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The 10 Best Places to Live in North Carolina Near the Beach

Beaufort

North Carolina offers the best of both worlds – mountains and beaches. Located along the East Coast of the US, the state offers some incredible landscapes and attractions. You’ll find quite a few small beach towns in North Carolina to live as well as bigger cities. You can enjoy the sand, surf, and enjoy a lifestyle that works for you.

We’ve found 10 of the best places to live in North Carolina near beaches.

Our Methodology

Finding the best places to live in North Carolina near beach requires a bit of research. While a simple map of the state will show the many cities located along the coastline, we wanted to focus on such things as the number of attractions, the cost of living, the best views, and a few other things.

We used a few different sources to find the information so that we could identify the beach towns and rank them appropriately.

GreatRetirementSpots.com: We used this site as a way to find out which cities are the best to retire in, as well as look at the cost of living.

Tourism sites: We used a variety of NC tourism sites to see what attractions are offered in the beach towns.

Southern Living: This publication has written extensively about some of the small beach towns of North Carolina.

Real estate sites: Sites like RaleighRealtyHomes.com and others were used to learn more about what certain cities and towns have to offer for those who want to move there.

Now that the research is done, find out about the best NC places to live that are near a beach.

Wilmington

10. Oak Island

GreatRetirementSpots.com has named Oak Island as one of the best places to retire in North Carolina. It is found along the southern end of the state’s coastline and is separated by the Intracoastal Waterway. While it is popular among seniors, they’re not the only ones who stand to benefit from its attractions.

With two fishing piers, a miniature golf course, and a clutch of ice cream parlors to its name, it’s a paradise for nostalgia lovers. The beach itself is wide, sandy, fringed by turquoise waters – everything, in fact, you’d want a beach to be. You’ll definitely want to check out the Oak Island Lighthouse, as it offers some of the most incredible views of nearby beaches, including Bald Head Island and Caswell Beach.

The cost of living is well within reach, the schools are more than respectable, and the housing options will suit a wide range of tastes and budgets. While the median home price is $525,000, there are plenty of condos, rentals, and more to ensure that there’s something for everyone.

Wrightsville Beach

9. Wrightsville Beach

As beach towns go, you’ll struggle to find much better than Wrightsville Beach. The town isn’t much over 3,000 in terms of population, and it has a prominent location in New Hanover County, just outside of the Wilmington metropolitan area. Its wide, sandy beach and aquamarine waters are a beachcomber’s dream, while the range of water sports opportunities on offer will leave no one disappointed.

The town itself is packed with attractions, including the fascinating Wrightsville Beach Museum of History and the Fred and Alice Stanback Coastal Education Center. Thanks to its short driving distance from Wilmington, you’ll never be far from the city lights. The community is friendly, close-knit, and just as welcoming as you could wish for.

The cost of living for Wrightsville Beach is higher than the national average. However, BestPlaces.net is also quick to point out that there are quite a few things lower, too, including taxes, food, and housing.

The Visitor’s Guide for the city talks about the postcard-perfect vacation, but it doesn’t have to be just for vacationing. There are homes in town as well as directly on the water. You can wander to Victory Beach, Kure Beach, and more.

Nags Head

8. Nags Head

As one of the largest towns in the Outer Banks, Nags Head is one of North Carolina’s best-known beach towns. Crammed with malls, restaurants, shops, and bars, it’s big, fun, and the ideal spot for a family-friendly vacation. With incredible sand dunes, Roanoke Trail for salt marshes, and more, it’s not surprising that many people also choose to call this area home.

Families (not to mention singles and retirees) who decide to make their visit a little more permanent won’t be disappointed. The area is rich in history, which is why it appeals to so many different age groups. With a decent clutch of schools, plenty of amenities, an affordable cost of living, superb recreational opportunities, and one of the prettiest beaches in North Carolina, there’s no doubt it’s a great place to live.

Trip Advisor boasts that there are incredible things to do, including kayaking and sailing. Even if you don’t want to spend all your time on the water, you’ll be impressed by the historic district for shops as well as the distinct architecture found in town.

Kitty Hawk

7. Kitty Hawk

The Culture Trip considers Kitty Hawk one of the ten most beautiful towns in North Carolina. It’s not hard to see what’s brought them to the conclusion. We like it as one of the best places to live in North Carolina near the beach because of the growing population and the incredible history.

It’s one of the more well-known cities on the list, and this is because of the Wright Brothers and all of the aviation history tied to the city. Of course, you can also visit the neighboring town of Devil Hills to see the national memorial.

With the warm tides of the Atlantic Ocean washing the shore, the wide, pristine beaches, and the photographic lighthouses dotted along the shoreline, it’s unquestionably a stunning place to visit. Thanks to very reasonable property prices, low crime rates, and some very decent amenities, it’s also an unquestionably amazing place to live.

When you want to look at the cost of living, BestPlaces.net marked it as 108.4 on the index. While this is higher than the national average, you do get quite a bit for that – including the incredible appeal of living near the beach. Housing can be quite cheaper than other parts of the US, too, which is certainly appealing.

Emerald Isle

6. Emerald Isle

Named by Southern Living as one of the best beach towns in Northern Carolina, Emerald Isle is a small, charging community that makes the perfect home for families, singles, and professionals alike. With a 12-mile stretch of beach on the Bogue Banks, it’s no wonder why so many people choose to not only vacation here but move here as well.

According to Emerald Isle Realty, it was also voted as the #1 beach in the state by US News & World Report in 2020 – and was a USA Today Readers’ Choice in 2018.

