Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on November 25, 2023.
Even before you factor in all of the things to do in Carolina Beach, North Carolina this is easily one of the state’s best beaches! Whether you’re here to relax on the beach, enjoy the town’s incredible restaurants, or explore the outdoors, we think you’ve picked a wonderful coastal town.
There are plenty of Carolina Beach activities for families, solo travelers, and all other types of beachgoers. There are even some free things to do in Carolina Beach.
Our guide shares all of the above and more of our favorite things to do in Carolina Beach for summer and throughout the year! In fact, we cover quite a bit beyond stuff to do in Carolina Beach, including when to visit, and nearby places to go.
Here’s how we’ve organized this guide:
- Location Info (and Fun Facts)
- The Best Time to Visit
- Where to Stay in Carolina Beach
- Annual Events
- Year-Round Things to Do in Carolina Beach
- Nearby Places to Go
- Where to Eat in Carolina Beach
- More Carolina Beach Travel Guides
Whether you’re a new resident, a frequent visitor, or a local, we’re leaving no detail behind. If you live in the Carolina Beach area and are wondering, “What are the best things to do near me?” we think this NC travel guide will help you out!
Where is Carolina Beach?
Before we dig into what to do in Carolina Beach, here are a few quick and fun facts:
- Carolina Beach is a town located along the North Carolina coast in New Hanover County, across the Cape Fear River (and Intracoastal Waterway) from Wilmington.
- More specifically, Carolina Beach sits on the northern end of Pleasure Island, with Kure Beach and Fort Fisher to the south.
- If looking more closely at a map, Carolina Beach is in the southeastern corner of North Carolina and sits between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean.
- Before European settlers arrived here, much of the southern NC coast was occupied by Tuscarora Indians. The Tuscarora War (which started near New Bern) between 1711 to 1715 led to Native Americans being driven from the area.
- Wilmington grew into a busy port city while Carolina Beach remained relatively unchanged until after the Civil War.
- In 1880, Captain John Harper began operating a ferry to and from Carolina Beach. The town and its surroundings continued to develop, with its first hotel built in 1887 and great interest bringing visitors to experience the buzz.
- Sadly, Jim Crow prevented African-Americans from enjoying much of fun. Black men were required to wear shirts over their swimsuits when passing through and could only use Carolina Beach on Mondays. Any other time, they could only access the ocean from nearby Seabreeze.
- Hurricane Hazel’s destruction in 1954 and the rise of desegregation led to the decline of Seabreeze.
- Carolina Beach’s popularity has ebbed and flowed over the year, still enjoying a rising interest following a 90s era business boom. It’s one of our favorite day trips from Durham and many of our neighbors from Raleigh and elsewhere agree!
Read More: Important Facts About North Carolina
When is the Best Time to Visit Carolina Beach?
There’s no doubt that summer is the most popular time to visit Carolina Beach, but is it the best time? We argue yes…and no.
There are a couple of factors at play, which we’ll explain right here.
While we’re bragging about great weather throughout much of the year, things could change.
Read More: Winter Getaways in North Carolina
Not only is the weather beautiful during much of the off-season, but you won’t run into minimum night requirements with accommodations.
During the summer it is not uncommon for rental companies to require a 7 or 3-night minimum, but during the offseason, they are much more flexible! Book a place to stay in Carolina Beach for the weekend and enjoy fewer crowds, warm days, and salty air!
The only trade-off is that Britt’s Donuts may not yet be open for the season, but there are still plenty of other wonderful Carolina Beach restaurants that are open!
Where to Stay in Carolina Beach
Speaking of minimum stays, there are a lot of great places in Carolina Beach. A nice variety of rentals and hotels awaiting.
If you like hotels, there’s a Hampton Inn and a Courtyard by Marriott near the Boardwalk. We love rentals and Airbnbs, too, so during a recent stay, we used Palm Air Realty to book our place within walking distance of the water!
Annual Events in Carolina Beach
Now that we’ve covered where to stay, here are some important annual events to keep on your calendar. They are among the best things to do in Carolina Beach and its surroundings!
- January: Battle of Fort Fisher Anniversary Event
- April: Kure Beach Street Festival
- May: Carolina Beach Street Arts Festival
- Summer: From Memorial Day to Labor Day, you can enjoy live music and weekly fireworks every Thursday night.
- June: Carolina Beach Music Festival
Year-Round Things to Do in Carolina Beach
Now that you’ve got an idea of when to visit, here is what to do in Carolina Beach, no matter when you’re here!
Carolina Beach Boardwalk
The boardwalk is usually first on our list of things to do in Carolina Beach, and we’re not alone! The brightly colored buildings are filled with coffee shops, ice cream joints, and tiki bars inviting you in.
