18 Best Beaches in North Carolina for Families to Enjoy This Summer

Tracks on a long empty Topsail Beach North Carolina

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Looking for the best beaches in North Carolina for families? Take the kids on a memorable family vacation with these spots offering everything from entertainment and fun to natural beauty and calm waves.

With over 300 miles of coastline, North Carolina offers fantastic family- and kid-friendly beaches from the Outer Banks in the north to the coastal reserves near the South Carolina border.

If you’re heading to South Carolina instead, be sure to check out our recommendations for a fun-filled Memorial Day Weekend at Myrtle Beach.

Known for its serene environment, very blue waters, and beautiful sandy shorelines, there are so many family-friendly beaches in North Carolina that make it the perfect vacation destination.

Check out our recommendations and start booking — North Carolina is busy in the summer season, and you don’t want to miss out on the best places to stay!

For those who like all things nature, try our list of North Carolina state parks.

Best OBX Beaches for Families

Visiting the Outer Banks? This iconic North Carolina beach area boasts plenty of attractions and gorgeous coastal views all around. 

Plan ahead for any summer vacation — this is a hot spot, and you don’t want to miss out on the best places to stay!

These are our recommendations for kid-friendly OBX beaches…

Currituck Beach

Not far from the Virginia border, Currituck Beach is delightfully family-friendly, with plenty of public access points and lots of fun activities after you’ve spent some time in the sand and sea.

There is public parking and public restrooms at the Currituck County Public Access point.

After a morning at the beach, check out the beautiful Currituck Beach Lighthouse, which has 220 steps to climb for lovely views.

You could also visit the restored 1920s Whalehead Mansion — there’s even a skull of a humpback on display.

Take the kids to Currituck Banks Coastal Estuarine Reserve to learn about local conservation efforts; park at the beach access ramp at the end of NC Highway 12 and walk along the boardwalk to explore this diverse area.

Corolla Beach

Corolla Beach is perfect for a peaceful and quiet vacation, far from the city noise, with things to do to keep kids entertained beyond the beach. 

Perhaps the most incredible thing about Corolla (from Currituck down to Corolla Beach) is the opportunity to see the beautiful Wild Spanish Mustangs that roam this northern part of the Outer Banks.

These wild horses have been here for centuries and have full access to roam as they please through neighborhoods and along the beaches.

Always respect their space — there is a legal requirement to stay at least 50 feet away at all times. If the horses approach you, it is still your responsibility to back away and maintain that distance.

Kids love seeing these stunning wild horses, so be sure to visit Corolla with your animal-loving little ones!

For a unique stay, check out the Inn at Corolla Lighthouse.

Two Wild Spanish Mustangs on Corolla Beach in the Outer Banks

Duck Beach

One of the most popular areas in OBX, Duck Beach is spacious and wonderfully family-friendly. 

Just note that there are lifeguards only in the summer. 

Duck Beach isn’t just one of the best family-friendly beaches in NC — it is actually recognized as one of the top 15 family-and kid-friendly beaches in the entire United States! 

The seven-mile beach in Duck offers charming small-town cafes, shops, and rentals for water sporting equipment. 

There are numerous activities for older kids and teens to enjoy, including parasailing, surfing, canoeing, kayaking, tubing, pontooning, and jet-skiing. 

While at Duck Beach, you can stroll along Currituck Sound and shop at Scarborough Lane Shoppes.

Or grab a bite at Duck Donuts, where your kids can pick their own toppings and coating for a doughnut! 

You can check out the Sanderling Resort for a lovely place to stay.

Duck Beach in the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Kill Devil Hills Beach and Kitty Hawk

Between the south of Duck Beach and the north of Nags Heads on the same barrier island, you’ll find the Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk areas. 

Just like many family-friendly beaches in NC, these beach areas offer a quiet and serene getaway for your family. 

Kids can enjoy swimming, fishing in premier points like the Avalon Pier, biking, boogie boarding, surfing, and volleyball, to name a few fun activities! 

At Kitty Hawk, you can also teach your kids important history…

The Wright Brothers took their first flight at Kitty Hawk Beach in 1903. 

Visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center to learn all about it.

There are lifeguards at Kill Devils Hills Beach, and dogs are welcome all year long. 

Plenty of public access points, parking spaces, restrooms, and showers are all found here. 

Don’t miss High Cotton North Carolina Barbecue for delicious family meals. 

