Visiting Wrightsville Beach is as much a daily ritual for me as brewing my extra-strength pot of morning coffee. Whether it’s to catch a few waves before work, run “The Loop” or just dig my toes into the sand, barely a day goes by that I don’t stop by my favorite piece of Carolina coastline.
I’m lucky to live just 10 minutes away, so I usually squeeze in my beach trips before or after work. But in spring, when warm weather arrives, I’ll spend the entire day there, rejuvenating my spirits with a blissful mix of activity and relaxation.
The first shades of pink appear in the sky in front of me as I drive over the drawbridge. I pass Wrightsville Beach Park and notice walkers and joggers already on The Loop, a 2.5-mile path through the center of town. I’m a habitual Loop runner myself, although I have trouble working up a sweat due to my frequent stops to admire and photograph the beautiful marsh views.
I continue driving, passing over a second bridge that spans Banks Channel, and I see a group of standup paddleboarders gliding over the smooth water. In recent years, Wrightsville Beach has gained a reputation as one of the best places in the world to paddleboard. That’s partly due to the beautiful, diverse paddling conditions but also, I believe, to the passion and friendliness of the local paddling community.
I also spot a pack of brightly colored swim caps—triathletes, probably, preparing for the next Wrightsville Beach triathlon or open water swim race. As I turn right, heading toward the island’s south end, I pass even more early morning exercisers: a single-file line of bikers wearing neon jerseys.
There are cars on the road already, too, and I can tell by the surfboards strapped to the roofs that they’re on the same mission as me. There’s a small swell in the ocean, so we’re headed to the island’s south end, where there’s almost always a fun wave to ride.
As I carry my surfboard to the water’s edge, I squint into the brilliant sunrise and notice that Crystal Pier is bustling: a group of Wilmington Yoga Center yogis stretch towards the sun and fishermen cast their lines into the glowing water.
I paddle into the calm, warm water and catch a few waves alongside a friendly group of local surfers and a family taking a surf lesson. Several pelicans cruise by, passing so close to us I can spot the different hues on their enormous bills. If I stay out long enough, I’ll probably see a few dolphins too, but by now all I’m thinking about is breakfast—specifically, grits and a chocolate chip waffle from Causeway Café.
Apparently I’m not the only one, because by the time I rinse off and get to the beach’s iconic breakfast joint, it’s packed with all types: fishermen tucking into sausage biscuits at the bar, bleary-eyed college students gobbling eggs and toast, and vacationers trading bites of fluffy seafood omelets. I sit on the sunny front porch and take advantage of the free coffee while I wait for a table.
After a giant bowl of creamy grits, the air has warmed up and I’m ready for a nap on the sand. I drive to the beach strand’s business district, a three-block stretch of shops and restaurants that morph into beach bars at night, drawing 20- and 30-somethings from inland Wilmington with live music.
There’s even a tiny store—The Workshop—that sells gourmet coffee, pastries and 6-inch shark teeth, treasures that owners Audrey and Chris have collected from scuba diving trips off the coast.
I swing into an open parking space on one of the quiet residential roads, walk to the beach and spread out my towel on the soft sand. The wide beach is already crowded with sunbathers, walkers and a few children splashing in the shallows. Offshore I see the Carolina Yacht Club’s fleet of tiny sailboats racing over the sparkling blue water.
When I notice the sun sinking toward the marshes behind me, I hoist myself off my towel and walk north in the direction of Mason Inlet, my favorite late-afternoon spot. The beach gets wider the farther north I go until I’m standing on a long spit of sand with the ocean to the east, the inlet to the north and the Intracoastal Waterway to the west. The sand is so powdery, it squeaks when I shuffle my feet.
Tucked back near the dunes I see a single mailbox. On the journal that’s kept inside, visitors have recorded whatever thoughts the serene landscape inspires and empty pages invite future visitors to do the same. Over the years beachgoers have filled more than 100 of these journals, which are now kept on display at the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History.
As the setting sun turns the sky and the water bright orange, one of Carolina Paddleboard Co.’s six-man outrigger canoes enters the inlet, its long narrow hull propelled by the ocean swells. The crewmembers lift their paddles and hoot with exhilaration as they shoot over the water. Sometimes they are focused on serious training for major events, but for now they’re just playing.
I watch them until they become silhouettes outlined against the last rays of sun and then I meander back to my car, feeling, as I always do after a day at Wrightsville Beach, peaceful and content.
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