Carolina Beach Family Travel Guide
Updated: Jul 16, 2019
Traveling to Carolina Beach with your kiddos this summer? If so, you’re in luck!
We recently returned home from a truly unforgettable 2-day, 2-night trip in Carolina Beach, NC to celebrate the girl's 5th birthday! We take birthdays pretty seriously in our family and last year we did the whole unicorn-themed birthday party sha-bang. But this year? Heck, no! We were beach bound! Just the five of us. We hadn’t visited a beach in North Carolina yet, so after our epic trip to Myrtle Beach, SC last month, we figured it was the perfect occasion to check one out! And you know what? It didn’t disappoint!
If you’re anxious to learn more, keep reading to steal our ultimate Carolina Beach family travel guide! Below we are going to share with you the best things to do in Carolina Beach, including, our FAV activities, restaurants, the best kid-friendly resort in Carolina Beach, travel tips and much more!
Carolina Beach Courtyard Marriott
S: Before arriving at our final destination, we made a quick pit stop at Imaginary Cakes in Wilmington to pick up the girls (surprise) mermaid birthday cake. The girls were clueless as to what this 'surprise' was so we continued on, and within 20-minutes, we rolled up to the Courtyard Marriott at Carolina Beach.
We have stayed at Marriott hotels for well over a decade so we knew the sort of consistency and amenities to expect. And being this particular resort is the 'only oceanfront Marriott in North Carolina,' we knew we were in for a real treat! It’s conveniently located in the center of the action, sitting on the newly renovated Carolina Beach Boardwalk and is just steps away from sand, shops, restaurants, and nightlife! Although the hotel was at max capacity AND we arrived a solid 3-hours before the standard check-in time, the kind girl at the front desk was able to get us into a room immediately - and a room with an amazing view of the beach at that!
We were all delighted to set our bags down, change into our swim gear, and hit the beach! After all, we had celebrating to do!
R: I’ve never been a beach guy, but since I missed out on Myrtle Beach and heard how much the kids enjoyed it, I was intrigued to say the least. Carolina Beach changed everything. As I was admiring the beautiful scene before me, the girls and Rory quickly got busy with what they learned a few weeks prior. All of the beach toys, towels, and beach blanket were quickly laid out as the girls started playing in the sand and Rory began chasing birds.
Well, 'not being a beach guy' had its drawbacks. I had secretly been wondering if I was going to be able to put up the umbrella without the help of my father-in-law. Turns out, I could NOT. So, with the sun blistering down on us, we decided it was Atlantic Ocean time!
I was surprised by two things when my feet hit the water: the first being how comfortable the temperature was. The second, was how much the kids ALL genuinely loved the ocean. We got a little brave and walked to the 'sandbar' (Steph with her camera and Rory on her hip; me carrying BOTH girls), but all agreed it was a little dangerous as the large waves played tricks with our balance. So we sought for safer waters...the pool!
We only spent a half hour at the hotel’s pool mostly so we could get Rory in the water. Though quiet and well shaded, it just wasn’t the same as the beach. We rinsed off and headed back to the room to clean up for dinner.
S: Sun, sand, and sugar highs are always an excellent combo while on family vacation, so naturally it was time to go out to eat! Michael's Seafood is the 'top seafood restaurant in Carolina Beach,' AND they offer free shuttle service - seemed like a great fit! There were numerous fish tanks throughout the restaurant that kept Rory well entertained as we waited for our food. The large menu had something for everyone. The girls loved their meals, and that’s all that really mattered. After all, it was their birthday!
Carolina Beach Boardwalk
Per the request of the girls, we headed back to the beach following dinner. Upon our arrival, they immediately raced to the ocean and began jumping the waves with their Barbies in hand. Rory, had one objective: to catch a bird. With everyone soaked from the waist down and after we captured a few pics, it was time to get this party started. We set off for the Boardwalk! Ranked one of the Top 10 Boardwalks by Food & Wine magazine, it was a must!
*pro tip#1: use the bathroom before embarking to the Boardwalk. Not only was it probably the dirtiest public bathroom, but I also stood in line for a VERY long time.
Ryan and the girls hit up the cute little mini golf course, and after surviving the bathroom fiasco, me and Rory tagged along. The Boardwalk features numerous restaurants, shops, nightlife entertainment, and even a seaside amusement park! (Sadly, the rides were not open yet as they run Memorial Day thru Labor Day. It’s also worth noting that fireworks launch every Thursday at 9 PM in the summer.)
We took in the thrilling sights and enjoyed a stroll before landing upon Celtic Creamery. What’s a birthday without ice cream?! The shop (conveniently for the girls) shares a space with 'Seaside Shenanigans Boutique.' We later left with full bellies, tired legs, a purple monkey, and a golden retriever 'stuffie.' It didn’t take us long to fall asleep that night. A stellar fifth birthday celebration indeed!
Britt's Donut Shop
R: When Steph mentioned we were heading to Britt's (known for their famous homemade glazed donuts) earlier that week, you can’t even imagine my anticipation. It was the first thing we did that day as a family and it delivered on ALL levels. We got there at 8:40 AM (ten minutes after they opened), and had to wait fifteen minutes, but it ended up being perfect.
