Families know about the Outer Banks. They know about Myrtle Beach and Virginia Beach too. Not everyone knows about the beaches just outside of Wilmington, NC though. This is probably a good thing as far as crowds are concerned. Each of these three beach towns have a vibe all their own, whether you are looking for quiet, away from it all charm, a few fun amenities, or want to hob nob with North Carolina royalty and celebrities who have bought up the multimillion dollar houses in the area.
Wrightsville Beach is closest to Wilmington, NC and definitely the most populated. You will see larger hotels, loads of rental properties and more houses worth over a million dollars than you could ever fathom being in a small beach town in North Carolina. One thing to remember is that Wilmington is one of the largest movie making cities in the country, just behind LA and NYC. Dawson's Creek was filmed here, as well as Sleepy Hollow (TV series), Tammy, 28 Days, A Walk to Remember and The Crow (interiors only on that one). Wrightsville Beach is also where the old money of North Carolina bought up property to enjoy their summer holidays. There are boat tours, loads of waterfront restaurants, and plenty of shopping to keep even the most die-hard fashionista happy when dragged to the beach with her family. The beach is just as beautiful as the other beaches along the coast, but you will definitely get more crowds, especially on the weekends.
Down the road from Wrightsville Beach you will find Carolina Beach. It isn't surprising to find people living out here who work in Wilmington. You will find more locals, fewer hotels, and a lot of rentals in the area. There is also lots of great food being whipped up by local restaurants using local ingredients, some surprisingly good surf schools to learn from, and enough quiet to get the beach to yourself in the wee hours of the morning. They even have their own coffee shop that roasts its own beans! The newly refurbished boardwalk, a historical landmark in the area, brings more showers and a few porch swings to the two-block long wooden boardwalk with shops behind it. One of the most famous shops is Britt's Donuts, which no one in the area or who has ever been to Carolina Beach will ever stop talking about. They do close in the winter, so make sure you check their hours before you get your hopes up.
If you want to get off the beach, you can head over to Carolina Beach State Park to catch a glimpse of the Venus Fly Trap in the wild. This is a rare opportunity to see this plant growing in the wild and they are very protective of these little plants. Grab a park guide if you don't want to miss your chance to see them. The plant is much smaller than you think.
Farther down the road from Carolina Beach you will find Kure Beach. If you want to get away from it all this is where you need to stay. You won't see any high-rise hotels here. In fact, it is hard to find a hotel at all. There are plenty of beach house rentals in a multitude of colors though. On rainy days kids will love going down to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. This conservation-focused aquarium has touch pools, regular dive talks in the main tank, and just enough to entertain the kids in the morning. There is a play space outside that is perfect for running off some steam and grabbing a snack during your stay.
Where are your favorite little-known beaches? (We wont tell!)
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