Overview and History

Sunset Beach

The southernmost of the three barrier islands referred to as the South Brunswick Islands, which are man made barrier islands formed when the North Carolina section of the Intracoastal Waterway was constructed between 1930 and 1940, Sunset Beach is only 3 miles long. The Township of Sunset Beach, however, is comprised of several square miles of mainland as well. In 2010, a new high-rise bridge was completed. It replaced the swing bridge that historically connected mainland and island. Despite its size this island has a current year-round population of more than 3,700 residents.

Although the island is residential in character, it is a great choice for a vacation. Some of the best bargains in vacation rentals are here, and the visitor who wants a quiet coastal place will do very well to book a house on this beach (see our Vacation Rentals chapter). The island boasts a white sandy beach and undisturbed sand dunes, a natural habitat and nesting ground for the abundant coastal wildlife, including the endangered loggerhead sea turtle. There is a full-service fishing pier on this island, and the mainland portion of the town offers shopping centers, grocery stores, small boutiques, dining, golf and the Ingram Planetarium (see our Attractions chapter). Due to the population growth in Brunswick County, condos and a mixed-use development are springing up on the mainland, especially around the planetarium.

Sunset Beach also offers a special delight — a walk to Bird Island. Once a separate island accessible only by walking through shallow Mad Inlet at low tide, Bird Island today is connected to Sunset Beach since the inlet has closed naturally. However, it is completely untouched by development as its nearly 1,300 acres of beach, marsh and wetlands were dedicated in 2002 as a North Carolina Coastal Reserve after 10 years of work by the Bird Island Preservation Society to protect it. This designation protects habitat used by several threatened or endangered species, including sea beach amaranth, Kemp’s Ridley and loggerhead sea turtles, piping plover, wood stork and black skimmer. During the summer months Wednesday morning bird walks are conducted by persons affiliated with the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust. There are also frequent informal guided tours, announced by posters attached to street markers on the beach, so it's easy to hook up with locals who are pleased to share their knowledge of Bird island. The environment is purely natural and deeply comforting, where people of the twenty-first century can experience life as it was before the development of the land. A unique feature to be found on the island is a mailbox where "kindred spirits" can leave inspired messages.

Williamson Realty Vacations

Ocean Isle Beach

Ocean Isle Beach is the center island in the string of three known as the South Brunswick Islands, which are man made barrier islands formed when the North Carolina section of the Intracoastal Waterway was constructed between 1930 and 1940. This coastal barrier island was incorporated as the Town of Ocean Isle Beach in 1959. The island is approximately 7 miles long and is home about 600 full-time residents with a seasonal population of 25,000. This beach has the only high-rise hotel on the South Brunswick Islands. It provides a family beach environment with a total resort experience: restaurants, specialty shops, public tennis courts, a fishing pier, access to all watersports, a water slide, miniature golf and a museum (see our Attractions chapter). The American Shore and Beach Preservation Association named Ocean Isle Beach a winner of the 2008 Best Restored Beach Awards. The Ocean Isle Beach Community Center is open March through November. Planned activities for adults are held in the spring and fall with children's activities scheduled during the months of June, July and August.

In the mainland portion of the town you will find an airport (see our Getting Here, Getting Around section) that makes Ocean Isle accessible by air, but don't expect to see commercial jets at this small facility.

At this writing, a 300-seat amphitheater, eight tennis courts, a parking area, restrooms, a picnic shelter and a playground area have been completed on the 5-acre area designed to accommodate the annual Oyster Festival. Plans are also in the works for two high school and four junior soccer fields, two baseball fields with concession stand and a dog park or disc golf course.

The Ocean Isle Beach Land Conservancy, an independent nonprofit group, was formed in 2003 to preserve open space for conservation and public recreation and to educate the public about the importance of conserving coastal land. Old Ferry Landing Park is a project in which this group is involved jointly with the town. Here you will find a gazebo, a walkway, parking, a fishing pier and a kayak/canoe launch site.

Holden Beach

In 1756 Benjamin Holden bought 400 acres of mainland along the Lockwood Folly river as well as the then 100-acre island situated between Lockwood Folly Inlet and Bacon Inlet. He purchased the land by applying for a land patent as was the process at that time. The land was then surveyed by authorization of the Royal Governor, William Tryon, and Benjamin Holden was given 18 months in which to pay the price of 50 shillings per 100 acres. Once this was paid, he was given a permanent grant of the land from the governor. This land was handed down through the Holden family and for generations his family farmed and fished here. In the 1920s they began development of the resort community that thrives today on the enlarged island, which is a manmade barrier island formed by the construction of the Intracoastal Waterway between 1930 and 1940.

