Southern Coast North Carolina Beaches

NC Southern Coast Beach Guide

Renowned for its expansive, uncrowded beaches, the Cape Fear Coast is an ideal holiday destination. From recreational activities to historic attractions to a relaxing vacation getaway, visitors easily find a reason to flock to this picturesque region throughout the year. The seaside communities of Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Wrightsville Beach and the city of Wilmington, prove to be the most popular destinations in the region, but smaller fishing villages dot the shore and make ideal hideaways. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy Carolina Beach State Park, where boating, picnicking and camping are popular pastimes. History buffs love exploring the region’s rich history at venues like the Latimer House Museum in Wilmington, where furniture, jewelry, and other historic artifacts are on display. For those wishing to take it easy, the Cape Fear Coast is home to many charming villages that offer unique accommodations, unhurried atmospheres, and peaceful seaside walkways.

Wilmington

Wilmington is located on the NC Coast in New Hanover County. US 17 runs right through the city. It’s an old town so there are lots of historic landmarks here to visit. Beaches are located southeast of the city and are less than a half-hour drive away. You can take a sightseeing cruise. Be sure to see the USS battleship North Carolina, the Cape Fear Museum and the Cotton Exchange which is now Boutique shops.

Wrightsville Beach
Wrightsville Beach, N.C

Wilmington is a deep-water port city situated on the banks of the Cape Fear River. The city is rich in history with lots of historic buildings to explore. It is a beautiful destination for a wedding, honeymoon or romantic getaway. Many TV programs and movies have been filmed here. The USS Battleship North Carolina is docked here. The closest beaches are Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Ft. Fisher on Pleasure Island, Wrightsville Beach on Shell Island and Masonboro Island. You can get to Wilmington via I-40. From Raleigh its a 2 and a half-hour drive.

Historic downtown Wilmington has lots of things to do and see. You can visit art galleries, museums, stroll the Riverwalk or tour historic homes. You can take a dinner cruise. Tour the USS Battleship North Carolina. Walkthrough one of Wilmington’s beautiful gardens. The Railroad Museum is worth noting it is located at the Coastline Center. The museum features memorabilia and artifacts from our railroad era of American history. You can sun and swim at one of the area beaches. Charter a boat. Sports fishermen can enjoy the best fishing on the North Carolina coast. Golfers can choose from over 90 golf courses that are in the area.

The Wilmington Railroad Museum is on the Cape Fear River in the Atlantic Coastline Warehouse. Exhibits are about the importance of the Wilmington railroad during the Civil War.

Orton Plantation and Gardens is an 18th-century rice plantation. It is located off NC 133 between Wilmington and Southport.

Airlie Gardens is another beautiful spot to visit. The gardens are over 100 years old.

Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville Beach is the closest beach to Wilmington NC. It is also close to Carolina Beach. It is the oldest resort town in NC having been developed in 1853 under the name of the Banks Today, Wrightsville Beach is heavily developed. During the tourist season, beaches are crowded. Likewise, the off-season of the beaches is not so crowded.

Wrightsville Beach has a visitor’s center, a convention center, and an airport. It is on an island connected to the mainland via a bridge.

There is a fishing fleet. You can rent a charter boat or a head boat to go deep-sea fishing.

Wrightsville Beach Park has tennis courts, trails, and a playground.

Downtown Wrightsville Beach, has a 2.5-mile path for biking, skating, walking or jogging.

Area attractions include Airlie Gardens, Deep Sea Fishing, Golf Course, Sailing, Boating, Cameron Museum of Art, Cape Fear Museum, Cotton Exchange, and Henrietta Cruise Ship.

The Wrightsville Beach Museum of History located at West Salisbury Street is the oceanfront cottage of John Quince Myers. It was built over 100 years ago. Exhibits vary. It is the 4th oldest cottage in the state. There are artifacts and a scale model of the town of 1910.

The Beach here is wide and flat. The waves are gentle. It is a favored resort for families with small children. The oceanfront is easily accessible.

