5 great beaches in North Carolina for Memorial Day

Visitors to the state spent an estimated $21.9 billion according to recent North Carolina tourism data. Coastal tourism is a major driver of visitor spending, and it’s critical that NC remains welcoming for all visitors. As Memorial Day approaches, we asked our team about some of their favorite North Carolina beaches.

Emerald Isle


Emerald Isle at sunset, Photo credit: emeraldisle-nc.org

Emerald Isle is located in Carteret County. Although the year-round population is about 3700, the area’s population exceeds 35,000 during the summer. It’s known for its local charm and diverse wildlife, which provides some ideal fishing locations.

“When I was 5, my grandfather took me to Emerald Isle. He drove us to Shackleford Banks because I was obsessed with ponies, and he let me watch and swim with the ponies.” – Alyson, communications fellow

Nags Head


Jockey’s Ridge, Photo credit: Outerbanks.com

Nags Head is part of the Outer Banks and located by the historic Kitty Hawk. It is home to Jockey’s Ridge, the largest living sand dune on the East Coast. On a nice day, you can often find people flying kites and learning to hang glide. It’s also known for incredible views at sunset and a number of local seafood establishments.

“Nags Head is a great weekend getaway. I love fresh seafood, which is plentiful in the area. If you go out early, you can catch sunrise and find lots of interesting seashells.” – Lincoln, digital fellow

Ocean Isle


Ocean Isle Beach, Photo credit: Justin Champion

Among the southernmost NC beaches, Ocean Isle is just 4.5 square miles and is home to about 550 people, contributing to its “untouched charm.” The Museum of Coastal Carolina and Ingram Planetarium are located here. The area also boasts 26 golf courses for those that prefer to stay on dry land.

“I love going to Ocean Isle with friends and family for a quiet weekend getaway. The locals are always so helpful, and it doesn’t have the crowds of many other beaches.” – Katie, scheduler

Wrightsville Beach


Johnnie Mercer’s Pier, Photo credit: Ken Thomas

Part of New Hanover County, Wrightsville Beach is known for its thriving watersport scene. On a given day, you can see a number of surfers take to the waves, but it also offers casual recreational activities, like paddle boarding and kayaking. If the water is not for you, there’s also plenty to see in the walkable shopping village

“I love taking a boat out to Lea Island with my friends and our dogs. There’s just no better feeling.” – Harrison, finance fellow

Ocracoke Island


Ocracoke Lighthouse, Photo credit: National Park Service

Accessible by ferry via Hatteras Island, Ocracoke Island is home to a working waterfront and historical village.The village is filled with local shops and restaurants, and the town is steeped in the history of the coast. It also has it’s own lighthouse. The blue waters and warm sands make it a great place for trips with friends and family.

“One of my roommates in college grew up going to Ocracoke. After graduation, he invited a large group of us down. It was a great time with friends before we all left Chapel Hill and started our post-graduate lives.” – Jamal, press secretary