Nags Head Beach NC

Closest Beach to Durham NC & 17 Great Options

Looking for the Closest Beach to Durham NC?

Located in the heart of North Carolina, Durham is a city steeped in vibrant history and cultural riches, with a dynamic urban atmosphere that continually captivates its residents. Yet, there comes a time when even the most ardent city dwellers yearn for the serene embrace of the ocean.

The beach, with its rhythmic ocean waves and salty breeze, exerts a magnetic pull that’s hard to resist. Fortunately, despite Durham’s inland location, the call of the coast is never too far away.

In this article, we embark on a journey to discover the nearest beach to Durham, NC. We’ll share informative insights and details in a friendly and engaging manner, perfect for the inclusive atmosphere of our community.

Our list is thoughtfully sorted from the closest coastal getaways to those that are a tad farther away, all within easy reach of Durham. So, without further ado, let’s set sail and explore the Closest Beach to Durham NC.

Closest Beach to Durham NC

1. Wrightsville Beach

Distance: 156 miles | Time: 2 hr 20 min

Our closest beach to Durham, NC, is Wrightsville Beach, just 9 miles from Wilmington, NC, which boasts Southern Living’s ‘South’s Best Beach Towns’ recognition for its stunning blue waters and accessibility. It’s a popular spot for world-class surfing and a wide range of activities, including shopping, dining, nightlife, and water sports.

Visit Johnnie Mercers Pier for fishing and breathtaking views—1,200 feet into the ocean with an onsite restaurant and restrooms. Dog lovers, take note: leashed dogs are allowed from October 1st to March 31st and before 9 am or after 5 pm from April 1st to September 30th.

Sunrise at Wrightsville Beach. Closest Beach to Durham NC
  • King Size room at the Holiday Inn Resort Lumina Wrightsville Beach
  • Sunset Views from Hotel Room at Holiday Inn Resort Lumina Wrightsville Beach
  • Holiday Inn Resort Lumina Wrightsville Beach views over the pool looking onto the ocean at Sunset
  • View from Balcony overlooking pool and ocean during the day at Holiday Inn Resort Lumina Wrightsville Beach
  • Outside the Holiday Inn Resort Lumina Wrightsville Beach

2. Carolina Beach 

Distance: 167 miles | Time: 2 hr 40 min

Experience the laid-back coastal charm just 15 miles from Wilmington, NC. This beach is a hub of excitement, featuring the unique Carolina Beach Music Festival, the state’s only beachfront music festival. Explore the nationally renowned vintage boardwalk, ranked in the top 10 by Food & Wine magazine, with fantastic dining options and vibrant nightlife.

Carolina Beach Boardwalk

Adjacent to the boardwalk, the Carolina Beach Giant Ferris Wheel stands nearly 100 feet tall for thrilling rides. Nature enthusiasts can explore the 761-acre Carolina Beach State Park, offering miles of scenic hiking trails, including a visit to the 50-foot Sugarloaf dune, and discover the park’s unique resident, the carnivorous Venus flytrap.

Carolina Beach

3. Surf City

Distance: 165 miles | Time: 2 hr 45 min

Surf City is one of three captivating coastal communities located on Topsail Island. Explore the famous Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Center and enjoy the stunning beaches. Surfing enthusiasts will love the ideal conditions and surf school for skill improvement.

Topsail Island’s history includes its use as a U.S. Navy missile testing site post-World War II. Discover this history at the Missiles and More Museum.

Don’t miss the iconic Surf City Pier for fishing and scenic views. At night, it transforms into a beautifully illuminated spot, perfect for night fishing.

Surf City NC Beach

4. Hammocks Beach State Park

Distance: 164 miles | Time: 2 hr 45 min

Hammocks Beach State Park offers a unique, tranquil escape accessible only by boat or ferry (unavailable from November to March). Kayak rentals provide an adventurous way to explore its diverse landscapes, from salt marshes to swamp forests, perfect for birdwatching.

Sea turtles visit the park’s shores to lay eggs, a breathtaking sight while kayaking to see them swimming in the waters nearby. Primitive camping is an option for a full nature immersion. Note that there are fees for ferry or boat access, but park entry is free. Pets are welcome, making it a pet-friendly destination.

5. Kure Beach

Distance: 169 miles | Time: 2 hr 50 min

Kure Beach is renowned for its historic 700 ft fishing pier, dating back to 1923. History enthusiasts will be drawn to the Fort Fisher State Historic Site, the South’s largest earthen fort, of which only 10% remains. The site also houses the North Carolina Aquarium.

