Obviously one of the biggest and best attractions of Carolina Beach is, naturally, the beach, and visitors will find ample ways to access and enjoy this sunny stretch of Cape Fear shoreline.
Known for its wide coastline, shallow ocean bottom with traditionally gentle waves, and abundant activities including surfing, shelling, and fishing, Carolina Beach is a true playground for visitors of all ages who can’t get enough of the sand, salt and sun.
Before your next vacation, read up on all there is to know about the Carolina Beach landscape so your crew will be well prepared to enjoy the shore. From lifeguarded public access areas to isolated stretches of shoreline, virtually any beach taste - and adventure - can be accommodated in this sunny North Carolina vacation destination.
Beach Accesses and Parking in Carolina Beach
There are a total of 44 designated public beach access points in Carolina Beach, which includes both larger access sites with ample parking, as well as smaller boardwalks or beach paths that are close to local resorts and hotels. While virtually any hotel or vacation rental is a shell’s throw away from the ocean, beach-goers who are coming to the community for a beach day-trip and / or are staying off the island will find quite a few options for reaching the beach as well.
Public Beach Accesses can be found at the Following Carolina Beach locations:
- Texas Ave. (Parking available nearby, or in the immediate vicinity)
- South Carolina Ave.
- North Carolina Ave. (Parking available nearby, or in the immediate vicinity)
- Spartanburg Ave. (Parking available nearby, or in the immediate vicinity)
- Carolina Beach Ave. S. (Parking available nearby, or in the immediate vicinity)
- Hamlet Ave. (Parking available nearby, or in the immediate vicinity)
- Harper Ave. (Parking available nearby, or in the immediate vicinity)
- Starfish Ln.
- Sand Dollar Ln.
- Clam Shell Ln.
- Periwinkle Ln.
- Sand Fiddler Ln. (Parking available nearby, or in the immediate vicinity)
- Salt Marsh Ln. (Parking available nearby, or in the immediate vicinity)
Public Beach Accesses With Restrooms & Showers can be found at the Following Carolina Beach locations:
- Alabama Ave.
- Hamlet Ave. (Parking available nearby, or in the immediate vicinity)
- Sandpiper Ln.
- Sea Oats Ln. (Parking available nearby, or in the immediate vicinity)
Public Beach Accesses that are ADA Accessible can be found at the following Carolina Beach locations:
- Alabama Ave.
- Tennessee Ave. (Parking available nearby, or in the immediate vicinity)
- Lake Dr. (Parking available nearby, or in the immediate vicinity)
- Atlanta Ave. (Parking available nearby, or in the immediate vicinity)
- Scallop Ln. (Parking available nearby, or in the immediate vicinity)
- Sea Gull Ln. (Parking available nearby, or in the immediate vicinity)
- Sailfish Ln.
- Oystershell Ln. (Parking available nearby, or in the immediate vicinity)
- Sandpiper Ln.
- Seahorse Ln. (Parking available nearby, or in the immediate vicinity)
In addition, Carolina Beach places 20 lifeguard stands throughout a three mile stretch of shoreline in the heart of town. The lifeguard season begins on Memorial Day Weekend and runs through Labor Day Weekend, and lifeguards are on duty at each of these stations Monday through Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., and Friday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:45 p.m.
Rules and Regulations for Carolina Beach
Like every community shoreline, Carolina Beach has a number of rules and regulations to ensure both the safety and enjoyment of all visitors to the shore. Please keep the following rules in mind before planning your beach outing within the town limits of Carolina Beach.
- Alcohol and glass containers are not allowed on the beach.
- Pets are allowed on the beach from November 1st through February 28th provided they are leashed at all times.
- The sand dunes throughout Carolina Beach are protected under State and Federal statute. Please do not walk on the sand dunes, and / or disturb the vegetation on the dunes.
- Driving, overnight camping, and open fires are prohibited along the shoreline within the city limits. (See the aforementioned section on Freeman Park for camping and beach driving info.)
- Visitors may not leave personal items and beach equipment on the public beach between sunset and sunrise. These items will be classified as abandoned property and will be removed and disposed of by the Town of Carolina Beach. Leaving items overnight could also result in a $40 fine.
- A lane of at least 10’ feet should be left open along the dune line in order to accommodate emergency vehicles.
In addition to the aforementioned beach access points, visitors can also head to the acclaimed Freeman Park, which is located on the undeveloped northern stretch of shoreline in Carolina Beach, and which is well known as one of the most popular places for visitors to go swimming, surfing, shelling, fishing, and camping.
The park is a strict litter-free area, and beach-goers will need to take out all trash that they take into the park. 4WD vehicles are also allowed within the park, and camping is allowed as well. There are permits and / or fees for these activities which include the following:
Any person who wants to camp in Freeman Park between Labor Day and the Thursday before Memorial Day (no Summer camping is available) will be required to obtain a campsite reservation permit. Overnight camping is only allowed in designated, reserved camp sites Labor Day through the Thursday before Memorial Day each year. No summer camping is allowed. Reservations are on a first come/first service basis. You must make reservations to camp. Reservations can be made by calling 1-866-330-7275 or online at freemanparkcamping.pmreserve.com
Every 4x4 vehicle entering Freeman Park must have an access pass. These passes are required year round and must be displayed 24 hours a day. Daily Passes are roughly $20 to $40, and are sold at the entrance of Freeman Park through a 24 hour a day pay station. Annual permits are also available - but are not available for purchase at the park entrance. They can, however, be purchased at the following locations:
- Island True Value Tackle & Hardware
801 N Lake Park Blvd. Carolina Beach, NC 28428
- Town of Carolina Beach Parking Office
1708 Canal Drive, Carolina Beach, NC 28428
- Carolina Beach Town Hall - Billing Department
1121 N. Lake Park Blvd. Carolina Beach, NC 28428
Shelling Spots along Carolina Beach
Visitors who appreciate shelling will find plenty of options along the shoreline of Carolina Beach. A wide variety of shells, including whelks, olive shells, coquinas, clams, and scallops, wash ashore regularly and intact, thanks to gentle waves and a wide and relatively flat shoreline.