A remarkable bridge that connects the mainland to Holden Beach rises 65 feet above the Intracoastal Waterway, providing a stunning view of the ocean and a sweeping entry to the island. The beach and the sea are the central attractions in this town, which prides itself on a serene quality of life. With 9 miles of oceanfront, Holden Beach is the longest and the largest of the three islands in the group known as the South Brunswick Islands. Approximately 930 year-round residents call Holden Beach home, and though the population swells to more than 10,000 during the season, visitors find a host of opportunities for assimilating themselves into this exceedingly quiet community. Boating, surf fishing and hiking the island are very popular activities. There is a fishing pier, and the island is a sea turtle habitat as well.

While there are limited commercial establishments on the island, the causeway leading to the island is lined with specialty stores and shops and a Food Lion grocery store. The Town of Shallotte, just 10 minutes, away has several shopping centers, which include grocery stores and national chain department stores. A little more than 30 minutes away you will find Wilmington and Myrtle Beach, and there are numerous golf courses nearby.

In 2012, Holden Beach was named the Best Family Beach in the US by Stephen P. Letterman, also known as Dr. Beach, according to American Profile magazine. The Town of Holden Beach was listed in the 2007 AAA Beach Vacation Travel Journal as one of the top 30 beaches in the country. It made the list of the 38 Best American Beaches in the July/August 2007 edition of National Geographic Smart Traveler magazine, and has officially received National Healthy Beach status through the National Healthy Beaches Campaign.

Shallotte

The earliest reference to the river and the town of Shallotte dates back to 1734, though records of settlement of the area are dated around 1750. The Town of Shallotte was incorporated on March 6, 1899, and according to some accounts it took its name from a traveler who crossed the river by ferry and referred to it as the Charlotte River. The Charlotte River later became known as the Shallotte River and the town was referred to by the same name. In the early years agriculture, fishing and a river waterfront full of small watercraft used to transport goods to and from the area, were the means by which residents earned a living.

The town of Shallotte now serves as the hub for services for Brunswick County's beach communities. Because of its mainland location and island proximity, Shallotte offers residents and visitors the convenience of larger-town living and services. Here you will find shopping malls with grocery stores and national chain department stores, and a 10-screen movie theater. The Brunswick County Chamber of Commerce is headquartered in Shallotte, as is the office of the Department of Transportation and the North Carolina Welcome Center. With a year-round population of more than 3800, Shallotte is still considered a small town though it has many of the amenities that larger cities provide. Shallotte is centered almost directly between Wilmington and Myrtle Beach, with the commute to either city being roughly 30 to 40 minutes. It is approximately 10 minutes from Holden Beach, Ocean Isle Beach and Sunset Beach.

Calabash

Calabash is a part of a 48,000-acre grant made to Landgrave Thomas Smith in 1691. Prior to 1750, The Boundary House was built as a place of rendezvous for travelers. During the late 1700s, the Altson family owned most of present-day Calabash at Little River Neck. In the late 1800s the area was called Pea Landing because of the growing and shipping of peanuts to Wilmington. Around 1890, Samuel Thomas purchased Hickory Hall Plantation and his descendants live in Calabash to this day. Calabash became known for its seafood restaurants in the late 1940s and, subsequently, as the "Seafood Capital of the World." Calabash was incorporated in 1973.

According to local lore, in the 1930s fishermen brought in their catch and were met by the locals to make their purchases. Calabash quickly became known for its fine quality of fresh shrimp and fish. The fishing crews were fed under the trees, and the aromatic smell of fresh fish cooking in big pots prompted residents to buy any leftover cooked seafood. "Calabash style" seafood was born when Clinton Morse, a local businessman, began serving up tubs of the deep-fried seafood that had been dipped in a light seasoned batter, cooked golden brown and served very hot. These open-air picnics were the beginning of the many original family seafood restaurants that are now run by descendants of the founders. Rumor has it that Jimmy Durante's signature sign-off, "Good-night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are," was aimed at the owner of a particular restaurant here.

Calabash sits on the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway and retains much of its original fishing-village atmosphere. Restaurants abound, and deep-sea fishing boats are docked in town waiting to take you on the adventure of your life. Golf courses are nearby and there are many small boutiques and art shops as well as one very large store full of souvenirs, Christmas decorations and more. Though small, with 2,072 year-round residents, Calabash is abutted on the west by the town of Carolina Shores, a residential community with a shopping center that includes a chain grocery store within its limits and is located on U.S. 17 South. Its location at the North Carolina/South Carolina border makes Calabash only a hop, skip and a jump from Myrtle Beach's shopping and entertainment.

 
 
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