These three Carolina beaches rank among best in the country

THE OUTER BANKS, N.C. — An annual trip to the beach is a summertime ritual for many. In fact, some people call it their “happy place.” Fortunately, for folks in the Charlotte area, three of the top beaches in the country are just a few hours drive away.

Every year, Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a professor of coastal research at Florida International University, who also goes by the name of Dr. Beach, ranks the 10 best beaches in the United States.

Leatherman, who is from Charlotte and attended North Carolina State before earning his doctorate from the University of Virginia, scores beaches on physical factors such as sand quality, cleanliness and safety.

This year, North Carolina earned some bragging rights over South Carolina with two beaches appearing in the Top 5 while the Palmetto State’s lone entry was lower on the list.

Landing in the third spot is Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach in the Outer Banks. Leatherman said it’s his favorite “getaway beach.”

“Here you will find some of the wildest beaches in the country,” he posted on his website “Big surf dominates in late summer so families with children may want to come earlier in the year. Don’t expect to play golf or stay at the Ritz; the main pursuits are swimming and beachcombing.”

At No. 5 is Lighthouse Beach in Buxton, which is also a part of the Outer Banks. Leatherman said the “lifeguarded beach is the number one surfing spot on the U. S. Atlantic Coast as the large offshore sand banks, known as Diamond Shoals, cause wave refraction focusing wave energy on this beach.”

Beachwalker Park at Kiawah Island, South Carolina, landed at No. 9. Leatherman said it’s “a nature-lovers coast” where visitors can kayak through tidal inlets. “It is also fun to walk or bicycle down the fine-grained sand beach to Captain Sam’s Inlet to see thousands of birds,” he said.

Hapuna Beach State Park in Hawaii topped the list.

To see the complete list, click here.

(WATCH: Experts baffled after ‘mysterious mass’ found on Outer Banks beach)