Three Days at Carolina Beach
Enjoy wave-jumping, mermaid shopping and Cape Fear River kayaking
Photos courtesy of Beth Shugg
You’ve probably heard it plenty of times, but this bears repeating: Living in the Triangle or Charlotte area makes North Carolina beach getaways possible pretty much any time of the year. Whether you go for a weekend or week; or travel east across U.S. 64 to the Outer Banks, southeast via U.S. 70 to Emerald Isle, or south down I-40 to Carolina Beach, there are multiple options for families to experience North Carolina’s beautiful beaches year-round.
In June, my husband, son, daughter and daughter’s friend headed to Carolina Beach for a two-night, three-day stay. We arrived just before what Heather Hawkins, co-owner of the Beacon House Inn Bed & Breakfast, called “the calm before the storm, before the kids get out of school and everything gets crazy.”
The Beacon House Inn Bed & Breakfast's retro accessories come from the owners' personal collections.
PHOTO COURTESY OF YOUNGDOO AND JOHN CAREY
Hawkins co-owns the six-room bed and breakfast, located at 715 Carolina Beach Ave., with her husband Mike Truffa, a chef and craftsman who prepares artisan breakfasts for guests and keeps things running. Originally built in the 1940s as a boarding house, the Beacon House Bed & Breakfast also offers clean, cozy and dog-friendly beach vacation cottages on the property. We stayed in one of them, and it was the perfect place to kick up our feet after each adventurous day.
Guests enjoy an artisan breakfast each morning in this dining area at the Beacon House Inn Bed & Breakfast.
Photo courtesy of YoungDoo and John Carey
Upon arriving at the cottage (already wearing bathing suits under our travel clothes) we tossed our luggage into the bedrooms, grabbed some beach towels and headed across the street to the Oystershell Lane public beach access point. Pristine sand dunes opened up to an expansive view of the sparsely populated beach. We enjoyed jumping waves in the 78-degree water. Lifeguards attended the area and a view of the Carolina Beach Fishing Pier located about a mile away in the center of all the action offered the promise an exciting evening.
We had dinner at Havana’s, an island-themed restaurant located at 1 North Lake Park Blvd. I ordered a glass of Alamos Malbec (from the extensive wine list) and had the Scallops Casino — five fresh scallops topped with applewood bacon and butter, served over sautéed spinach and sweet pea risotto. Pickier members of our party ordered the Pasta Carbonara and BT’s Chicken — an entrée consisting of romano cheese- and panko-encrusted chicken topped with a lemon butter caper sauce and served over Yukon gold potatoes.
We spent the rest of the evening shopping along Lake Park Boulevard. My favorite store was The Mermaid Castle, which offers an eclectic collection of mermaid and fairy figurines, jewelry, clothing, crystals and more. It truly is a “mystical and alluring escape from the status quo,” as the website promises.
Ready for another beach day, we swam and tanned from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., then showered and headed to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher around 3 p.m. We gazed upon vibrant tanks filled with sharks, jellyfish, tropical fish, sea urchins, coral and more, then headed outdoors to the “Dinosaurs!” exhibit, where animatronic T-rexes, horned Diabloceratops and other extinct species roared to life. It was fantastic!
See "Dinosaurs!" during your visit to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
Since I like to incorporate an educational experience into our vacations, we stopped by Fort Fisher after leaving the aquarium. This famous fort, of which only 10 percent remains today, kept North Carolina’s Port of Wilmington open to blockade-runners during most of the Civil War so they could supply the Confederate Army with war necessities. By 1865, the port facilitated the last supply line through Wilmington for Northern Virginia troops. Fort Fisher fell Jan. 15, 1865, after undergoing a massive federal amphibious assault.
Fort Fisher’s trail winds through beautiful, gnarled live oaks to grass-covered mounds that envelope what’s left of the structure. Shepherd’s Battery features a reconstructed, fully operational seacoast cannon. Exhibits in the welcome center include a fiber-optic battle map, salvaged weapons and various items recovered from the sunken blockade-runner “Modern Greece.”
What remains of Fort Fisher is enveloped in grassy mounds.
Next, we drove .5 miles from Fort Fisher to Kure Beach for dinner at Jack Mackerel’s Island Grill, located at 113 K Ave., where we ordered Seafood Penne, Cajun Chicken Alfredo, Shrimp Scampi, Island Jerk Chicken, and Rum and Plantain Chicken. We also enjoyed a few chuckles as a male teen waiter flirted with the female teens among us! (I’m pretty sure my husband was wishing he had confiscated one of those guns from Fort Fisher!)
We managed to save room for dessert and drove 3 miles north toward Carolina Beach to experience Britts Donut Shop, located at 11 Carolina Beach Ave. on the boardwalk. We had been told — and now understand why — that no visit to Carolina Beach is complete without trying a fresh, hot Britts donut. Eat them as soon as they hand you that glorious, steaming, brown paper bag. Best. Donuts. Ever.
Locals say you must eat Britts donuts fresh out of the bag while they're still warm.
The girls rode the Ferris wheel and swings at the Carolina Beach Boardwalk Amusement Park before we headed back to our cottage and took an evening stroll along the beach.
Carolina Beach Boardwalk Amusement Park
We packed a lunch for our last beach day, checked out of the cottage, said good bye to our kind hosts, and spent a few hours swimming before embarking on one last adventure: a kayak tour of the Cape Fear River. We had a little time to kill before our 3 p.m. kayak tour so we headed back to the Carolina Beach Boardwalk for a refreshing serving of gelato at Latella.
Carolina Beach Boardwalk
At 3 p.m., we met up with our Paddle NC guide at 1020 State Park Rd., put on life jackets and listened as our guide covered safety tips and operational instructions. Then we hopped into three two-person kayaks and coasted away. About 30 minutes into our tour, a storm developed and blew right toward us. We started paddling back to where we came from, but didn’t make it in time. A few lightning bolts encouraged us to disembark at a nearby beach halfway back. With the help of our guide and another Paddle NC employee who met up with us, we carried the kayaks back to the Paddle NC starting point in a drenching rain. Talk about an adventure! Our guide and his co-worker couldn’t have been more helpful. We will definitely go back for another kayak tour.
Paddle NC offers guided kayak adventures and other water activities.
It’s amazing how much you can pack into three days at Carolina Beach. Don’t take my word for it, though. Visit the Official Tourism Development Authority for New Hanover County Wilmington and Beaches CVB website to plan your own family excursion, and make the most of summer's remaining days.
Beth Shugg is the editor of Carolina Parent.
View an extensive gallery of photos from this trip below. All photos provided by Beth Shugg, unless otherwise indicated in the photo captions.