For SCUBA divers, Kure Beach is a treasure trove with over 200 shipwrecks, including the Civil War-era Blockade Runner ‘The Condor.’ Fort Fisher’s undeveloped 6-mile beach is a sea turtle nesting haven. Plus, a nearby ferry offers a convenient way to return to the mainland.

Kure Beach

6. Oak Island

Distance: 186 miles | Time: 2 hr 50 min

Oak Island is a beloved family beach destination offering mini-golf, ice cream, and more. With 60+ public beach access points, two fishing piers, and kayak/boat launch spots, it’s perfect for outdoor enthusiasts. Explore local shops and pet-friendly restaurants.

Collect diverse seashells and visit the Oak Island Lighthouse, the last one constructed in NC (completed in 1958), with guided tours available year-round for visitors aged nine and up.

Oak Island with Lighthouse

7. Topsail Beach 

Distance: 171 miles | Time: 2 hr 55 min

Topsail Beach, the smallest of Topsail (pronounced “Tops’l”) Island’s three communities, boasts a fascinating history linked to pirates and legends of Blackbeard’s buried treasure.

Closest beach to Asheville NC Topsail Beach NC

Today, access to this historical island is easy with two bridges: one on the north and a new bridge that replaced the swing bridge leading to Surf City; the island is a haven for sea turtles that nest from April to September. Topsail is renowned for its turtle conservation efforts, making it a destination where you can enjoy beautiful beaches and delve into captivating history.

Topsail Tower

8. Holden Beach

Distance: 191 miles | Time: 2 hr 55 min

Holden Beach, a peaceful small-town destination, lies in the southern part of NC’s shore and holds the honor of being recognized by National Geographic Traveler as one of the finest family beaches in the nation. Here, you can unwind on the tranquil beach, build sandcastles, fly kites, or simply relax in your beach chair, all with fewer crowds. 

Explore the Intracoastal Waterway with your kayak or paddleboard, spot dolphins, and watch shrimp boats pass by. Holden Beach is pet-friendly during specific periods: anytime from Sept 11th to May 19th and before 9 am or after 5 pm between May 20th and Sept 10th.

Holden Beach

9. Ocean Isle Beach

Distance: 199 miles | Time: 3 hr

Ocean Isle Beach is a charming small town known for its pristine white sand beaches and a plethora of local attractions, events, and activities. Besides the beach, visitors can explore the Museum of Coastal Carolina, enjoy family-friendly fun at River Country Mini Golf, experience adventure at The Swamp Park Zip Line and ATV Center, stroll along the Ocean Isle Beach Pier, and even take surfing lessons at the Carolina School of Surf.

Ocean Isle Beach

10. Emerald Isle 

Distance: 169 miles | Time: 3 hr

Emerald Isle, situated on the Bogue Banks, offers pristine white sand beaches and crystal-clear Atlantic Ocean waters. While a small beach town, it transforms into a bustling summer destination, drawing over 50,000 tourists per week. 

Here, you can take surf lessons, collect beautiful seashells, and explore the history of Fort Macon State Park. The area boasts hiking and biking trails, and don’t miss the impressive Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier, nearly 4 miles long and one of the longest on the NC coast, offering stunning ocean views.

Emerald Isle

11. Atlantic Beach

Distance: 175 miles | Time: 3 hr 5 min

Atlantic Beach, nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and Bogue Sound, is a picturesque barrier island offering endless sandy shores and a paradise for beach enthusiasts. Enjoy building sandcastles, collecting seashells, and the refreshing ocean breeze. 

Try your luck with fishing on the pier, kayaking, or even spotting dolphins. Relish fresh seafood at local joints and explore nearby attractions like the North Carolina Aquarium and historic Fort Macon State Park for an adventurous getaway.

Atlantic Beach

12. Sunset Beach

Distance: 203 miles | Time: 3 hr 5 min

Sunset Beach, one of National Geographic’s top 21 Best Beaches in the World, offers stunning sandy shores and natural wonders. Despite its name, you can watch both sunrise and sunset over the water from late fall to early spring due to the island’s unique positioning. Visit the Sunset Beach Pier for fishing, explore the 1,200-acre Bird Island, and don’t miss the Ingram Planetarium with its SciDome Sky Theater for astronomy enthusiasts.

Sunset Beach

13. Bald Head Island

Distance: 193 miles | Time: 3 hr 35 min (includes Ferry)

Bald Head Island offers a secluded retreat accessible only by private boat or ferry, with no cars allowed—only bikes and golf carts. It’s renowned for hosting one of NC’s largest sea turtle nesting sites.

