While most of us know that Wilmington is surrounded by water and beautiful beaches, how much do we really know about our coastal region? Along the southeastern coastline, there is a profound historical legacy that has played a significant role in the area's development that has helped it grow to what it is today. Let’s talk about the origins and historical facts of the beaches that make up the Cape Fear Region - and how they each have something quite unique!

Wrightsville Beach:

Wrightsville Beach, situated just east of Wilmington, stands as one of the area's most popular coastal destinations. With its pristine sands and bright blue waters, this beach has been a favorite spot for locals and visitors since the early 20th century. Named after the Wright family, who once owned the island, Wrightsville Beach became accessible by bridge in 1935, making it a more easily reached destination for beachgoers.

During World War II, the beach played a strategic role as a training ground for military operations. Today, the area is renowned for its water sports, restaurants, bars, boutiques and the iconic Johnnie Mercer's Pier, which adds a touch of nostalgia to the island's character.

Carolina Beach:

Carolina Beach, which is located just south of Wilmington, has a history deeply intertwined with tourism and entertainment. In the late 19th century, it became a popular resort destination, attracting visitors with its seaside amusements and oceanfront accommodations - such as motels, restaurants and shops. The Carolina Beach Boardwalk, established in 1887, has been a central hub of activity for over a century, offering everything from carnival rides to live music. Of course, we cannot mention Carolina Beach without including the iconic Britt’s Donut Shop - which has been around since 1939! It is known for its homemade glazed doughnuts, and frequently makes the National Top 10 Doughnut Shop List.

During World War II, the beach was closed to the public due to military activities. The remnants of Fort Fisher, a Confederate fortification crucial to the defense of Wilmington, can still be explored nearby. Today, Carolina Beach continues to captivate visitors with its nostalgic charm, vibrant community and special small local business focused vibe.

Kure Beach:

Just south of Carolina Beach lies Kure Beach, a lowkey retreat with a unique blend of natural beauty and historical significance. Originally known as Kure's Beach, the area was named after a Danish immigrant, Hans Andersen Kure, who settled there in the late 19th century. Kure Beach gained prominence during World War II when it became home to a U.S. Army training center known as Camp Davis.

One of the notable landmarks at Kure Beach is the Fort Fisher State Historic Site, which preserves the remains of the Confederate fort and provides a glimpse into the region's Civil War history. Today, Kure Beach offers a quieter, family-friendly atmosphere, making it an ideal destination for those seeking relaxation and a true laidback vacation.

Fort Fisher State Recreation Area:

At the most southern tip of Pleasure Island (The nicknamed island of Carolina Beach and Kure Beach), Fort Fisher State Recreation Area is a preserved area allowing natural beauty and historical respect. During the Civil War, Fort Fisher served as a Confederate stronghold critical to maintaining supply lines to Wilmington. The Union's successful capture of the fort in 1865 marked a turning point in the war. It’s a huge landmark in American history!

Today, the recreation area encompasses the remains of the fort, providing visitors with a glimpse into its strategic importance. The site also offers miles of beautiful beaches, salt marshes, and tidal creeks, and nature trails, making it a perfect destination for nature enthusiasts as well as history buffs.

Masonboro Island:

For a more secluded and private coastal experience, Masonboro Island stands as an undeveloped barrier island accessible only by boat. Named after Royal Governor Josiah Martin's secretary, George Mason, the island remains largely untouched, providing a habitat for various plant and animal species…And on the right day, some great surfing.

Masonboro Island was once used as a pirate hideout , and later, for fishermen. Today, it serves as a protected reserve, allowing visitors to experience the unaltered beauty of the coast. On this island you’ll find its tidal flats, dunes, and forests - all virtually untouched - offering a rare opportunity to connect with the natural habitat of the region.

Topsail Island:

Stretching along the coast just north of Wilmington, Topsail Island is a barrier island known for its serene beaches and charm. The island got its name from the days when pirates would hide their ships in the channel, "topsail" being a nautical term referring to the uppermost sail on a ship. During World War II, Topsail Island served as a training ground for Operation Bumblebee, a top-secret missile program.

Today, Topsail Island is a popular destination for those seeking a quieter coastal experience. The island itself is around 26 miles long - and largely inhabited by beach cottages as opposed to large, view-blocking hotels. Visitors can explore the Missiles and More Museum, which showcases the island's military history, and enjoy the beaches that make Topsail a hidden gem along the North Carolina coastline.

Surf City:

Located on Topsail Island, Surf City is a charming coastal town with a laid-back atmosphere and a rich history. Named for its world-class surfing conditions, Surf City has evolved from a small fishing community into a popular beach destination. The iconic swing bridge that once connected the island was the only way to access Topsail before the construction of the high-rise bridge in 2018. This was built to accommodate for the increasing influx of traffic on and off the island, without having to stop motorists multiple times a day for boat traffic. 

Surf City offers visitors a relaxed beach experience, with opportunities for fishing, water sports, and enjoying the simple pleasures of life. The town's Surf City Pier is a favorite spot for anglers and provides panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Oak Island:

South of Wilmington, Oak Island is a family-friendly beach destination known for its extensive shoreline and welcoming community. The island was named after the majestic live oak trees that can be found throughout its landscape. Oak Island's history is intertwined with maritime activities and shipwrecks, with the area once being a popular haunt for pirates…Yes, that’s a common theme along the Cape Fear region.

In the mid-20th century, Oak Island transformed into a vacation destination, and today, it offers a mix of residential areas and public beach accesses. The Oak Island Lighthouse, completed in 1958, stands as a symbol of the island and provides the most amazing views of the Ocean and beyond.


While not a traditional beach, Southport deserves a special mention for its historic charm and significance. Located at the junction of the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean, Southport has an abundant history dating back to the colonial era. The town played a vital role in the shipping industry and was an important Confederate port during the Civil War.

Today, Southport retains its historic character with tree-lined streets, historic homes, and a quaint waterfront appeal. Visitors can explore the North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport, which showcases the region's heritage, and enjoy the scenic beauty of the town's riverfront parks. Because of its unique character, many movies have been filmed there to include: Safe Haven and I Know What You Did Last Summer.

Bald Head Island:

Located two miles across the river from Southport and accessible only by ferry or private boat, there is the lovely and serene Bald Head Island. This island is the ultimate spot for serenity and a nice reset. Fun fact, there are no cars on the island!

Bald Head Island has a deep rooted history, with Old Baldy, North Carolina's OLDEST lighthouse, standing as a testament to the island's role as a navigational landmark. The island was a favored spot for pirates in the 18th century and later served as a Confederate fortress during the Civil War. Today, Bald Head Island is known for its ecological conservation efforts and its commitment to preserving the island's natural beauty.


As an area blessed with a coastline of diverse beaches, it’s no wonder the history runs deep. If this exploration has ignited your interest in planning a vacation or considering a move to the Cape Fear region, we are here to assist you! Our knowledgeable agents serve all of the Cape Fear region, providing personalized guidance for those looking to experience the coastal lifestyle or plant their roots in these picturesque communities. Whether you're dreaming of a beachfront retreat, a historic home in Southport, or a secluded haven on Bald Head Island, our team is ready to help you make your coastal aspirations a reality. Give us a call to start planning your next getaway or to explore the possibilities of making one of these charming coastal towns your home!



Author: Haley Elder, Marketing Manager

Salt + Stone Property Group