For 22 years my family has headed to Sunset Beach, North Carolina, each July for a lazy week of vacation with dear friends from Atlanta. Over that time, our families have created certain treasured traditions that that we look forward to enjoying year after year. Ever the travel voyeur, Alison asked me to share them with you.
The first thing to know about Sunset Beach is its location. The southern-most beach in North Carolina, it is equidistant from Richmond and Atlanta, making the journey about 6 hours for each family.
There is nothing fancy or pretentious about Sunset Beach; it’s just a good old-fashioned family beach. Families flock there because the surf is gentle, the beach is wide and the water temperature quite agreeable. It’s not unusual to see large families gathered for the 30th, 40th or 50th time. Contributing to the family-friendliness is the lack of commercial attractions and associated traffic. We never worried about our kids finding trouble as they rode bikes or walked to the Island Market for ice cream.
Access to the island from the mainland used to be quite cumbersome: a single-lane swing bridge was the only way on and off the island.
It was common to endure 10 minute waits at most times of the day, but at the top of the hour, the bridge opened to permit recreational intracoastal waterway traffic to pass. That was always a 15 minute wait, so any errand off the island was strictly avoided at the top of the hour. Worse, the bridge would stop traffic for commercial vessels to pass at any time, so there was always a risk of waiting. By now you understand that this beach must have been quite special to endure the hassle. In 2010, the tradition of waiting for the bridge changed.
The NEW bridge opened (shown above with the old bridge still intact; it has since been removed). Island access is unfettered, and the view from the top is spectacular. The old bridge had its charm, but honestly we don’t miss the charm. Memories of it are just fine.
The most enduring (and endearing) tradition at the beach is walking to Bird Island.
Located adjacent to the southwestern end of Sunset Beach, Bird Island is an undeveloped and unspoiled barrier island. Well, it is not really an island anymore because Mad Inlet that used to separate it from Sunset Beach (at high tide) was closed up with sand from Hurricane Bonnie. Now the island is walkable from Sunset Beach at all times. So what’s the attraction? It’s the Legend of the Kindred Spirit.
Set in a dune, the Kindred Spirit’s mailbox contains journals and pens. Visitors making the walk from Sunset find themselves in a peaceful setting to reflect, with nothing but the sound of the surf and birds to distract them from their thoughts. Many feel compelled to write in the notebooks, and the entries range from profound, poignant, even painful to grateful, joyful and humorous.
The day I made the long walk, a sea turtle had nested next to the mailbox and was immediately marked by the Sea Turtle Protection Program. I’ve yet to see the female turtle hoist herself out of the water up to the dune to make her nest, but it’s an item on my bucket list!
The island was so quiet the morning that mBf and I visited that we passed the same crab undisturbed. Here he is posing for us.
Food plays a big role at the beach, and we do have some traditional favorites. Bill’s Seafood is our favorite seafood shack, and we typically eat fish 6 out of the 7 nights, beginning and ending with peel-and-eat shrimp. Other favorites are sautéd scallops, flounder and red snapper. We’ll always do a low-country boil
and a Mexican food night. Key Lime Pie, as mentioned in my post earlier this week, is a given.
We began a new tradition a few years ago when we towed our boat from the river. Landlubbers no more, we now had a new vessel for exploring the Intracoastal Waterway. Up until this year we had to put in at Ocean Isle, a few miles up the road. The removal of the old bridge made a natural place for a boat ramp, which opened this year,
and now our access to the waterway is faster. On our maiden voyage, we discovered Provision Company on the intracoastal at Holden Beach.
It’s now become expected to boat to ProCo to enjoy a tuna burger and fries for lunch. Everything tastes better on the water.
Upon further reflection of our traditions, some naturally waned as the children grew older. No longer do the kids ride their bikes to the Island Market in the morning to get the newspaper for the adults and candy for themselves. Perhaps the best tradition of Sunset Beach is just going there.
What are your family vacation traditions? We’d love to hear.
August 9, 2013