A Peaceful Retreat in NC's South Brunswick Islands

April 2015
Written By: 
Karen Fletcher and Kelly Harer
Discover the South Brunswick Islands of North Carolina

Take a drive about 30 miles north of Myrtle Beach for a day-trip that will whet your appetite for a simpler, less crowded and less commercialized beach life. There you’ll find the three southernmost Brunswick Islands of North Carolina that include the towns of Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach and Holden Beach. Each is made up of an island and an associated mainland. Sunset Beach is the smallest of the South Brunswick Islands; the beach at Ocean Isle is seven miles of what some call “sugar-sand beaches;” and Holden Beach is mostly a residential community, boasting that they’re proud of what they do not have.

Protecting the Turtles
Look for turtle tracks on the sandy beach. Beginning in May, loggerhead turtles, considered a threatened species under the US Endangered Species Act, drag themselves from the ocean and across the sand to a spot between the dunes and the high-tide line, where they dig a hole and lay their eggs a foot and a half deep (this occurs May through August). Volunteer organizations track and monitor “crawl locations,” covering nest sites with protective grating and marking them with stakes, ribbons and signs to warn beachgoers not to disturb the nest. Nests are monitored and volunteers begin nightly watches when hatchlings are sighted (July through October) to ensure their safe journey to the ocean.

Adopt-a-Nest ($50) or Adopt-a-Sea Turtle ($5) with the Sunset Beach Turtle Watch program. You will receive a decal, a certificate of adoption and a report of the nest or turtle at the end of the season. www.sunsetbeachturtles.org  

Adopt a Hatchling ($10) or Adopt a Nest ($100) with the Ocean Isle Beach Sea Turtle Protection Organization, where you can name a hatchling and receive a personalized certificate of adoption, a plush sea turtle and your name listed on their website. You can name the nest, participate in nest parent training and receive a Nest Adoption Certificate and a nest sign after the nest is closed out (20 spots available).  www.oibseaturtles.org

Support Holden Beach’s Turtle Patrol by collecting their newly designed T-shirts each year. This all-volunteer and non-profit organization monitors and protects the sea turtle population and operates under the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. www.hbturtlewatch.org

Good Eats
If you’re searching for a local diner with welcoming, friendly staff and pancakes the size of your plate, look no further than Sarah’s Kitchen. This local gem is tucked away in a strip mall off the main road and is definitely worth the search.  Along with the regular menu (serving delicious homemade breakfast and lunch items), specials run daily with prices sure to keep your wallet happy. 1649 Seaside Road Southwest, Ocean Isle Beach

Enjoy a drink or meal at Drift, a coffee shop, cafe and wine bar featuring delicious hot drinks, beer and wine. Their food is prepared from organic ingredients and is made fresh-to-order. View the landscape of Ocean Isle Beach while lounging on a leather sofa or bring your own vinyl records to listen to on their record player.  20 E. Second St. Ocean Isle Beach

Things to Do
Opportunities to fish and to play golf abound in the area, but check out these destinations that add to the appeal of the islands.

The Bridges. The bridge to each island is unique. The bridge at Holden Beach arches and curves 65 feet into the air so that you view the wide ocean on the horizon before descending into the town. At the peak of the Ocean Isle Bridge you can see the whole island and surrounding marshland. The 65-foot Mannon C. Gore Bridge of Sunset Beach replaced the Sunset Beach pontoon swing bridge in 2010. The pontoon barge and bridge tender’s house was one of the last bridges of its kind operating on the East Coast, and the Old Bridge
Preservation Society turned it into a museum where you can visit and hear stories of the one-lane, wooden bridge that rose and fell with the tide. 109 Shoreline Dr. West, Sunset Beach

Museums. The Ingram Planetarium offers entertainment for all ages. Check out the science hall, where children can experience hands-on learning that makes science fun. View a show to learn how to identify common constellations and nighttime sky phenomena. Multiple programs are shown each day with emphasis on astronomy, science and space exploration. 7625 High Market St., Sunset Beach.

The Museum of Coastal Carolina is North Carolina’s only natural history museum on a barrier island. Hands-on activities include a wave generator and a dredging exhibit that demonstrate changes in the coastal environment. You can walk through the ocean reef and touch live sea creatures. 21 East St., Ocean Isle Beach.

Shopping. Bleu offers unique shabby-chic boutique clothing, jewelry and vintage goods. 1780 Queen Anne St., Suite 6, Sunset Beach

Outdoors. Bird Island, a 1,300-acre State Preserve barrier island adjacent to Sunset Beach, is the southernmost home of the purple sandpiper and the location of the Kindred Spirit Mailbox. This mailbox (placed there more than 40 years ago) contains journals full of visitors’ deepest thoughts, prayers and wishes. Be sure to write your own! Park near 40th Avenue, Sunset Beach. Once on the beach, turn right and walk about a mile and a half.  Look for the American flag.  

Did you know?
• The remains of the USS Iron Age can be seen from Holden Beach if you look toward Oak Island in Lockwood’s Folly Inlet during low tide. Its wreck is marked with an orange navigation warning buoy.
• There is a small airport on the mainland section of Ocean Isle Beach.
• Holden Beach was named the Best Family Beach in the U.S. by Stephen P. Letterman, aka Dr. Beach, in American Profile magazine in 2012.
• In the early spring and late fall you can sit on Ocean Isle or Holden Beach and watch both the sunrise and sunset! This is because the beaches are southern-facing and the sun is far enough south that it appears to rise and set over the ocean off the shoreline.

Photographs by G.Frank Hart and Chip Sutton