16 Best Beaches Near Raleigh (Within A 3 Hour Drive) – Review & Personal Opinion

Hello fellow beach lovers and Raleigh residents! I’m excited to share with you a guide that’s close to my heart – a roundup of the top 16 beaches near Raleigh, NC. As someone who was born and raised in Raleigh, and has lived here for all of my 28 years, I’ve had the privilege of exploring the diverse and beautiful coastline that North Carolina offers.

My love for the ocean and adventure has taken me to dozens of beaches around the state. From hidden gems to popular hotspots, I’ve experienced them all firsthand. Each beach visit was more than just a day in the sun; it was an opportunity to understand what makes each beach unique and special in its own way.

This guide is the culmination of countless weekends spent surfing, fishing, and soaking up the coastal vibes. It’s tailored for Raleigh folks looking for a quick getaway or a new beach to explore. Whether you’re a family looking for a safe, fun beach day or an adventurer seeking unspoiled shores, this list has something for everyone. So, grab your beach gear, and let’s dive into discovering the best beaches within a 3-hour drive from our beloved Raleigh!

The 16 Best Beaches Near Raleigh, North Carolina

There are dozens of beaches within a 3 or 4 hour drive from Downtown Raleigh and each beach has their own unique personality and experience! From romantic sunsets at Sunset Beach to fun family activities at Wrightsville Beach, you will be able to find the perfect beach experience within a few hours of Raleigh. Below are a few of our favorite beaches near Raleigh that we highly recommend you check out!

1. Wrightsville Beach: A Family Favorite

wrightsville beach nc
Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

As a 28-year-old Raleigh native who thrives on adventure, Wrightsville Beach has been my go-to spot for years. Just under 2 hours from Raleigh, it’s the perfect place for a spontaneous day trip or a weekend getaway. What sets Wrightsville apart is its vibrant atmosphere, perfect for us young adventurers looking for both relaxation and a bit of excitement.

I’ve spent countless weekends surfing here, thanks to the consistent waves that are just right for both beginners and seasoned surfers. Post-surf, the local cafes and bars offer a lively scene to unwind and socialize. It’s a place where you can kick back on the beach with friends, paddleboard in the Intracoastal Waterway, or explore the nearby walking trails. There are incredible small businesses in the area for you and your family to explore during your visit.

Key Points:

  • Drive from Raleigh: Just under 2 hours
  • Great for: Surfing, socializing, water sports
  • Expect: Vibrant atmosphere, active beach scene, great surfing and social spots

2. Emerald Isle: A Hidden Gem

emerald isle beach nc
Emerald Isle, North Carolina

Emerald Isle, about a 3-hour drive from Raleigh, has been a part of my life since childhood. It’s the kind of beach that offers a serene escape, perfect for when you need to disconnect from the city life. The beach is wide, with soft sand and crystal-clear waters, making it ideal for a peaceful day of sunbathing or a family picnic.

For me, the charm of Emerald Isle lies in its laid-back vibe. It’s less commercialized than other beaches, offering a more authentic beach experience. Kayaking and fishing here are my personal favorites, especially at sunset when the sky turns into a canvas of colors.

Key Points:

  • Drive from Raleigh: Around 3 hours
  • Great for: Relaxation, kayaking, fishing
  • Expect: Serene and laid-back vibe, less crowded, beautiful natural landscapes

3. Atlantic Beach: A Classic Beach Experience

visit atlantic beach
Atlantic Beach, North Carolina

A 3-hour drive from Raleigh, Atlantic Beach has been my adventure hub since my teenage years. Known for its lively boardwalk and wide range of water activities, it’s the perfect place for someone seeking both adventure and relaxation.

I’ve spent numerous weekends diving into the local seafood cuisine, trying my hand at deep-sea fishing, and participating in beach volleyball games. The beach has a community-like feel, where everyone seems to share a love for the ocean and outdoor activities.

Key Points:

  • Drive from Raleigh: Approximately 3 hours
  • Great for: Water activities, community events, seafood lovers
  • Expect: Lively atmosphere, diverse activities, friendly community vibe

4. Carolina Beach: A Slice of Nostalgia

visit carolina beach
Carolina Beach, North Carolina

Carolina Beach, a little over 2 hours from Raleigh, is where I often escape for its unique blend of natural beauty and entertainment. As a young man who loves to explore, the nearby state park and the historic Carolina Beach Boardwalk have provided endless adventures.

