There’s a reason why the Carolina Beach area is historically known as “Pleasure Island.”
A favorite destination for generations of vacationers, this coastal town is more than meets the eye, thanks to an array of activities and things to do that are sure to appeal to everyone in the vacationing party.
Make sure your upcoming Carolina Beach vacation is the best it can be by including these top things to do on your travel agenda. From ocean waves to cool hiking trails, there’s miles of fun to be found at this wonderfully entertaining coastal destination.
Hit the Beach
Carolina Beach’s biggest attraction is – quite literally - the beach, and visitors will find ample options to hit the sand all along the stunning local coastline. There are roughly 20 seasonal lifeguard stands throughout the summer season, which makes it a dream destination for families with kids, and visitors who crave a little adventure can head north to the 4wd-friendly and undeveloped Freeman Park, or south to the stunning six miles of undeveloped beaches that comprise the Fort Fisher State Recreational Area. No matter where you land, with a gently sloping ocean floor - (which translates to shallow waters and generally calm waves) - and nice wide and white sandy beaches, the coastal scene along Carolina Beach is simply postcard perfect. Grab the body boards, surfboards, shelling bags, and fishing poles, and enjoy the town’s favorite (and free) way to spend a sunny day.
Stroll the Boardwalk
Named one of the Top 10 Boardwalks in the country by Food & Wine magazine, the Carolina Beach Boardwalk is the pinnacle of classic beachside fun, and is one of the few beach boardwalks in existence along the Carolina coastline. In the summertime, the boardwalk is a whirlwind of activity, complete with rides, games and amusements, concerts and local festivals, and (of course) plenty of salty and sugary fare – which is perfect after a long day the beach. Spend hours perusing the local vendors, munching on homemade donuts, fudge or ice cream, catching a bird’s eye view of the oceanfront from the top of the Ferris wheel, or dancing the night away to live music. With so much to see and do, the Boardwalk helps Carolina Beach hold on to its well-deserved reputation as the ultimate Pleasure Island.
Head to the Pier
Sightseers and anglers alike will adore paying a visit to the Carolina Beach Fishing Pier – an iconic destination that’s known for incredible views and great catches. Enjoy a stroll down the length of the 700’ ft. long structure, and pause to admire the town-wide views (and plenty of great photo ops) from one of the many benches, or bring your rod and reel along to drop a line from one of the best fishing spots in town. The pier also features indoor enticements, including a grill and snack bar, a game room, and even a restaurant / lounge area with a full ABC permit. For even more on-the-water fun, check out the nearby Kure Beach Pier in Kure Beach, or the 1,200’ foot long Johnnie Mercer's Pier in Wrightsville Beach, and take in the entirety of the Cape Fear coastline from a new perspective.
Take a Hike
Nearby Carolina Beach State Park is a refreshing departure from the beach scene, thanks to roughly six miles of hiking trails that cut through a sandy maritime forest and a breathtaking natural landscape. Comprising of five distinct trails, (which are fairly easy to combine), visitors can enjoy exceptional birdwatching and wildlife watching, beautiful river views, and can encounter some of the most unusual species along the coastline – including a rare and vibrant collection of carnivorous plants. Embark on a short expedition via the Oak Toe Trail, which extends just .35 miles to gorgeous river vistas, or check out the unusual flora and fauna via the Flytrap Trail, which boasts boardwalks that cut through pocosin wetlands and drier longleaf longleaf pine communities. No matter where you go, the peace and quiet is a breath of fresh air for nature fans who want to discover all the inherent beauty of Carolina Beach, both on and off the ocean beaches.
Watersports are big in Carolina Beach, and newcomers can easily join the craze by embarking on a stand-up paddle boarding or kayaking adventure. There are a number of tour companies and rental equipment providers for visitors who want to grab a board or boat and blaze their own trail, as well as several destinations where it’s easy to pick up a ride and hit the water within minutes. Beginners can head to the Carolina Beach Lake Park, which is an 11 acre freshwater lake close to the beach, to enjoy a leisurely paddle through calm waters that’s perfect for beginners, or can head to Carolina Beach State Park, where a seasonal paddle board and kayak rental provider can be found just steps away from the Cape Fear River-bordering boat ramp. No matter where you go, with miles of ocean, river, and sound waters to go around, enjoying the local terrain from a waterfront perspective is simply a breeze in Carolina Beach.
