A Small Beach Town That's Big on Relaxation
Sunset Beach sits near the North Carolina state line and is one of the area's smallest beach towns. The locals take pride in the fact that it's one of the last old-fashioned beach resorts and has managed to avoid any major building and growth spurts.
Sunset Beach is the southernmost barrier island, and a one-lane swing bridge connects it to the mainland. The way of life in Sunset Beach is relaxed and unhurried, which may have something to do with the old-fashioned access to the island. The only road to Sunset Beach crosses an antique one-lane pontoon bridge.
The bridge is operated by pulleys and cables that haul the floating roadway aside whenever Intracoastal Waterway traffic passes. The bridge is one of the main attractions and both visitors and locals alike delight in watching it in action. The bridge is also featured on many picture postcards sold in the area.
Though no one can argue that the bridge is fascinating to watch, there have been many debates as to its safety. Some residents desire to keep it, hoping to slow development and maintain the relaxed, laid-back atmosphere. Others think the bridge is a hazard that could hinder an evacuation in hurricane season. As the debate continues, the opposing group wants the bridge replaced with a more modern style.
Sunset Beach, the southern-most of North Carolina's Brunswick Islands, may only be three miles long, but it is grand in providing a relaxing atmosphere for family to vacation in. The pace of life seems to slow upon crossing the bridge, and observing the calm salt marsh offers peace and tranquility.
Pastel-colored cottages and homes nestled by the sea oat-covered dunes line the oceanfront. Whether you choose to sunbathe, swim, collect seashells or build sandcastles, Sunset Beach is the ideal locale. There's a fishing pier and a few shops on the island, and nearby are numerous golf courses, as well as the seafood town of Calabash.
Golfers can play the course at the Pearl Golf Links, which has been voted one of the top 10 golf courses in the Carolinas and has also been nominated by Golf Digest as the best new public resort course in 1988. Designed by Dan Maples, the course features vistas, panoramas and marsh scenery. Players can swing amidst the natural wildlife to feel at one with nature.
Other nearby golf courses include Sea Trail Plantation and Golf Resort, Thistle Golf Club, and Ocean Ridge Plantation Golf, which is home to the "Big Cat" courses of Lion's Paw, Panther's Run, Tiger's Eye and Leopard's Chase. A fifth course, called Jaguar's Lair, opened in Ocean Ridge in 2008.
If you stop at the Sea Trail Plantation, be sure to check out the Ingram Planetarium, located in the Village at Sunset Beach in the Sea Trail Plantation and Golf Resort. The Ingram Planetarium, named for Stuart Ingram, founder of the Museum of Coastal Carolina, opened its doors and its sky-dome to the public in 2002.
The state-of-the-art facility with a 40-foot dome theater features various shows including "Endless Horizon," "The Explorer's" and "The Sky Tonight." A unique feature of the facility is called Assisted Listening, which provides headsets for hearing-impaired persons. The Paul Dennis Science Room is used for classes, displays, meetings and birthday parties. In it are hands-on displays such as the constellation puzzle and Stuart Ingram's collection of sextants, along with an explanation of their use in steering by the stars while traveling at sea.
Birders should cross Mad Inlet to visit Bird Island, where osprey, herons, egrets and other birds come to nest and feed. If you venture out to Bird Island, also be on the lookout for endangered turtles that lay their eggs on the beach.
The major commercial area is on the mainland along routes 904 and 179. To get to Sunset Beach, take U.S. 17 south about 45 miles; turn left (south) on N.C. 904 to N.C. 179; then make a right (west), then a left to the bridge.
There are four area airports. Major airline service is offered through two - Wilmington International Airport and Myrtle Beach International Airport. Brunswick County is midway between both airports and about 45 minutes away from each. There are also two small airports in Ocean Isle Beach and Oak Island.