The beach is known for its family-friendly atmosphere and vibrant nightlife, making it a great spot for all ages. Whether it’s fishing off the pier, enjoying live music, or exploring the local shops, Carolina Beach never fails to offer a memorable experience. This area has many great restaurants that will provide you with every flavor that your family might be craving.

Key Points:

  • Drive from Raleigh: A little over 2 hours
  • Great for: Family outings, nightlife, nature exploration
  • Expect: Vibrant and diverse atmosphere, plenty of entertainment options, scenic beauty

5. Topsail Beach: The Natural Beauty

visit topsail beach
Topsail Beach, North Carolina

Topsail Beach, roughly a 2-hour drive from Raleigh, is a hidden treasure that I discovered in my early twenties. Known for its quiet beaches and natural beauty, it’s the perfect place for a peaceful retreat. The lack of commercialization here makes it an ideal spot for those who appreciate a more natural, unspoiled beach experience.

My personal favorite activities here include fishing and boating, where the calm waters and scenic views create a perfect backdrop. Topsail is also rich in history, with remnants of its past as a pirate haven and a missile testing site during World War II.

Key Points:

  • Drive from Raleigh: About 2 hours
  • Great for: Peaceful retreats, history buffs, fishing and boating
  • Expect: Quiet and natural setting, rich history, unspoiled beaches

6. Kure Beach: A Dose of Vitamin Sea

Visit kure beach
Kure Beach, North Carolina

Kure Beach, a little over 2 hours from Raleigh, holds a special place in my heart for its distinct charm and variety of attractions. It’s a wonderful mix of natural beauty, historical sites, and family-friendly activities.

As an avid history enthusiast, the Fort Fisher Historic Site here is a frequent visit for me, offering a glimpse into North Carolina’s Civil War history. The beach itself is ideal for a laid-back day of sunbathing or exploring the nearby aquarium. The small-town feel of Kure Beach makes it a welcoming destination for both relaxation and exploration.

Key Points:

  • Drive from Raleigh: A little over 2 hours
  • Great for: Historical exploration, family activities, relaxation
  • Expect: Charming small-town feel, historical attractions, tranquil beaches

7. Oak Island: A Pet-Friendly Paradise

Visit oak island north carolina
Oak Island, North Carolina

Oak Island has always been more than just a beach to me – it’s a place where memories are made. Situated about a 3-hour drive from Raleigh, this beach has been my go-to for tranquil sunsets and long, leisurely walks along the shore. As someone who’s lived in North Carolina all my life, Oak Island stands out for its unspoiled natural beauty and its welcoming, family-friendly atmosphere.

I’ve spent many summers here, enjoying everything from fishing off the pier to exploring the quaint local shops. The vibe is relaxed and down-to-earth, making it the perfect escape from the city’s rush. Whether you’re looking for a quiet spot to read your book or a safe beach for the kids to play, Oak Island has it all.

Key Points:

  • Drive from Raleigh: About 3 hours
  • Great for: Family outings, fishing, peaceful beach walks
  • Expect: Tranquil atmosphere, beautiful sunsets, a family-friendly environment

8. Holden Beach: A Peaceful Escape

visit holden beach
Holden Beach, North Carolina

Holden Beach, a little over 3 hours from Raleigh, has been my sanctuary for years. Known for its long, powdery beaches and gentle waves, it’s the ideal destination for anyone seeking a peaceful retreat. I’ve always appreciated Holden Beach for its lack of commercialization, which keeps its natural charm intact.

What I love most about this place is its simplicity. Here, it’s all about enjoying the beach in its most natural state – whether it’s a lazy day sunbathing, fishing, or just watching the waves roll in. The community here is close-knit and friendly, making you feel like you’re part of the family from the moment you arrive.