With low property taxes, low home prices, and a delectably high standard of living, this beachy paradise offers a little something for everyone. There is a growing number of restaurants and shops, countless activities for kids (including the nearby North Carolina Aquarium), as well as the Bogue Inlet Pier for fishing. There are also countless events and festivals to keep you busy throughout the year, whether you want something to do on a holiday or simply to embrace the beach life to the fullest (such as music festivals on the sand).

Whether you stay a week, a year, or an entire lifetime, you’re unlikely to regret your decision.

Edenton

5. Edenton

Named by PlanetWare as one of the best coastal towns in North Carolina, Edenton is a peaceful, charming town that’s the perfect antidote to the stresses and strains of modern life. It’s situated on Albemarle Sound, and with a small population of only 4400, it can offer the quieter life that you may want in life.

Replete with historic homes, scenic parks, and tree-lined avenues, its distinctly family-friendly vibe is complimented perfectly by its gorgeous waterfront, its low crime rate, walkable streets, and excellent selection of schools. Edenton.com discusses how there are plenty of sites to see in the downtown area, including the Mulberry Hill House, Colonial Park, and more.

If you’re looking to enjoy life away from the hustle and bustle of the city (but still with enough amenities and attractions to pass the time), it’s perfect. Homes can be as close to the waterfront as you wish, though anywhere you choose within Edenton will offer you a stunning landscape that looks as though you stole it off of a postcard.

Carolina Beach

4. Carolina Beach

If warm waters and golden sands tick your box, you’re going to love Carolina Beach. The iconic Carolina Beach Boardwalk, with its carousel, arcade, carnival rides, and ice cream parlors, is the place to be in the warmer months, especially on Thursday evenings when it comes alive with firework displays and live music shows.

Payscale.com marks the cost of living at about 6% higher than the national average. That being said, housing and groceries are actually lower than average, making it a great place to explore – especially knowing that you could be just a stone’s throw away from a gorgeous beach.

The beach is one of the best in the area, with soft sand, surf-ready waves, and a smorgasbord of activities to enjoy. The town itself is equally noteworthy, with every kind of amenity you’ll need and enough housing options to please all tastes and budgets.

Plus, how could you possibly find Carolina Beach drab, knowing that it has the nickname of Pleasure Island? It offers a beach on the Atlantic as well as additional waterfront views thanks to the Cape Fear River. When you’re not enjoying the water, there’s also vibrant music and nightlife that you can embrace, including quite a few tiki bars that are within view of the ocean.

Duck

3. Duck

If you’re sick of the noise and congestion of the city, Duck might be just what you’re looking for. In case you’re wondering about its name, it was once one of the top destinations in North Carolina for duck hunting.

Calm, relaxing, and gorgeously green, Duck is the perfect option for city folk who secretly hate the city. As one of the top small beach towns in North Carolina to live in, it has a population of less than 1,000 – but it jumps to over 20,000 during vacation season as many people can’t wait to explore its many beaches.

Sure, you’ve got all the amenities you’ll need, but rather than chain stores and drive-ins, the Town of Duck boasts an eclectic range of independent boutiques and eateries.

The peaceful vibe is perfectly complemented by quiet streets lined with majestic trees and even more majestic homes. For entertainment, the huge, one-mile boardwalk is the perfect place for romantic sunset walks.

The shoreline itself provides endless opportunities for rest and relaxation. Quiet, calm, and as peaceful as a summer breeze, it’s the perfect place to experience the simple pleasures in life.

Wilmington

2. Wilmington

Wilmington is a big, sprawling beach town with a little something for everyone. The beach is wide, clean, and the perfect place to kick back and relax in the sand. If you don’t fancy getting your feet wet, the Riverwalk is a great place to take a stroll, particularly at sunset.

The town itself is a delight, with charming Victorian-era homes sitting side by side with modern-day architectural gems. Thanks to its status as a university town, it’s blessed with a lively, vibrant atmosphere.

According to River Bluffs Living, the city was also ranked as one of the “Best Places to Move” in 2023 as a result of a study conducted by United Van Lines. With so many different neighborhoods with exciting attractions as well as its proximity to other bustling cities, it’s easy to see why it made the list.

If you want to live somewhere that combines the best of both beach and urban living, look no further. Even the cost of living is enough to get you intrigued – the housing expenses are 23% lower than the national average, making it easy for people of all walks of life to relocate here.

Beaufort

1. Beaufort

Named by Southern Living as one of the best North Carolina beach towns, Beaufort is a small, charming harbor town with a list of perks a mile long. The downtown is lively, home to numerous attractions (including the very visit-worth North Carolina Maritime Museum), and blessed with enough entertainment and amenities to keep everyone happy. Since it was established all the way back in 1713, it has a lot of history – and it’s the fourth oldest town in the state.

In 2012, Budget Travel Magazine named it “America’s Coolest Small Town.” Within two minutes of arrival, you’ll understand why. It’s not only its location on the Crystal Coast that will get your attention. It’s also the incredible nature preserves, the fishing, and even the surfing.

The coastal charm is sure to impress, and it’s one of the reasons why this area is experiencing so much growth. Still, the cost of living remains in check – housing is surprisingly affordable compared to many other beach towns in the US.

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Dana Hanson

Written by Dana Hanson

Dana has extensive professional writing experience including technical and report writing, informational articles, persuasive articles, contrast and comparison, grant applications, and advertisement. She also enjoys creative writing, content writing on nearly any topic (particularly business and lifestyle), because as a lifelong learner, she loves to do research and possess a high skill level in this area. Her academic degrees include AA social Sci/BA English/MEd Adult Ed & Community & Human Resource Development and ABD in PhD studies in Indust & Org Psychology.

Read more posts by Dana Hanson

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