Often overlooked amid the rich history and thriving port of Wilmington, NC is the 30-mile stretch of white-sand beaches that surround the mouth of the Cape Fear River, where the city sits just a few miles inland. With a 20-minute car ride or an even shorter trip by boat, visitors can be magically transported from the Old South architecture of downtown to the natural beauty of the Carolina coast.
Cold beer on a Pier — Photo courtesy of Wilmington and Beaches
Featuring barrier islands and mainland beaches, the Cape Fear Coast is lined with small coastal communities that offer their distinct lifestyles and a broad range of entertainment opportunities that include surfing, dining, shopping, fishing, golf and more. So buckle up and prepare to cruise the coast.
Boating to the beach — Photo courtesy of Wilmington and Beaches
Double your Pleasure
Follow the Cape Fear River downstream to Paradise Island, where two of the more popular beach towns offer an easy escape from downtown. Carolina Beach, located on the north end of the island, is a family-friendly destination that features an old beach-style boardwalk and a scenic seaside State Park. On the southern tip of the island is Kure Beach, featuring the natural beauty of the river mouth and one of the oldest fishing piers on the East Coast. Dining, shopping, boating and an aquarium are among the popular pastimes on Paradise Island, but the white-sand beaches are the main draw.
Hanging 10 at Topsail Beach — Photo courtesy of Surf Topsail
Surf's Up on the North Side
Wilmington's most accessible beach by car is Wrightsville Beach, a popular destination for surfers and watersports enthusiasts from all over the Eastern United States. Because of the unique breaks off the north shore of the Cape Fear River, thrill-seekers looking for excellent waves and good times flock to this seaside resort, which also offers excellent accommodations, restaurants and attractions. It's a great place to stay for those who want to enjoy the beach by day and explore the downtown district at night. Just a few miles up the coast are Topsail Beach, a charming beach community that also offers great restaurants and bars, and Surf City, an appropriately named village popular among the hang-10 crowd.
Sunset Over Old Baldy — Photo courtesy of Town of Bald Head Island
Just south of Wilmington, all the way to the South Carolina border, is a stretch of beautiful beach and port communities as well as three islands with their own unique identity. Bald Head Island, located about 20 minutes by ferry off the historic town of Southport, is accessible only by boat. Vehicles are not permitted so visitors bring bicycles or rent golf carts to get around this pristine maritime forest that features guest houses, a lighthouse and several shops and restaurants at the port. Oak Island and Ocean Isle Beach are both reachable by bridge and both are quiet beach towns perfect for a romantic getaway.