When planning a beach vacation, it's hard to go wrong with a "World's Best" beach. Named as one of the 21 Best Beaches in the World by National Geographic, Sunset Beach, the southern-most beach of North Carolina's barrier islands, remains a favorite destination across generations. Uninterrupted by boardwalks or high-rises, the island's wide flat stretch of beach offers endless sand and expansive views that create the perfect peaceful environment to reconnect with the natural world and one another. Take a look at our guide for some of the top things to do, where to eat, and places to stay in Sunset Beach.

What to Do in Sunset Beach:

When taking a trip to Sunset Beach, there's no shortage of things to do on your vacation (when you're not enjoying doing nothing at all but relaxing). Visitors would be remiss not to check out Bird Island, which is a favorite activity in Sunset Beach. This natural area consists of more than 1,200 acres of beautiful salt marsh and tidal creeks and is one of 10 sites that make up the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve. Guided educational walks to Bird Island are hosted over the summers by the Bird Island Preservation Society Stewards. Kids and adults alike will enjoy exploring this outdoor laboratory where scientists, students, and the public can learn about everything that shapes the coastal area. While on Bird Island, take a walk to the Kindred Spirit Mailbox. The special mailbox lies on a secluded stretch of beach far from the nearest public access point. More than just a receptacle for pieces of paper, the mailbox holds the wishes, thoughts, prayers and dreams of those who walk the 30 minutes to share and bare their soul. This mailbox is the inspiration behind the Nicholas Spark’s novel Every Breath.

For more fun in the sun, check out the Sunset Beach Pier and enjoy a day of fishing. This 900-foot pier has a cleaning table, a snack bar with a grill, a game room, and an air-conditioned pier house. If you are looking to go fishing, the pier offers the opportunity to catch a wide variety of fish and sells bait and fishing passes that include the use of one rod. The pier is also handicap accessible and provides scooter chairs free of charge to those who need them.

Looking for an indoor activity? Check out the Ingram Planetarium. Space enthusiasts of all ages will love discovering the universe at the Ingram Planetarium! Enjoy entertaining and educational programs about space exploration and astronomy at the SciDome Sky Theater, and have fun with the interactive exhibits in the Paul Dennis Science Hall. For those who are not as enthusiastic about space, stop by for a laser music show instead! The planetarium's sister museum, Museum of Coastal Carolina, highlights the natural history of the region and is located nearby on Ocean Isle Beach.


Another educational excursion is the Sunset Beach Swing Bridge & Museum. From 1958-2011, the iconic Sunset Beach Swing Bridge linked the island and the mainland. Now the swing bridge and tender house serve as a museum and gathering place for the community. It's run by the Old Bridge Historical Society, whose aim is to connect the history and the future of the area through education and preservation.

Finally, no vacation is complete without a round of golf, and the Brunswick Islands have plenty of courses to choose from. So many in fact that the area is known as NC's Golf Coast. Sunset Beach is home to six of the championship golf courses along NC’s Golf Coast, with numerous additional courses just minutes from the island. Take in a round on any of the beautiful courses, which feature expansive marshes and world-class designs by some of the game's top architects.

Where to Eat & Drink:

For a local favorite breakfast in Sunset Beach, start your day at Sarah’s Kitchen. Known for both top-notch food and service, Sarah’s Kitchen serves breakfasts not to be missed! Menu options include homemade pancakes, biscuits, and specialty omelets – all made to order and served with a smile!

North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands has some of the best seafood spots in the country, and Sunset Beach doesn't disappoint. Check out The Boat Landing, a family-owned and -operated restaurant that provides breathtaking views of the Intracoastal Waterway as well as delicious meals! Lunch and dinner offerings include shrimp and grits, a variety of chicken wraps, and a basket of fried seafood and fries. Another great stop is Crabby Oddwaters. Crabby Oddwaters overlooks Mary's Creek and the Intracoastal Waterway and serves fresh seafood options for the whole family. While the food alone is worth a visit, the restaurant also hosts the largest private collection of exotic seashells on the East Coast. You'll find even more seafood restaurants just five miles away in Calabash, a fishing village known for "Calabash style" seafood.

scallops at The Boat Landing restaurant

For a late-night bite or drink, check out Fibber McGee's, the well-loved Irish Pub. The restaurant is open year-round and features daily specials, a fully stocked bar and live music on the weekends. Stop by for a drink and some grouper bites while you watch the game or grab dinner with the whole family.

Where to Stay:

With plenty of options for places to stay in Sunset Beach, including beachfront rental homes, charming inns, and a golfing resort, you're guaranteed to find a fit for your trip to the area.  

Between the serenity of Bird Island, the excitement of the fishing pier, and the opportunity for fresh and delicious seafood, you can't go wrong when you plan a trip to Sunset Beach. Make sure to check out ncbrunswick.com to learn more about everything the island has to offer.