Key Points:

  • Drive from Raleigh: A little over 3 hours
  • Great for: Relaxing beach days, fishing, family gatherings
  • Expect: Simple and natural beach experience, friendly community, serene environment

9. Bald Head Island: An Exclusive Retreat

Visit bald head island
Bald Head Island, North Carolina

Bald Head Island, about a 3-hour drive and a short ferry ride from Raleigh, is a unique beach destination that offers an experience unlike any other. As a young man who loves exploring, I’ve always been drawn to the adventurous spirit of Bald Head Island, with its car-free roads, lush maritime forests, and pristine beaches.

This island is a haven for those who love nature and tranquility. Whether it’s biking along the scenic paths, playing golf, or exploring the historic lighthouse, there’s a sense of peace and adventure intertwined here. The vibe is upscale yet laid back, perfect for a weekend getaway or a special occasion.

Key Points:

  • Drive from Raleigh: About 3 hours plus a ferry ride
  • Great for: Nature lovers, adventure seekers, quiet getaways
  • Expect: Upscale but relaxed atmosphere, car-free environment, rich natural landscapes

10. Sunset Beach: A Picture-Perfect Finale

Visit sunset beach
Sunset Beach, North Carolina

Last but not least, Sunset Beach is the perfect destination for a romantic beach getaway. Just about 3 and a half hours from Raleigh, Sunset Beach has been my favorite spot for witnessing some of the most breathtaking sunsets. This beach is known for its tranquil atmosphere and its beautiful, unspoiled shoreline – a stark contrast to the busier beaches closer to the city.

One of the things that makes Sunset Beach special is the Bird Island Reserve, a peaceful sanctuary for local wildlife and a great spot for nature walks. As someone who cherishes quiet moments, I find this beach to be the perfect place for reflection and relaxation. It’s a place where you can feel at one with nature, away from the distractions of everyday life.

Key Points:

  • Drive from Raleigh: About 3.5 hours
  • Great for: Peaceful retreats, nature walks, sunset viewing
  • Expect: Tranquil and natural setting, stunning sunsets, wildlife encounters

11. Indian Beach, North Carolina

indian beach north carolina

Ah, Indian Beach – a slice of coastal heaven that feels like our own little secret here in Raleigh. Nestled comfortably along the Crystal Coast, it’s about a 3-hour drive from our bustling city, but every minute spent on the road is worth it. When you arrive, you’re greeted by the soft, golden sands and the gentle lapping of the Atlantic waves – a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Raleigh.

What I love most about Indian Beach is its serene vibe. It’s not your typical touristy beach; it’s more like a peaceful retreat where you can unwind and reconnect with nature. Whether you’re lounging under the sun, fishing, or taking a leisurely stroll along the shore, Indian Beach offers an almost therapeutic escape from the daily grind.

Key Points:

  • Drive from Raleigh: About 3 hours
  • Great for: Relaxation, fishing, family outings
  • Expect: Serene atmosphere, less crowded, beautiful natural scenery

12. Nags Head, North Carolina

nags head beach north carolina

Nags Head is a bit of a drive – about 3 and a half hours from Raleigh – but it’s a journey that’s close to my heart. This beach has a unique charm, blending natural beauty with a touch of history and adventure. The tall dunes of Jockey’s Ridge State Park nearby are a must-see, offering some of the best sunset views on the East Coast.

The vibe here is a mix of laid-back coastal life and vibrant tourist activity. It’s a great spot for those who want a bit of everything: beach relaxation, historical exploration, and a variety of water sports.

Key Points:

  • Drive from Raleigh: Approximately 3.5 hours
  • Great for: Adventure, history enthusiasts, kite flying
  • Expect: A mix of relaxation and activity, historical landmarks, beautiful sunsets

13. Lifeguard Beach, North Carolina

lifeguard beach north carolina

Lifeguard Beach, located in the pristine Ocracoke Island, is a hidden gem about 3 hours and a ferry ride away from Raleigh. This beach is special for its untouched natural beauty and the quaint, small-town feel of Ocracoke Village.

The beach is perfect for those who seek a quiet getaway. It’s not uncommon to find yourself sharing the vast expanse of sand with just the seagulls and the rhythmic waves. Plus, being a lifeguarded beach, it’s a safe spot for families to enjoy the ocean worry-free.

