I was sitting on the bow of a gorgeous 34-foot sailboat named Zoe, my legs dangling by the hull, and we were coasting past the south end of Wrightsville Beach in Banks Channel. We were aiming directly for Masonboro Inlet, and we were almost there, but up ahead, fast-approaching storm clouds were darkening by the second. A fat raindrop hit my arm, and the white mainsail billowed in the wind, catching the sun that was still shining behind us.
“I just want to barely kiss the ocean so that you can say you sailed on the Atlantic,” Capt. Matt McCoy said from back in the cockpit. There was a gritty determination in his voice, but when I turned to look at him, he was grinning. So was his first mate, Madison.
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Suddenly, the calm waters of the protected channel turned into rolling waves, and my fiancé, Alex, put his hands up like he was at an amusement park, almost spilling his beer. An enormous vivid rainbow appeared, and we all gaped at the beauty all around us, the way the water somehow seemed bluer as the sun sank lower, the seabirds soaring by. And then we were there: out past the jetties, kissing the ocean. All of us cheered as Captain Matt swung the boat around and we sped back to sunshine, the rainbow still glowing like a good omen.
An hour or so later, when Captain Matt safely tied Zoe up to the soundside dock of our storied Wrightsville Beach hotel, the Blockade Runner, I knew it was the beginning of a weekend filled with maritime adventures and stunning seaside views. It’s safe to say our itinerary was perfection, and, lucky for you, I don’t want to keep it to myself. Here’s how to find a little sunshine — and maybe a rainbow! — on your next trip to the coast.
The Blockade Runner Beach Resort overlooks both the Atlantic Ocean and the sound in Wrightsville Beach. Photography courtesy of Blockade Runner Beach Resort
Check in to the Blockade Runner: This iconic beach resort opened in 1964 and has been a Wrightsville Beach landmark ever since. Despite its classic brick exterior, its interior is firmly on the modern side of mid-century modern and is light, bright, and airy from the moment you step into the lobby. It’s easy, breezy, 1960s California meets playful Carolina coastal charm. Check into an oceanfront-balcony room — it’s worth it, and in a little bit, I’ll tell you why — and resist the urge to immediately plop down on the comfy patio chairs, as we did. Instead, head back downstairs to explore the stunningly landscaped seaside garden. Take a stroll along the boardwalk through junipers, palms, and hundreds of pink, purple, and white blooms, and you’ll suddenly feel like you’re in a world apart — even more so when you lounge in one of the hammocks or pod-like daybeds positioned around the lawn. That’s when, like us, you’ll start to understand why families have been coming back to the Blockade Runner for their beach vacations for generations.
Go sailing around Money Island in the 40-foot Allana. Photography courtesy of Blockade Runner Beach Resort
Charter a private sailboat: After you settle in, walk across the street to Soundside, the Blockade Runner’s other waterfront — yep, the resort owns waterfront property on both sides of the narrow island — and climb aboard one of their state-of-the-art sailboats. You have your pick of the 34-foot Zoe or the 40-foot Allana, just be sure to reserve your charter in advance. Your captain will supply the local beer and tunes, but it’s up to you to decide where you venture next. “Kiss” the Atlantic, like we did, or, on a calmer day, head straight out into it. Cruise down the Intracoastal Waterway and watch for yachts, like boat-crazy Alex, who asked Madison and Captain Matt approximately 100 questions in the first 20 minutes of our trip. Or sail around Masonboro Island — the crew will even tow a dinghy, if you want to pull up and explore — and look for dolphins and seabirds, such as the graceful, long-winged black skimmer.