Public boating access at Wrightsville Beach has parking, fishing, and wetlands.

Wrightsville Beach and nearby Shell Island have a fee, parking, showers, beach access, handicapped accessible, fishing, dunes.

There are two fishing piers in the area. Johnnie Mercer Fishing Pier is located just south of Regional Access at Salisbury Street. Oceanic (Crystal) Fishing Pier is located just north of regional access Lumina Avenue. There is a Wrightsville Beach King Mackerel tournament held here too.

Wrightsville Beach charges for public parking. Bring lots of quarters to feed the meters.

4 Regional Access Sites

Regional access to the beaches at Lumina Ave has a fee, parking, restrooms, showers, beach access, gazebo, handicapped accessible, fishing, and dunes.

Regional access to the beaches at Salisbury St. (end of US 74) has a fee, parking, restrooms, gazebo, showers, beach access, handicapped accessible, fishing, and dunes.

Regional access to the beaches at North Lumina on Shell Island has a fee, parking (limited), restrooms, showers, beach access and handicapped accessible.

Regional Access to the beaches at Moore’s Inlet Street has a fee, parking, restrooms, showers, beach access, handicapped accessible, fishing and dunes.

Masonboro Island Research Reserve has beach access, hiking, boating, fishing, dunes, upland, and wetlands. US Coast Guard Station is near Masonboro Inlet. Boating access is maintained by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission on the Intracoastal Waterway at Wrightsville Beach across from the US 74/76 drawbridge. With advanced notice, Wrightsville Beach will loan a beach wheelchair. You must contact the parks and recreation department for this service.

Carolina Beach

Carolina Beach is located on Pleasure Island which is 12 miles south of Wilmington on US 421. You can get there using the Southport Fort Fisher ferry. Pleasure Island is on the Intracoastal Waterway, the Cape Fear River, and the Atlantic Ocean. Carolina Beach is in the northern part of the Island. Kure Beach is located in the southern part of the island near Fort Fisher. Carolina Beach became a resort town in the late 19th century when Joseph Winner purchased 108 acres for development.

Carolina Beach
Carolina Beach, NC

The town has fishing piers, a Ferris wheel, an arcade, a boardwalk, waterslides, and miniature golf courses. Recreation includes picnicking, playing in the ocean, sunbathing, hiking and camping.

Carolina Beach State Park is located ten miles south of Wilmington on US 421. The park features a public campground. Go hiking and observe the Venus flytrap, pitcher plant or red sundew. There is a full-service marina and 2 boat ramps here. The area is known for its excellent bottom fishing, surf fishing, and pier fishing. There are 2 fishing tournaments a year, one in July the other in October. You can take a charter boat or a head boat to go deep-sea fishing, at the Carolina Beach Yacht Basin.

Popular fishing tournaments: East Coast Classic King Mackerel and the Carolina Beach Surf Fishing Tournament.

Festivals: Pleasure Island Seafood Festival and the Blues and Jazz Festival.

Come play in the sand, surf and relax to the sound of the ocean waves. Fish. Eat fresh seafood. Have fun. Build sandcastles and memories to last a lifetime.

Fort Fisher

Fort Fisher is on Pleasure Island, south of Carolina Beach and 3 miles south of Kure Beach off US-421. Many families picnic in the area. It is located on US 421 south of Kure Beach.

Fort Fisher Historic Site is the area where a confederate earthwork was built to protect the port of Wilmington during the American Civil War. It was the largest earthen fort built during the Civil War. The fort was attacked in January of 1865 and received heavy naval bombardment which brought down the fort. The battle was the largest land-sea battle ever fought on US soil. The Confederates lost and both sides took heavy casualties. Today, there is a monument erected by the daughters of the Confederacy commemorating the battle.  See artifacts from the Civil War and a slideshow on the history of the fort. You can picnic here too.

