How to beach in Raleigh?
March 30, 2022 7:55 AM   Subscribe

I'm in Raleigh, North Carolina. I'd like to beach for a day or two. I have a car, but know nothing about the beaches nearby (ish.) Where should I go and what should I know? Thank you.
posted by Jacen to Travel & Transportation around North Carolina (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The outer banks are 3 hours away. It's not the closest beach, but as a native, I love them the most. Nags Head or Kitty Hawk'll do, though if you feel like driving and ferrying a couple of extra hours, Ocracoke is magical and feels like a world away.
posted by 10ch at 8:20 AM on March 30, 2022 [2 favorites]

Surf City. Beautiful, not bar/college-student centric, actually had a healthy/organic grocery when I was there a few years ago (unusual for an outer banks experience -- usually it's bars and crab shacks).

Unless you want an easy hang gliding lesson, then Nags Head.

Near Surf City you can tour the sea turtle hospital.
posted by amtho at 8:44 AM on March 30, 2022

I'll second Outer Banks as your destination. There are so many coices for specific OBX spots to go to and no shortage of options (do you want a big hotel and restaurants, or a quiet, isolated AirBNB, or tent camping?). While living in DC I spent many summers meeting friends for an annual stay in a rented house in Salvo, which is an easy 4-ish hour drive for you and is one of many low-key options (at low tide, the tip of the Pocahontas shipwreck is visible from shore). Blissful beach times.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:55 AM on March 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

I unexpectedly just spent a couple of months near Emerald Isle and loved it in the off-season/winter. It's a bit closer to Raleigh. If you go and you're into nature be sure to check out the boardwalk through the saltmarsh in the Croatan National Forest at Cedar Point.
posted by mareli at 9:18 AM on March 30, 2022 [2 favorites]

The easiest to get to will probably be Carolina or Wrightsville beach, right next to Wilmington. It's a straight shot down 40, and Wilmington is nearby so it has standard amenities like dining and a battleship. The other recommendations are probably better for more natural beach'ing.
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:34 AM on March 30, 2022 [4 favorites]

Depends what you're looking for-- do you want beach, but also restaurants and a nearby CVS? If so, Emerald Isle.

If you want nature, Ocracoke is great, though it takes us 5 - 6 hours to get there from Chapel Hill, including ferry time.
posted by tuesdayschild at 10:47 AM on March 30, 2022 [3 favorites]

Carolina Beach is where all the locals go. I think I prefer the Outer Banks as far as pure quality of beach, but nearby Wilmington has wonderful food (check out Indochina) and Carolina Beach itself has a small quirky town with a little boardwalk. If you like sweets, go get ice cream at Squiggley's and donuts at Britt's. It's also only about 2 hours by car and that is tough to beat.

Emerald Isle is also lovely and not too far but I have only been in the winter.

If you go to the Outer Banks, make sure to do all the Wright Brothers stuff- the museum at Kitty Hawk is super neat.
posted by clarinet at 11:00 AM on March 30, 2022 [2 favorites]

I grew up in Wilmington and live in Raleigh now. I've been to most of the NC beaches and generally speaking, I think Comrade_robot nailed it a few comments upthread. Atlantic Beach (east on 70) is pretty commercial, too. If you do head down 40, I'm seconding clarinet's pointer to Indochine.
posted by kingless at 12:04 PM on March 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

You’re going to hate life driving into ILM. It’s spring break. Just go to Topsail. 40E to 17/210. Bitch about the parking fees, but relax because it’s laid back and not crowded even in the summertime. Topsail is where I go, and I’ve lived here for awhile. Bonus pts: if you have a pup with you they’re allowed on Pender/Onslow beaches year round. Contact me if you need anymore info about the area or are interested in one of the other local beaches.

ETA: Britt’s is opening April 1, so a little late this year.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 12:24 PM on March 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: standard amenities like dining and a battleship.

Ahh yes, standard.

Chiming in to add that avoiding spring break crowds is a very good thing.
posted by Jacen at 12:49 PM on March 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

My wife and daughter are big beach fans and spent a few days every summer (in the Before Times) in Emerald Isle. It's very convenient to Raleigh (less than 3 hours drive) and has great beaches but also plenty of other stuff to do. You can also get away from the crowds by taking the nearby ferry to Bear Island, a 4-mile long, almost completely undeveloped barrier island.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:29 PM on March 30, 2022

I'm over in Chapel Hill/Carrboro. For short trips, I'm generally bound for Emerald Isle/Pine Knoll Shores (I also have warm fuzzies about the area because I went to summer camp down there). I'm also pretty fond of Sunset Beach, but that's mostly house rentals. I used to hit Kinston on the way out to Emerald Isle and grab lunch at Boiler Room (R.I.P., probably) on the way out.

If you ever have some extra dough sitting around and are feeling super spendy, the Sanderling in Duck (OBX) is absolutely lovely. And they used to offer teacher discounts off season in Before Times.
posted by thivaia at 3:03 PM on March 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

I live near north Topsail beach. It's a bit of a PITA to get to from Raleigh but it's pretty isolated (relatively). And it's a nice sloping beach if you can stand the cold water this time of year

Memail me if you want info on the area. I am on my phone so am limited in linking abilities. Depending on your preferences, I may know of a room available.
posted by mightshould at 4:23 PM on March 30, 2022

Brunswick county beaches are (in my opinion) unequivocally the best Carolina beaches for beach-ing. Especially Sunset Beach. 3 hours door to door, you drive past Wilmington and the Battleship (for mid-drive adventures), close to Myrtle for shopping or Aquarium adventures, and the cleanest non-dredged sand on the coast.

Feel free to ask more here or mefi mail me, I have been traveling to the area for over 30 years.
posted by token-ring at 5:40 PM on March 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

I’m in Durham and we’ve hit up a lot of spots, Ocracoke, Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, Atlantic Beach, Surf City, Topsail, Wrightsville, and Carolina Beach off the top of my head. (Oak Island/Brunswick Co. are still on our to visit list). I know I’m supposed to have strong opinions about this, but they’re all great? NC just has really nice beaches. Carolina or Wrightsville are our go-to for short trips since they’re the quickest/easiest to get to.

And a heads up because I know people from the Gulf or up North to have been surprised by this (for different reasons) but it is not swimming weather yet. Lots of nice things about the beach still, but that water is cold!
posted by radiomayonnaise at 6:21 PM on March 30, 2022 [2 favorites]

radiomayonnaise, I’m working in southeastern BC again after a many-year hiatus. After this past 12 months I can confirm that the commute is bogus! However, if you have queries, I can answer or get you answers.

I personally think that the BC beaches are…to put it mildly…ugly. But I live up in God’s Country (6mi. from my doorstep to the water of WB) so I’m biased. People seem to love BC, but a lot of the tiny towns are full of house rentals. The AirBnB thing here is under some scrutiny with local govt and locals.

Funnily enough, I am vacaying in the great state of Mecklenburg County this week, but I’ll be home on Friday.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 7:41 PM on March 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

My favorite spots are Atlantic Beach and Emerald Isle. They're the southernmost part of the outer banks, but of the beaten path and usually not as crowded as the "popular" outer banks locales...
posted by schyler523 at 11:38 AM on March 31, 2022

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