Though arguably best known for its beaches, Carolina Beach is brimming with fantastic attractions for visitors who know where to look. From classic boardwalks, to freshwater lakes, to remote island reserves, there’s a lot to discover both on and off the local beaches.
Make the most out of your next Carolina Beach getaway, and ensure that these top 10 attractions are on your upcoming vacation agenda. Enticing for visitors of all ages and interests, these destinations will have your family eager to plan your next escape to this iconic Cape Fear beach town.
Recognized as one of the top 10 boardwalks in the county by the prestigious Food & Wine Magazine, the Carolina Beach Boardwalk is a favorite destination for beach-goers who are in the mood for a little fun off the sand. Located on the edge of Carolina Beach Avenue and Harper Avenue, the boardwalk is always teeming with action in the summer months, thanks to a wide variety of activities, games, foods, and attractions. Sample an assortment of homemade fudge and donuts, cool off with a little ice cream, or enjoy a bird’s eye view of the ocean-bordering town from the top of the on-site Ferris wheel. Home to countless events throughout the year, from Christmas by the Sea in the winter, to summertime live music performances, the boardwalk is always the place to be for endless fun in Carolina Beach.
Anglers and sightseers alike will love paying a visit to the Carolina Beach Fishing Pier, which is well known as one of the best spots in the region for great fishing, and great views. Extending 700’ ft. into the Atlantic Ocean and featuring a classic wooden structure with plenty of benches and seating, the pier is the perfect spot to drop a line or to catch incredible vistas of Carolina Beach and the neighboring Freeman Park. The pier also features a number of amenities for anglers and visitors, including an on-site bait and tackle shop, a small restaurant, and a full ABC permit for Happy Hour or evening cocktails. Always impressive, a stroll down the pier will result in some of the most postcard worthy photos for any Carolina Beach vacationer.
The impressive 761 acre Carolina Beach State Park is easily one of the most popular attractions along the Cape Fear coastline, and for good reason. This sprawling park features a wealth of activities for visitors, which includes an on-site campground and marina, miles of hiking trails that veer past a wide array of habitats as and some unusual wildlife (like the famed local Venus flytraps), and ample fishing grounds and beaches where it’s easy to enjoy the scene. From renting a kayak or pontoon boat to take a few hours’ cruise along the Cape Fear River, to staying for a week at a nicely secluded campsite, the Carolina Beach State Park is truly another world where virtually every outdoor interest can be enjoyed with gusto.
Tucked away on the northern region of Carolina Beach, Freeman Park is a sunny destination that’s famed as one of the few stretches of shoreline that’s wide open to both 4WD vehicles and rustic campers. Visitors can enjoy exceptional fishing, shelling, and surfing along the coastline which extends all the way to the borders of the Carolina Beach Inlet, and can even camp overnight to enjoy a wholly rugged and scenic beach environment. A pass is required to drive on the beach, but once a visitor has a day or annual pass in hand, they can effortlessly load up all their gear and hit the sand. Completely undeveloped and nicely devoid of the big resorts and hotels that are dotted in the heart of town, this oceanfront park perfectly combines convenience with natural beauty.
Carolina Beach Lake Park is a charming 11 acre lake that’s located just a few blocks away from the Atlantic Ocean, and which was once named in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “Closest Freshwater Lake to Saltwater.” A popular spot for families, the Carolina Beach Lake Park features seasonal pedal boat and kayak rentals for visitors who want to enjoy an easy-going cruise along the water, as well as multiple paths and gazebos / sitting areas for sightseers who want to pause and admire the view. The park is also home to an ever-changing series of events for park-goers, including summertime movie nights and small festivals. As a result, it’s a fun destination for any water lover who wants to discover something natural, new, and refreshing in the Carolina Beach Scene.