The Fort Fisher Recreation Area is near the historic site. It is a short distance from the Historic Site on SR 1713 and 6 miles from Bald Head Island. It is a regional access point. Lifeguards are on duty during the tourist season. Here you will find 4 miles of undeveloped beachfront. There are picnic areas, parking, dunes, showers, restrooms, and a snack bar. There is a dune crossover to the beach. Beach Wheelchairs are available on loan. Surf fishing is excellent here. Loggerhead Turtles nest here.

The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is located off US 421 across from the Fort Fisher State Historic Site. It is in close proximity to the Cape Fear River, the Intracoastal Waterway, and the Atlantic Ocean. See Freshwater and saltwater fish tanks. There is an alligator, snake and turtle tank too. Watch stingrays, sharks, jellyfish, and other aquatic creatures. The shark tank is 20,000 gallons. You can attend lectures and see films on the wildlife of the region. On the grounds, follow the Hermit trail within the salt marsh for birdwatching. It is handicapped accessible and so are the pathways around the Aquarium. Wheelchairs are available.

North of the Aquarium is Federal Point on the mainland. US-421 ends here. There are dunes and a boat ramp.

Kure Beach NC

Kure Beach is located south of Carolina Beach and north of Fort Fisher on Pleasure Island off US-421.  East of US-421, is the beachfront drive that runs along the ocean is Atlantic Avenue. It is a quiet, family-oriented community. The beaches here are uncrowded. There are many public beach access points in the area with parking, however, they are not marked. The beachfront has restrooms. Go surf fishing, swimming, beachcombing.

Kure Beach NC
Kure Beach, Pleasure island NC

Kure Beach loans Beach Wheelchairs to the handicapped. Many beach access points are handicapped accessible. Dogs are not permitted on the beach during tourist season.

The main attraction at Kure Beach is the fishing pier. Here you will find snacks, an arcade, an ice cream shop, a gift shop, fishing tackle, and bait.  If you choose to fish from the pier there is a small fee, otherwise, you can walk on the pier for free. There are benches to sit. The pier is crowded during tourist season. The view from the pier is spectacular, especially at sunset. From the pier, you can see stingrays, sharks, dolphins, sea turtles in the water below. Sea birds fly above like at any beach with a healthy ecosystem.

Other recreations include a surf camp and kayaking. Pleasure Island Safari offers jeep tours of the area. Places to eat include an Italian restaurant, a Bistro, a donut shop, a grill, and a diner.

Southport

Southport is a port city on the Cape Fear River Channel. It is a quaint fishing village with Victorian homes. There is a riverfront, historic district, antique shops, visitors center, marinas, waterfront restaurants, and markets.

The city pier is located on Bay Street on the Cape Fear River. Take a self-guided walking tour of historic homes and buildings.

The NC Maritime Museum is located here. The museum has exhibits illustrating the river history including information related to the pirate Stede Bonnett who was captured here. Southport is near the Brunswick Beaches. Local attractions include Dosher Memorial, Archer Daniel, Orton Plantation, Brunswick Town State Historic Site and Sunny Pointe Army Deport.

St. James Plantation is a golf resort, a planned community, with lots more to do than just golf. Play tennis, bike, lounge at the beach club and much more.

You can catch the ferry to the Brunswick islands where you will find some of the best beaches in NC for family vacations. Every year, the official NC Fourth of July celebration attracts a large number of visitors. Prices Creek Lighthouse – built 1848, no tours, 2 miles from Southport, covers the Cape Fear River area, it has been inoperable since the second battle of Fort Fisher during the Civil War. Southport is also close to Wilmington, the Brunswick Island beaches and Wrightsville Beach.

Brunswick Islands

The Brunswick Islands are located off the lower NC Coast near North Myrtle Beach SC. This area includes Bald Head Island, Oak Island, Ocean Isle Beach, Calabash, Caswell Beach, Holden Beach, Shallotte, Southport and Sunset Beach. The beaches are wide here. There are over 30 golf courses in the area if you like to play. This is a good place for a family vacation. You can rent condos, vacation homes, cottages, suites or hotel rooms.

