What’s the best beach escape within a few hours?
Depends on your vibe. Keep reading to see which spot for surf and sand is the best pick for your personality.
1. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: Some would argue the term “Redneck Riviera” only applies to the stretch of coast from Georgia to Florida. Those people have never been to Myrtle Beach. Join the strand’s late-night cruising marathons for a peek at thong-wearing motorcyclists and T-shirts with rude sayings about your mom, and find out why “Myrtle Beach Drunk” is a real thing. In the morning, visit Broadway at the Beach for a mecca of tourist entertainment and restaurants: from Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville to mirror mazes and ziplines, from Ripley’s Aquarium to a kid’s museum built to appear upside-down. Pro tip: For obvious reasons, Horry County is pronounced without the “H.”
2. Carolina/Kure Beach, North Carolina: If a laid-back family vacation is more your speed, try Carolina Beach, with a classic wide boardwalk that lines the public access and straddles arcades, hotdog stands and ice cream shops as well as the famous Britt’s Donuts. A short drive from semi-quiet Carolina is the even more chill Kure, home to historic Fort Fisher, the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area (4-wheel drive welcome) and the North Carolina Aquarium. Pro tip: You’ll know you’re at Fort Fisher when you see the gnarly, wind-swept live oak forest.
3. Topsail Island/Surf City, North Carolina: Skip the crowd that clogs the sand with iPhone speakers and Bob Marley towels. Spend a day at the pristine Topsail Beach instead, which stretches the length of one of the state’s barrier islands. Try renting a boat or a stand-up paddleboard for some quality time in the inlet. Don’t expect any flashy attractions, but be sure to plan a tour of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle and Rehabilitation Center.
4. Southport/Bald Head Island, North Carolina: With cute boutiques, antiques, art, interesting architecture, plenty of history and good, locally owned restaurants, think of Southport as a mini Charleston. There’s no beachfront here, but you can take a fun, 20-minute ferry ride to Bald Head Island, a place that didn’t even get full-time electricity until the 1980s. You’d need a trust fund to own a home here, but you can live like a local by renting a golf cart (no cars exist here, yes really) and cruising alongside miles of big, wide, sandy beaches. Climb the steps of Old Baldy, the state’s oldest standing lighthouse, and enjoy the view from the top.
5. Outer Banks/Nags Head, North Carolina: OK, so this one will take at least four hours to reach, but we’d be silly not to mention a place with the biggest dunes you’ll see outside of Namibia. At Jockey’s Ridge State Park, you can hang glide and sandboard, or just climb to the top and roll down like a fat link sausage. Bring a kite to fly, and don’t miss the nature trails full of hidden treasures. If you’re going to the Outer Banks, one of the most beautiful spots in North Carolina, plan at least a week to attempt to take it all in — including the famed wild Spanish Mustangs of Corolla.
6. Atlantic Beach, North Carolina: The abundance of public access beaches (that include volleyball nets and playgrounds) in this small, quaint town on the Crystal Coast make it a nice spot for a relaxing, kid-friendly stay. If you’re a history buff, Fort Macon is a must-see. An abundance of nature and history can also be found in nearby Beaufort, including “Horse Island,” aka the Rachel Carson Reserve. Also, check out the Hammock House, which may or may not have once belonged to Blackbeard (our favorite local pirate).