Carolina Beach is a fantastic place to visit year-round. There are so many things to do in Carolina Beach it’s quite easy to fill up every day of your vacation, plus the city of Wilmington is nearby!
Going to college in Wilmington and having family in Carolina Beach, we try to make our way back to the North Carolina coast every year. When we do, here are the fantastic Carolina Beach things we like to do.
Where is Carolina Beach?
Carolina Beach is a small town in southeast North Carolina. It’s part of the greater Wilmington Metro area, but despite what many think, Carolina Beach is separate from Wilmington. The separation point begins when visitors cross onto the “island” via Snows Cut Bridge.
Carolina Beach is an island in between the Cape Fear River on the west and the Atlantic Ocean on the east. Carolina Beach is a popular place to visit, especially in the summer when Americans from all over the country come.
The area of Fort Fisher, which is just past Carolina Beach played a significant role in the Civil War. When Fort Fisher kept North Carolina’s port of Wilmington open to blockade-runners supplying necessary goods to Confederate armies.
Fun Things to do in Carolina Beach, NC!
So you’re wondering what to do in Carolina Beach, NC? For many who come to the coastal town, they have one thing on their mind – fishing. There are many ways you can go fishing in the Carolina Beach area. However, before you start, make sure you have a fishing license to do so legally.
There are two exceptions to a fishing license: if you’re fishing from a pier that charges a fee to fish or on a charter fishing boat (both carry special commercial licenses that cover you). Here are some of the best ways to go fishing at Carolina Beach:
- Surf Fishing from the beach.
- Shore fish in Snow’s Cut and from Carolina Beach State Park.
- Deep Sea fish with a charter boat from Carolina Beach or Wrightsville Beach.
- Cast a line off of Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, or Johnny Mercer Pier.
- Take your own boat of course!
Disc Golf in Carolina Beach
Disc Golf is one of the great Carolina Beach activities to enjoy! The Wilmington area has four disc golf courses, and they’re all free to use. All you need is a disc which you can pick up for $10 at several shops around the area.
You can find them at Outdoor Provisions, surf shops (CB surf), Dicks Sporting Goods, or you could offer a cheap set off Amazon.
Here are four disc golf courses around Carolina Beach and Wilmington:
- Good Hops Brewing, Carolina Beach: This is the most straightforward course with all of the holes at par 3. It’s also on the breweries property so you can legally pick up a craft beer inside and play while drinking. AWESOME!
- Joe Eakes Park, Kure Beach: This is my favorite course because it’s a full 18 holes and has a few challenging holes. What makes it the best for me is it’s all in a coastal forest with sand fairways. The weather is reliable with plenty of water close by, but it also gets windy! Heading here is easily one of the best things to do in Kure Beach.
- Arrowhead Park: 18 hole par three disc golf course. There are plenty of hills that make for fun elevation changes and it’s in a beautiful little park.
- North Regional Park, Castle Hayne: This course is on the PDGA, and it’s the best course in the area. It has 18 holes and many challenging par 4 and 5 holes. It’s prone to mud when there is fresh rain, but it’s terrific on a chilly day.
Kayak Around Zeke’s Island
One of Cameron’s favorite things to do in Carolina Beach is to kayak around Zeke’s Island. Zeke’s Island is an NC Coastal Reserve only accessible by shallow water boats.
Once there you will be able to enjoy the peace and quiet of the coastal marshlands. It’s a great opportunity to see all the biodiversity of Wilmington.Bird species such as black-bellied plovers, short-billed dowitchers, dunlin, white ibis, and great blue herons are spotted here.
There is a boat ramp at Federal Point – adjacent to the Zeke’s Island site to launch from, making entering the water exceptionally easy.
I would recommend taking a cooler and some chairs for relaxation once there. However, I wouldn’t recommend crossing the old civil war wall that leads out to the island. Cameron once got caught out there during high tide, and it wasn’t a good day – his sister hopped away with 26 stitches in her knee from oyster shells.
Visit the Fort Fisher Aquarium
The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is a place where kids and adults alike can visit and learn about marine life. It’s one of our favorite things to do in Carolina Beach.
Unlike some of the mega aquariums around the United States, the Fort Fisher aquarium is a real research center and not a cash cow. The N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher is a member of the 230 accredited members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
They have a number of exhibits and shows open every day of the year, so no matter what day you visit you’ll be sure to have a good time. It’s here that you can also meet the rare albino alligator named Luna and a rescued bald eagle named Maverick. They also have an awesome butterfly garden in the Spring and Summer. This is one of the best Carolina Beach attractions.
