Carolina Beach and Carolina Beach State Park, NC

Because North Carolina is a coastal state, one expects to find beaches along its soggy border. And boy does NC have them--a lot of them. In addition to exploring the sands of the Outer Banks, we've visited three beaches near Wilmington this past year. And to our surprise, though close in proximity, each has a distinct culture and pace.

With its pristine beaches and the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital, Topsail Beach, which we've visited three times and have yet to write about, appears more family oriented (though I'm told they've had issues in the past with nude sunbathers. Before I recommend it as a family destination, I'll check on the status of that issue.) Wrightsville Beach has more of an upscale feel.

Carolina Beach, located on the hang-nail of a peninsula just south of Wilmington, is a throwback to the beaches of old. Think Coney Island. A boardwalk--actually a wide sidewalk--runs between two strips of clothing stores, sweets shops, and other beachy-type businesses, to a small amusement park complete with Ferris wheel. From there, you can either cross the real boardwalk to a shady pavilion to catch the breeze (my choice!) or head to the sand and waves.

Note: Included at the boardwalk are at least two prominently located bars. A dichotomy in light of the nearby kiddie rides, but we've yet to visit Carolina Beach in the evening to see if a bit of Myrtle Beach's pollen has taken root in this state. During the day, the place is great, so feel free to do your own research! And I suggest you start on a Sunday- or Thursday night.

Each Thursday, head to the beach, and when the sun packs up and heads home, finish out the day with a colorful explosion of fireworks. And on Sundays, movies are shown at nearby Carolina Beach Lake. For a schedule, which includes Night in the Museum II, Ironman, and Madagascar II, click HERE.

I see Goonies is playing on August 16th. Hmm, guess where I'll be that evening.

Also spotted at Carolina Beach: a marina with two large ships just waiting to take passengers on a day or dinner cruise, and several fishing boats resting after early morning charters. You have no idea how long I had to wait while my husband collected brochures from each of those slips.

Hikers, nature- and shade-lovers, take heart. Just northwest of the boardwalk sits Carolina Beach State Park. In addition to hiking trails, one can find pitcher plants, among other coastal species, and several species of birds. We couldn't tackle the trails on this visit, since it happened to coincide with the hottest day of the year, but we plan to return.

For more information on Carolina Beach, including times for the Film & Fireworks show, go to

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