By Sam Boykin
With golden beaches, sunny weather and a commitment-free schedule ahead of us, we were practically giddy with anticipation. My wife, Kimiko, and I were packed and eager to begin our first solo vacation since our honeymoon, and becoming “mom and dad” to our rambunctious daughter, Lily.
The seaside town of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina was in our sights. An ideal location for our minds and bodies to mend from the daily stresses of life, the trip would provide us with sorely needed downtime from our busy office jobs, and our even busier (but endlessly rewarding) roles as parents. We could spend quality time together while enjoying some exciting outdoor adventures in the picturesque Wrightsville Beach area.
Pursuing fun on surfboards
Surfing was at the top of our to-do list, even though neither Kimiko nor I had surfed before. Luckily, Wrightsville Beach offers plenty of camps and lessons for beginners, and happens to be one of the world’s most noted surfing destinations—it’s known for ideal natural conditions.
Wrightsville Beach’s surfing history dates back to 1909 when Burke Haywood Bridgers introduced the sport to the area. Thanks to his spearheading efforts, the local surfing movement continued to grow and thrive. Today, Wrightsville Beach hosts major surfing events throughout the year, and was named one of the world’s top surf towns by National Geographic. To commemorate Bridgers’ achievements and the role of Wrightsville Beach as the “Pioneer in Coast Surfing,” the state is creating a North Carolina Highway Historical Marker.
Ready to hang 10—or at least stand up on our boards—we made arrangements to take a class with Crystal South Surf Camp, which has been teaching people to surf for nearly 20 years. The fall surf is ideal, temperatures are still warm, crowds are more sparse and the waves are consistent.
Following an on-the-beach orientation focused on paddling techniques, popping up and proper stances, Kimiko and I made our way out past the breakers—a challenge in itself. Our novice skills were apparent as we flailed around, but after a few tries we started to get the hang of it, thanks to our surfing coach’s expert instruction. Near the end of our session we both managed to successfully catch the same wave. It was a joyous, adrenaline-pumping way to end the morning, but the fun was just getting started.
Sand still clinging to our toes and salt on our skin, we settled in at the Blockade Runner Beach Resort, an oceanfront resort with spacious rooms and a state-of-the-art fitness center. The resort is also home to East Oceanfront Dining, where chef Ben Ramsey creates award-winning cuisine using fresh, local ingredients. We dined there our first night. Kimiko enjoyed a seafood dish with clams, mussels, scallops and shrimp, while I savored a juicy Angus filet, grilled to perfection. Later that evening, we drifted off to sleep to the soothing sounds of the waves breaking onto the shore just steps from our room.
Paddleboarding to relax
One of the great things about Wrightsville Beach is its varied waterways. In addition to surfing, the area is also ideal for kayaking and standup paddleboarding (SUP), especially along the serene and scenic Intracoastal Waterway and salt marshes.
After relishing a morning spent sleeping in (an extreme rarity in our lives), we rented paddleboards from Wrightsville Kayak Company and paddled along Harbor Island Outer Loop. The four-mile stretch of inland flatwater is also the site of the Surf to Sound Challenge, one of Wrightsville's annual SUP contests. Floating along with the current, sunshine on our faces and a soft breeze rippling the water, I could feel myself relaxing and from the blissful expression on Kimiko’s face, I knew that she felt the same way. Our trip was just getting started, and it was already therapeutic.
An afternoon outdoors
During our time at Wrightsville Beach, we wanted to spend plenty of time outdoors, so we hopped aboard a guided tour with Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours and visited Masonboro Island Reserve. The 5,653-acre Masonboro Island is the longest undisturbed barrier island ecosystem in southern North Carolina. As we strolled along the salt marshes, tidal creeks and quiet beach, we spotted a variety of birds, fish and even a sea turtle. We both felt relaxed and peaceful after our nature-filled afternoon exploring a lesser-seen part of Wrightsville Beach.
After our island adventure, I surprised Kimiko by leading her on a stroll to the northern end of Wrightsville Beach to a very special mailbox located among the sand dunes. For more than a decade, visitors and residents have been writing anonymous letters and placing them in the mailbox, which stays stocked with paper and pens. The heartfelt messages range from intensely personal to lighthearted and funny. As the mailbox fills up, the letters are relocated to the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History, where guests can read selected missives from the past. It was an emotional and poignant experience as Kimiko and I wrote down our hopes and dreams for the future, including our desire to return to this very special place.
Famished after a day full of activity, we chose to dine at award-winning 22 North, where the menu items change daily. We feasted on scallops, and shrimp and grits. We saw that one of the restaurant’s martinis, the “Berry Blossom,” was named "the official drink of the North Carolina Azalea Festival" by Wilmington Magazine—so we had a couple of those, too.
Yoga and sunrise on the beach
On our final day at Wrightsville Beach, we woke up early to enjoy the spectacular sunrise. Relaxing together on our balcony, we marveled at the breathtaking pink, orange and yellow colors that played on the glistening blue water as the sun slowly peeked out above the horizon. It was a spectacular and soothing way to start the morning.
We wanted to end our vacation with a bit of reflection, ready to embrace the future. Plus, all that surfing caused some allover soreness! We headed to a Wilmington Yoga Center class, during which we stretched through poses on the newly renovated Crystal Pier, an ideal setting to clear your mind while listening to the gentle rush of the surf. Post Namastes, Kimiko and I were feeling rejuvenated. Vacations are always wonderful, but the differences between this vacation and our honeymoon were distinct. Kimiko and I absolutely love being parents—it’s so much fun, you almost don’t realize how much it changes you.
Next time, we will definitely return with Lily, and perhaps even the grandparents. This area has a great variety of lodging options, including Summer Sands Suites, where all the rooms have private balconies overlooking the sound and are just steps away from restaurants and shops. For larger groups, vacation rentals abound, ranging from luxurious beachfront properties to more affordable cottages. There’s also the oceanfront Holiday Inn Resort, which has multiple pools, easy beach access and kids activities, making it an ideal option for families.
Our trip to Wrightsville Beach was truly a wonderful and memorable experience. As an added bonus, we both have a fun new hobby now—we splurged and bought our own surfboards, and we’re already planning that next trip to Wrightsville Beach.
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