A low-key option bursting with open public beach accesses, Atlantic Beach is about 3.5 hours from Moore County.
:: Atlantic Beach Town Park: Take advantage of the playground or the splash pad is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. There’s also a picnic shelter, a mini golf course and a skate park at AB Town Park.
:: Oceanana Pier. Catch a sunset or a fish on Atlantic Beach’s only pier. Eat at the restaurant, or fish and walk.
:: Hotels and motels. Stay beachfront and close to pier at The Oceanana Resort. Looking for a more modest option? Try the Island Inn of Atlantic Beach, complete with an outdoor pool and Wifi access.
Carolina Beach offers an old-school “my grandparents met here 50 years ago” vibe that attracts visitors from near and far each year. Public beach accesses are open, and this family beach sits just under three hours from Moore County. Here’s what else is open:
:: The Carolina Beach Boardwalk. The boardwalk at Carolina Beach is filled with ice cream shops, souvenir stores and more. It’s one of the only old-fashioned boardwalks left in the country.
:: Hotels and motels. Live large at the oceanfront Courtyard by Marriott Carolina Beach, or go with a no-frills option at the Golden Sands Motel, which is also beachfront.
:: Restaurants. Dine in for a casual beachfront meal at Ocean Grill & Tiki Bar, or stop by Nauti Dog and see how they put a creative spin on hot dogs and nachos. Don’t forget to check out the famous Britt’s Donuts, but be prepared to wait in a line.
At the end of Kure Beach, you’ll find Fort Fisher. The home to the historic Fort Fisher site features a gnarly wind-swept live oak forest and the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area (4-wheel drive welcome).
:: The Aquarium: North Carolina’s Aquarium is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. See it all from fish to sharks to otters.
:: The Rocks: You can’t climb ’em but they make for cool photos. You’ll know when you see them.
:: History Museum: If you want to nerd out even on vacay, check out the North Carolina Military History Museum at Kure Beach.
Just under three hours from town, spans 11 miles and offers the classic family experience. Lots of low-key public beach accesses and houses for rent makes it a fun spot for a group. Here’s what else is open in Oak Island:
:: The splash pad. Located at 133 SE 48th St. at Middleton Park, you can get your splash on from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily. The playground at Middleton Park remains closed.
:: The light house. See the lighthouse and take a tour to the top.
:: Hotels and motels. Beachfront motels like the Ocean Crest Motel in Oak Island are welcoming visitors. They’re taking precautions to ensure rooms are clean and sanitary and guests are comfortable. Check out their Facebook page for updates.
Bald Head Island
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 are allowed 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.
:: Activities: Rent a bike or a kayak to explore the island and lighthouse.
:: The Spa: Check out different wellness packages at The Island Retreat Spa and Salon for the ultimate pampering.
Topsail/ Surf City
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.
:: Activities: Try renting a boat or a stand-up paddleboard for some quality time in the inlet. Don’t expect any flashy attractions.
:: The Pier: Get ice cream, go fishing, shop or just take a walk. We recommend the sunset views. See fishing rates here.
:: The Turtles: Plan a visit to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle and Rehabilitation Center.
The Outer Banks
You’ve binge-watched the Netflix show, so you might as well see what the real Outer Banks is all about. Hint: there’s less drama and plenty of public beach accesses that are currently open in this beach town. It’s at least four hours from home, but it’s worth the drive.
If you’re bringing along a pet, check out Duck, but if you’re looking for plenty of public access, shopping and dining, check out Nags Head or Hatteras. Here are a few things to do.
:: Jockey’s Ridge State Park: Check out the largest natural living sand dune (as in you can hang glide off of it) on the east coast at Jockey’s Ridge in Nags Head. It’s all outdoors, so it’s open to the public during COVID.
:: Avon Fishing Pier. A sign at the entrance reads “Welcome to America’s Pier,” so the fishing at this OBX staple must be pretty legit. We do know that it’s open for fishing right now.
:: Restaurants. Tortugas’ Lie Shellfish Bar & Grill is a Nags Head staple. Although their dining room isn’t open yet, you can enjoy takeout at the picnic tables behind the restaurant. If you’re in Hatteras, check out Kat’s Deli by the beach. We trolled the OBX Dine-In and Takeout Options Facebook page and it’s a big recommendation by locals.
:: Hotels and motels. Surf Side Hotel is a modest option in Nags Head. If you want a solid spot for your IG photos, check out the Inn at Rodanthe — AKA the house in the film adaption of Nicholas Sparks’ Nights in Rodanthe.
Everyone will tell you to go here. It’s nice, don’t get us wrong but due to its popularity and close proximity to Wilmington good luck with finding parking.
:: Restaurants: Ceviches is a Latin American seafood cuisine aesthetically pleasing featuring things like margs and ceviche.
:: The Gardens: For an afternoon stroll check out Harbor Way gardens.