15 Best Things to Do in Sunset Beach, NC

Sunset Beach, NC
Richard A. McGuirk / shutterstock.com

Sunset Beach is a resort town in southwestern Brunswick County, North Carolina, which you can’t go wrong picking for a holiday trip with the joys of the sea as its main theme.

One-third of the town's 7.3-square miles area occupies a barrier island, with its beach listed among “21 Best Beaches in The World” by National Geographic magazine.

The island of Sunset Beach, along with several others, was formed in the 1930s as a result of the Army Corps of Engineers cutting a channel for the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW).

The rise of Sunset Beach as a town started in 1955 when its island started development as a residential community.

The developer who bought the island, Mannon C. Gore, later purchased 500 acres on the mainland across the ICW and linked his property holdings with a pontoon bridge.

In all, the island and mainland acreage formed the template for Sunset Beach, which was incorporated as a town in 1963.

Sunset Beach, thus, comes out unique among the barrier island communities in southeastern North Carolina.

Encompassing both an island and a slice of the mainland, the town of Sunset Beach is surely one exciting place to visit.

For specifics, check out the following list of things to do in Sunset Beach a well-planned trip.

Land a Seatrout at the Sunset Beach Fishing Pier

Long Sunset Beach Fishing Pier with waves splashing against the pillars
Edd Lange / Shutterstock.com

Sunset Beach boasts a 900-foot fishing pier conveniently accessible from Main Street.

Fishing from this amenity-rich pier can yield spotted seatrout, flounder, and redfish.

The amenities at the air-conditioned pier house include a fish-cleaning table with a double sink.

Lights shinning like a fire fly at night in Sunset Beach Fishing Pier
David Byron Keener / Shutterstock.com

It also features a game room, a grill, and a snack bar serving hot sandwiches and other breakfast items.

You can rent a rod and reel in this pier, as well as obtain seasonal fishing passes with three-day or five-day fishing permits.

This fishing pier is handicap-accessible, and free scooter chairs are provided to the disabled or with disability.

Enjoy the Sunset Beach Seashore

The barrier island shoreline of Sunset Beach facing the Atlantic Ocean is pristine and three miles long.

Access to this family-friendly beach strand is convenient, as the town provides access via several wooden walkways to the shoreline.

Several access points are mid-island at the beach parking area on Main Street and 1st and 3rd street.

The walkways in these beach entry points are ADA-compliant, and in one of them, there’s a gazebo where you can take a breather under its shade.

The white sandy shores of the Sunset Beach barrier island feature undisturbed dunes and exude a serene ambiance.

This shoreline is notably an important nesting ground for sea turtles, including the endangered loggerheads.

If your visit to Sunset Beach falls between mid-May and August, the turtles’ nesting season, you may be able to see local volunteers helping ensure that the creatures and their eggs and hatchlings are safe.

Paddle on a Kayak Adventure

Access to kayaking in Sunset Beach is available on a boat ramp on the mainland side of the town.

This facility, built by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, is on Sunset Boulevard next to the Sunset Beach Park and Sunset Beach Bridge.

Exciting kayak tours from Sunset Beach, as well as boat rentals, are offered by local outdoor travel agencies.

One of their popular offerings is kayaking to the Bird Island Preserve, wherein you will paddle across the Intracoastal Waterway from the mainland.

The kayak tour then proceeds to the backside of the preserve, passing by creeks with oyster bed structures and beautiful marsh grass.

Onward, the tour slips into South Carolina’s Little River inlet with a beach where you can pause for a swim or go shelling for conchs and sand dollars.

Heading back to Sunset Beach, you will again paddle through creeks where you have the opportunity to spot wildlife, like egrets, sea turtles, pelicans, and ospreys.

Enjoy the Water Views at the Sunset Beach Town Park

Opened in May 2015, this park is located on the mainland side of Sunset Beach, overlooking Mary’s Creek and the Intracoastal Waterway.

To enjoy the water views, you can sit on one of the park’s swings or benches under the canopy of lush oak trees.

Covering five acres and 1,200 feet of waterfront, the Sunset Beach Town Park also features brick walkways, a picnic shelter, a small fishing pier, and a paved parking area.

The Veteran's Memorial in Sunset Beach is likewise in this cozy town park.

Visit the Sunset Beach Swing Bridge & Museum

This museum on Shoreline Drive West preserves artifacts from the Sunset Beach swing bridge that first linked the town’s barrier island to the mainland.

This span was designed and built by the town’s pioneer Mannon C. Gore, who served in the US Coast Guard during WWII.

His original bridge featured a war surplus self-propelled barge that swings into operation to accommodate crossing vehicles.

When the bridge was decommissioned, this clever setup and its tender house were moved inland and now serves as a museum and a community gathering place.

The museum’s artifacts also include items from the Civil War blockade runner, Vesta, which ran aground the Sunset Beach area in 1864.

Wander across the Universe in the Ingram Planetarium

Let your imagination wander across the universe in a visit to the Ingram Planetarium.

Located on High Market Street, this astronomers’ delight features a SciDome Sky Theater.

This 85-seat theater is equipped with high-definition digital projection and cutting-edge surround-sound systems.

It also offers more besides its educational programs about astronomy and space exploration.

The Ingram Planetarium also features interactive exhibits in its Paul Dennis Science Hall.

After enjoying its bonus laser music shows, drop by the planetarium’s Galaxy Gift Shop for space-themed keepsakes.

Go on a Learning Tour of Bird Island Reserve

Kindred spirit mailbox at Bird Island Reserve
Zach Rudisin, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This nature preserve, accessible via 40th Street and West Main Street, is available for guided educational walks during summer.

The Bird Island Preservation Society Stewards conducts these learning tours every Wednesday starting 8:30 a.m. from the 40th Street beach walkway.

