NC Beaches vs. SC Beaches

photo by frank-mckenna via unsplash

Options are plentiful when it comes to beaches in North and South Carolina. Each and every one brings something distinct to the table — however, when you get down to it, which state actually has the best beaches? 

Like the great BBQ debate between the states, we think it all comes down to your preference, so we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite beaches in the Carolinas and we’ll let you decide:

Best Family-Friendly Beaches

Nags Head, North Carolina

Made up of more than a hundred miles of beachfront property, the Outer Banks area is without a doubt one of the most iconic places to vacation in all of North Carolina, and while there are several incredible coastal towns that make up the OBX, Nags Head is one that truly stands out for being extremely family-friendly. Not only is the town one of the most beautiful destinations in the state, it also boasts a seemingly endless list of things to see and do that will keep an entire family occupied all day, on or off the beach. 

Options are endless when it comes to ways to spend a day on the beach whether you prefer swimming in the warm waves of the Atlantic, fishing, kayaking, boogie boarding, or shelling. There’s also plenty to do if you want to venture away from the beach and explore the area in other ways. Take a guided kayak tour through scenic marshes, climb to the top of the Bodie Island Lighthouse, or, if you really want to get your adrenaline-pumping, hang glide down the 85-ft. sand dune at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. 

A few days in Nags Head will only scratch the surface of all there is to do to in and around town, so you may want to plan a loose itinerary to fit in as much as you can, and plan on returning year after year if you want to experience it all.

photo via @visitnc on instagram

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach has all the right ingredients for a memorable family vacation with absolutely no shortage of things to do. There’s something for everyone to enjoy in the area, no matter the age. Seaside, you can spend time relaxing in the sand, basking in the sun at one of the area’s many beaches, or take your pick from an abundance of water activities that range from parasailing and banana boat rides to skim boarding and fishing.

Beyond its beaches, Myrtle Beach also has a host of attractions that will appease a wide variety of ages and interests, including championship golf courses, popular shopping destinations, performing arts theaters, and a lively boardwalk. Even a rainy day won’t hamper a vacation at Myrtle Beach with a myriad of indoor activities and attractions to choose from. Indoor options include everything from Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach and the Children’s Museum of South Carolina to WonderWorks and the Alabama Theater.

Between its expansive shoreline, multitude of recreation options, variety of local eateries, and shopping destinations, Myrtle Beach provides a well-rounded getaway that the whole family can enjoy. 

photo via @officialmyrtlebeach on instagram

Best For Activities

Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Considered one of the best surfing spots on the East Coast, Wrightsville Beach, has waves that have been luring surfers to the area for years, but active beachgoers who don’t surf certainly won’t be disappointed by the area’s other offerings. The beach boasts a wide array of watersports, excursions, and outdoor experiences that range from stand-up paddleboarding and wakeboarding to scuba diving and deep sea fishing.

Those who want to fish can cast a line off one of the beach’s two piers or book a private charter and head offshore to deepsea fish. If you’d rather spend the day in the water than on the sand, consider booking a tour with a local diving outfit like WB Diving and discover the local reefs and shipwrecks that are teeming with marine life. To experience the beauty of the beach from a different vantage point consider taking a sailing trip along the coast for the day or a book a sunset harbor cruise and end the day watching the sun melt into the horizon. You may even catch a glimpse of a dolphin pod or two. 

No matter what activities you choose to do during your vacation, be sure to take some time to do a little beachcombing. Wrightsville Beach’s waves are known for spitting out a treasure trove of seashells from the Atlantic as well as prehistoric Megalodon teeth!

photo via @leesha1225 on instagram

Folly Beach, South Carolina

A staple for Charleston residents, Folly Beach, not only offers a nice, wide stretch of soft, sandy shoreline, but it also offers plenty of ways to stay busy during a visit. A long list of of water recreation options awaits visitors, with a multitude of exciting excursions to take advantage of, like chartering a private boat for the day and sailing over to the Morris Island Lighthouse, which is only accessible by boat. Or, set out on a kayak or paddle board and explore all the beauty the Lowcountry has to offer at your own pace. Want to catch some waves? Rent a board from one of the local surf shops and schedule a lesson. Head over to the Folly Beach Pier, which provides the perfect spot to cast a line and try your luck at saltwater fishing.  

On the beach, vacationers can comfortably spread out and soak up the sun without worrying about being right on top of anyone else. When you need a break from sunbathing, go on a leisurely stroll along the water’s edge where you’re likely to find a shark’s tooth, or if you’re looking for a little friendly competition, join in on one of the many beach volleyball games that always seem to be in progress at Folly. 

