Carolina Beach, North Carolina

Five reasons to love Carolina Beach

Flashback to childhood beach vacations

There are lots of reasons to love Carolina Beach. Top of the list for me is the throwback vibe. Carolina Beach reminds me of beach trips in my youth. But with no shortage of modern conveniences.

You can surf, paddleboard, fish, hike or just park your chair on the beach and take in the sea and sun. Carolina Beach is primarily single-family homes, small condos and a few hotels. Twenty lifeguard stands cover three miles of beach (Memorial Day to Labor Day), making it a great place for the grandkids to play safely.

Popular Freeman Park on the north end offers camping and four-wheel driving on the beach, with a permit.

Carolina Beach Salty Seahorse Condo

We went in early June, before the summer crowds, with our daughter, her husband and their two young kids. We rented the Salty Seahorse, a 5-bedroom oceanfront condo (more like 1/2 a house) with stunning top-deck views, pool access and one of the best-equipped kitchens of any vacation home we’ve seen. We enjoyed family time in the open-concept kitchen/dining room/den and dolphin spotting from the upper deck. The loaded toy closet is a nice perk.

Beyond the long, beautiful, beach – here are five reasons we love Carolina Beach:

Blackburn Brothers Seafood Carolina Beach

1. Fresh off the boat seafood at Blackburn Brothers

Once you find Blackburn Brothers Seafood, you’ll know you’ve found a great spot. Fancy? No. Fresh? Positively. Fishing boats pull right up to the dock and unload the day’s catch. Blackburns is a wholesale supplier for restaurants with a retail store for the public.

Whole fish, filets, crabs, oysters, mussels, clams, shrimp and more are displayed on ice and waiting to greet you (figuratively, at least). Want advice on how to cook your purchase and impress your guests? They are happy to share their favorite recipes.

Carolina Beach boardwalk

2. One of the country’s top boardwalks

Your grandkids may not care that the Carolina Beach Boardwalk is ranked as one of the top 10 boardwalks in the country by Food & Wine magazine. Or that it made Budget Travel’s list of America’s Most Awesome Boardwalks, and has been recognized by CNN, FOX News and USA Today. But parents and grandparents will love the nostalgic feel and scenic strolling. And kids will enjoy the old-fashioned fair rides, sweet treats and events.

Britts Donut Shop

3. Britt’s Donuts – they only make ’em one way

Some things should never change. Britt’s Donuts adheres to that philosophy. Located on the boardwalk, they’ve made just one kind of donut since 1939 – glazed. Nearly 80 years later, people still wait in line for a coveted bag of hot donuts. No sprinkles. No fillings. No flavors. The bad news – Britt’s is only open during tourist season. It’s nostalgic. It’s delicious. Trust me.

Wilmington, NC riverwalk

4. Off beach attractions: Wilmington, Fort Fisher and North Carolina Aquarium

If you get tired of beach bumming or need a break from the sun, the Carolina Beach area has a lot to offer.

Head 15 miles north to downtown Wilmington. Here you can immerse in the 230-block National Historic District, shop, dine, stroll the Riverwalk, take river tours or visit the Battleship North Carolina.

Head south a few miles from Carolina Beach to brush up on your N.C. history at Fort Fisher State Historic Site and get up close with turtles and sea creatures at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.

Fat Pelican dive bar

5. Quite possibly the best dive bar ever

The Fat Pelican claims to be North Carolina’s top dive bar and the 25th divest in the country. They are spot-on in describing the ambiance as “beach trailer park chic.” Want a beer? Get it yourself from the walk-in cooler and choose from more than 350 brands. Take in the cozy, chaotically decorated rooms, then head out back to relax in a boat, on a swing or with your toes in the sand at a picnic table.