If you’re wondering what to do in Sunset Beach, we have a few suggestions. Although this southern-most island of the North Carolina coastline is also the smallest (only three miles long), it offers a wide variety of activities and some interesting off the beaten path places to explore. It also makes a great day trip from Myrtle Beach.
Like the other Brunswick Islands, the beach here faces south, which means you can see both the rising and the setting sun while looking out to sea. You can enjoy beachcombing and other outdoor activities on both the island and the mainland since the town of Sunset Beach encompasses both.
When you go to the island of Sunset Beach, you have a choice of activities. You can pick a spot on the beach and plant yourself, read a book, take a nap, or enjoy a beach walk. If you head east and keep walking, you’ll end up on Bird Island, a 1300-acre North Carolina Coastal Reserve and bird sanctuary. It was once a separate island, but the inlet has long since filled in leaving one long sandy beach. The South Carolina state line crosses the island near the end, so you’ll make an interstate journey if you walk to the end and back.
About mid-way down the beach you’ll spot a mailbox tucked into the dune line. No, the birds don’t get deliveries, this is the Kindred Spirit Mailbox where you can read the thoughts of other beach travelers and write your own message for the ages. The mailbox is served by secret volunteers who keep it filled with pens and notebooks and who have preserved these treasured words for over 30 years.
Sunset Beach is also part of the North Carolina Birding Trail and offers five designated spots in the island for birders to observe a variety of species, including the purple sandpiper which can only be found on Bird Island.
For anglers, there's no better fishing than Sunset Beach, but even if you aren’t into fishing you’ll want to explore the Sunset Beach Pier. For $1.00 you can walk above the waves for 900 feet to the end, look way back at the beach, or just gaze at the waters of the Atlantic. When the weather warms up (usually late March through fall), you can take a self-guided history tour and learn about local residents and the storms that have affected the area, and see the spot where the Vesta, a Civil War era blockade runner, rests beneath the sands. The pier grill offers breakfast and lunch and all-day pizza and nachos, and the gift shop has tee-shirts, hats and beach items. The pier is also a great place to watch that fabled sunset.
Next to the pier is a handicap accessible ramp that crosses the dunes and to the beach. There is also a covered pavilion that offers some shade and benches to sit on.
Back on the mainland, at the Old Sunset Beach Bridge Museum, you can walk across the original bridge wooden bridge and sit at the bridge tender’s desk, sound the siren, and watch a video of one of the last bridge tenders talking about life on the bridge. Opening hours are Wednesday and Saturday.
The Sunset Beach Town Park at the foot of the new bridge on Sunset Boulevard, North offers a peaceful place on the creek to relax, walk your dog, or just hang out. There are five acres of live oaks, paved parking, a fishing pier, benches and swings, restroom facilities, and a brick walking path. The Sunset Beach Veterans’ Memorial is also here, and from May to October, the Waterfront Market offers fresh produces and artisan crafts on Thursdays from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM.
Near the park on the waterway is the public boat ramp that was once the starting point for the old pontoon bridge. A few yards to the east is a public fishing pier that reaches out into the Intracoastal Waterway. Be aware that you do need a North Carolina fishing license to fish, which you can get at most bait and tackle shops.
From the Town Park, travel north on Sunset Boulevard to the Ingram Planetarium for some out of this world fun. The planetarium, the only one on the Grand Strand, offers shows under the 40-foot dome on Fridays and Saturdays.
You can also get on the water with a kayak nature tour. Check out Summer Tide Adventure Tours and Lighthouse Watersports for tours of the marsh and Bird Island.
Local restaurants offer a variety of fun eating, from seafood to Italian to Mexican cuisine. One the island, check out Sunset Slushies Italian Ices and Candy Island for some sweet treats.
On the mainland, Twin Lakes by the Sea next to the Town Park offers fresh seafood, pasta, and steaks in a casual dinner atmosphere.
At the Village at Sunset Beach between Sea Trail and Highway 904 you’ll find Backstreet Café featuring fresh local seafood, La Cucina Italian Grill, Las Palmeras Mexican Restaurant, and Fibber McGees, an Irish pub near Ingram Planetarium.
Check out Bagels and Sandwedges at 925 Seaside Road SW in Sunset Commons for quick breakfast and lunch options.
There are lots of small family-owned businesses. On the island are Sunset Beach Trading Company, the Island Market, and Sunset Place Beachwear.
The Village at Sunset Beach has the Blue Heron Gallery for gifts, J. Huffman women’s wear, and the Pelican Bookstore, yes, a real independent bookstore where you find national best sellers and books by local authors, and where the employees have actually read the books.
Over in Village Center you’ll find Shop Girl for fun accessories, Ocean Presence gifts and more, and the Olive Press, imported, infused, and specialty olive oils for cooking and eating.
After several decades, the Sunset Beach golf scene is still vibrant, with three courses at Sea Trail Resort, where you can test your skills on the Reese Jones, Willard Byrd, or Dan Maples courses. You can also find championship golf at nearby Sandpiper Bay Golf Club and Oyster Bay Golf Links.
Getting to Sunset Beach is easy. Follow U. S. Highway 17 north from anywhere on the Grand Strand into North Carolina. At North Carolina Highway 904, turn right and go south to Sunset Boulevard and you’re there.
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