Seaside adventure: Carolina Beach has plenty of options for a quick getaway

By Lorry Williams | Photography by Michael Spencer

From a seaside boardwalk to a state park to award-winning dining and, of course, relaxing beaches, visitors to Carolina Beach will find plenty to keep them busy whether it’s for a day or an extended visit.


Carolina Beach is about two hours from Fayetteville. If you’re planning to spend the day but wonder about parking and cleaning off after a day of sun and sand, no worries. There are paid parking lots around town, as well as areas along the boardwalk to shower off before heading home or grabbing a bite to eat.


If your time is limited, here are a few places to consider:


The boardwalk, named one of America’s Best by Food & Wine magazine, has shops, restaurants, an arcade and carnival rides during the tourist season. The smell of fresh waffle cones hangs in the air from one of the food shops. But the one place you definitely want to visit is Britts Donut Shop, which has been serving up warm, glazed pastries since 1939. Look for the blue and white awning over the entrance, but the line outside will tell you you’re close. Make sure you keep some bills or coins on hand if you plan on getting one of these tasty treats. It’s cash only. And at $1 for a single doughnut, it’s worth it. Stand outside as you wait for your order and watch the employees put the dough in the fryer, pull the golden doughnuts out and glaze them.


Not far from the boardwalk is the marina, where you can book a sunset cruise or charter a fishing boat. Or just take a stroll. You might see a pelican or two, and don’t hesitate to talk with the local fishing boat owners to find out the latest on happenings around town or places to visit.
As you stroll through town, you can’t help but notice the murals that have been painted on the sides of several buildings. The Carolina Beach Mural Project was started in 2020, and so far nine murals have been completed. Each one is distinct. To find out about the artists and the murals — as well as get a map — go to carolinabeachmurals.org.


“All of the artists that we commissioned are from North Carolina or live in North Carolina,’’ says Maureen Lewis, founder and president of the mural project. “We are supporting local artists.’’


When it comes to dining, there are plenty of options to tempt your tastebuds – from mahi tacos to Calabash-style seafood to savory burgers. Several restaurants and bars also have live entertainment.


If you’re looking for a special place to grab a cold drink and pass the time, The Fat Pelican is worth a stop. The bar boasts a walk-in cooler with 450 types of beer as well as wine and non-alcoholic beverages. Look for the octopus on the roof as you drive along Lake Park Boulevard. Patrons walk into the cooler, pick a drink and then find a space inside or outdoors. The outdoor seating includes part of an old fishing boat. The bar, where the motto is “Beer is love,’’ was named one of the “diviest dive bars’’ in America in 2015 by an online lifestyles magazine.


In the area
You may choose to spend your time exploring Carolina Beach State Park. The park has several trails, varying in length from 0.25 mile to 3 miles. Check out the Flytrap Trail, which takes you through pocosin wetlands and wiregrass and savanna communities. As the name implies, Venus flytraps can be spotted along parts of the trail. The park also has camping, boating and fishing. Find more information at ncparks.gov.


At Freeman Park, on the north end of Carolina Beach, you can access the beach with your four-wheel-drive vehicle. It’s a popular spot for surfing, kayaking, swimming and camping. Day passes are required if you plan to access the beach with your 4X4 vehicle. Passes can be purchased at pay stations at the park.


Fort Fisher State Recreation Area is also nearby. There, you can find the Fort Fisher Aquarium and a Civil War-era historic site. The park is also a popular place for surf fishing. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are allowed seasonally with permits. A few things to keep in mind if you plan to visit the aquarium: advance tickets are required and reservations can fill up quickly.
Find more information at ncaquariums.com/fort-fisher.