Sunset Beach, NC
Sunset Beach, described as a diminutive island gem, is only 3 miles long. Despite its size, this island experienced a 150 percent population increase between 1990 and 1997, with a current year-round population of more than 2,000 residents. Because it is reached by a one-lane pontoon bridge, making it the only island without a high-rise bridge in Brunswick County, there is sometimes a bit of a wait to get to Sunset in the high tourist season. However, the island is well-worth the wait. This bridge will probably be replaced by a high-rise someday, if the Department of Transportation has its way, but that discussion has been going on for years. Islanders like their bridge the way it is because it tends to keep traffic levels down.
Although this island is residential in character, it is a great choice for a family vacation. Some of the best bargains in vacation rentals are here, and the visitor who wants a quiet coastal place will do very well to book a house on this beach. As with all of the beaches on the southern coast, quality golfing is available on the mainland. For fishing enthusiasts, there is a full-service pier. Sunset Beach also offers a special delight — a walk to Bird Island at low tide.
Bird Island is completely untouched by development. A walk through the shallow inlet at low tide is easy for adults as well as children. There are frequent informal guided tours, announced by posters attached to street markers on the beach, so it’s easy to hook up with locals who are pleased to share their knowledge of the island. The environment is purely natural and deeply comforting, where people of the 21st century can experience life as it was before the development of the land. In order to keep it this way, in 2002 the state of North Carolina purchased the island and dedicated it as the state’s 10th Coastal Reserve Program site. Through this purchase, nearly 1,200 acres of wetlands, marsh and beaches are preserved for use by endangered species, including sea turtles and some species of sea birds. The island will be managed for use as an outdoor laboratory for research and education as well as traditional uses through a cooperative effort by the Division of Coastal Management, the Bird Island Preservation Society and an appointed Bird Island Local Advisory Committee.