Only accessible by boat and situated just north of Carolina Beach, Mansonboro Island is the largest site within the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve, and comprises of more than 5,600 acres of beautiful beaches, marshlands, tidal flats, and maritime forest. As a result of this natural setting, birdwatchers and nature fans will be in heaven strolling through along the 8.4 mile long shoreline, and will find abundant wildlife as well as flora and fauna around every scenic turn. A number of Carolina Beach-based boat tour companies offer cruises to the deserted island for visitors, where a wealth of activities can be enjoyed along the sunny and uncrowded shorelines. Especially popular in local shelling circles, a visit to Mansonboro Island Reserve is a natural exploration that beach fans of all ages will adore.
Located just south of the hopping communities of Carolina Beach and Kure Beach, Fort Fisher State Recreation Area is a breath of fresh air for visitors who adore a little history and a natural shoreline. The 288 acre park features six miles of undeveloped beaches where exceptional fishing, swimming, surfing, and shelling can be effortlessly enjoyed, all summer long. In addition, visitors can take some time to discover the remnants of the historic Fort Fisher, which was one of the last Confederate strongholds during the Civil War. An extensive Visitors’ Center tells the story of the fort’s rise and fall, and remnants of the earthen fort remains can still be explored via a light and scenic stroll around the site. Naturally stunning from the ocean shoreline to the historic Fort Fisher monument, this destination is a must see attraction where the local history and beautiful beaches are effortlessly combined.
Zeke’s Island Reserve
Birdwatchers and nature fans will want to venture south just past Fort Fisher to discover the stunning Zeke’s Island Reserve – a beautiful island parcel that is completely undeveloped, and which is well-known as a popular and thriving local shorebird habitat. The site comprises of 1,635 natural acres which includes a collection of islands, (namely Zeke’s Island, North Island, and No Name Island), and features prime examples of undisturbed marshes, tidal flats, shrub thickets, maritime forest, and ocean beaches. Adventurous explorers can enjoy abundant wildlife and birdwatching via a kayak expedition, while everyday sightseers can stroll the shoreline in search of excellent shells. Accessible by foot or via a boat or kayak / canoe, the sheer isolation of Zeke’s Island Reserve makes it a breath of fresh air for any visitor who wants to dive into Carolina Beach’s wild side.
Visitors of all ages will love taking a trip to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher – one of three state aquariums which are scattered along the coastline of North Carolina. The Fort Fisher aquarium is an impressive site inside and out, with an exterior maritime garden, a collection of interior galleries that outline the various ecosystems in the state, and a towering two-story open ocean tank where giant sharks, rays, and eels glide through the water. Visitors will want to make sure they reserve some time to get their hands on the local sea life at the touch tank, as well as meet the aquarium’s most famous resident, a rare albino alligator. With daily diver feeds and educational programs, and a host of seasonal events throughout the year including Valentine’s Day celebrations and Halloween “Trick or Treat Under the Sea” events, the aquarium is always a fascinating attraction for any vacationer who wants to learn more about what lies just beneath the coastal surface.
Connecting the Intracoastal Waterway / sound and inlet waters with the wide Cape Fear River, Snow’s Cut is one of the most popular spots for mariners in Carolina Beach. Lined with area marinas and featuring one of the largest boat launch areas in the town, (which is open and free to the public), the site is an ideal launching point for a wealth of adventures. Take the boat or kayak out for a cruise along the popular local waterways, or just stop by in the evening to watch the local vessels return home after a full day of fishing. Regardless of whether you want to watch the action or join in the fun, a visit to Snow’s Cut is an introduction to the inherent maritime lifestyle of Carolina Beach.
Naturally, visitors can easily find a world of things to do outside the beach and renowned attractions of Carolina Beach. The town is filled with tempting restaurants, cool coastal shops, after-hours destinations, and annual events throughout the year that heighten a visitor’s enjoyment.
But paying a visit to the top attractions in the area is a must for any visitor who wants to truly discover what Carolina Beach is all about. From isolated islands and shaded nature trails that cut through maritime forests, to boardwalks and fishing hot spots that are brimming with activity, the small town of Carolina Beach is certainly more than meets the eye.
Spend a vacation soaking up the unique and wholly diverse beach scene, and discover first-hand why visitors of all interests regularly fall in love with this coastal Cape Fear destination.