Just returned from a nice, long weekend in Carolina Beach.
Our intention was to camp at Freeman Park, or as the locals call it, "The Northside." It is a gorgeous undeveloped stretch of beach north of the Carolina Beach Pier. We arrived very late Friday evening, after sundown, around 9:30p. We paid the Carolina Beach pier $50 for a weekend parking pass. I felt jipped. All of the posted signs say $10/day, but we were told by the parking attendent that since it was a special weekend, it was $30/day, or $50/weekend. It's a privately-owned pier, so what else do you do, but bite your tongue and empty your pockets. The plus? We didn't have to worry about parking and/or getting towed or ticketed all weekend. We had a convenient space close to the campsites (no 4 wheel drive). And the grill at the pier serves good food and cheap 24 hours a day. That's right folks: it never closes. And they also have clean bathrooms.
Well, the camping part was smooth sailing at first. We hiked into the campground several times (by moonlight) until we had all our gear in an area with about 20 other campers. We set up the tents by lantern light. And we sat back with friends and enjoyed the sounds of the ocean and our first chilled beer in a moonlit backdrop. Around Midnight, we hiked to the pier for hotdogs. Food at the pier was very good: veggie burgers, corndogs, hotdogs, and good fries. And a $2 beer. We walked our food off at the pier, then hiked back to our campsite. Right as we were climbing into our tents to sleep, a park employee "politely" asked us to move to Zone 6. It's like this: when you don't have a 4-wheel drive, and you drag all your equipment from the pier parking lot to the beach, and it's past midnight when you get your tent setup, you don't get handed a "brochure" about the rules, and you setup camp with the rest of the "chumps" in the first available spot. So no one tells you that Zone 2 is off limits. They watch you drag your gear to the wrong spot. They watch you setup the tent. And then they "surprise" you with the rules right as you hit the sack. Nice guys, eh?
So as a warning, you can't tent camp in Zones 1 - 5. You must travel north (about 1/2 mile -- think, deep loose sand, with camping gear on your back) to Zone 6. And make sure you CROSS the Zone 6 line before setting up your site! :)
Our friends decided to move the half mile up the beach. Hubby and I, on the other hand, hauled all our gear back down the beach, packed the car and made camp in the two front seats for the night. Couldn't sleep well due to... well, let's face it: anger and frustration and well, exhaustion. At 8am, we headed to the Dry Dock Motel, which was a blessing in disguise. The lovely lady at the front desk let us check in early, and the $99/night price tag was surprisingly cheaper than our expectations, for Memorial Day weekend. The motel was lovely, we got a nice corner room, immaculately cleaned. It is an motel with older furnishings, but it has 2 nice, clean pools, and is in a great location close to the beach and boardwalk and two local coffeehouses. We will definitely stay again.
Saturday morning, we called our friends and headed to the campground to "play" all day. When we arrived, they were exhausted. Apparently, at 2am the night before, the lovely park employee had asked them to move as close as they could to Zone 6 (due to crowds). He said that they were making exceptions for the weekend due to the large amount of campers. They were able to squeeze in about 10 yards South of the Zone 6 sign. And at 9am, another park employee yelled into their tent, and told them to move 10 yards past the Zone 6 sign or they would be kicked out. ????? Any regrets hubby and I had about paying for a motel quickly dissipated. A couple of campers had already made complaints to the town council. I don't think Freeman Park is owned by the city? So I don't know. But this treatment definitely is not justified. It's downright mean.
Apart from this, we had an absolutely wonderful time in Freeman Park. There were plenty of restrooms, always clean and well stocked with paper. The beach was clean, clean, clean, no litter to be seen. We will definitely return, but only with a 4WD, and will never stay anywhere near Zones 1-5. We will also bring less "stuff." There are a couple of trucks that drive through on a regular basis selling firewood, ice, food, drinks, so you don't need to worry with hauling all of that on the beach. Just bring cash.
So... Saturday was a wonderful day. The weather was testy, but at 4p it cleared and was wonderful. We soaked in the rays all day, and then cleaned up and headed to Kure Beach for a walk at the pier and dinner at Jack Mackerels. Hubby and I had the Looney Tuna: divine. Fries were very good. Our friends had crab and sashimi wraps, and they raved. Afterwards, we were beat, and we headed back to Freeman Park for wine by the campfire. Hubby and I made the hike out of camp around 2am, and we drove back to Dry Dock for a nice sleep.
Sunday morning, we slept in (10am!). We picked up a couple of Iced Capps at Majik Beans (1 block from the motel) - very good. Majik Beans is a cute, little eclectic coffeehouse that also sells local artwork, jewelry, and other "stuff." They offer a few seats outside and a couple of couches inside. We then headed to the Ferry in Fort Fisher. We stopped on the way to buy a loaf of bread to throw to the gulls. We opted to walk on, due to the long line of cars. We were on the ferry in 5 minutes, and off we were! We went through a whole loaf of bread and filled up our camera with beautiful pictures. We opted not to take the trolley into Southport due to time constraints, but do be aware that if you walk on the ferry, you can hire a trolley for $5 to Southport. That way, you don't have to worry about parking or waiting in line.
We ate a late lunch at the Tiki Bar Grille in Kure Beach. I believe this place is new? I did not see it two years ago when we were in CB. They have a nice deck area over the beach with a cute tiki bar and tables. They also have indoor, covered seating. Atmosphere is great, and the food was great too. I had grilled mahi tacos - yum. Soft shell tacos with great guac and sour cream. Comes with chips and an interesting thick salsa - still unsure about that. Hubby had fried shrimp platter - not your average cheapy small fried shrimp. Large shrimp with yummy fried breading. And a side of crispy fries. We we definitely return.
After a nice siesta, we visited a surf shop across the road from the Dry Dock motel called Island Kite & Surf. They have a good selection of cute tops, shorts, dresses - nice stuff for great prices. Not the cheapy Wings stuff. And men's clothing, shoes, kites, surf gear. Cute little diamond in the rough store. I purchased a t-shirt. Everything was 25% off - hope this doesn't mean they're closing down...? Maybe just a summer sale...
I believe we took another siesta. I can't remember what we did between the surf shop and dinner. Hmm...? We finally headed out, on foot, in search of a good hotdog. It was 9:30p, and everything was closing. We got a tip from a local that Citgo had good dogs. Seriously. So we said "what they hey" and we walked the block to Citgo. It ended up being Nathan's hotdogs, and for 60 cents, they were very good. We sat at a picnic table in the marina and enjoyed $2 worth of hotdogs. What can I say? I'm a cheap date. :P We ended our evening at the Silver Dollar Saloon with $2 drafts and karaoke. It was a perfect end to a perfect day.
Today, we packed up early, picked up a couple of coffees at The Grind (right beside the motel). They have a nice selection of wines and coffees, and a great little sitting area. After coffee and a bagel, we said Bon Voyage to Carolina Beach.
And we just finished shaking the sand out of our tent - which we never even got to use. Tee-hee. :P