A formation of birds piercing the blue sky may distract you from Sunset Beach’s most prized possession: the Kindred Spirit Mailbox, a whimsical depository for the prayers and meditations of visitors since the 1970s.
But the Brunswick Islands near Wilmington, North Carolina — which include Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Holden Beach, Caswell Beach, Oak Island and Bald Head Island — are the ideal places for the dreamer and the ref lective soul.
People ride their bikes down to the Kindred Spirit and sit on the sandy dunes scribbling away, sending their wishes up to the mysterious “Spirit,” sometimes writing a proposal of marriage. Many couples have begun their journey here.
Uber-romantic novelist Nicholas Sparks, a native North Carolinian, set his book “Every Breath” on Sunset Beach, where the lack of commercial development allows you to enjoy its unfettered natural beauty.
I had the pleasure of staying at nearby Holden Beach, right over the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge, in a house typical of the vacation rentals available around the Brunswick Islands (hotels are hard to come by). My house was called Safe Landing, with Carolina Peach, Shore Thing and How U Dune? just a few doors down.
The house monikers are a fun tradition at the Brunswick Islands, as are the local ice cream shops, as ubiquitous as sandcastles. While you’re frolicking on the sand, keep a lookout for the yellow tape, which is used to mark the nesting sites of sea turtles, the beloved residents whose hatchlings make their trek en masse to the ocean with a little help from a team of support volunteers.
On our first evening in the area, we took a golf cart tour of Southport, which “Coastal Living” has called “the best beach town in America for the 4th of July,” praise echoed by TripAdvisor. Established in 1792, with a population of less than 4,000, Southport oozes Southern charm with a New England seaside sensibility. Ask a local to point out the house used for Andy Griffith’s “Matlock” series.
Have dinner at Fishy Fishy, a no-frills and authentic dockside eatery at the Yacht Basin. The sunsets behind the sailboats are Instagram perfect.
For the foodie, particularly one with Southern seafood inclinations, the possibilities are plentiful.
The hush puppies, a Southern staple, at the Waterfront Seafood Shack in Calabash are a decadent must-try, as is the grilled pound cake à la mode. Also, Provision Company on Holden Beach is famous for its shrimp burger and conch fritters.
For the outdoor enthusiast or traveling family, a kayak ride through Sunset Beach’s salt marshes is ideal for beginners and more experienced kayakers. Or try the zip line over the Shallotte River Swamp Park. Don’t mind the alligators below; your harness and zip line guides have you covered.
I found the most daunting outdoor challenge was climbing (and descending) the 131 steps of the 150-foot-tall Oak Island Lighthouse. But the views from the top are one of kind, offering a magical view of the Caswell Beach shoreline.
That’s what these islands do best: provide new vistas of beauty and experience for the romantic — and child — in everyone.
Photos by Stephanie Green.