Cape Fear visitors in a vacation state of mind will find plenty of reasons to celebrate in Pleasure Island. This moniker that’s given to the island found just south of Wilmington is well-deserved, as the small collection of beach communities that make up this isle are stuffed with stunning beaches, tempting restaurants, cool shops, and ample ways to have fun.
A popular destination for day-tripping locals and weekly vacationers alike, Pleasure Island more than earns its reputations as one of the most fun destinations in the Cape Fear area.
About Pleasure Island
Pleasure Island is one of the southernmost islands in the Cape Fear region, and is bordered to the north by Snow’s Cut, and to the south by Corncake Inlet. Prior to 1930, when manmade Snow’s Cut was formed, the “island” was actually a peninsula that connected with the northern Cape Fear region along the Cape Fear River, and which was commonly known as Federal Point. The island is bordered to the west by the Cape Fear River and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean.
There are two main beach towns within Pleasure Island – Carolina Beach and Kure Beach. (A third town – known as Wilmington Beach – was also originally located on the island, but was eventually annexed by the town of Carolina Beach in 2000.) The island can be easily reached by heading south on US 421 from Wilmington / the northern Cape Fear region, which is also the “main drag” that cuts through the island terrain.
Attractions in Pleasure Island
One visitors have cruised across the bridge over Snow’s Cut, they’ll find that there are plenty of sites and attractions that make a day (or a full week) at Pleasure Island a fully entertaining affair.
Located on the northern borders of Carolina Beach – just past Snow’s Cut – Freeman Park is a nicely undeveloped slice of shoreline that eventually connects with Carolina Beach Inlet to the north. The site is one of a few beaches in the area that allows 4WD vehicles (with a permit), and it is also a popular spot for shelling, fishing, and rugged camping.
Carolina Beach State Park
The 761 acre Carolina Beach State Park is a popular destination for all sorts of visitors, thanks to its enticing on-site campground, miles of hiking and nature trails, riverfront beaches, and on-site marina and boat launches. Located on the western edge of Pleasure Island, the park is a prime representation of what the local coastal environment at its most natural and scenic is all about.
Carolina Beach Lake Park
The 11 acre Carolina Beach Lake was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the closest freshwater lake to a body of saltwater, and today it’s a popular summertime hang-out for visitors and locals alike. Pedal boat and kayak rentals are available seasonally at the water’s edge, and it’s also a popular walking, jogging, picnicking and dog-walking destination. In addition, the park hosts an array of events throughout the year, including summertime movie nights or live music concerts.
Carolina Beach Boardwalk
Listed in a number of national magazines and publications as one of the best boardwalks in the county, the Carolina Beach Boardwalk is one of the few remaining boardwalks on the East Coast, and is a popular oceanside destination for summer fun. The classic boardwalk features a myriad of food, amusements, fun, and rides, including a Ferris wheel over the ocean where sky-high views can be effortlessly enjoyed.
Carolina Beach Fishing Pier
The Carolina Beach Fishing Pier is a popular spot for anglers and sightseers, thanks to a great central locale that jets roughly 700’ ft. into the Atlantic Ocean. The fishing pier also features an on-site game room, as well as a snack bar / lounge with a full ABC permit and an on-site tackle and gift store.
Kure Beach Pier
The 712’ ft. Kure Beach Fishing Pier is located in the neighboring town of Kure Beach, and is a favorite destination for both fishermen and families. The fishing pier features a tackle shop with rods and reels, as well as concessions, an arcade, and a large souvenir area. Alcohol is not allowed on the premises, which gives the pier a family friendly atmosphere.
Kure Beach Ocean Front Park
The Kure Beach Ocean Front Park, located in the heart of Kure Beach, is the venue of choice for a wide array of events throughout the summer season. The site is the home of regular music concerts, open air markets, and other entertainment, and can also be rented for private parties and special events.
North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher
Located just south of Kure Beach, the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is one of three aquariums managed by the state of North Carolina, and is a grand Cape Fear attraction that traces the abundant wildlife that calls coastal NC home. Exhibits of note include a two-story open ocean tank (complete with sharks, sea turtles, and giant rays), a touch tank exhibit, a rare albino alligator, and a myriad of programs and special events available to the public throughout the year.
Fort Fisher Historic Site
The Fort Fisher Historic Site is renowned as the locale of one of the most important Cape Fear battles during the Civil War. The Confederate-occupied Fort Fisher held strong throughout the war, until a second attempt on capturing the fort was made in January, 1865, which led to the largest amphibious battle in the war’s history. The fort fell, and the rest of the Cape Fear area fell soon afterwards, effectively signaling the beginning of the end for the south. Today, visitors can trace this storied history by touring the earthen remains of the fort, following an interpretive trail, and / or stopping by the on-site Visitors’ Center, which is packed with exhibits.