There are several swings along the wooden boardwalk that are often occupied with romantic couples holding hands looking out at the ocean waves.
Carolina Beach Arcade
103 Carolina Beach Ave N, Carolina Beach
If you are looking to beat the heat or get competitive, make sure to visit the Carolina Beach Arcade. Located on the boardwalk, this family-friendly arcade has loads of games for all ages!
The best part is that you get rewarded for having fun, as long as you’ve earned enough tickets. No pressure!
100 N Lake Park Blvd, Carolina Beach
Got an hour and want to cool off from the sand? iEscape Rooms is another of many family-friendly things to do in Carolina Beach!
Work together to find clues, solve puzzles, and escape before the time runs out!
You can choose from multiple experiences including Deadpool, Tomb Raider, and Cell Block. This place is recommended for children over the age of 8 and adults of all skill levels.
If your one mission is “the beach,” Carolina Beach is the perfect place for you.
As one of the most popular beaches in North Carolina, you’ll see lines of umbrellas and Shibumi shades for miles each summer. Depending on where you stay, the beach will either be right outside your door or within a short walk.
There are also lifeguard stations all up and down the popular stretches of sand.
There’s a lot of space to enjoy, and quite a few access points up and down the beach. Not all accesses have the same amenities and some are simply public accesses.
Here’s a breakdown of Carolina Beach’s public beach accesses (ordered north to south) and what’s offered at each one:
- Periwinkle Ln. (Beach Access Only)
- Clam Shell Ln. (Beach Access Only)
- Sand Dollar Ln. (Beach Access Only)
- Starfish Ln. (Beach Access Only)
- Scotch Bonnet (Parking)
- Seahorse Ln. (ADA Accessible, Parking)
- Sandpiper Ln. (Restrooms and Showers)
- Oystershell Ln. (ADA Accessible, Parking)
- Sailfish Ln. (ADA Accessible)
- Sea Gull Ln. (ADA Accessible, Parking)
- Scallop Ln. (ADA Accessible, Parking)
- Harper Ave. (Parking)
- Carolina Beach Boardwalk (Parking)
- Hamlet Ave. (Parking, Restrooms, and Showers)
- Atlanta Ave. (ADA Accessible, Parking)
- Lake Dr. (ADA Accessible, Parking)
- Spartanburg Ave. (Parking)
- Tennessee Ave. (ADA Accessible, Parking)
- North Carolina Ave. (Parking)
- South Carolina Ave. (Beach Access Only)
- Texas Ave. (Parking)
- Alabama Ave. (Parking, Restrooms, and Showers)
If you are looking for a quieter spot of sand, the north end of Carolina Beach (Periwinkle) is a little less crowded. There is a rock wall here and less sand, but when the tide is low it is quieter.
One thing we love about Carolina Beach is that there are plenty of beach accesses with public restrooms. If you’ve also traveled with small children, you know how important it is to have reliable access to bathrooms!
Accessibility at Carolina Beach
Beach-accessible mats are located between Pavilion Ave South and Cape Fear Blvd at the Boardwalk. The accesses listed below have accessible ramps:
- Alabama Ave
- Atlantic Ave
- Clam Shell Ln
- Hamlet Ave
- Lake Park Blvd
- Oyster Shell Lane
- Pelican Ln
- Sailfish Ln
- Sandpiper Ln
- Scallop Ln
- Scotch Bonnet Ln
- Seagull Ln
- Seahorse Ln
- Starfish Ln
- Tennessee Ave
Beach wheelchairs are free of charge through the Carolina Beach Parks and Recreation Department. Carolina Beach wheelchairs are at the Recreation Center, Kure Beach Fire Department, and Fort Fisher. Visitors can reserve a beach wheelchair up to one week in advance. Contact Parks and Rec at (910) 458-2977 for more information.
Read More: 50+ Day Trips from Raleigh
Freeman Park Recreation Area
On the northern end of Pleasure Island is the Freeman Park Recreation Area. This is a popular spot for swimming, crabbing, and camping.
To reach Freeman Recreation Area, you’ll need a 4-wheel drive vehicle and a permit.
Island Book Shop
100 N Lake Park Blvd, Carolina Beach
The seasonally open Island Book Shop has your next beach read waiting on one of their shelves. If not, they can get it for you, which is something one of those big-box stores won’t do.
Support local, y’all!
The 11-acre Lake Park is surrounded by a walking path, gazebos, restrooms, playground equipment, and a picnic shelter. During the summer, you’ll find the weekly Farmers Market here on Saturdays and Free Outdoor Movies on Sunday evenings.
Visitors can also rent pedal boats from Wheel Fun Rentals during the summer season! But make sure to take a stroll around Lake Park during sunset, as the colors are just amazing!
