My best friend and I are planning a road trip to North Carolina in August, and we want to drive across the state all the way to the coast. Which beaches are the best/most scenic along the coast in North Carolina? The trip will be about five days long including travel time (half a day each way) and we will stop for at least a day in Wilmington. Are there good beaches somewhere else along the coastline?
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If you go to North Carolina, you absolutely have to go to Ocracoke Island. It's a part of the Outer Banks and you'll have to take a ferry to get there, but you will NOT be disappointed! From a pure beauty perspective, the beach there blows anything in California or Hawaii away! The island has a small quiet town with two stores. The beach is wide and flat, with the ocean on one side and a flat marsh area on the other. I felt like I was on another planet right next to the sun! Take your four-wheeler on the beach and enjoy! By far the best beach for laying out that I've ever been on!
I totally agree about Ocracokeand the Outer Banks mentioned in the other comments. Ocracoke in particular is fabulous. The beach there was named "Best Beach" by Dr. Beach not too long ago. (And once it is named number one, it is out of the running in future years, but this place just keeps getting better, and there is no commercial construction on the the beach at all, and never will be). I wrote an entire guide about the Banks and Ocracoke and the Crystal Coast (Beaufort (North Carolina) and Morehead City) for Countryman Press and I would have to say the only drawback to a trip to Ocracoke on your timeframe is the time it will take. You'd have to take the pay car ferry from Cedar Point, NC (north of Beaufort) or Swan Quarter from S or the free (so far) ferry from Hatteras Island, and all that can be time consuming. Waits at the ferry stations are sometimes lengthy, especially in August. You can check the ferry schedules here. Fares are about $15 each way from Cedar Point or Swan Quarter, and you'll need reservations.
If you are looking for unspoiled beaches, you might consider heading to the beaches around Beaufort. It's not a long drive north from Wilmington (one of my favorite cities in NC, by the way). You can take a passenger-only ferry for a small fee over to the uninhabited islands of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, including Core Banks where you can climb the lighthouse, and Shackleford Banks, where wild horses descended from Spanish shipwreck survivors, run free. This is plenty of fun, the beaches are almost unvisited, and the crowds in August much less daunting than on beaches both north and south of here. Plus the distances are small and the boat rides short, so you can spend more time in Beaufort, a wonderfully walkable town full of great restaurants, historic sites, beautiful architecture, shops - and pirates. The nearby Atlantic Beach (North Carolina) just across the causeway is a great place to stay, if you want a room on the beach. I can recommend the Atlantis Lodge there as an excellent choice - very friendly, almost a Hawaiian vibe, and right on the ocean. This is called the Crystal Coast and the beaches deliver, with wide white sands and restaurants right on the water, which you won't find everywhere.
From the Beaufort/Crystal Coast area, it's possible to make a quick trip to Ocracoke - even just a day trip. Don't go over to Ocracoke in August planning to stay the night without reservations, even if you are camping.
I have a lot more suggestions detailed in my Countryman Press book on the Outer Banks, Ocracoke and the Crystal Coast, just out in a new edition. (I recommend the Kindle edition if you are interested. Will work on any computer with a free app and has live links.) I cover the Wilmington area, Wrightsville Beach, et. al. in another Countryman guide, this one on Myrtle Beach, Wilmington, and the North Carolina Lowcountry.
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