Check out these local accommodations in the Kitty Hawk area:

Kitty Hawk Pier Beach Outer Banks North Carolina

Nags Head

Nags Head Beach has a lighthouse (Bodie Island) that offers spectacular views during the summer. 

There is also a skate park, and you’re even allowed to do some 4×4 driving from October to April. 

This beach has so much to offer for kids, including trying to summit the East Coast’s tallest dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. 

For teens and active kids, this is a natural playground topped off with tons of entertaining activities to try.

Scramble up the dunes to tire out the younger ones and help them fly a kite.

For the older kids (and adults!) looking for unique fun, try hang gliding – something to add to your North Carolina bucket list!

View from behind as someone takes off on a hang glider at Jockey's Ridge State Park in North Carolina

Back at the beach, you can stroll along the fishing pier in Nags Head. 

You can also go surfing, surf fishing, kayaking, and kiteboarding. 

For a truly memorable adventure, take the whole family on a private fishing charter!

Some beaches here have lifeguards and bathhouses, but these are not available on all the beaches at Nags Head. 

On the beach, you can pitch a tent and even start a bonfire for the night if you get a permit.

So, toast your marshmallows and have a good time under the stars.

Prefer a few more comforts?

Check out these hotels instead:

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

At Cape Hatteras, you’ll find the iconic black and white striped lighthouse that makes this one of the most popular family beaches in North Carolina. 

This beach also has exciting activities like windsurfing, kiteboarding in Pamlico Sound, horseback riding, and kayaking. 

Due to it being close to where the Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream meet, fishing is exhilarating because the catch often includes tuna, marlin, and other big fish. 

Family camping is available here, with campgrounds for RVs and tents. 

Besides the activities mentioned above, adults can also try skimboarding, bodyboarding, and stand-up paddleboarding.

Keep an eye out for sea turtles so you can teach your kids more about fascinating marine life!

Just be sure never to touch, approach, or otherwise bother any wild creatures.

Recommended accommodations in Cape Hatteras include:

Check out our guide to the best towns in OBX for more.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse towers over beach dunes of Outer Banks

Other Family-Friendly Beaches in North Carolina

Beyond the Outer Banks, there are tons of other great beaches in NC for families, so continue south along the coast to check out these spots.

View of beach at sunrise

Cape Lookout National Seashore

The Cape Lookout National Seashore is one of the best family beaches in North Carolina, especially during the summer.

As a national seashore, Cape Lookout has plenty of park ranger tours and programs that can educate and entertain the kids. 

Besides the park ranger tours and programs, you can also enjoy birding and fishing.

Or head to Cape Lookout Lighthouse to climb the 207 steps to the top of this iconic black and white lighthouse painted in a diamond pattern. 

Note that the Cape Lookout Lighthouse is closed for construction until at least 2023. Keep an eye on official updates for future opening times.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse in North Carolina

Emerald Isle

Located on the Crystal Coast, Emerald Isle is hands-down one of the best family beaches in North Carolina. 

The soft sand here is perfect for building sandcastles, which kids (and adults!) of all ages love. 

You can also fly kites, go kayaking, explore the island via pontoon, go fishing, or bike around town to the Point and Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier. 

During the summer, the EmeraldFest concert is always a fun activity for the whole family. 

To change things up from the beach, head to Salty Pirate Water Park to enjoy water slides and pools. 

If you want oysters and crab fresh from the sea, drop by The Crab Shack (144 Shore Drive), which is family-owned and operated since 1976.

In Emerald Isle, check out the Islander Hotel and Resort.

Sunrise at Emerald Isle in North Carolina

Hammocks Beach

Hammocks Beach is a beautiful family beach in NC set within Hammocks Beach State Park

While here, you can’t miss going to Bear Island, a 4-mile-long barrier island that you can access by canoeing or kayaking or by taking a short ferry trip. 

Whichever means you choose to get to Bear Island, it sure will be an adventure on its own!

Family-Friendly Beaches Near Wilmington, NC

Keep heading south along the coast, and you’ll soon find yourself near one of North Carolina’s largest cities: Wilmington.

As a port city, Wilmington has long held significant status in North Carolina.

Today, Wilmington is known as a college town with classic Southern charm — plus its excellent weather!

Enjoy a combination of city amenities and fun with these nearby family-friendly beaches.

Topsail Island: North Topsail, Topsail, and Surf City Beaches

Topsail Island conveniently offers three of the best family-friendly beaches in North Carolina: North Topsail, Topsail, and Surf City. 

