Overview and History

Carolina Beach

 

Carolina Beach, just 30 minutes from downtown Wilmington by car, is on a narrow slip of land between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean. Separated from the mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway (Snow's Cut), the island is called Pleasure Island. Established in 1857, when Joseph Winner planned the streets and lots for the 50 acres of beach property he had purchased, the island's only access then was by water. In 1866 a steamship began carrying vacationers down the Cape Fear River to Snow's Cut and a small railroad took them the rest of the way into Carolina Beach. In later years, a high-rise bridge was built over Snow's Cut connecting the island with the mainland.

A drive through Carolina Beach reveals a pleasant 1950s-style beach town of modest cottages, increasingly more upscale single-family dwellings and an abundance of three- and four-story condominiums. The town also has a movie complex, grocery stores, drugstores, beach shops and boutiques, numerous restaurants, both upscale and simple, hardware and variety stores, an ABC store and even bait shops. The beachfront motels, including several vintage motor courts, offer a welcome blast from the past. If you were a kid during the '50s and your parents took you on vacation to the beach, this was the kind of place you probably remember. Some of the best beachfront lodging values are offered here. The nostalgia is free.

Carolina Beach underwent a dramatic transformation during the 1990s. Once considered a wild party spot, it is currently evolving into a heavily residential community dedicated to creating a wholesome family environment. Recent years have seen the cultivation of improved services, pleasant landscaping, attention to zoning and tangible citizen action to make Carolina Beach an attractive visitor destination.

The main business district is centered around an active yacht basin containing a large number of charter fishing boats and large excursion boats. The nearby Boardwalk area is undergoing revitalization and rebuilding in conjunction with the oceanfront Courtyard by Marriott Resort Hotel and several mixed-use condo/retail projects.

Anglers love Carolina Beach. The surf promises wonderful bounty all year long, and there are plenty of tackle shops and piers as well as the opportunity to experience deep-sea fishing from the sterns of a number of charter boats berthed in the municipal yacht basin. Several annual fishing tournaments are based on the abundance of king mackerel, and you can pay a nominal entry fee for a chance to reap as much as $50,000 for the winning fish.

Carolina Beach also offers one of the few state parks in the region. For a modest fee, you can camp and enjoy the wonders of coastal nature. The Venus's flytrap, a carnivorous plant that eats insects, is abundant in the park. This plant, a relic from pre-human existence, grows naturally within a 60-mile radius of Wilmington.

Away from the seasonal bustle at the center of the city, Carolina Beach is a quiet community of about 5,000 year-round residents. That number jumps three to five times at the peak of the vacation season. The community is growing in appeal to both locals from Wilmington and newcomers from other areas for two big reasons: It isn't crowded yet and it's affordable. Many a Wilmingtonian has given Wrightsville Beach over to visitors for the summer in the past few years and turned to Carolina Beach for a quiet spot on the sand.

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Kure Beach

To the south, Carolina Beach merges into the town of Kure Beach (pronounced "CURE-ee"). Development here began in the 1870s when Hans Andersen Kure moved from Denmark and bought large tracts of land in the middle of the island. Apparently, things moved slowly because Kure Beach wasn't incorporated until 1947.

Today Kure Beach is overwhelmingly residential, dotted with modest cottages, new upscale houses and a number of beach motels. Several condominium buildings cluster together in one area, but there are few tall buildings. In fact, new structures may not be built taller than 35 feet. At the center of town, a popular fishing pier extends 712 feet out over the ocean and there are several restaurants. A charming boardwalk with benches extends north along the beach and is lighted at night.

Once upon a time, some of the best real estate deals could be found in Kure Beach, but today this sleepy beach town is fast growing in popularity and price, although it's still possible to find a bargain. What you won't find is a lot of amusement park-style entertainment here, although there is an arcade, and there is very little in the way of shopping.

A permanent population of about 1,500 residents makes for a very close community, but Kure Beach's small size should not lead visitors to think they're out in the boondocks. The town maintains its own municipal services and fire protection, and a local planner describes the community as being "like any big city, only smaller."

Kure Beach will remain small because it is completely surrounded. The Fort Fisher State Recreation Area and Historic Site are on the south side, and the U.S. Government owns the west side as part of a buffer zone for the military terminal at Sunny Point across the Cape Fear River. Carolina Beach borders the town on the north, and, of course, the Atlantic Ocean forms the east border.

Fort Fisher

To the south of Kure Beach are the Fort Fisher State Historic Site and Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. The Historic Site, amidst twisted live oaks on the west side of U.S. Highway 421, was the largest of the Confederacy's earthwork fortifications during the Civil War. It fell to Union forces in 1865, cutting off the last of the Confederate supply lines from the sea. During World War II, as an arm of Camp Davis to the north, it became an important training site for anti-aircraft and coastal artillery defenses and a large airstrip was located there. An extensive visitors center offers an historical perspective and guided tours. The Recreation Area on the east side of U.S. 421 has 4 miles of wide, unspoiled beach, a visitors' center with a bath house, a snack bar and restrooms.

Also located here is the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. The state's largest aquarium, it offers many dramatic exhibits and features a huge shark tank and a half-acre freshwater conservatory. See our Attractions section for more things to do.

At the southern end of U.S. 421 is the Fort Fisher-Southport Ferry, possibly the best $5 cruise in the world. More information about the ferry is in our Getting Here, Getting Around section. Across the road is a public boat launch area that is popular for windsurfing, Parasailing, kiteboarding, kayaking and fishing. All in all, these southernmost beaches of New Hanover County from Carolina Beach to the southern tip of Pleasure Island offer 7.5 miles of enjoyable vacationing and relaxed beach living.

 
 
 
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