There is no shortage of fantastic beaches in North Carolina, nor is there any shortage of “best beaches” lists. But as always we are here to tell you about them. I have my personal favorite NC beach, though in all honesty, the convenience of getting to South Carolina means those are my personal favorite. But back to this list. Since 1991 Dr. Stephen Leatherman aka “Dr. Beach” has “reviewed, evaluated and rated beaches and coastal areas throughout the world”. He uses fifty different criteria to evaluate the beaches and create his top 10 rankings. And this year one North Carolina beach ranked 5th on this prestigious Dr. Beach Top Beaches list!

Some of these criteria include which include water and sand quality as well as safety and management. All very important metrics. Dr. Beach does other important work other than just creating this yearly ranking. (Though I’d be happy to serve as a beach tester if that position is available). Dr. Beach also works tirelessly to increase awareness about the dangers of rip currents and to promote no smoking at beaches. Which the prohibition of smoking, is also taken into account in these rankings. So which North Carolina beach made the Dr. Beach list? Lighthouse Beach in Buxton on the Outer Banks! I have to say this isn’t one I’ve heard much about until now. In fact, I’ve never even visited the Outer Banks, just hard to justify that long of a drive!

Here’s Dr. Beach’s Top Beach List 2023

  1. St. George Island State Park, Florida Panhandle
  2. Duke Kahanamoku Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
  3. Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York
  4. Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida
  5. Lighthouse Beach, Buxton, Outer Banks of North Carolina
  6. Coronado Beach, San Diego
  7. Wailea Beach, Maui, Hawaii
  8. Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina
  9. Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
  10. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

So what/where exactly is Lighthouse Beach? Well, it’s located on Hatteras Island and is the original home of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, before the landmark was moved inward in 1999. According to Dr. Beach, it’s the number one surfing spot on the US Atlantic Coast. Who knew? This is due to the Diamond Shoals with cause wave refraction sending the waves towards this particular beach. Due to the unique location, the waves actually come from both directions! Get more info about visiting Lighthouse Beach here.

Which North Carolina Beach Town Is One Of "The 20 Greatest Beach Towns in America"?

If you grew up in the Carolinas chances are you have a favorite beach town you grew up going to. Or one you take your family to now. We have no shortage of fantastic seaside escapes. Even growing up in North Carolina I have to admit I’m typically a South Carolina beach person. Though I’ve spent some time at Topsail Beach the past few years and have fallen in love with it. I’ve already read quite a lot of these types of articles and now have several NC beaches on my must-visit list. Just need to find the time to get to them! Recently I came across yet another publication naming some of the best beach vacation spots. And my interest peaked like always. And of course, somewhere in North Carolina was included when Thrillist created a list of “The 20 Greatest Beach Towns In America”. But with so many fantastic destinations, which made the cut to be recognized?

The list compiled by writers at Thrillist details 20 of the nation’s beach towns in a variety of states. In addition to a general summary of the destination, they also make sure to let you know the must-eat spots and what you can’t leave without. You can read their full article here. Or keep reading to see which North Carolina town was named one of the 20 Greatest Beach Towns In America! And a couple of others that stuck out to me as personal favorites of mine or bucket list destinations!

  • Nags Head, NC

    This is far from the first time we’ve seen the Outer Banks town of Nags Head mentioned on this type of list. Nags Head is situated in the northern Outer Banks between Jockey Ridge State Park to the north and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore to the south. Everything you want and need in a quaint beach town? You can find in Nags Head. Stay in a beach house, seaside motel, or a beachfront hotel. When you aren’t on the beach take a moment to shop at boutiques, surf shops, an outlet mall, or pick up some groceries. Cooking on vacation not your thing? It’s not mine! Nags Head features a wide variety of restaurants no matter what you’re looking for. Relax with some fine dining or grab a casual bite. Just don’t let any beach trip end without getting some seafood.

    Get all the info you could want on Nags Head and planning a trip here.

  • Folly Beach, SC

    Not only was North Carolina recognized but South Carolina as well. There are two main areas of South Carolina beaches you’re either in the Myrtle Beach vicinity or near Charleston. Both are wonderful options and have different vibes. Thrillist chose to recognize Folly Beach which is one of the closest beaches to Charleston, SC. Folly is also no stranger to being recognized as a best beach. While you’re there you can easily venture into Charleston for the day or a meal but there is plenty to do there as well. From surf lessons, charter fishing, a water park, parks, and who could forget the beach? Choose from 6 quaint beach inns, or go with a rental property for your accommodations.  You won’t have any trouble finding a place to eat either. The hardest part? Deciding which delicious restaurant to go to!

    Want to visit Folly Beach? Here’s all the info you need for your trip.

  • Tybee Island, GA

    Another beach town recognized by Thrillist is Tybee Island, GA. I’ve only had the opportunity to visit Tybee once for a quick day trip but I will be back. Tybee is a short drive from one of my favorite cities Savannah, GA. In fact, it’s branded as Savannah’s Beach. This quant barrier island is home to Georgia’s oldest lighthouse. Between Savannah and Tybee you’ll find Fort Pulaski National Monument which is located on Cockspur Island. Other fun activities include a bike tour, birding, kayaking, and the beach. 

    Get info about Tybee Island here.

  • Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

    Yes, this and the next beach town I’m shouting out are not a reasonable drive from the Carolinas. But I felt them worthy of being named as some of my favorites. Carmel-by-the-Sea in California is an easy drive from San Francisco and is home to some incredible scenery, historic sites, art galleries, restaurants, and boutique shops.

    Find more info here.

  • Narragansett, Rhode Island

    I’m going to preface this with I haven’t actually been to Narragansett but after a visit to Newport, I have a massive appreciation for Rhode Island beaches. While it’s understandable that America’s smallest state may not be on your short list of places to visit- it should be. Rhode Island beaches have everything you think of when you of New England beach towns. So whether it’s Narragansett, Newport, Watch Hill, or any other town- do yourself a favor and visit!

    Get info here.


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