“I know that smell. It must be Britt’s Day!”
I woke up to find my husband Jock waving a box of Britt’s donuts under my nose. “Britt’s Day” is an unofficial holiday in Southeastern North Carolina: that day in March when Britt’s Donut Shop in Carolina Beach opens for the season.
Located on the Carolina Beach Boardwalk, which was named one of America’s Most Awesome Boardwalks by Budget Travel magazine, family-owned Britt’s Donut Shop has been serving cold milk and fresh, hot, glazed donuts since 1939. The vintage boardwalk is like stepping into the beach nostalgia of the surf songs of the 60s with its souvenir shops, arcade games and old-fashioned cut-outs where you can have your picture taken as a surfer, swimmer girl, swashbuckling pirate, or with the historic Carolina Crescent moon.
At our house, Britt’s Day serves as a reminder to get out and enjoy the beautiful spring weather in the maritime forest of Carolina Beach.
So, after breakfast, we loaded up the dogs and headed to Carolina Beach State Park. The park has great camping facilities, and an easy online reservation system. For our friends who prefer less rustic accommodations, Carolina Beach has plenty of vacation rentals, from cozy beachside cottages for families or large groups to oceanfront condos with balconies.
“We need to buy a kayak,” Jock says every time we go out to Carolina Beach State Park. But until we get around to that, we love taking tours with Kayak Carolina or Paddle NC, both of which offer eco and sunset kayak tours and stand-up paddleboarding tours and lessons at the park. We particularly love the sunset paddle, as there is no better way to end the day than immersed in the serene peacefulness of being on the water while watching the wildlife.
Carolina Beach State Park is the only place where Venus flytraps and other carnivorous plants grow naturally. Rangers offer carnivorous plant hikes March through August, and the Flytrap Trail is wheelchair accessible. Biological Wonderland Hikes are offered weekly, year-round, and are a wonderful way to learn about the unique eco-system in the park.
With nearly nine miles of hiking trails, including two that are wheelchair accessible, and a quarter-mile long kids trail, there is plenty to explore. Paddle NC also offers bike rentals at the park, including beach cruisers, adult tricycles and tandem bikes, which are all great ways to get out and explore on the one-mile bike trail.
There is also no shortage of great food at Carolina Beach – from those homemade donuts to freshly caught seafood. Ocean Grill & Tiki Bar regularly lures us down for margaritas and great live music during the spring, summer and fall. In addition to some of the best fish tacos on the planet, they serve fried artichoke hearts as an appetizer. Kids have plenty to choose from too, including burgers, wings, and a bologna and pimento cheese sandwich.
When we are not eating donuts for breakfast, we like to dine at Southerly Biscuit & Pie. The Hot n’ Hot Catfish Biscuit can probably cure many minor ailments. Jock is a fan of the Country Ham and Cheddar, and I frequently use their oatmeal cream pies as minor bribes.
For lunch, we love to eat on the Topside Deck at Carolina Smokehouse. Ask for their house-made vinegar based sauce – you will be glad you did.
Food is culture, and there is no better way to learn about Carolina Beach’s culture than with a Tasting History Tour. If you like eating as much as we do, there are several tour options for you. On the Signature Tour and Eat Around the World Tour, you will experience meals by five chefs at each of their locations while learning about the history of the island and how the cuisine developed. There is even a History in a Glass tour for those over 21, which includes beer, wine and spirits, served up with a shot of history.
For an extraordinary meal, we love Surf House Oyster Bar & Surf Camp. Everything on the menu is wonderful, but the roasted oysters call to me in my sleep. Fork N Cork, a much beloved downtown Wilmington restaurant featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” opened a new location in Carolina Beach in late 2019. With an ever-changing menu, and options like Texas poutine – French fries with cheese curds topped with brown gravy with a Texas twist– and sticky toffee French Toast, it will not be long before we are regulars.
Carolina Beach is not just feast for the body but also a feast for the soul. Being on the water is a special kind of soothing. Carolina Beach Pontoon Rental — located at Carolina Beach State Park Marina — offers pontoon rentals and cruises along the Intracoastal Waterway. Whether you opt to steer the boat yourself or let one of their captains lead the way, you’ll have everything you need for a day of relaxation on the water.
Pleasure Island Rentals offers kayak tours of the Carolina Beach Basin, the heart of Carolina Beach, offering scenic views of the Intracoastal Waterway, beach houses and the marina. We love to start our day with a sunrise paddle with Kayak Carolina to experience the beauty of the waterways as the world and the wildlife are just waking up.
Kids looking for an adrenaline rush will be thrilled to find Mike Chappell Park which, in addition to tennis, volleyball and basketball courts, also features an 8,000-square-foot skate park complete with ramps, rails and bowls.
However you choose to experience Carolina Beach, it will fill you up with good-for-the-body and good-for-the-soul memories that will keep you coming back again and again.Plan your spring adventure to Carolina Beach.