By Cameron Seagle
If you were to ask me my favorite time of year at Carolina Beach, N.C., it would have to be fall. After Labor Day, the summer crowds thin out and you’re left with calm beaches, warm water and the best weather. That’s why every year I plan an autumn trip to my family home in Carolina Beach. I may not have grown up on the island, but I have come to love it and consider it home.
The start of our last trip to Carolina Beach began with a cappuccino at Crush & Grind before my wife Natasha and I took a walk along the Carolina Beach Boardwalk and found a quiet bench to sit, finish our coffees and take in the salt air.
Later, we picked up some donuts from Wake N Bake Donuts, known for their crazy flavors like Carolina Sand—my personal favorite—which is maple-glazed and dipped in cinnamon and sugar. Yum! They are always a reliable hit with my father and the quickest way to put him in a good mood or convince him to take us out on the boat.
There isn’t a season I don’t enjoy spending time outside, and one of my favorite places, come fall is the coastal waterways. Natasha and I love to stay active, so in search of a new activity on the island, we decided to explore the waterways on stand-up paddleboards. After a stop at Pleasure Island Rentals, we took off along the harbor in search of some marine life. With gorgeous fall weather and warm water lingering on from summer, it was the perfect day to be on the water. We even got lucky and spotted a pod of dolphins and some ospreys hunting for their dinner.
After working up an appetite, we headed to a local haunt for some awesome surf grub. The Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar has been named one of the “Best Seafood Dives in America” by Coastal Living Magazine and it’s not hard to see why. At “The Shack,” it’s all about the fresh seafood—with oysters taking center stage. Have them raw, steamed or grilled, with a cold brew to wash them down. Or try their take on Surf n’ Turf – oysters, shrimp or crab legs, with their delicious, signature wings as the turf. There’s a lot going on under that bright blue awning.
With my sister in town, we met up at our favorite place to spend an afternoon: Good Hops Brewing is a local craft brewery with a disc golf course, so we can enjoy a beer while we play a round. There are always seasonal beers on rotation, but we chose some classics—a Donna Golden Ale and Stankee Yankee Hazy IPA—before hitting the course. My sister didn’t have a disc, but luckily the brewery always has a few spares on hand.
Not far from Good Hops is Carolina Beach State Park, which is the perfect spot to soak up some nature. After disc golf, we headed over there to enjoy the nice network of trails and to hike to the highest point on the island, Sugarloaf Dune.
Also, there is no better spot to watch the sunset. The park sits right along the Cape Fear River with views to the west. With that in mind, we finished our hike up at the marina. As the sun hit the horizon, it painted the sky with an orange glow. The setting sun reflected off the river, creating a mirror image of the sky on the water.
Also worth mentioning: Carolina Beach State Park is one of the only places anywhere in the world you can find Venus flytraps growing natively. It’s worth making a trip back in May when the rare and fascinating plants are in bloom.
Our favorite place for fresh seafood and a refreshing craft cocktail is the Surf House Oyster Bar & Surf Camp. We met up with the rest of the family there for some of their inventive dishes and drinks in a relaxed atmosphere. I’m a sucker for a classic Southern dish so I couldn’t resist the shrimp and grits. It’s an amazing dish featuring fresh local shrimp, topped with smoky Benton’s bacon and a bourbon coconut sauce. After our delicious meal, we headed to the Seawitch Cafe & Tiki Bar to see a local band and finish off the night.
After winning my father over with donuts the day before, it was time to hit the water. Fall on the island brings prime fishing as fat fish make their way south for the winter. You can catch everything from red drum to Spanish mackerel and flounder. We took off with the hope of catching some mackerel while trolling just off shore. With the sun on your face and a cool breeze, it’s tough to have a more pleasant day reeling in fish. If you don’t have your own boat, take a fishing charter or fish from the Carolina Beach Fishing Pier. After a day on the water, we headed home to get ready for my favorite event of all.
A Tasting History Tour offers all the flavors of the island, with a side of history. With their Signature Tour, we get to sample eats from five different restaurants and hear some stories from the island’s rich history. There is even a History in a Glass Tour, which allows you to sample beer, wine, and spirits—served with a shot of history. But we saved that one for another day.
Later, we headed to our favorite bar in the world to catch up with some old friends. The Fat Pelican is an institution on the island and has been voted one of the “Best Dive Bars In America.” Inside the bar, you head into a giant walk-in cooler to pick out your beer before heading into the eclectic backyard, which could double as a sign graveyard for old Carolina Beach restaurants and shops. We sat down in an old boat to talk while we waited to play the next round of corn hole.
After a great weekend of food, fishing and fun, Natasha headed off to Salty Dog Yoga for a Rise & Shine class on the beach, and I went for a run on the new 1.2-mile Island Greenway before we had to leave. It was an excellent weekend, and I know it won’t be long before we return to Carolina Beach again.
Cameron and Natasha are travel bloggers based in the Canadian Rockies. You can follow them at theworldpursuit.com or on Instagram @theworldpursuit