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The Carolinas’ Beaches are Topsider Territory

With nearly 500 miles of combined coastline between the two states, any group heading to the Carolinas has multiple choices in terms of sun and sand. One of the best things about the Carolinas’ beaches is their unique personalities.

While Hilton Head caters to luxury travelers looking for neatly packaged resorts and myriad golf options, another South Carolina island, Kiawah, offers luxury travelers even more sumptuous accommodations but in the pristine surroundings of a barrier beach reserve. Meanwhile, South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach, in the northern part of the state, combines its boardwalk with every type of entertainment imaginable. In North Carolina, visitors, likewise, have their choice between almost preternatural beach wilderness in the Outer Banks and the water-sport-filled Wilmington area.

Outer Banks, North Carolina

Along their 200-mile length, the Outer Banks ebb and flow, clinging to an at times perilously thin strip of land between the Atlantic and the Chesapeake. In many parts of the Outer Banks, the 100-foot-high sand dunes are so otherworldly, the song of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge birds at sunrise so sweet and the empty, pristine beaches between Hatteras Island and the wildlife reserve so enticing that there’s no need to do much besides take in the surroundings.

Groups looking for a more active time, however, have plenty of options, among them climbing the 257 steps, nearly 12 stories, to the top of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse; birding walks to see the nearly 400 species of birds that frequent the wildlife refuge; and stand-up paddleboarding off Kitty Hawk, home to the Wright Brothers National Memorial, where the pair’s first flight landed.

Wilmington, North Carolina

Though Wilmington’s city center offers a stark change from the removed barrier islands of the Outer Banks, outside of its riverside urban hub, the city also has multiple barrier beach communities of its own, each with its own personality and activities.

Daily, in the season, Wilmington’s Wrightsville Beach bustles with a steady stream of surfers, windsurfers, kayakers and simple beachgoers. At low tide, the wide beach has space for everyone, but groups looking for a space — and an experience — all their own can get out on the water on a dolphin-watching tour or a sunset cruise to escape the crowds.

Farther south, the communities of Carolina Beach and Kure Beach offer two protected beaches: Carolina Beach State Park and Fort Fisher State Recreational Area. Groups can see local sea life up close on a private fishing tour or by visiting the North Carolina Aquarium, where they can take a behind-the-scenes tour and experience a private animal feeding.

Gabi Logan

Gabi Logan is a freelance travel journalist whose work has also appeared in USA TODAY, The Dallas Morning News and Italy Magazine. As she travels more than 100,000 miles each year, she aims to discover the unexpected wonder in every destination.