At just about 3 miles in length Sunset Beach is the smallest of Brunswick County's barrier islands. It is also the southernmost beach in North Carolina. Development of the area began in 1955 when Mannon Gore purchased the island from the Brooks Family and International Paper Company. The town was incorporated in 1963, though the community remains small and, with the exception of the height of tourist season, amazingly quiet. Much of the serenity is attributed to the size of the island, but the swinging pontoon bridge has also played a role in stymieing development. The only one if its kind still in use on the East Coast, the quaint swing bridge features a narrow one lane path that spans two-tenths of a mile across the IntraCoastal Waterway. A nominal wait should be expected at the very least; an alternating traffic pattern is necessary, and the bridge swings open every hour to allow boats to pass along the Waterway. Hailed as a symbol of the unhurried lifestyle for decades, the bridge has proved too inept of late, and construction of a modern high-rise bridge has been slated.
Census estimates place the population of Sunset at around 1,800, though the vast majority of people in this figure reside in Oyster Bay, Sandpiper Bay, and Sea Trail — golf course communities just on the mainland. Full-time residents on the island number about one hundred. Amenities on the island are sparse, but across the bridge there are numerous dining options, grocery and retail stores, golf courses, museums and a planetarium. The seafood haven of Calabash is less than five miles away, Ocean Isle is about seven, and the attractions of North Myrtle Beach are about a 15-minute drive from the bridge.
Next to Sunset Beach is a 1300 acre state preserve known as Bird Island, which is accessible by wading from the southern tip of Sunset when the tide is out, or by boat. The islands only inhabitants are nesting sea turtles and a variety of birds. For the adventurous spirit, one can navigate from Sunset Beach to Bird Island then walk into Little River Inlet in South Carolina. More than a mile from the adjoining tip of Bird Island nestled amongst the sand dunes is the "Kindred Spirits Mailbox" containing poems, letters, and reflections from other visitors.
With a combination of rustic charm, an oceanfront gazebo and an unpopulated island at times adjoining it Sunset Beach remains a jewel in the eye of those who cherish nature. It offers one of the few remaining opportunities on the East Coast to view a coastal landscape unmolested by development. Still, the island remains well situated for golfers and is a quick commute to North Myrtle Beach and Shallotte. These factors add to the premium for real estate on Sunset Beach.