At EAST, dig into the to-die-for signature fried cauliflower (top) and, on Fridays, a delicious whole lobster — with plenty of butter, of course. Photography courtesy of Blockade Runner Beach Resort
Dress up and indulge at EAST Oceanfront Dining: After your sailing adventure, walk back across the street for dinner at EAST, the Blockade Runner’s full-service restaurant. Come hungry: Chef Jessica Cabo — a California native who went to UNC Wilmington and was a finalist on season one of Hell’s Kitchen — and her culinary team craft a seasonal menu filled with incredible seafood-centric dishes made with local and regional ingredients. Cabo credits her creative, artful dishes to her willingness to try new things and elevate ingredients. Start with a craft cocktail, signature fried cauliflower, and, if it’s on special, a cup of she-crab soup. Your entrée depends on what day it is: You can’t go wrong with the best-selling scallops or blue crab cakes, but Fridays are Lobster Night — and who can resist the lobster mac ’n’ cheese?
The Blockade Runner’s seaside gardens are nearly as inviting as the beach. Photography courtesy of Blockade Runner Beach Resort
Eat breakfast on your balcony: In the morning, let breakfast come to you — you are on vacation after all — and sip your coffee on the balcony as you overlook the ocean. (Make sure to order it the night before using the card in your room.) If you’re up early enough, you’ll spot the yoga class in the gardens, like we did. “Good for them,” Alex said, in a way that said I’m very glad we’re up here, doing this, instead.
Take a beach walk: Despite our reluctance to do yoga at 8 a.m., Alex and I are those get-up-and-go types of vacationers. After breakfast, we headed down the boardwalk and reserved two chairs and an umbrella on the beach for the day. Then we set out toward the Crystal Pier, Wrightsville Beach’s only wooden pier, which was originally built in 1939. If you’re a beach walker, keep an eye out for shells.
Grab lunch — and drinks — by the pool: After some sand and sunshine, it’s time to fuel up. Head to the SeaEscape Pool Bar for a Masonboro Mai Tai, ceviche, and sandwiches in the shade. The ocean breeze and the proximity to the gardens combine to create a very tropical atmosphere. Post-cocktail, you may be tempted to lay back in one of the neighboring poolside cabanas with a good beach read.
Go island hopping: In the afternoon, you can either head back to the docks and rent kayaks for a paddle in the sound, or, like us, hop onto the Carolina Runner, a pontoon boat, for the 1.5-hour Island Hopper Cruise. First, Captain Matt took us over to Money Island, home to the area’s largest sand dune (if you’ve been boating here, you know which one I mean!), which kids love to slide down. It’s also the place where the notorious pirate Captain Kidd is said to have buried his treasure. We climbed to the top of the dune for a stunning view of the inlet, the Intracoastal Waterway, and surrounding creeks, before getting back on the boat and cruising toward Masonboro Island — a protected wildlife reserve — to look for giant shells. After anchoring on the marshy shore, we walked the path over to the ocean. Because the barrier island is undeveloped and accessible only by boat, it offers some of the best beachcombing on the coast. Alex quickly found a full, pristine sand dollar, plus one he referred to as “85 cents.”
Watch the sun set over the sound: After an early dinner at a nearby restaurant in Wrightsville Beach — we loved the spicy margaritas and tacos at Shark Bar & Grill — find yourself a seat in an Adirondack chair on the Blockade Runner’s private Soundside beach. From here, you’ll have a perfect view of the sunset.
Watch the sun rise over the ocean: Remember how I told you that I’d prove that the balcony room is worth it? I think I probably already made my point, but just in case … You watched the sun set into the sound. Now, set your alarm for dawn and watch the sun rise out of the Atlantic. I don’t think there’s anything more peaceful than the sound of crashing waves as the pastel colors of the ocean and sky blend and early-bird surfers bob on the waves. It’s like being in a watercolor painting. The best part? If you’re like us, you’re still wearing your pajamas. Go climb back in bed and hit snooze.
Sip a mimosa at Sunday Jazz Brunch: Before heading home, make time for one more meal — and a mimosa, of course. Every Sunday, EAST hosts a jazz brunch with the Marc Siegel Trio, who create the perfect soundtrack for digging into Chef Cabo’s delicious breakfast dishes. Think lemon ricotta pancakes made with fresh berry jam, and crab and goat cheese quiche. For me and Alex, it was the perfect way to top off an adventurous weekend full of coastal beauty. Now go hoist the sails — OK, maybe let Captain Matt do that — and find your own rainbow.
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