Have a Night Out at the Beach Bars!
One of the best things to do in Carolina Beach is head to the beach bars. While there are beach bars at both Carolina Beach and Kure Beach, my absolute favorite place to enjoy the beach nightlife is at Carolina Beach. During the summer a vivacious crowd can be found at the numerous bars around the island.
The beach bars at Carolina Beach feel much more “beachy” to me than at Wrightsville, where the college crowd hangs out. Kure Beach is also lovely, but it is much quieter than Carolina. We’re Carolina Beach regulars, so here are our favorite bars in Carolina Beach.
- Fat Pelican: This doesn’t only make our list of favorite bars in Wilmington, but the world. It’s eclectic, packed with character, and just crusty enough to make it the perfect dive bar. We love the crowd as there is no age limit here (21+ mind you) and you’ll find every walk of life.
- Crush & Grind: We love the atmosphere here as its all about craft beer and wine in a modern atmosphere. The owner also makes some fantastic coffee – try out the cold brew!
- Tiki Bar & Grill: On a beautiful day it’s impossible to beat sitting on the remains of a pier and enjoying a cold drink. The only negative for us is the price with $5 beer cans and $12 cocktails (We’re not in NYC!).
- Sea Witch: Live music on the weekends and awesome tiki bar feel. They have a large open courtyard and often draw a crowd in the summer.
- The Last Resort: This little bar sits right on Carolina Beach Ave, and you can’t miss it!
- Nollies Taco Joint: There probably isn’t a better bar food than tacos.
Hunt for a Venus Flytrap at Carolina Beach State Park
Heading here is one of the best things to do in Carolina Beach. Carolina Beach State Park is one of my favorite places in Carolina Beach to watch the sunset every day. We spent a month here in 2018 and 2021 and spent almost every evening in the park. Besides sunsets, it also provides a good platform to shore fish from and launch your boat into the Cape Fear River.
Besides that, we like to come here and enjoy a hike through the woods beneath the fantastic trees. The area is great for trail running as there are literally tons of sandy trails to enjoy. Sugarloaf Dune is also a point of interest here that is worth checking out as it gets you fantastic views over the Cape Fear River.
Oh yea and Carolina Beach is also home to the Venus flytrap! That’s right; it is home to one of the most famous carnivorous plants globally and one of the only places you can find it in the wild. If you’re lucky and you are looking you might be able to spot one from the trail, but please don’t tromp through precious vegetation to see one and stick to the trails. Heading to this park is easily one of the best things to do in North Carolina!
Learn to Surf
The North Carolina coast has prime surfing conditions. It draws a huge surf crowd and is a fantastic place to actually learn to surf. You can either rent your own surfboard and head out on your own or get a lesson which I highly recommend.
The ocean here is no joke and can get quite dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing or aren’t comfortable in the water. Tony Silvagni has rentals, lessons, and even surf camps.
Walk Along the Carolina Beach Boardwalk
If you are looking for a fun thing to do in Carolina Beach for the whole family, head to the Carolina Beach Boardwalk. There’s something for everyone here. Whether you want to cruise the boardwalk and take a stroll or enjoy the rides in the summer, one thing is for certain – the Carolina Beach walk is where the activities are. It’s even been named one of the best boardwalks in America.
It used to be a little rundown, but the whole area has seen an awesome revitalization in recent years. There are some new bars and restaurants to enjoy right on the boardwalk that look out to the sea.
Walk the Kure Beach Pier
Kure Beach is just a 10 minute drive past Carolina Beach and if you’re visiting Carolina Beach you need to make the fun drive down Fort Fisher Blvd and enjoy Kure Beach for the day. I often find it quieter than Carolina Beach in general.
The Kure Pier is fun to walk day and night. At almost all times you’ll find plenty of people fishing off the pier. It’s one of the best places to go pier fishing. If you don’t have your own rod and fishing gear set up, you can easily rent one at the indoor facilities before you walk out on the pier. This year fishermen are having great luck catching Spanish mackerel, bluefish and whiting from the pier.
Fort Fisher State Historic Site and Museum
Carolina Beach and the Wilmington area have lots of history and played important parts throughout many wars. The largest land-sea battle of the Civil War was held at Fort Fisher.