Also, did you know that Lake Park is in the Guinness Book of World Records? It’s true! It is considered the closest freshwater lake to saltwater!
You can travel to Carolina Beach and do whatever you want, including surf lessons. The Tony Silvagni Surf School (107 Charlotte Avenue) will teach you the fundamentals throughout the year.
The school also offers lessons on paddle boarding and beach rentals that include chairs, boards, kayaks, and bicycles!
Taking a kayak tour is one of our favorite things to do in Carolina Beach! Angela and her seasonal staff at Kayak Carolina are great guides, ready to show you around the Cape Fear River and nearby waterways.
During one tour, she took us to Zeke’s Island, a protected Estuarine Reserve full of life on and around its shores.
Kayak Carolina offers a variety of boat rentals including SUPs, double kayaks, and singles. She also arranges popular sunrise paddles and provides a wealth of area knowledge during your tour!
Along with Kayak Carolina, here are a couple of other kayak tours (and rentals) available from Carolina Beach:
- Paddle NC (Carolina Beach and also, Topsail Island and Hammocks Beach State Park)
- Pleasure Island Rentals (Carolina Beach)
Bike Trails and Greenways
The Island Greenway is a network of trails connected by parks and streets throughout Carolina Beach. Mike Chappell Park (501 Dow Road South) and Carolina Beach State Park are two popular starting points, but you can start from just about anywhere, as this map details.
If you brought your boat, then you’re in the right place. Here are some boat launches and marinas in Carolina Beach:
- Snows Cut Boat Ramp (220 Annie Drive)
- Carolina Beach Boatyard and Marina (923 Basin Rd)
- Carolina Beach State Park Boat Ramp (B Road)
- Federal Point Yacht Club (910 Basin Rd)
- Joyner Marina (401 Marina St)
- Waterfronte Villas and Yacht Club (100 Spencer-Farlow Dr)
If you didn’t bring a boat and still want to get out on the water, you can do so via a boat tour. You’ll learn various fun facts about the area’s history, its ecology, and more along the scenic way.
Here are a couple of Carolina Beach boat tour companies:
Snagging a prized catch is one of the most fulfilling things to do in Carolina Beach. You can fish from a few places, including the beach, oceanfront piers, the Cape Fear River (inshore), and offshore (Gulf Stream).
These distinct fishing locations mean you can catch a diverse array of fish. Here’s what awaits, based on where you choose to cast:
- Cape Fear River Fishing (Inshore): Catfish, cobia, drum (including red drum, black drum, and puppy drum), flounder, sheapshead, Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, and striped bass.
- Surf Fishing (Oceanfront): Blowfish, bluefish, cobia, croaker, drum, mackerel (King and Spanish), mullet, perch, pompano, and sea bass.
- Offshore / Gulf Stream fishing: Albacore, amberjack, mahi, marlin (Blue and white), red snapper, sailfish, tuna (blackfin and yellowfin), and wahoo.
Regardless of where you choose to fish, all anglers need a saltwater fishing license.
Below is a list of fishing charters, along with any additional departure points beyond Carolina Beach:
- Carolina Beach Fishing Charters (Carolina Beach)
- Carolina Beach Headboats (Carolina Beach)
- Fish Witch Charters (Carolina Beach)
- Gone Coastal Charters (Carolina Beach, Wrightsville Beach, and More)
- Musicman Charters (Carolina Beach)
- No Excuses Fishing Charters (Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, and More)
- Seagate Charters (Carolina Beach, Wrightsville Beach, and Wilmington)
- Second Sport Charters (Carolina Beach)
- Southern Sportfishing (Carolina Beach)
- Wet-N-Wild Sportfishing (Carolina Beach)
Carolina Beach State Park
1010 State Park Rd, Carolina Beach
Carolina Beach State Park is a unique North Carolina State Park and one of the best things to do in Carolina Beach! You won’t find sweeping mountain vistas, but water lovers will rejoice with the plethora of boat access.
If you’re interested in hiking at the park we are partial to the Snow Cut Trail and Sugarloaf Trail. There are nearly 9 miles of trails that are all flat and easy to walk.
Read More: 100+ Hiking Trails in North Carolina
Where to Eat in Carolina Beach
Along with all of the Carolina Beach attractions, the town is also filled with amazing places to eat! Here are a few of them:
- Britt’s Donuts (11 Carolina Beach Ave N): If you go to Carolina Beach and don’t get a donut at Britt’s Donuts you’ve committed a crime. But we’ll give you a pass if you happen to go during the offseason because Britt’s is only open seasonally. Opening in 1939, Britt’s is known for its homemade glazed donuts. As you stand in line (which you most certainly will) you can watch as the donuts go down the conveyor belt and are made. Britt’s cash only, so make sure you grab some dough before getting in line!