This area offers extensive sandy beaches and a quiet, family-friendly vibe suitable for swimming, surfing, relaxing in the sun, watersports, and sunset walks. 

Note that there are no lifeguards on these beaches, so keep an eye on the kiddos.

Topsail Island also has good, low-key places where you and your family can grab a bite to eat. 

These beaches are also hotspots for pelicans, dolphins, and starfish, so you can introduce the little ones to local wildlife.

Cottage by the Sea Retreat is one of the hotels you should check out when visiting Topsail Island.

Tracks on a long empty Topsail Beach North Carolina

Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville Beach is one of the top-rated, family-friendly beaches in NC. 

It is also one of the best surfing towns, according to National Geographic. 

Wrightsville offers various activities like sailing, stand-up paddleboarding, kiteboarding, and surfing.

There are accessible restrooms for all who visit the beach. 

Additionally, lifeguards are always on standby, and there are enough parking spaces, so it isn’t a hassle trying to find a spot.

Take the kids for a long walk along Johnnie Mercers Fishing Pier, which juts 1200 feet out over the water.

In Wrightsville, check out the Harbor Inn or Holiday Inn Resort Wilmington East.

Aerial view of Johnnie Mercers fishing pier and beachfront houses on Wrightsville Beach in the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Carolina Beach

Looking for some of the most historic beaches in North Carolina? Then Carolina Beach, 15 miles from Wilmington, is one of your top picks. 

It has a vintage beach boardwalk that is recognized nationally; how exciting! 

This boardwalk has delicious food stands, carousels, carnival games, and amusement park rides. 

Summer is the best time to visit because of fireworks shows and festivals on the beach. 

The beach also offers fishing and surfing; you can also take long walks on the soft clean sand or search for unique shells. 

Carolina Beach is definitely one of the best North Carolina beaches for families, featuring amenities that’ll make your vacation both fun and convenient. 

This beach is also considered one of the safest beaches in NC because there are calm waves towards shore, the ocean floors are shallow, and lifeguards are on duty.

A good hotel option nearby is Hampton Inn & Suites.

Colorful beachfront rental homes on Carolina Beach near Wilmington North Carolina

Kure Beach

There are plenty of public access points to Kure Beach, which is a perfect beach in NC for families with its wide sand and fun activities.

There’s an open-air market to enjoy some shopping while you’re here, too.

Additionally, there are summer concerts at the Ocean Front Park and Pavilion, so check the upcoming schedule for your trip!

Learn about local wildlife conservation efforts from the Pleasure Island Sea Turtle Project, which patrols from the southern end of Kure Beach up to the northern end of Carolina Beach every nesting season (May 1 – August 31).

Also, note the town of Kure offers manual-push beach wheelchairs that can be reserved for up to a week.

Check out Sunny Vacation Villas for a whole house rental right on Kure Beach.

Kure Beach Fishing Pier seen from the dunes in North Carolina

Fort Fisher State Park Beach

Fort Fisher State Park offers 5 miles of shoreline with beautiful turquoise water and soft, powdery sand. 

This area is perfect for having picnics, playing with the little ones, and getting that tan on with some sunbathing. 

You can also engage in surfing, boating, and surf-fishing. 

Teach the kids some history while you’re here: the oldest fishing pier along the Atlantic Ocean is found at Fort Fisher, as well as a historic fort.

Just for fun, there’s also an oceanfront park that offers a pirate-themed playground for the kids to enjoy.

Check out all the best state parks in SC for more outdoor adventures.

Bald Head Island: South Beach or East Beach

Bald Head Island is one of the prettiest and most peaceful beach areas in North Carolina, perfect for families. 

And it’s only reachable by a private boat or ferry!

While on the island, you can get from one point to the next using golf carts; how exciting would that be for kids! 

Bald Head Island is home to the oldest lighthouse in NC, lovingly called Old Baldy. 

Head to South Beach for calmer waters for the little ones or East Beach for older kids hoping to do some boogie boarding or surfing.

Aerial view of the beach and residential neighborhood at Bald Head Island, North Carolina

Final Words

With so many options to choose from, you can never go wrong with a North Carolina family beach trip.

Did we include or miss your favorite spot? Let us know in the comments below!

Check out our map of North Carolina beaches for an easy reference guide as you plan your trip.

Our North Carolina Travel Guides

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