Now you can see the site of this historic battle at the Fort Fisher State Museum near Kure Beach. This is one of the best things to do in Carolina Beach for families.
Catch a Baseball Game
An unlikely Carolina Beach attraction for sure. While the Carolinas have no Major League Baseball team, there is still a collegiate summer baseball league here. The Wilmington Sharks play at Legion Stadium during the summer; it’s only a 20 minute or so drive from Carolina Beach and makes for a great evening because. Thirsty Thursdays are the best time to watch. $1 draft beers – no joke.
Take a Boat to Masonboro Island
One of my favorite things to do in Carolina Beach is go to Masonboro Island. Masonboro Island is state-protected land, and the entire island is undeveloped; it’s one of those Carolina Beach attractions you can’t miss. It’s a lovely area and one of the last places you can truly experience an untouched coast.
Believe it or not, but the mouth of the Cape Fear River and Wilmington is one of the most biodiverse spots in the continental United States – and highest on the East Coast!
Most people won’t venture out to Masonboro Island simply because you have to have a boat, kayak, or canoe to reach the island. If you bring a boat you’ll have to time the tides right to ensure you don’t get run aground.
Eat a Britts Donut
Everyone and I mean everyone who lives in Wilmington, raves about Britt’s Donuts in Carolina Beach. Now I’ve never really been much of a donut fanatic, but I can confirm that Britt’s Donuts are delicious.
They’ve perfected the glazed donut, and besides coffee and milk, it is the only thing they sell. Come in the summertime, and you’ll likely be waiting in line to try one. Don’t expect to pay with a credit card here if you feel like mixing it up; head to Wake N’ Bake donuts for some amazing original creations. Eating a donut here is one of the best things to do in Carolina Beach.
Play Beach Volleyball at The Pirate House
At the Lazy Pirate Island Sports Grille, you can enjoy a pickup game of beach volleyball in between beer and snacks. They have multiple court setups that are the perfect thing to do in Carolina Beach on a sunny day. If you’re in Carolina Beach for longer you can always join one of their leagues, but they also have free play and pick up games!
Pedal Pub Tour
You’ve likely heard of a Pedal Pub tour. A beer tour you can go on with your friends while you pedal around a city. Well, in Carolina Beach, they take these tours to a whole other level and get beer lovers out on the water with a Sea Legs Pedal Tour.
You pedal at your own pace while drinking, chatting, and taking in the views of Carolina Beach. Trips last 90 minutes and are captained. If you can time your visit for a Thursday night, there is a fun Fireworks Cruise that lasts 2 hours. Tours start at $36 per person, and you can bring your own booze!
Rent a Beach Cruiser
There is just something iconic about riding a comfortable beach cruiser on the beach. A fun thing to do in Carolina Beach for the day is rent a bike and cruise around the island. There’s also a great bike path on Old Dow Road, which will connect you from Carolina Beach State Park to the Carolina Beach Boardwalk.
If you want to rent a bike at Carolina Beach check out Pleasure Island Rentals. They are reasonably priced, starting at $15 per day. It’s important to note these bikes are not for the sand. For that, you will need a fat bike.
Day Trip to Southport
Southport is a charming small town in Southeastern North Carolina located right where the Cape Fear River meets the Atlantic. This seaside town was once deemed “America’s Happiest Seaside Town” and is full of cute restaurants and boutique shopping opportunities.
It’s also where plenty of movies have been filmed when they are trying to depict that “small-town southern life” (think I Know What You Did Last Summer and A Walk to Remember). Make sure to stop at Provision Company for lunch as they serve up some of the best seafood in the area!
It’s a fun spot to head when you are looking for something a little different out of your beach vacation. You can drive here, but the best way to access Southport is via the ferry from Fort Fisher. Check NCDOT for ferry schedules and ticket prices.
Slurp Down Fresh Oysters
Shuckin’ Shack is an oyster institution that must be visited while in Carolina Beach. It’s right on the main strip, and you can’t miss it as there is usually a line of people out the door in the summer!
Beach Yoga with Salty Dog Yoga
Don’t think that just because you’re on vacation you have to give up things like yoga. Salty Dog Yoga is right in Carolina Beach and offers daily classes at their studio. That’s not the best part, though!
Almost every day, they head to the beach for beach yoga and even host some amazing workshops and retreats at the beach. You’ll have to check their schedule for times that work for you.