Bald Head Island
Bald Head Island, NC

Brunswick beaches slope ever so gently into the ocean making a gentle surf ideal for children to play in the waves. There are over 40 championship golf courses in the area. The Fort Fisher – Southport ferry serves this area. I will write later about each island with information on attractions.

Oak Island Lighthouse – built the 1950s, the brightest lighthouse in the US. To get here, take NC 133 from Wilmington to Southport where you can get a ferry.

Bald Head Island

Bald Head Island is accessible only by ferry or boat. The ferry runs from Indigo Plantation in Southport on the mainland. There are no cars allowed on the island.

The island has 174 acres of upland forests set aside as part of the NC coastal reserve. There are marshlands and maritime forests. This is a prime nesting location of the loggerhead turtle.

In the Area

There is a golf course in the Bald Head Island Area.

Bald Head Island State Natural Area is over 10,000 acres. There are tidal creeks, marsh, and bays here.

The Oldest Lighthouse in North Carolina. It is located on Bald Head Island. Old Baldy Was Commissioned by Thomas Jefferson and Constructed in 1817. Visitors Can Climb To the Top of the Lighthouse For Spectacular Views of the Island and Its Surroundings

Beachcombing: Fourteen miles of wide, uncrowded beaches facing not only East but also West and South for spectacular sunsets over the water.

There are private resorts with villas, cottages and vacation homes for rent or sale. For hotels close to this island see Southport on the mainland, Sunset Beach or Ocean Isle Beach. The last two are apart of the Brunswick Islands.

Ocean Isle Beach

Ocean Isle Beach is apart of the Brunswick Islands. It is located between Holden Beach and Sunset Beach NC. Sidewalks run parallel to the oceanfront. The beach is wide and flat with a gentle slope so its a good place to go swimming. There is a fishing pier on the island. Go fishing. Charter a fishing boat here. Fish off the pier.

Rent a cottage or condo. Play all day in the ocean. Hunt for seashells. Listen to the surf while you soak in the warm sun. Watch dolphins play in the waves. Relax an enjoy the day. The Brunswick Islands are located off the lower NC Coast near North Myrtle Beach SC. This area includes Bald Head Island, Oak Island, Calabash, Caswell Beach, Holden Beach, Shallotte, Southport and Sunset Beach. The beaches are wide here.

There are over 30 Golf courses in the area if you like to play. This is a good place for a family vacation. You can rent condos, vacation homes, cottages, suites or hotel rooms.

Find Ocean Isle Beach NC hotel accommodations with the best hotel prices and deals. Whether you are planning a short romantic weekend getaways or an extended stay family vacation to the beach, you will find cheap motels, discount hotels, inns, resorts, suites and lodging accommodations to fit most any budget.

Southern Coast Beaches – List

  • Bear Island
  • Jacksonville – Closest beaches: Hammocks Beach State Park
  • Sneads Ferry
  • Topsail Island
  • Permuda Island Coastal Preserve
  • Surf City
  • Topsail beach
  • Shell Island
  • Wilmington
  • Wrightsville Beach – closest beach to Wilmington (10miles)
  • Masonboro Island
  • Pleasure Island
  • Carolina beach
  • Carolina Beach State Park
  • Kure Beach
  • Fort Fisher
  • Zeke’s Island National Estuarine Research Reserve
  • Brunswick Town State Historic Site
  • Southport
  • Battery Island
  • Brunswick Islands
    • Oak Island – lighthouse
      • Town of Oak Island
      • Caswell Beach
    • Bald Head Island – lighthouse
    • Ocean Island
    • Calabash
    • Holden Beach
    • Shallotte
    • Sunset Beach

Activities

  • Kiteboarding
  • Surfing
  • Sea Shell Hunting
  • Lighthouses – Climb and Explore

Ferry service

  • Knots Island to Currituck
  • Cedar Island
  • Hatteras
  • Knotts Island
  • Ocracoke
  • Pamlico River
  • Swan Quarter
  • Fort Fisher / Southport