Fort Fisher State Recreation Area
The Fort Fisher State Recreation Area is one of the most popular shorelines on Pleasure Island, as this undeveloped stretch of the island is home to six miles of beaches. Ample parking and restroom facilities are found on-site, and the ensuing terrain is a popular spot for surf fishermen, shell hunters, swimmers, surfers, and everyday beach-goers.
Zeke’s Island Reserve
Located just south of Fort Fisher, Zeke’s Island Reserve is a famed habitat for shorebirds and is a popular spot for kayakers and beach lovers of all varieties. One of three original National Estuarine Research Reserve components, the reserve site is actually comprised of a network of islands which can be explored by boat, kayak, or even on foot. Expanding for 1,635 acres, Zeke’s Island is a refreshing destination for a natural adventure.
Things to Do on Pleasure Island
Beaches – There are miles of shoreline to go around on Pleasure Island, which includes 44 beach access points in Carolina Beach, several dozen public access points in Kure Beach, and the miles of undeveloped seashore within Freeman Park to the north, and Fort Fisher State Recreation Area to the south.
Surfing – Carolina Beach is a popular surfing destination for both locals and visitors, and the town is home to a number of surf shops, as well as available lessons, private instruction, and even a local surf school with day camp options.
Kayaking / SUP – Kayaking and SUP are both taking the region by storm, and paddlers will find ample launching areas for exploring the Cape Fear River, the ocean, and all the channels of water in between. Head to the Carolina Beach State Park or Snow’s Cut Boat Ramp to access the river, or for an easy beginners paddle, head to the freshwater Carolina Beach Lake Park.
Fishing – Surf fishing is huge for anglers along the beaches, and with two fishing piers on Pleasure Island, it’s easy to drop a line. In addition, Carolina Beach is home to roughly a dozen charter fishing businesses which can provide both inshore and offshore trips to anglers who want to explore the local waters in-depth.
Boating – There are several public boat ramps on Pleasure Island, which includes a large one with multiple launching lanes on the edge of Snow’s Cut, as well as one on the southern end of Federal Point, close to the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. Once in the water, mariners can easily access the Atlantic Ocean, the Cape Fear River, and even the Intracoastal Waterway with just a few miles’ cruise. Multiple marinas and transient docking options are also found within the island, specifically in Carolina Beach.
Shopping – Pleasure Island is filled with a myriad of stores designed for the beach scene. Take a cruise along the main road, US 421, to discover a collection of boutiques and surf shops, beach gear stores, gift shops, candy / gourmet food stores, and everything in between.
Dining and Nightlife – Pleasure Island is also home to a treasure trove of restaurants which can range from casual burger and pizza joints to upscale seafood eateries that specialize in fresh catches. After hours, the town has a number of nightlife establishments that can feature live music, DJs and dance nights, drink specials, and / or all of the above.
Hiking – There are a number of hiking options for visitors throughout Pleasure Island. Enjoy a beach stroll along Freeman Park or the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, or head to Carolina Beach State Park where miles of nature trails are waiting. Be on the lookout for the famed carnivorous plants – such as Venus Flytraps – which are found throughout the park.
Shelling – Lucky beachcombers may stumble upon a wide array of colorful NC shells while exploring the Pleasure Island beaches, including whelks, olive shells, bay and calico scallops, augers, and even the rare but occasional sand dollar. Head to undeveloped shorelines – like Zeke’s Island to the south – for the best chances of acquiring a treasure or two.
Birdwatching – Birdwatching is exceptional on this island that borders the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean. For the best variety, take a hike in Carolina Beach State Park, or better yet, embark on a tour of Zeke’s Island Reserve, which is well-known as a habitat for a myriad of endangered or threatened shorebirds.
Tips and Tricks for Visiting Pleasure Island
- Want to enjoy a lingering stay? Look for a vacation rental. The island is home to hundreds of vacation rentals that can range from 1-bedroom condos or cottages, to sprawling 8 bedroom homes, ensuing plenty of room for everyone in the family.
- Pleasure Island is also a famous destination for camping. Check out Carolina Beach State Park or one of the many other camping options for a more rustic and natural stay.
- For better rates on accommodations and fewer crowds, plan a spring or fall visit. The area beaches are both beautiful during the off or “shoulder seasons,” and the water is often warm enough for swimming well into October.
- Wilmington visitors in need of a little entertainment will find that Carolina Beach is always hopping, and is just a quick drive away. (There’s a reason why the town is called “Pleasure Island,” after all!) Just be sure and catch a cab if the party runs a little too late.
- Be sure and check out the local event calendars too! Pleasure Island is home to a myriad of festivals, music concerts, educational programs at local parks and attractions, and fishing tournaments, which makes any vacation extra special.
Pleasure Island is a true pleasure of a destination, thanks to its myriad of attractions, stunning beaches, and ample ways to have fun. Discover a vacation that’s all about having fun by the water, and plan an afternoon, a day, or even a full week at this classic Cape Fear vacation spot that’s known for unending good times.