A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

[caption id="attachment_138407" align="alignright" width="215"] Brinley & Jeff Christner.[/caption] In 1887, Capt. John Harper started taking people from Wilmington to Carolina Beach for the day on a ferry named Passport. “After

Madison County Championship Rodeo

[caption id="attachment_138407" align="alignright" width="215"] Brinley & Jeff Christner.[/caption] In 1887, Capt. John Harper started taking people from Wilmington to Carolina Beach for the day on a ferry named Passport. “After

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

[caption id="attachment_138407" align="alignright" width="215"] Brinley & Jeff Christner.[/caption] In 1887, Capt. John Harper started taking people from Wilmington to Carolina Beach for the day on a ferry named Passport. “After

A Guide to Carolina Beach

Brinley & Jeff Christner. photograph by Millie Holloman Photography

In 1887, Capt. John Harper started taking people from Wilmington to Carolina Beach for the day on a ferry named Passport. “After the second year, it was such a popular route that he had to pull a passenger barge behind the ferry boat to accommodate more people,” says Brinley Christner of Tasting History Tours. “It’s been a tourist destination ever since.”

Brinley and her husband, Jeff, started their tour company to share the often-overlooked history of Carolina Beach, highlighting how events ranging from the Civil War to natural disasters have shaped the beachfront town. Now, Jeff, a high school math teacher, and Brinley, a mortgage loan originator, spend summers and weekends during the off-season sharing bite-size pieces of history — and bites at local restaurants — on their two-and-a-half-hour walking tours.

“There aren’t a lot of old buildings, so you don’t necessarily see the history,” Jeff says. “It’s easy to forget that someone came here 100 years ago, and that’s what we want to share: Carolina Beach has a lot of history.”

Sweet Treats

Britts Donut Shop. The homemade glazed doughnuts here have earned local and national accolades, so it’s no surprise that lines extend down the boardwalk from the moment the iconic shop opens full-time on Memorial Day. “The doughnuts taste so good when they just come out of the fryer,” Brinley says.

Grab a bag of sweet, glazed delights at Britts Donut Shop. photograph by Matt Ray Photography

Squigley’s Ice Cream & Treats. Start with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and choose up to three toppings, including fruits, candies, chocolates, pretzels, nuts, and pie pieces — then watch the magic happen as the ingredients are “squiggled” into a custom-blended ice cream flavor.

The Fudgeboat. More than 40 flavors of homemade fudge are displayed in an old boat that washed up on the beach during a hurricane. For a real treat, Brinley suggests ordering a scoop of homemade ice cream with melted fudge drizzled over the top.

Drink

Good Hops Brewing. An old glove manufacturing plant turned brewery pulls pints of flagship beers like Boardwalk Brown Ale and Flip Hop IPA. Grab a bite from one of the food trucks parked on-site and play a game of disc golf out back.

Eat

COAST Craft Cocktails & Calabash. Known for his work at the Surf House, chef and owner Craig Love’s new casual dining venture specializes in custom cocktails and classic dishes with a twist, like fish and chips with Old Bay-seasoned fries, and lobster rolls served with corn-and-tomato relish.

Havana’s. Built in 1916, the beach cottage that now houses this laid-back seafood restaurant is one of the oldest structures on the island — and, Jeff says, “one of the most happening spots” in Carolina Beach. In the summer, snag a seat on the patio to watch fireworks explode over the boardwalk on Thursday evenings.

A&G BBQ & Chicken. This homestyle restaurant has been serving barbecue, fried chicken, and other Southern staples (breakfast included on weekends!) since 1989. An original sign on the door of the pink cinder-block building advertises air-conditioning inside — or order from the walk-up window and enjoy your meal at a picnic table in the sunshine.

Head to the walk-up window to order plates filled with barbecue, hush puppies, fried shrimp, and more at A&G BBQ & Chicken. photograph by Matt Ray Photography

The Dive Food & Spirits. From the outside, The Dive looks more like a dive shop than a scuba-themed restaurant. The fish tacos take top billing, but Jeff calls the burgers the best on the island. Order the classic cheeseburger, or opt for something a little different, like the avocado burger.

The Fat Pelican. “The Fat P” has been called the No. 1 dive bar in North Carolina. Grab one of more than 400 brands of beer stocked in the walk-in cooler and pop the top on the sand-covered patio, where the colorful hull of a boat looks like it washed ashore.

Shop

The Veggie Wagon. What started as a roadside fruit and vegetable stand has evolved into a gourmet market that stocks homemade pickles, pimento cheese, baguettes, jams and jellies, and other fixin’s for the perfect beach picnic.

Shop local at the Veggie Wagon. photograph by Matt Ray Photography

CB Surf Shop. Located one block from the beach, this expansive shop is the place to rent a surfboard or stand-up paddleboard to get out on the water. No plans to hit the waves? Brinley suggests stopping in for a Carolina Beach T-shirt as a souvenir.

Island True Value Tackle & Hardware. This hardware store is a central gathering place for anglers looking for tackle, bait, coolers, and other fishing essentials. The staff can also coordinate fishing charters.

Play

Carolina Beach State Park. This park boasts 761 acres of pristine natural habitat that Brinley calls “a hidden gem on the island.” Native wildflowers and longleaf pines are abundant along the half-mile Flytrap Trail, and the carnivorous Venus flytrap plants that call the park home are a highlight of the hike.

Carolina Beach Arcade. This gamers’ paradise is filled with the latest arcade games as well as classics like Skee-Ball and pinball. High-scoring players earn bragging rights and tickets that can be traded for prizes.

This story was published on May 25, 2021

Jodi Helmer

Jodi Helmer

North Carolina-based journalist Jodi Helmer writes about food, farming, and the environment.