Sunset Beach, North Carolina is a great summer destination

Beautiful beaches, teaming with nature, laid back vibe

We thought we found a secret gem when we stayed a week at Sunset Beach, North Carolina. That’s before we searched online and discovered Sunset’s accolades include National Geographic’s 21 Best Beaches in the World. So it’s not a secret, but it is special.

Sunset is southern-most of the Brunswick Island beaches and sits just north of South Carolina’s famous Grand Strand. The island is laid back and dominated by houses and duplexes… not the high-rises common along the Grand Strand.

Sunset Beach laid back
Sunset Beach has a laid back feel
Sunset Beach east end where an inlet feeds this bay.
Sunset Beach east end where an inlet feeds this bay.

We don’t usually feature rental houses on the blog, but we’re making an exception because our stay at Sandown South was amazing and deserves a shout out. It sits at the east end of the island with views of both the ocean and the bay. We got sunrise over the ocean and sunset over the bay. It’s secluded setting means few people on the beach. It is brand new and equipped with everything you could wish for, including bicycles and a large swimming pool. We had a group of 17 representing five families and three generations and everyone agree this was a superior place in a superior location.

Sunset Beach is part of the Brunswick Islands.
Sunset Beach is part of the Brunswick Islands.
Sunset Beach
Living up to its name, a sunset over the bay.

Reasons to love Sunset Beach

There are no traffic lights!

This may become our new criteria for selecting a beach destination during peak season. Sunset Beach has no traffic lights, a testament to its small size and absence of high-rise condos and hotels. Despite visiting during high season, I would be comfy riding a bicycle down Main Street any time of day.

Wide, uncrowded beaches and connection to nature

Sunset Beach has three miles of coastline with wide, sloping beaches at low tide. We stayed near the inlet on the island’s east end and enjoyed both the ocean and bay. The bay was a great place to take my grandson looking for shells and hermit crabs. The water was teaming with crabs and fish of all sizes … and teaming with locals who beached their boats to enjoy the afternoon.

Bill’s Seafood

Bill’s is a great place to buy seafood fresh off the boat … and so much more. Beyond the usual fresh seafood fare, they carry some amazing additions for your feast. Our mouths watering from reading online reviews, we added Bill’s crab cakes and key lime pie to our 5 pounds of N.C. fresh shrimp. Oh my gosh. Many in our group proclaimed Bill’s crab cakes “best to ever land in their mouth” and the key lime pie made everything’s short list of favorites. Another cool surprise … Bill’s steamed our shrimp and seasoned with their secret spices. Mmmmm good.

For those who crave it, Calabash seafood

Our Sunset Beach trip comprised a group of 17 family members. Most live in Texas but all have strong North Carolina ties. The Texans requested we dine at Calabash, a small fishing village nearby that boasts more than 30 restaurants, most serving seafood “calabash-style.” Think large plates of fresh-caught seafood that are lightly battered and deep-fried. We don’t eat much fried food so we were leery, but being good hosts we went along. Ella’s seafood restaurant came highly recommended and they did not disappoint. They sat our giant group with minimal wait and I was honestly surprised how good the food was for a man who does not eat fried fish! The hushpuppies alone are reason to go. And the prices are reasonable.

Bird Island

Once a separate island, Bird Island is now an extension of Sunset Beach, thanks to a hurricane that filled the inlet in the 1990s. Named for its winged inhabitants, Bird Island is undeveloped and controlled by the state. Situated on the border of North and South Carolina, this collection of marsh and shoreline is a paradise for beachcombers, kayakers, birdwatchers, and any visitor who enjoys a pristine piece of coastline.

Kindred Spirit Mailbox

When visiting Bird Island, look for a mailbox that seems strangely out of place — Kindred Spirit Mailbox. This mailbox holds small notebooks full of the thoughts, dreams, wishes and prayers of travelers.

Sunset Beach summer concerts and turtle talks

Sunset and most of the Brunswick beaches host free live concerts weekly. Each community has its own schedule, so check online to see what’s happening during your stay. Sunset Beach and Brunswick County are also popular with endangered loggerhead turtles. Join free Turtle Time talks on Sunday evenings to learn more.

Need more action? Myrtle Beach is close by

For those who prefer nightlife to wildlife, the shops, attractions, bars and restaurants of Myrtle Beach’s famed Grand Strand are just 30 minutes away.

Great tip from a local

Sunset Beach rentals generally run Saturday to Saturday during summer months. As a result, area grocery stores are PACKED with arriving vacationers looking to stock their house for the week. We got a great tip from a local to order groceries online from Lowes Foods prior to arrival for delivery right to the house. There is a small charge but it was so worth it for us since we were buying for 17 people.