Live Like a Local: Beach finds

Jun 20, 2024 • 6 min. read | By Karen Bright

Whether it’s your first summer in the Cape Fear region or you’re a beach pro, we’ve got tips to make the most of your sandy outings in the months ahead. Longtime Wilmington resident Karen Bright writes a regular column for Good Life Wilmington called Living Like a Local to give you insider tips on the area.


Here’s a roundup of her beach recommendations, including a look at the ideal day by the waves to live vicariously through.




Beach time events: Carolina Beach Boardwalk Blast with live music and fireworks every Thursday in the summer; the Cape Fear Kite Festival in Kure Beach in November; outrigger canoes in Wrightsville Beach (Photos c/o Wilmington and Beaches CVB)

Are there better ways to spend the day than at the beach? You live in coastal North Carolina now so probably not.


When you wake up in the morning you notice the sky is cloudless and Carolina blue. The weather promises to be a magnificent 85 degrees with some humidity. The humidity is just enough to keep the air warm with that slight, cushiony feel to prevent any chill from the ocean breeze. When you check, the tide will be low at 11 a.m. making for ideal conditions.


Your husband may have plans to work around in the yard or fix something; you have another idea: the beach. Convincing him is not difficult, after all, he is a born beach bum too. Maybe your 20s are long behind you but dropping all plans and heading to the beach is still in your bones. Together you pack up the Jeep and the gear.


You get towels, snacks, beach chairs and a tent for shade. You know from experience that large buckets filled with sand and tied to the legs prevent any potential drama from a tent launching down the beach in the breeze. You make a final check for sunscreen, hats and sunglasses.


Today you choose to drive onto the beach. Your husband loves the theatrics of bumping along in the sand and watching others get stuck. This doesn’t happen to you; you are pros. You like the drive onto the beach for the ease of unloading the supplies and the knowledge of an easy exit when the time is right.


When you find your favorite spot, you park your Jeep. You situate yourself for the idyllic photograph of Jeep, blue-green water and dunes in one photo. You post it to make every one of your friends who stayed in the North or are landlocked in cities jealous and to show off your good decisions.


You hop out of the vehicle, well maybe step out gingerly, unload and set up. The shade tent is first; your days of sun-worshipping are over. You are sensible now. The chairs are on the sand, the coolers are unloaded and cold drinks are in your hand.


 Here comes the Kona Ice truck, and the kids on the sand lose their minds in a panic to get money from prepared parents. You smile as you watch the kids race down the beach to catch him. They come back a flutter of happiness with small cups of frozen, sweet ice.


You and your husband give each other knowing looks and laugh as you remember when your own kids were that age. You feel very nostalgic, maybe a little tug at your heart. Then you remember your own grandkids will visit soon.


Immediately you are grateful for the easy day.


You and your husband decide to go for a walk. You collect seashells and people watch. When you glance out at the ocean there are dolphins. You’re sunkissed and tired – it’s time to break everything down and pack up the Jeep. You pack your shells into the beach bag because these will look great in a glass bowl at home.


The traffic is light as you drive off the beach. The ride home is glorious with no roof and doors and the wind in your hair.


Are there better ways to spend the day than at the beach? Maybe, but in coastal North Carolina, you think not.




(Photos c/o Wilmington and Beaches CVB)

Deciding which beach to set up camp at for the day, though, sometimes depends on what you feel like doing that day.


Wrightsville Beach will always have a special place in my heart. This is where I first stepped foot in North Carolina. I have lived here, I have worked here and I will always find time to relax here.


The south end of the beach is glorious because the Intracoastal Waterway meets the ocean and makes for a calm swimming spot. If you choose to spend your time within the central part of the beach, you will have the added benefit of walking to many restaurants and shops.


The north end of the beach is great for walking and finding seashells. Wrightsville is the place to be in the off-season when the weather is warm, and the traffic has dwindled.


If you own a four-wheel drive vehicle, then I suggest the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. This is where you will find the Basin (or Hermit) trailhead. To drive on the beach, you will need a pass. The visitor center is located to the immediate left of the beach entrance. You can purchase a day pass or season pass.


I personally like to go when the tide is low and the water tends to be a little calmer as this stretch of beach is not serviced by lifeguards. Too many people think they are immune to the dangers of the ocean and its waves. As a public service announcement, please know you are not.

N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher Cape Fear Shoals tank (Photo c/o Wilmington and Beaches CVB)


Carolina Beach is another excellent option. It has restaurants, weekly live music and fireworks, a Ferris wheel, and so many other options along with sitting on the sand.


Although it is only a 40-minute drive, give or take, from Wilmington, Pender County beaches are worth the trip. We have been known to vacation at Topsail Island.


These beaches are great not only for the sandy beaches but for the piers – all three provide free parking and bathrooms. The fees for fishing and walking differ based on the pier. They also all have restaurants, shops and the ability to simply see the views.


Seaview Fishing Pier is the northernmost pier, in North Topsail Beach, then you come down to Surf City Ocean Pier, then finally the Jolly Roger Inn and Pier at Topsail Beach.


I find Pender County beaches to be less crowded than the beaches of New Hanover County in the summer, and even quieter in the off-season, if that’s what you’re after.

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