inns. Recently named one of America’s healthiest beaches by Health magazine, Hilton Head Island, S.C., is a fitness enthusiast’s dream come true. For golf and tennis enthusiasts, there are 20 public courses and 200 tennis courts. Even if you normally don’t bike, you’ll fall in love with bicycling on the more than 50 miles of paved trails. Rent bikes from local shops like Pedal’s, Bicycle Billy’s and Bubba’s Bikes before your trip, and they will be waiting at your cottage or condo when you arrive. Horseback riding, outlet shopping and dolphin cruises are other options.
Hop on a trolley on the grounds of The Sea Pines Resort for an evening excursion through Harbour Town, a popular tourist spot located on the western end of Hilton Head and enjoy cool breezes, outdoor dining, live music, a lighthouse, quaint shops and a large outdoor playground built right into the existing trees. South Beach also is a popular spot, with eateries and shops. Note: There is a $5 daily per car fee to enter Sea Pines.
Popular family restaurants on the island include The Crazy Crab (with two locations) and the Salty Dog Café. Fun day trip ideas include taking a ferry ride to nearby Daufauskie Island, S.C., or driving to Savannah, Ga., to take in the rich architecture and mysterious history of the city.
What to do when you’ve had too much sun: Enjoy a free family movie Wednesday mornings at Coligny Plaza or take the kids to The Sandbox, an interactive children’s museum for kids ages 8 and under that also offers a weekly Parents’ Night Out.
4 hours from Charlotte Metro
If your family enjoys soaking up the sun but also wants to balance out 60 miles of beaches with plenty of attractions, outdoor amusement parks, sports, shopping and dining, look no further than Myrtle Beach, S.C., also known as The Grand Strand. For the adventurous, there are surfing, scuba diving, kayaking and parasailing activities, and a variety of water parks offer a different kind of fun in the sun. A zip line ride that spans 500 feet back and forth across the 23-acre Lake Broadway opens in early June. In May, the city opened a pedestrian and family-friendly oceanfront boardwalk spanning 1.2 miles in the heart of the Grand Strand.
Choose from an array of oceanfront resorts, beach homes and other vacation rentals in nearby North Myrtle Beach, S.C., Surfside Beach, S.C., and Garden City, S.C., when looking for a place to stay.
What to do when you’ve had too much sun: Plan a fun dinner at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede or the Medieval Times dinner and tournament. At Dixie Stampede, each ticket includes an opening show, the main show in the expansive arena, and a four-course dinner with dessert included. Like Dixie Stampede, Medieval Times is a family-friendly dinner show inspired by 11th-century medieval battles that includes a four-course dinner.
No matter what you’re budget or activity level, you’ll find suitable travel options at the Carolina coastlines that every member of the family will love. Who knows … it might be the start of a new vacation tradition.
For information on cottages, houses, hotels and other accommodations visit the area of choice’s website.
- Brunswick Islands: www.ncbrunswick.com
- The Crystal Coast: www.crystalcoastnc.org
- Hilton Head Island, S.C.: www.hiltonheadisland.org
- Myrtle Beach, S.C.: www.visitmyrtlebeach.com
- The Outer Banks: www.outerbanks.org