For the best chances of finding shells, visitors will want to head to where the crowds aren’t, and there are several options to choose from.
Masonboro Island – Located north of Carolina Beach, this island that is only accessible by boat has 8.4 miles of shoreline that is nicely uncrowded. As a result, Mansonboro Island is often referred to as one of the best shelling spots in the area.
For Fisher State Recreation Area – Located south of Carolina Beach and Kure Beach, this site features six miles of undeveloped shoreline and decent shelling in uncrowded regions, and around the “rock wall” near the ocean wash.
Zeke’s Island Reserve – situated just south of Fort Fisher, this isolated and undeveloped site also has great shelling beaches that get less crowded the further south a visitor wanders.
Freeman Park – Best accessed by a 4WD vehicle, and just north of the center of Carolina Beach, visitors will want to go as far north as possible – (close to the inlet) – for the best chance of finding great shelling beaches and few crowds.
Visitors should note that the best times to find shells are in the early morning hours and / or around a low tide, as well as two or three days after a hurricane or storm, or in the off-season when the crowds have dissipated dramatically. Bring along a couple shelling bags and a little luck, and there’s a good chance you’ll return home with a few free coastal souvenirs, courtesy of the Atlantic Ocean.
Surf Fishing in Carolina Beach
Surf Fishing is a very popular activity in Carolina Beach, and visitors will find miles of shoreline that’s wide open for casting a line.
All fishermen who at least 16-years-old will need to acquire a Coastal Recreational Fishing License, also known as a Saltwater Fishing License, before hitting the beach.
This license can be picked up online before a vacation at the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries Website, or can be purchased in person at a number of local tackle shops and sporting goods stores once a visitor has arrived in Carolina Beach. The cost for a fishing license is nominal, and generally runs around $5-$10 for a 10-day time period, which fluctuates based on whether the applicant is a North Carolina resident or an out-of-state visitor.
Anglers will want to use caution when casting along the shore, and will want to avoid popular swimming beaches, (generally lifeguarded beaches), whenever possible. The best times for surf fishing are in the early morning and evening hours when the local species tend to feed, and the number of swimmers and surfers in the ocean waters have dwindled.
Types of fish that can be caught from the shore can vary greatly depending on the season or the angler’s luck, but popular surf fishing species include red drum, Spanish and king mackerel, bluefish, sea mullet, hog fish, cobia, flounder, and shark. For even better odds of landing a great catch, head to the Carolina Beach Fishing Pier, which is located in the heart of town and which extends roughly 700’ ft. into the Atlantic Ocean.
Rips Currents and Other Safety Info
Rip Currents are the biggest risks for ocean swimmers, and can occur throughout the year, even when the weather is calm or clear. In fact, 80% of all ocean rescues are related to rip currents in the state of North Carolina, which means that it’s essential for visitors to know the warning signs and the procedures for safely getting out of a rip current if they get caught.
Warning Signs of a Rip Current
While individual rip currents may vary, swimmers will generally want to look out for the following signs to determine if a rip current is present in the outlying ocean waters
- The water / waves appears to be moving away from the shore instead of towards it
- The water is darker or a different color than the water on either side of it
- A large trench or sand bar is present on either sides of the water
- The water is a tan or muddy color, comparatively, as it is picking up sand from the ocean floor
- Waves are present on each side of the water, but there are no waves in the center channel
What to do if you are stuck in a rip current
If you do get stuck in a rip current, which will be evident by the strong pull away from shore, be sure and stick to the following procedures to make it back to the beach safely.
- DO NOT PANIC. Panicking will deplete your breath and energy, and will make it hard to think quickly.
- DO NOT try to swim back towards shore and / or swim against the current.
- SWIM PARALELL to the beach until you are out of the current. Widths of a rip current can vary, but rarely are they wider than the distance that an average person can swim.
- Once you are out of the current, THEN you can start to head back to the beach.
Tips and Tricks for Enjoying the Carolina Beach Shorelines
- Visitors who love shelling and surf fishing will want to plan an off-season visit (and preferably in the fall.) During this season, the beaches are less crowded, the fishing and shelling conditions are generally better, and rates on hotels and vacation rentals may be cheaper than in the summer months.
- Don’t forget the sunscreen! The sun is at its hottest next to the water, and waterproof sunscreen is a must for ocean swimmers and sunbathers.
- If you are using a public parking area, get there as early as possible, especially on the weekends. On holidays and weekends, the beaches are the place to be for many Wilmington and inland residents.
- Want to learn something new? Sign up for a Surf or Sup lesson. There are a number of camps and instructors in the Carolina Beach region who provide lessons on surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, and other beach-friendly sports.
It’s well known that life in this island town is a day at the beach, and visitors who love salt air and cool ocean waves will feel right at home at this Cape Fear destination. Plan a vacation full of outings to local parks and recreation areas, deserted islands, or your own backyard shoreline, to enjoy Carolina Beach’s coastal lifestyle at its salty and sunny best.