Have a Beer at Good Hops Brewery
One of the best things to do in Carolina Beach is head to Good Hops. One of the best ways to spend a nice Spring, Summer, or Autumn day with family is at Good Hops Brewery. Good Hops is a neighborhood craft brewery right in Carolina Beach.
They have indoor and outdoor seating, plenty of craft brews, AND, as mentioned before, a small disc golf course. They are dog-friendly and provide the perfect setting for a cold one with people you love.
Enjoy the Beach!
Obviously, one of the best things to do in Carolina Beach is to enjoy the beach! There are miles and miles of coastline just waiting to be explored. My favorite time to head to the beach is in September, after Labor Day when the crowds die down but the water is still warm.
Please always pick up after yourself while at the beach. Every morning the locals go out and pick up all the trash left by tourists. It’s very heartbreaking to see people disregard someone’s home and the environment. Also – remember that cigarette butts are one of the most harmful things to the coast. They don’t disintegrate. Read more about how to be a sustainable traveler.
(If you’re in Kure Beach, the best thing to do in Kure Beach is also head to the beach!)
The Best Things to do in Carolina Beach Map
Where To Stay in Carolina Beach?
Best Restaurants In Carolina Beach
- Freddies: Okay, Freddies is actually in Kure Beach but it is my favorite place to eat in the whole area. It’s a small and intimate setting so resercations are highly recommended as it stays busy trhougout the year with both locals and tourists. They are well known for their delicious pork chops.
- Hang Ten: If you are after some easy/budget friendly bar food head to Hang Ten. This is one of the best places to eat in Carolina Beach. Try their famous Shrimp Burger!
- Michael’s Seafood Restaurant: There’s a line here every ngiht in the summer, but that’s because you’ll find the best seafood on the island right here.
- Wake N Bake: Another donut institution on Carolina Beahc. Wake N Bake has a plethora of donut flacors and actually pretty decent coffee too! The earlier in the morning you get here the better as once they are out of flavors that is finished for the day.
How To Get To Carolina Beach, North Carolina
If you are flying to North Carolina, you will be pleased to know that Wilmington has its own airport/ The Wilmington International Airport (ILM) is a small airport near Wrightsboro that services multiple flights a day.
Most flights from around the country are connected via Charlotte Douglas, but there are some from Atlanta and Dallas.
ILM is probably the easiest airport to navigate through as it is small and quiet. If you can get a flight here, then do it. Often it doesn’t cost much more than flying into Charlotte or Raleigh.
If you are driving to North Carolina, you’ll likely find yourself on Interstate 40, which starts (or ends) in Wilmington. Carolina Beach is about 2.5 hours away from Raleigh, 3.5 hours from Charleston, 4 hours from Charlotte, and 1.5 hours to Myrtle Beach.
Transportation in Carolina Beach, NC
There is not much in terms of public transport in the Wilmington area, as with the rest of the United States. The best way to get around Wilmington as a whole is with your own rental car. Rental cars can easily be picked up at ILM. If you have never rented a car before make sure to check out our rental car tips to save time and money.
That being said once you are on Carolina Beach the area is pretty accessible by bike, walking, or golf kart. If you are staying somewhere central like the Courtyard, you’ll be able to have prime access to the beach, the bars, and all the restaurants. However if you want to venture to Kure Beach or Fort Fisher a car will do you good unless you want to bike the road or have an awesome golf cart rental.
Carolina Beach, NC Weather
Wondering what the Carolina Beach weather will be like? You might expect me to say that the best time to visit Carolina Beach is during the summer months, but this is actually my least favorite time to be here. The summer months between Memorial Day and Labor Day are by far the busiest in Wilmington, but that doesn’t make them the best. During these months the temperatures are often over 90°F with high humidity.
In my opinion, the best time to visit Wilmington is during the shoulder season when it’s sunny and warm enough to enjoy the beach, but not humid and hot enough that all you want to do is sit in front of the air conditioner.
Those months are late April, May, September, and October. Traveling during the shoulder months will also be cheaper than traveling during the high season and will have a much more local feel.
If you can come during any of those shoulder months and still wondering when the Wilmington weather might be best, then bet on September and October. The temperatures will be super comfortable, and the ocean will be much warmer than in the springtime. The only downside to planning a trip during September? Hurricane season, which is always a bit of a threat to the Carolina coast. A hurricane is expected to hit Coastal North Carolina every 3-4 years. The last major hurricane was Hurricane Florence in 2018.