Sunset Inn
photograph by Andrew Sherman

In 1965, 10-year-old Dave Nelson looked out the window of his family’s 1956 Dodge Coronet, stuffed with suitcases, coolers, and beach chairs, as the town of Sunset Beach unfolded before him. The old swing bridge that led to the island carried him to a world of simple wooden houses and a laid-back way of life; he knew he had to live there someday.

“Something moved me the first time I came across that little bridge, and I said, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be,’” says Dave, now 62. Every year after that, his family made the journey from their home in Lenoir to the coast, and Dave’s desire to make a life there intensified with time. Finally, more than 25 years after that first visit to Sunset Beach, he left his management job in Lenoir and made the island his home.

Now, Dave helps other people make Sunset Beach their home — permanent or temporary — as a real estate agent, developer, and owner of The Sunset Inn, a charming, 14-room bed and breakfast situated on the Intracoastal Waterway’s marshy banks. “Whenever I come back to the inn, I walk up the front steps and I’m at home,” Dave says. “That’s the way we want people to feel. You don’t have to own a beach home — you’ve got a home right here.”

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The cream-colored wooden Inn is one of the first things you see as you cross into Sunset Beach. The building is understated, “a throwback,” Dave says, not like the steel-and-concrete structures that line some other North Carolina beaches.

As a general contractor and self-taught home designer, Dave designed and built the inn from the ground up. He and manager Andrea Ward spent hours planning in a construction trailer before opening the inn in 2000. “We just started from scratch and a legal pad and mapped it out,” Dave says.

Each room — 10 guest rooms and four larger “Grand Rooms” — is spotlessly clean and decorated tastefully in a different theme; large, private screened-in porches, some with wooden swings, overlook the marsh on the waterway and offer spectacular sunset views. In front of the inn, hanging baskets, garden beds, and planters overflow with color. Kelly Clemmons, Dave’s “sweetheart,” he says, taught herself how to arrange and care for the plants, and Dave says they look better than ever.

It’s that kind of attention to detail that keep people coming back. “We have so many repeat guests now that we get to know people, and that’s fun for us,” Andrea says. “They become like family to us.”

Surrounded by this temporary family, those guests find what Dave Nelson found here long ago: home.

“I’m glad that I was able to contribute something to Sunset Beach that is a positive thing,” he says. “I love the island. I’ve always loved it.”

The Sunset Inn
9 North Shore Drive
Sunset Beach, NC 28468
(910) 575-1000

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Katie King is the assistant editor at Our State.