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Sunset Beach, North Carolina The Ultimate Family Vacation Destination

Updated on June 15, 2011
Mark Greene at the Swinging Bridge circa 1988 or so!
Mark Greene at the Swinging Bridge circa 1988 or so!

Sunset Beach is special because of people. The people who vacation there, who own businesses there and the people who sent us there.

I will always credit the late Judge Robert M. Doster with giving my family our favorite vacation spot. Bob was the City of Lancaster’s Municipal Judge and he sent me, my wife of about six months and her three sons to Sunset Beach for a free weekend during the summer of 1983. We truly had no money back then and could not have afforded a vacation at all, but Bob always thought a lot of my wife who worked for him at the court.

Sunset Beach North Carolina is located just across the South Carolina border and is 45 miles north of Myrtle Beach. The only things the two beaches have in common is sand, sea gulls and salt water.

Sunset is an island with about three miles of beach that is connected to the rest of North Carolina (and the world) by a swinging bridge across the Intercoastal Waterway. The bridge is the last bridge of it’s type on the East Coast and you can tell when you drive on it that it has seen better days.

I first met M. L. “Merlin” Boone, owner of Julies Rentals, in the mid 1980’s. My youngest step-son Mark is handicapped and we rented a red three wheel bike from Merlin. We bought the bike the next trip and it served him well for years. Merlin took an interest in Mark and has been a good friend. We purchased a new blue three wheeler a couple of years ago for Mark’s Christmas and Merlin handled the transaction as a favor for us through his distributor. The shop is named after Merlin’s first wife, Julie, who tragically died a few years ago. Julie's Rentals is located on the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Main. You can't miss it and I hope you don't.

When you get to Sunset rent yourself a bike from Merlin, ride to the end of the island and get a banana milk shake when you get back. It just doesn’t get any better than this. If you want to get married on the beach Merlin is a minister and can preform the ceremony for you!

Merlin or M.L. as everyone else calls him.

If you look up “family friendly vacation spot” on the net Sunset Beach should be on the top of the list. Kids roam freely, there are no amusement parks or bars and I think that is the draw. Folks are comfortable there.

The beach itself runs from the east end of the island with a view across the channel of Ocean Isle Beach to the jetty at Bird Island on the west. It gets a little crowded near the pier during the peak season but nothing like the beaches at Myrtle.

If you are looking for solitude go down the beach to to Bird Island. When we first started going to Sunset you could only get to Bird Island during low tide. The channel was too deep and fast to cross. Storms have since filled the channel and you can now go anytime you want. There are no houses on Bird Island but there is a mailbox. It is The Kindred Spirit mailbox and there is always a notebook waiting for your thoughts and feelings. The notebooks make interesting reading. Be careful where you look on Bird Island there is sometimes a naturalist or two on the beach since it is sort of no man’s land as far as law enforcement is concerned.

2 West Main Street, Sunset Beach NC:
2 Main St W, Sunset Beach, NC 28468, USA

get directions

Julie's Rentals

40th street, Sunset Beach, NC:
40th St, Sunset Beach, NC 28468, USA

get directions

102 Sunset blvd. Sunset Beach, NC:
102 Sunset Blvd N, Sunset Beach, NC 28468, USA

get directions

Twin Lakes

When we are at Sunset Mark rides his bike. No you misunderstood, let me try again: WHEN WE ARE THERE MARK RIDES HIS BIKE! Everyday. Often two or three times a day. Even if it’s ninety five degrees in the shade-what shade?? It’s a beach, fool! There ain’t no oak trees splashing cool shade hither and yon. It’s like a desert, with water. We normally ride for hours, until my butt gets numb and I fall off. Then, I get back on and we ride some more.

Seriously, Sunset Beach is the one place Mark can feel free. Free to ride his bike as far and pretty much as independently as he wants. Once I get him past the soft sand and out onto the open hard packed sand, he just goes. He waves at everyone he sees like he's in some kind of parade, and most people speak in return. His handicaps become less important for awhile and he is in his element.

True story: I pointed him west one time toward Bird Island and left him to go back and get my bike. When I returned to the beach I headed out to catch up. I rode and rode, didn’t catch him, then got worried and rode faster. No Mark. I finally found him on the opposite end of the island looking across at Ocean Isle. He had turned around after I left him and went the other way. He thought it was hilarious, I was not amused. I got over it.

Mark and Becky Kaplan operate the 900 foot long Sunset Beach Pier. They are always exceptionally nice to our "Mark" and go out of their way to speak to him. Becky even took him trout fishing and Mark caught one! We often go there to fish, to get a cold beer or just to hang out with a cup of coffee at night. In season, King Mackerel fishing takes over at the far end of the pier and it is exciting to see those guys catch a big one. People behave on this pier. If they catch some fish, that’s great. If they don’t “Well maybe next time.” is the attitude most often exhibited.

