With a name like Cape Fear, you might wonder about stepping into the water. But North Carolina's southern coast has long soothed (not scared) visitors. Take your pick from pristine, undeveloped stretches or busy seaside scenes. And don't be afraid. The area got its name long ago from captains who ran their ships aground due to shifting shoals where the Cape Fear River meets the ocean. Here are a few recommendations for ocean visits.
Situated on 11-mile-long, aptly named Pleasure Island, this beach boasts an array of attractions. A boardwalk with miniature golf, paddleboats, and arcades parallels the beach, while nearby 761-acre Carolina Beach State Park provides a rare glimpse of the insectivorous Venus flytrap along the Flytrap Trail. After the day's activities, visitors can sample more-mild-than-wild nightlife on one of several popular party cruises.
If it's a bustling beach you crave, you might want to skip this spot on Pleasure Island. Just south of town, Fort Fisher State Recreation Area offers 4 miles of undeveloped waterfront, and there is little to do but let your stress evaporate in the calm sea breezes. Only 2,000 residents call this coastal town home, but many more come for the 712-foot pier, ideal for fishing or strolling.
Beachgoers swarm here during the summer, when the usual population of 2,400 can swell to 50,000. Fortunately, the crystal waters stay warm well into fall, making it an ideal off-season destination, as well as a haven for local surfers. Connected to the mainland by two bridges, the island has everything you would expect from a popular beach getaway. Contact information for all three beaches: 877/406-2356 or cape-fear.nc.us.