The island is home to Old Baldy, NC’s oldest standing lighthouse, built in 1817. Climbing its 108 steps rewards you with breathtaking views. The ferry ride from Southport, NC, takes about 20 minutes, bringing you to the stunning South Beach with its beautiful sands for all ages to enjoy.

Bald Head Island

14. Nags Head

Distance: 219 miles | Time: 3 hr 30 min

Nags Head, a charming coastal town in the stunning Outer Banks of NC, offers a perfect getaway for families and beach enthusiasts. Its vast sandy beaches are ideal for relaxation and beach games. Water lovers can surf Atlantic waves or take a refreshing swim.

Nags Head Beach NC

Explore the area’s rich history with a visit to the Nags Head Woods Preserve, offering hiking and bird-watching trails.

Don’t miss the nearby Bodie Island Lighthouse or Roanoke Island Festival Park to step back in time and uncover the region’s heritage.

Bodie Island Lighthouse lit up

15. Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Distance: 224 miles | Time: 3 hr 35 mins

Cape Hatteras National Seashore, stretching over 70 miles along North Carolina’s Outer Banks, offers pristine beaches, exceptional surf fishing, and water sports. Its minimal light pollution makes it a haven for stargazing, attracting astronomy enthusiasts.

4WD vehicle permits from the National Park Service allow exploration of designated areas. The seashore is dedicated to conservation, particularly for sea turtles and shorebirds. Accommodations on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands provide convenient beach access, with public parking and facilities along NC Highway 12.

Cape Hatteras Seashore

16. Corolla 

Distance: 251 miles | Time: 4 hr 25 mins

Corolla (pronounced “Cor-RAH-lah” and not like the car “Cor-OLL-lah”), in the Outer Banks, is a serene coastal gem known for its 24-mile pristine shoreline and relaxed atmosphere.

Jeep on 4x4 Beach in Corolla NC

It offers a tranquil escape without the commercial hustle and bustle found in other beach destinations. The area’s wild Spanish mustangs roaming the beaches are a unique attraction. 

Wild Horse near Carova

Corolla features historic sites like the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and Whalehead Club, along with shopping and dining options. Its expansive beaches, natural beauty, and a touch of luxury create an ideal beach vacation.

Currituck Beach Lighthouse view from Corolla Park

South Carolina Ocean Beaches

17. Myrtle Beach

Distance: 203 miles | Time: 3 hr 30 min

Myrtle Beach is a bustling beach vacation hotspot, drawing in a significant number of tourists. Its 50 miles of beautiful beaches are complemented by a lively beachfront boardwalk, numerous restaurants, and the towering SkyWheel Ferris wheel.

Myrtle Beach is known for its vibrant atmosphere, making it less suited for those seeking a quiet beach experience unless you are visiting during the off-season.

However, if you’re looking for a blend of fun and sun, this is the place for you. The city offers a wide array of activities and comes alive in the evenings, with hotspots for live music and dancing, making it a favorite for party seekers.

Closest Beach to Durham NC: FAQs

📌 How far is Durham, NC, from the beach?
Durham, NC, is approximately 150 to 160 miles from the nearest beaches on the North Carolina coast, depending on the specific beach destination.

📌 What is the closest beach to Duke University?
Wrightsville Beach is one of the closest beach destinations to Duke University in Durham, NC, situated approximately 160 miles away.

📌 How far is Cary, NC, from the beach?
Cary is approximately 140 miles from the nearest beaches in North Carolina, the closest being Wrightsville Beach, which is just over a 2-hour drive.

📌 Are Wilmington, NC beaches nice?
Yes, Wilmington, NC, has several beautiful beaches in its vicinity. Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, and Kure Beach, among others, are known for their attractive sandy shores, clear waters, and various recreational activities. 

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the coastal getaways near Durham offer a diverse range of experiences, each with its own unique charm. Whether you’re seeking a tranquil escape, an adventurous beach excursion, or a family-friendly destination, there’s a beach that’s perfectly suited to your preferences.

From the serene beauty of Wrightsville Beach to the historical allure of Topsail Island and the unspoiled tranquility of Hammocks Beach State Park to the vibrant atmosphere of Myrtle Beach, the options are as diverse as the Carolina landscape itself.

No matter which beach you choose to explore, the allure of the shore is never far from Durham. So, pack your sunscreen, grab your beach gear, and embark on a memorable coastal journey that promises sun, sand, and the soothing sounds of the ocean.

With a wealth of natural beauty, recreational activities, and opportunities for relaxation, these coastal destinations are ready to provide the perfect beachside retreat for residents and visitors alike.

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