It gave Rory time to run around and the girls and I a chance to shoot the breeze.
We ordered half a dozen (I didn't want to ruin my day!) and a cold glass of milk. I had two, Adalyn had two, and Rory had one. Shockingly, Avi (a sugar-lover) wasn’t in the mood, so the three of us shared the rest. The donuts (and the ice cold milk) were phenomenal.
Carolina Beach State Park
After our morning indulgences we decided to hit up the Carolina Beach State Park and go on a nature walk to seek out Venus Fly Traps. It was hot, buggy, we were pushing a fifteen dollar stroller through the middle of the woods, and we didn’t end up seeing any fly traps. I guess I’m not much of a nature guy either.
*pro tip #2: We later learned we could have basked in the glorious sun, jamming to tunes and sippin' mocktails on a private boat through Island Hopper tours. They have customizable cruises with numerous pick-up locations, including the Carolina Beach State Park boat ramp. If you're reading this, definitely check it out, and do it for us!
Surf lessons @ Tony Silvagni Surf School
S: The girls were getting more comfortable with the ocean (in fact, they were loving it!) so I figured that surf lessons would be a fun birthday treat. I was unsure if the they would be old enough but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they begin lessons at age four. And when I discovered that Pro surfer Tony Silvagni owns and instructs at Tony Silvagni Surf School in Carolina Beach, we were committed.
This ended up being an excellent decision. The girls learned to 'hang ten' and ride the waves on their bellies. The instructors were also really amazing: they were kind and enthusiastic with the girls, and even provided mom and dad with some local knowledge.
Before departing from our lesson, I asked them for a good lunch spot with healthy options. Their recommendation, Hang Ten Grill. (Seems fitting, right?)
Hang Ten Grill
It was only about a block away, so we enjoyed the walk as we dried off. We were also happy to see a cornhole game outside which kept everyone busy while we waited for our table. After all the excitement from the morning - donuts, hiking, and surfing all before noon! - we had worked up quite the appetite. The menu had more options than I was expecting and some non-traditional kids menu items too. Like nachos! And nachos that were actually worthy. We were all pleased with our meals and now that we were feeling recharged, it was time to get back to the beach!
Back to the beach
R: The second day at the beach (start to finish) was pure gold. We did it all again (even the sandbar) and this time built sandcastles. We all enjoyed an italian ice as we bounced from the water, to the sand castle, to the only tarp without an umbrella. Even though I left the beach red as a lobster, it was magical.
Steph left first and brought Rory to nap and the girls and I hit up the indoor hot tub. There we did what we always do: talked, relaxed, and when it got too hot, we’d jump in the resort's other pool.
S: One of the many things I enjoyed about Carolina Beach was that everything was within walking distance, including Havana’s. Voted by Urban Spoon as 'The Best Food on the Island Hands Down,' I had specifically selected this Carolina Beach restaurant for our second evening as they play live music each week on Sundays. (I’m a sucker for live music.)
And you know what? More cornhole! Apparently they really love cornhole at Carolina Beach. I loved it too because it was an easy and obvious distraction for Rory. Small, congested restaurants plus Rory do not mix. Overall we were satisfied with everything about Havana’s. The portions were sized perfectly and the atmosphere was polished, yet fun and comfortable. (It's worth noting that they do not have crayons and coloring paper though!)
The beach at dusk
We passed on dessert (there was one more 'must-see' on my list) and made our way back to the beach for sunset. Before everyone got distracted, I set up the tripod and we snapped a few fun shots. The girls were back to ocean with their Barbies and Rory was back to chasing birds. One of my favorite parts of the trip was probably the family walk we took along the ocean that evening. I didn’t think we’d ever get the girls off the beach, but thankfully we had ice cream as bribery.
Squigley's Ice Cream & Treats Shoppe
R: I think it’s fair to say that the beach was the Graves’ favorite destination on this Carolina Beach vacation. But another spot that I haven’t stopped talking about is Squigley’s Ice Cream & Treats Shoppe. True to self, Steph had this one picked out for weeks, and boy am I ever grateful. I mean, the experience, ice cream, and of course the famous 'Squigley' was so gosh darn good, it inspired me to write a separate piece featuring the parlor. (Stay tuned.)
'Proudly serving Carolina Beach for 25 years and counting, The Squigley® is their trademark treat that has made them the most famous ice cream parlor in Southeastern NC.' Well, I told the owner, Ann, that it was the best ice cream I had ever had, so I’m not going to disagree there!
Squigley's ended up being the last great family thing we did on this quick getaway. And it’s always nice to end on a high note. But one of the most underrated things that comes along with vacation is the drive home. You might be thinking about how tired you are or how much laundry you have to do when you return. But for us? It’s a great time to reminisce and create stories that will be a part of this family for years to come. We all shared our favorite parts of the trip, laughed, and eventually started scheming ideas on where we’re going next.
Because the five of us, tired or not, love these adventures and can’t wait for more!
Where are you vacationing to this summer? Comment below!
The Graves fam