After spending the day in the sun, saunter over to the town’s main street, which is lined with welcoming watering holes that provide the perfect opportunity to escape the sweltering Southern heat and indulge in a refreshing adult beverage.

photo via @follybeachcom on instagram

Most Secluded Beaches in NC & SC

Bald Head Island, North Carolina

Only accessible by a 20-minute ferry ride, Bald Head Island, is quietly glamorous with stately homes and an exclusivity that has long drawn vacationers — and many celebrities — looking for a peaceful vacation destination with plenty of privacy. After arriving to the island, should you choose to explore, you’ll notice the main forms of transportation to get around the 12,000-acre island are golf cart and beach cruiser, because cars are prohibited — making it feel all the more secluded. 

Along with 14 miles of stunning shoreline, Bald Head Island features several nature trails, two private clubs that each boast a wealth of amenities ranging from an 18-hole golf course and tennis center to resort-style swimming pools. There are also a few charming shops where visitors can grab everything from groceries to beach gear and souvenirs. The island’s lighthouse — Old Baldy — is the state’s longest standing lighthouse and is a must-see.

photo via @baldheadislandnc on instagram

Botany Bay, South Carolina

Tucked away about 45 miles from Charleston on a remote, 4,630-acre preserve near Edisto Island sits one of South Carolina’s most incredible hidden gems. Botany Bay is a secluded enclave that’s only accessible after taking a lengthy detour off the main road and into the preserve down a long, gravel road shaded by a canopy of oak trees lush with Spanish moss. Even once you’ve parked, you’ll still have to take a short walk to the final destination, three miles of undeveloped shoreline that’s strikingly beautiful with an unusual twist — its most distinct feature is best described as a boneyard of driftwood that’s washed ashore over the years and juts out of the sand. In this age of being constantly online and connected, this unspoiled beach off-the-beaten path lets you disconnect from the hustle of everyday life to enjoy the simplicity of the calming peacefulness that comes along with being by the ocean without any distractions.

photo via @brianfisette on instagram

Best Luxury Destination Beaches

Figure Eight Island, North Carolina

Situated just north of Wilmington, Figure Eight Island, is one of the most exclusive destinations you’ll find along the North Carolina coast. The 1,300-acre barrier island features five miles of white-washed beaches and is only accessible by boat or by crossing over a bridge that’s guarded 24/7 and requires a pass showing that you either own a home on the island or are renting. If you actually manage to make it to Figure Eight don’t expect to find much except for pristine, crowd-free beaches, a yacht club, and around 500 lavish, multi-million dollar homes that are a mixture of rentals and private residences. 

photo via @uniquemediadesign on instagram

Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Kiawah Island is a go-to for a sophisticated South Carolina retreat. The barrier island spans 10 miles with of a mixture of gorgeous sandy beaches, maritime forests, and marshes, but what makes it one of the most luxurious beach destinations in the Palmetto State is the illustrious Kiawah Island Golf Resort. There, vacationers can not only soak up the sun on the 5-star resort’s immaculate beachfront property, but can they can also take advantage of its impressive list of luxe amenities that range from an award-winning spa and fine dining restaurants to five exceptional golf courses.

photo via @kiawahislandclub via instagram

The Best Actual Beaches

Emerald Isle, North Carolina

Made up of 12 miles of picturesque shoreline set against waterfront properties with brightly colored facades, Emerald Isle, delivers everything needed for the perfect beach trip. And, while its narrow stretches of beach are picture perfect made up of soft sand that’s ideal for building sand castles, and has good surf for watersports, it’s the color of the water that truly sets it apart from other beaches. The green hue is somewhat indescribable — something you need to see for yourself as words and photos don’t even do it justice — and creates a striking contrast against the bright, sun-drenched sand that’s almost mesmerizing. It’s a remarkable sight to see that will make you temporarily forget that you’re in the Carolinas and not off somewhere more tropical.

Without a ton of commercialization or ostentatious resorts in the area, Emerald Isle has been able to maintain a much slower pace than busier coastal towns, which makes it all the more enjoyable to visit. The destination also maintains its laid-back vibe by generously spreading out its public access points, which helps keep crowds from forming on the beach, and allows sunbathers to lazily watch the day go by with only the sound of waves crashing against the shore and the chattering of seagulls overhead. 

photo via @brandon_a_broome on instagram

Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina

Close to the mouth of the Charleston Harbor, Sullivan’s Island’s beachfront strikes the perfect balance between fun and relaxation. Its wide stretches of beach give visitors plenty of room to space out and relax comfortably in the sand, while its gentle waves and shallow shoreline make it easy for visitors to enjoy a refreshing dip in the Atlantic without having to worry about rough or deep waters.

On the weekends people flock to Sullivan’s for its incredible beach and coastal scenery, but even on its busiest day, it still manages to stay peaceful enough to enjoy a day thumbing through a book or napping in the warmth of the Carolina sun. It’s the type of place where you can easily lose all sense of time and urgency, with only the setting sun signaling that it’s time to pack up and go. 

photo via @cayla.corum on instagram


Amy Trainum
Amy Trainum is a freelance writer who resides in Charlotte, but travels as much as she can. Follow her travels at SouthernDeparture.