Key Points:

  • Drive from Raleigh: Around 3 hours plus a ferry ride
  • Great for: Peaceful retreats, safe family beach days
  • Expect: Tranquil environment, pristine beaches, a small-town feel

14. Hammock Beach State Park

Hammock Beach State Park north carolina

Just about a 3-hour drive from Raleigh lies Hammock Beach State Park, a natural oasis that offers much more than just a beach experience. What sets this place apart is its rare combination of beach, marshlands, and maritime forests, making it a haven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

The park’s unspoiled beaches are perfect for those who prefer a more active beach day – think kayaking, hiking, or even spotting wild horses on Bear Island. The vibe here is all about embracing the great outdoors.

Key Points:

  • Drive from Raleigh: Roughly 3 hours
  • Great for: Nature enthusiasts, active beachgoers
  • Expect: Diverse natural landscapes, wildlife spotting, outdoor activities

15. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

myrtle beach south carolina

Myrtle Beach is the longest trek from Raleigh, taking about 3 hours and 45 minutes, but it’s a beach experience that’s entirely worth the extra miles. Known for its lively boardwalk, abundant entertainment options, and wide, sandy beaches, Myrtle Beach is where you go when you’re looking for a fun-filled coastal adventure.

The atmosphere is buzzing with energy – from amusement parks to live music and excellent seafood, there’s never a dull moment. It’s a stark contrast to the more laid-back beaches near Raleigh, offering a vibrant escape for all ages.

Key Points:

  • Drive from Raleigh: Around 3 hours and 45 minutes
  • Great for: Family fun, entertainment, nightlife
  • Expect: Bustling atmosphere, wide variety of activities, lively boardwalk

16. Surf City, North Carolina

surf city nc

Last but not least, there’s Surf City, a beautiful coastal spot about 2 hours from Raleigh. This beach is a favorite for its balanced blend of relaxation and recreational activities. Surf City offers some of the best surfing on the East Coast, hence the name, but it’s also a great spot for those who prefer to relax and soak up the sun.

The vibe here is friendly and welcoming, with a small-town feel that makes you feel like a local the moment you arrive. Whether you’re catching waves, exploring the local shops, or just enjoying the scenic beach, Surf City has a charm that keeps you coming back.

Key Points:

  • Drive from Raleigh: About 2 hours
  • Great for: Surfing, family outings, casual beachgoers
  • Expect: Welcoming atmosphere, good balance of relaxation and activity, family-friendly beaches

Conclusion: Time to Hit the Beach!

There you have it – the 16 best beaches near Raleigh, North Carolina according to We Raleigh Magazine! With a variety of options to suit every beach lover’s needs, you’re sure to find the perfect spot for your next beach adventure. So, pack your bags, slather on some sunscreen, and let the waves carry your worries away.

FAQs About The Best Beaches Near Raleigh

  1. What is the closest beach to Raleigh, NC? Wrightsville Beach is the closest beach to Raleigh, taking approximately 2 hours by car.
  2. Are there any dog-friendly beaches near Raleigh? Yes! Oak Island is one of our favorite dog-friendly beach, making it the perfect destination for you and your furry friend. But most beaches near Raleigh will be dog friendly during specific times or seasons of the year so you should always research the regulations prior to visitng.
  3. Which beach is the best for families with kids? Wrightsville Beach is an excellent choice for families with kids due to its wide sandy shores and family-friendly atmosphere.
  4. Can I surf at any of these beaches near Raleigh? Absolutely! Kure Beach is a great spot for surfing, offering opportunities for both beginners and experienced surfers.
  5. Is there a beach near Raleigh suitable for a romantic getaway? Sunset Beach, with its stunning sunsets and tranquil atmosphere, is the ideal destination for a romantic beach getaway.
Andrew Ehlert

Andrew Ehlert

Andrew has lived in Raleigh, North Carolina for over 20 years and loves to explore everything that the city has to offer. From reviewing local businesses and restaurants, exploring the Raleigh art scene, or staying up to date with local news, Andrew is always connected with the community. Andrew strives to provide We Raleigh Magazine with the best reviews and news directly from the mind of a local!