Each tour takes 2 hours at the most, offering insights about Bird Island Reserve and its 1,200 acres of pristine beaches, natural dunes, tidal creeks, and salt marshes.

This area is one of the 10 sites under the North Carolina Coastal Reserve & National Estuarine Research Reserve.

A stop at the Kindred Spirit mailbox in the reserve is a highlight to its walking tour.

Here, you will learn about the wildlife in the surrounding dunes and the importance of having their coastal habitat preserved.

Sunset Beach boasts six championship golf courses developed along with residential neighborhoods.

Three award-winning courses at the Sea Trail Golf Club are among these choices.

Accessible via Clubhouse Road off Old Georgetown Road, the Sea Trail links include the Dan Maples Course, Willard Byrd Course, and Rees Jones Course.

Sea Trail flaunts two clubhouses with lounges, dining facilities, and full-service golf shops.

Sea Trail also provides a driving range, putting greens, and a PGA-certified Golf Learning Center.

Visiting golfers in Sunshine Beach can also opt to play in the Oyster Bay Golf Links on Lakeshore Drive, the Sandpiper Bay Golf & Country Club on Sandpiper Club Drive, and the Thistle Golf Club on Olde Thistle Club Road.

Stay or Visit the Sea Trail Resort Villas

This resort destination is part of the 2,600-acre Sea Trail Golf Club property with three championship golf links.

Besides vacation rentals, Sea Trail Resort Villas offers Sunset Beach visitors and the general public the resort’s Sea Trail Village Activity Center.

This amenity center brims with recreational facilities, including an outdoor and an indoor pool, an outdoor kiddie pool, and an indoor jetted hot tub.

The activity center flaunts a 5,000-square-foot pool deck and an outdoor lounging area, plus a volleyball court and a cornhole game lawn.

In addition, the Sea Trail Village Activity Center provides a game room, pool and ping pong tables, and shuffleboard.

A restaurant and snack bar plus a pool bar (open seasonally) are also among the facilities of this recreational center.

Enjoy Birdwatching at Twin Lakes

Sunset Beach is listed as an official Stop on the North Carolina Birding Trail, a network of over 300 viewing locations of bird habitats such as coastal estuaries.

Birdwatchers visiting Sunset Beach enjoy their hobby at the Carl Bazemore Bird Walk on Shoreline Drive West.

This birdwatching site, named after a long-time Sunset Beach councilman, overlooks the twin lakes of the Oyster Bay Golf Links.

Birdwatchers visiting this area enjoy ample parking space and rave at the delight of scoping lakeside trees adorned with flocks of white ibis, egrets, wood storks, or otherkin bird species.

Alligators sunning along the lakes’ edges are also a sight to see in this birding spot.

Camp at Brunswick Beaches RV Resort

This RV campsite is located at KOA Drive Southwest off of Seaside Road SW (Highway 904).

It offers RV campers full hookups on quiet spots next to its lagoon, where there is also an option to set up a tent or rent a cabin.

The amenities of this RV resort include a swimming pool, horseshoe pits, a playground with a sand volleyball court, a cornball play area, fire rings, and a camp kitchen.

Brunswick Beaches RV Resort is pet-friendly and provides a dog walk.

Drop by One Love Market

This is a seasonal market located on West Main Street between Sunset Boulevard and 27th Street.

Operating as a nonprofit, One Love Market supports small businesses of the Sunset Beach community, including bakers, crafters, artisans, and farmers.

Its seasonal schedule includes Spring Saturdays, Summer Mondays, and Fall Saturdays, all from morning till noontime.

Besides fresh farm produce, the prized finds in One Love Market are custom jewelry and housewares like solar lanterns, stoneware pottery, gourds, and handwoven reed baskets.

There are picks on apparel as well in eclectic styles, such as bohemian and shabby chic clothing items.

Fresh salsa and gourmet popcorn are likewise among the items that crop up at the One Love Market.

Try the Irish Tavern in Fibber McGee’s

This Irish pub is located on Sunset Boulevard North in the strip mall Village Center where the Ingram Planetarium also is.

Like all Irish taverns, the mood here is festive and offers a wide selection of bar food.

Fibber McGee’s menu consists of Panini, wraps, sandwiches, salads, and burgers.

This pub has a fully stocked bar with a wide selection of domestic and imported beers.

This pub has a patio where you can feel home comfort in the company of friends as a well-run tavern should be.

Dine at La Cucina Italian Grill

This top-rated restaurant is located on Chandler Lane off Sunset Boulevard North.

Its Italian dishes that won the favor of locals and visitors alike include handcrafted traditional pasta dishes.

La Cucina Italian Grill likewise draws table reservations for its chef’s specials created from the freshest ingredients of vegetables, fish, steak, and chicken.

This restaurant has a gluten-free menu sure to please those with certain food allergies.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Have Fun at the Museum of Coastal Carolina

This unique museum is located on East Second Street in the town of Ocean Isle Beach, only about six miles east of Sunset Beach.

Interactive exhibits dominate the attractions in the Museum of Coastal Carolina.

Visitors can customize their own sea creature and scan the creation into a virtual aquarium.

You can also dig into a fossil pit and hut for prehistoric shark teeth or build dunes in an interactive augmented-reality sandbox and observe the water runoff on your work.

For a breather, you can view the museum’s wildlife dioramas depicting the animals and plants of the green swamp, barrier islands, and ocean reef of Coastal Carolina—the museum’s main theme.

Final Thoughts

Sunset Beach is a charming resort town that has been developed so well and managed to match other North Carolina travel destinations of much older vintage.

Just a day’s visit to this unique destination would surely be an enjoyable and memorable experience.