Stretching for 72 miles along the Atlantic coast on the Outer Banks, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a skinny strip of barrier islands from Nags Head to Ocracoke Island. The beach’s hallmark high, sandy dunes front frothy surf perfect for swimming, beachcombing and body-surfing. Visitors can climb up 248 steps to the top of the nation's tallest lighthouse -- towering at an impressive 196 feet -- for a spectacular view of the seashore.
Leave behind your car and board a ferry for idyllic island life on the 12,000-acre Bald Head Island at the southernmost point of the cape islands along the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean. On this peaceful island filled with private residences and beach rentals, there’s little more to do than spend lazy days exploring 14 miles of beach, interspersed with a round of golf, a hike through the maritime forest or a visit to historic Old Baldy Lighthouse.
In the southern Outer Banks, Emerald Isle is the crown jewel of North Carolina’s Crystal Coast. The island is sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean on the south and the Bogue Sound to the north making for calm, crystalline waters perfect for wading and frolicking in the surf. Set off on a coastal boat tour in search of dolphins, local birds and a glimpse of wild ponies on the barrier islands.
Just east of Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach offers crystal-clear waters, kiteboarding lessons and beachcombing on 5 miles of seashore. Scuba enthusiasts flock to the area to explore any of the 200 wrecks that sit on the ocean’s floor off the coast at Wrightsville’s sunny shores.