The Kaplans also own/operate The Island Market just around the corner from Julies Rentals. If you need milk, bread, eggs and some Krispy Kremes for breakfast this is the place. They also have a sub sandwich shop in the back that is great.

Mark is rolling.
Mark is rolling.
This is a view toward Ocean Isle from Sunset Beach Pier.
This is a view toward Ocean Isle from Sunset Beach Pier.
Mark and his sea trout.
Mark and his sea trout.
Catch, squeeze, photograph and release!
Catch, squeeze, photograph and release!
Nightlife on the pier.
Nightlife on the pier.

If you want to golf Sunset Beach offers several courses. I’d just as soon shoot myself in the foot, so I know nothing about these courses. They are there on the mainland if you’re that bored or you just have to get away from your spouse for a while. (I think that may be why golf was invented.)

As for seafood, you could drive an hour and a half to Murrel’s Inlet on the other side of Myrtle Beach to get some. If you do, you passed better seafood than you’re going to get.

Twin Lakes Seafood is on your right just off the bridge from the island. I’ve eaten my share of shrimp and I tell you, you can not do better than this! You can go upstairs to the bar and have a drink, then watch the boats sail up and down the waterway and shortly the best seafood in the world will arrive at your table. My mouth waters at the very thought.

She who will be obeyed and Maddie.

Our boys Michael, Mitchell and Mark have grown up playing at Sunset Beach. They explored the channel at low tide, they rode kayaks on the waterway and bikes on the beach, they fished and fussed and fought and floundered. Michael and Mitchell eventually married and between them they have three daughters. Now it is their daughters turn to fall in love with the place-and they have. Meanwhile, Helen, Mark and I have had the opportunity to build a lifetime of memories at our favorite vacation spot. Below is a slideshow of some of those memories and some links to the places I have mentioned. Enjoy.

Thanks again, Judge Doster. We still think of you, often and fondly.

The Late Robert M. Doster: Husband, Father, Lawyer, Judge and Friend

Ahoy, Slideshow Below!

Click thumbnail to view full-size


If you are interested in renting the Doster place at Sunset contact Jean Norris (no relation to Chuck, I'm sure!) at this email:

You will like it, I'm sure.


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    • resspenser profile imageAUTHOR

      Ronnie Sowell 

      7 years ago from South Carolina

      You ought to know!


    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Sunset Beach is "Heaven on earth!" And RES is a great author and POP!

    • resspenser profile imageAUTHOR

      Ronnie Sowell 

      7 years ago from South Carolina


      Thanks for reading. We are headed back a little later this summer. If I see you on the pier, I'll buy you an adult beverage!

    • CondoLux Rentals profile image

      CondoLux Rentals 

      7 years ago from North Myrtle Beach,South Carolina

      I've lived in Myrtle Beach for YEARS now and never been to Sunset Beach, although it is right up the road. This article definitely sways me to go! Seems like it would be less busy than Myrtle Beach too. More time to relax? Like you said "The only things the two beaches have in common is sand, sea gulls and salt water." :)


    • resspenser profile imageAUTHOR

      Ronnie Sowell 

      7 years ago from South Carolina

      Thanks PegCole. Tell her to go there when she gets a chance and to invite you!

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      7 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      I'm forwarding this one to my sis who lives in NC. Lovely part of the country. Thanks for the Beautiful pictures.

    • resspenser profile imageAUTHOR

      Ronnie Sowell 

      7 years ago from South Carolina


      Thank you for the kind words. I just added an email address for one of the Judges Daughters who is handling the rental of the house.

    • KristenGrace profile image


      7 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      So want to visit North Carolina - Awesome pictures, great hub overall !

    • resspenser profile imageAUTHOR

      Ronnie Sowell 

      7 years ago from South Carolina

      Thanks, akirchner. This hub isn't competitive with yours and most of the others on vacation spots, just a fun hub to write and develop.

      Thanks for reading.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 

      7 years ago from Washington

      Awesome hub and love the pics! What a cool way for Mark to do what he does so well and think that is just the best part to see him enjoying himself. I'd love to see Sunset Beach in North Carolina!

    • resspenser profile imageAUTHOR

      Ronnie Sowell 

      7 years ago from South Carolina


      Glad you like it. Please forward to anyone you think would like it.

    • profile image

      m l Boone 

      7 years ago

      This is a fantastic remembrance. Thank you

    • resspenser profile imageAUTHOR

      Ronnie Sowell 

      7 years ago from South Carolina


      Thanks for reading my hub and looking at the pictures. I notice tags on cars when I am there and I often see people come from great distances. Come on down and bring the family!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Your pictures make it tempting. We have never been to that part of the country.


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