- Island Burgers and Bites (111 Carl Winner Dr, Carolina Beach): Trust me when I say that you need to stop at this gas station for a burger before hitting the beach. Island Burgers and Bites is located inside of a gas station and maybe one of the best burgers in North Carolina. Made to order, these burgers hit the spot! There’s a little patio on the back of the parking lot to sit and enjoy your burger.
Michael’s Seafood (1206 N Lake Park Blvd A): If you are looking for an excellent sit-down restaurant in Carolina Beach, we recommend Michael’s Seafood. Serving all steamed and fresh seafood, Michael’s is well known for its incredible seafood chowder. We’ve dined at Michael’s several times and every time it hits the spot!
Here are a few more places to eat:
- Kate’s Pancake House (102 Lake Park Blvd S)
- Nauti-Dog (5 Cape Fear Blvd)
- Salt Fish Restaurant and Tiki Bar (718 N Lake Park Blvd)
- The Southerly (1206 N Lake Park Blvd unit d)
Ready for These Fun Things to Do in Carolina Beach?
Carolina Beach might be one of the most popular beach towns in North Carolina and you’ll see why after visiting. There are so many wonderful things to do in Carolina Beach that don’t require getting in the water.
We’re hooked on this place, whether the sun is out or not—preferably out.
If you’re familiar with Carolina Beach, we’d love to know what you like to do here, even if it’s just sitting in front of the waves. Feel free to let us know here in the comments or by email.
Oh, and don’t forget to share your adventures with us in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!
Things to Do in Carolina Beach’s Surroundings
Before sharing your thoughts and adventures, we think you should also know about these fun things to do in Carolina Beach’s surroundings.
Read More: Amazing Things to Do in Wilmington
5 minutes away from Carolina Beach
Kure Beach is located on the southern end of Pleasure Island and is considered more of a local’s beach. Unless you’re following signs, you probably won’t notice the point where Carolina Beach ends and Kure Beach starts.
There is a difference, though, as Kure Beach has a more relaxed vibe and cute, colorful homes along the water.
While at Kure Beach, make sure to check out the Kure Beach Fishing Pier which is one of the oldest on the Atlantic Coast. It is free to sightsee on the pier but if you plan on fishing there is a $5 fee.
Below Kure Beach, there are a few of North Carolina’s best attractions that await.
- Fort Fisher State Historic Site (10 minutes away from Carolina Beach): History lovers definitely need to visit Fort Fisher State Historic Site while at Carolina Beach. This fort served as protection for Wilmington during the Civil War until the Union captured it in 1865. You can walk a loop trail around the original fortress and soak up the shade under the oak trees.
- Fort Fisher State Recreation Area (11 minutes away from Carolina Beach): Fort Fisher State Recreation Area is an interesting state parks site that borders the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River. The visitor center is home to a small exhibit area and restrooms. Beyond that, you can access the beach, the mile-long Basin Trail, or the seasonally open road that requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle and a pass.
- North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher (15 minutes away from Carolina Beach): Anytime we visit Carolina Beach, we make sure to drive down to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Providing hands-on experiences for children of all ages, the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher features both saltwater and freshwater exhibits.
Read More: Amazing Children’s Museums in North Carolina
20 minutes away from Carolina Beach
You’ll pass through Wilmington on your way to Carolina Beach, so if you have time, stop by our Port City. We love walking around downtown, grabbing some food at a local restaurant on or near the water, and topping things off with a brewery visit.
30 minutes away from Carolina Beach
Wrightsville Beach is one of the world’s best surf towns and known for higher-end beach houses and accommodations. Here, you’ll find boutiques, fresh seafood restaurants, and water sports.
Of course, there are also five miles of wide, sandy beaches and beautiful views.
Just like in Carolina Beach, fishing is a popular thing to do in Wrightsville Beach. You can cast from Johnnie Mercer’s Pier, which is the only concrete fishing pier in North Carolina.
Also, don’t forget to visit the Wrightsville Beach Mailbox. It’s on the beach in front of Shell Island Resort and contains letters, notes, and words of encouragement left by strangers.
It’s fitting that this would be the last of our favorite things to do in Carolina Beach’s surroundings.
Whether you’re in Carolina Beach or elsewhere nearby, please take a boat to Masonboro Island Reserve. This isolated and protected beach is absolutely wonderful and will really make you feel
More than 5,600 acres of unspoiled beaches, salt marshes, and tidal flats await here. The shelling and birdwatching at Masonboro are extraordinary alone, but you might even get to see dolphins if you’re lucky!
A local boat company like Wrightsville Scenic Beach Tours will take you out there.