Meet the Wildlife
Head south past Kure Beach to discover one of Pleasure Island’s top attractions, the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. This massive destination features hundreds of different species that represent the wildlife of North Carolina just below the water’s surface, and which are found within a collection of unique and fascinating galleries. Admire sharks and gliding stingrays in the two-story open ocean tank, get your hands on sea urchins and starfish in the touch tank, or meet one of the region’s most unusual residents, a rare Albino alligator. With countless tanks and exhibits to explore, and plenty of seasonal programs which includes daily diver feeds and special kids’ programs, every visit is a seaworthy adventure at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
Explore a Deserted Island
Visitors who truly want to escape the crowds and “get away from it all” will find ample options on the northern and southern borders of Carolina Beach. For a truly remote expedition, book a water taxi or take a cruise to neighboring Masonboro Island, which features 8.4 miles of completely undeveloped and natural beaches, as well as some of the best shelling in the region. Only accessible by boat, this island is a representation of a barrier island shoreline at its most natural. For a slightly easier trip, drive south to the borders of Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, which is also nicely devoid of development, or go a little further south to stroll down to the connecting Zeke’s Island Reserve. Comprising of more than 1,600 acres of natural coastal landscape, Zeke’s Island Reserve is an equally enticing spot to enjoy the local beaches at their pristine best. With great beachcombing, birdwatching, paddling, and sightseeing, any of these natural area destinations are a refreshing spot for visitors who like to have a slice of shoreline all to themselves.
Take a Cruise
There are a number of adventures that can be launched from Carolina Beach, which explore miles of the area’s most scenic waterways. Book a cruise to neighboring Mansonboro Island to enjoy great shelling, a wildlife watching tour, or even a pirate-themed adventure, or plan a sunset cruise along the Cape Fear River for fantastic photo opts and romantic scenery throughout. Carolina Beach is also home to several “party boat” options, which can accommodate large groups of 20 passengers or more, and which can provide everything from fun-filled dinner cruises to incredible private wedding receptions and special events. There are also more than 20 fishing charters that launch from Carolina Beach, which makes it a dream destination for anglers who want to explore the inshore waters, the offshore waters, and everywhere in between. Regardless of your idea of the perfect on-the-water outing, Carolina Beach is fully equipped to make any maritime adventure a reality.
Make a Stay Event-full
Carolina Beach has a contagious community spirit, and visitors who want to join in the fun can check out the local events calendars to discover a wealth of activities that shine a spotlight on everything this town has to offer. From summertime outdoor moves at the Carolina Beach Lake Park, to smashing fireworks celebrations near the Carolina Beach Boardwalk, it seems like there’s always something going on in this town that’s known for miles of fun. Check out annual events like seasonal fishing tournaments, the famed Pleasure Island Seafood, Blues & Jazz Festival, the Carolina Beach Music Festival, or the annual Pleasure Island Chowder Cook-off, or just head by local event venues – (like the Carolina Beach Boardwalk or Kure Beach Ocean Front Park) – to see what’s happening during your stay. With so many ways to have a great time at so many venues that can range from the local state parks and recreational areas to the oceanfront, every day is truly a reason to celebrate in Carolina Beach. For more info on upcoming events, check out the community-wide calendar at http://www.visitcarolinabeachnc.com/events-calendar/.
Wine and Dine (or Pub and Grub)
Whether you crave an elevated dinner or lunch with the Atlantic Ocean in the not-so-distant background, or a causal outdoor setting where beers and burgers rule the afternoon, Carolina Beach has you covered. The town boasts dozens of eateries that specialize in a variety of fare, including pizza and Italian, fresh seafood, burgers and sandwiches, burritos and Mexican food, easy Chinese fare, and virtually every type of cuisine under the sun. Get your hands messy digging into crab claws and steamed seafood at one of the local seafood shacks, dive into a big platter of NC barbecue on-site or to go, or pop into the local beer garden to enjoy a pint with friends and family members. No matter what you crave, chances are that Carolina Beach has you covered, all while presenting a lively, fun, and all-around coastal environment where the good times roll.
Carolina Beach is unique in that it can cater to virtually all varieties of beach-goers. From active types who love a busy nightlife scene, to relaxed naturalists who appreciate a quiet beach setting, this town and the surrounding Cape Fear region boasts everything there is to love about the North Carolina coastline.
Indulge in a vacation that features endless fun and games, or dedicate evenings to quiet explorations of the local beaches. No matter how you love to unwind, chances are that Carolina Beach has you covered.