Located on the southern part of the NC coast, Carolina Beach is just under four hours from Charlotte and one of our all-time favorite beaches in the area! Like many NC beach towns, it’s located on a barrier island with the ocean to the east and the Intracoastal Waterway to the west. Carolina Beach is clean, crowds are wayyyy lower than nearby Myrtle Beach (about 2 hours south), and there’s something for everyone – plus, it’s only about 20 minutes from Wilmington if you need services that only a bigger city can offer. Keep reading for all of our fave things to do in Carolina Beach!
Best Breakfast in Carolina Beach
If you’ve been to Carolina Beach before, it’s very likely that you’ve been to or at least heard of Kate’s Pancake House – it’s a Carolina Beach institution! The restaurant is small and ALWAYS has a wait, but it’s definitely worth the wait. One of the most popular options on the menu is Kate’s Trio of Pancakes, where you can choose any three flavors. Lexie had the Oreo, the S’mores, and the Boston Cream and was hard-pressed to pick a favorite.
While they’re known for the pancakes, their omelette selection is fantastic with MANY to choose from. I had the Cajun Chicken Omelette – it did not disappoint, and their home fries are probably the best I’ve ever had!
Ellie ordered the Choose Three from the kids’ menu where you can pick any three choices: baby pancakes, bacon, sausage, home fries, grits, toast, or egg. She went with baby pancakes and both meat options and gobbled it down. Be aware; drinks are not included with the kids’ meals, so that will be an extra charge if your kiddo wants one.
Best Dinner in Carolina Beach
While I honestly haven’t had a bad meal in Carolina Beach, Havana’s Restaurant is definitely my favorite for dinner.
We started with the Cajun Shrimp appetizer: cajun bacon-wrapped shrimp topped with sriracha aioli served over roasted corn salsa, and it was excellent. I loved every single thing about this appetizer! I also ordered a cup of Clam Chowder (New England, not that gross Manhattan stuff! ????), and it was probably the best I’ve ever eaten.
For my entree, I ordered the French Quarter Pasta: andouille sausage, blackened chicken, shrimp, peppers & onions, tossed in a Creole cream sauce over spinach fettuccini. Oh my goodness, was this delicious! Honestly, every single thing our group ordered was fantastic, from the Cha-Cha Salmon to the Lousiana Mac & Cheese.
Best Pizza in Carolina Beach
Pizza is one of our favorite foods to order when we’re traveling because it’s relatively inexpensive, everyone likes it, and it’s easy to eat anywhere. Michaelangelo’s Pizza has locations in Wilmington and Carolina Beach, and it’s one of our favorite beach lunches.
We had it delivered to the hotel and ran to the lobby to pick it up and bring it down to the beach. Our pizzas were still piping hot by the time we got everything situated and started eating!
Best Late Night Snack in Carolina Beach
Another Carolina Beach institution, Britt’s Donut Shop, has been making donuts in Carolina Beach for over eighty years. The hot glazed donuts are often on the Top 10 Donuts in the US list and for good reason. They’re simple but absolutely delicious and perfect for a late-night snack after a long day at the beach, but make sure to bring cash because Britt’s is CASH-ONLY.
Best Ice Cream in Carolina Beach
There’s no shortage of ice cream shops in Carolina Beach; in fact, there are many on the Carolina Beach boardwalk, but for the absolute best ice cream, you need to venture off the boardwalk and visit Squigley’s Ice Cream and Treats. Their trademarked Squigley® starts with a base of vanilla ice cream and then has 2-3 items (fruits, candies, baked goods) “Squiggled” into a custom flavor using their patented machines. Served in a homemade waffle cone or cup, the Squigley® is ridiculously good and comes in over 4000 different flavor combinations. Squigley’s Ice Cream and Treats is CASH-ONLY but does have an ATM if you forgot to pack cash.
Best Beach Rentals in Carolina Beach
After years of lugging beach chairs and umbrellas to the beach – while also trying to wrangle five kids and their gear – I finally realized that beach rentals are really the best thing ever. You can have chairs and umbrellas set up on the sand and waiting for you when you get to the beach for a really reasonable rate. No lugging gear down and staking out a spot, and no lugging gear back to the car or hotel at the end of the day!
If you’re in Carolina Beach (or neighboring Kure Beach), Tony Silvagni Beach Rentals is your go-to shop for chairs, umbrellas, boards, bikes, surf lessons, and everything in between. Make sure you spring for the MVP special so that they don’t pick up your gear until 7pm (instead of 5pm) – those two extra hours are two of the best since crowds are typically lower and the sun is just starting to set.
Best Non-Beach Attraction (technically in Kure Beach)
The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is our pick for the best Carolina Beach area attraction. It’s on the small side as far as aquariums go, but the exhibits are well organized and informative. Most visitors spend about two hours exploring the aquarium though it’s certainly possible to spend considerably more time, especially if you’re going to take advantage of a tour.
You can’t go wrong with a trip to Carolina Beach – it’s the perfect seaside getaway on the southern NC coast. Have you been to Carolina Beach?? What’s your favorite North Carolina Beach??