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First family vaca to NC beaches with young kids-please help!

Charlotte, North...
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First family vaca to NC beaches with young kids-please help!

We're planning our first family vacation to the southern NC beach area for early June. We have 3 adults, including 1 twenty something, and three little ones ages 6, 2, & 10mos. Looking for a kid friendly beach (not very rough waves or strong currents, high tide beach left?) and an area with a few other kids activities (putt putt?, shaded park?, museum? ice cream? etc.) close by (15 minutes?) and reasonably close adult activities (45 minutes) for date day/night. We're trying to decide between Oak Island, Ocean Isle, Caswell Beach, and Carolina Beach as those are the places we've found rentals we like in our budget. I know beach/ocean conditions can vary day to day, but are any of these more or less likely to be a problem? Or certain areas/ends of these beaches to avoid? General advice certainly welcome!

Chapel Hill, North...
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1. Re: First family vaca to NC beaches with young kids-please help!

Of those, I'd pick Ocean Isle toward the middle of the island not the far east end, where there is erosion. The middle of the island is very wide and it's a great place for kids. There is mini golf, a little museum (good for the little ones), ice cream (get the Sunset Slushies — they're the best). Not sure on the shaded park bit. Not what most people go to the beach for.

I had a bad experience at Carolina Beach about 10 years ago (the beach was in poor condition then) and haven't been back since.

Haven't been to Oak Island/Caswell in a long time. Really, though, I think folks like all of those beaches and you probably can't go wrong. I know a lot of people love Carolina, so don't let me put you off that if you were leaning that way. It was 10 years ago when we went and it just wasn't for us then. Lots of people do love it, though.

For any of the four you mentioned the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher is a great day trip. From OIB and Oak Island it's a nice ferry ride from Southport. From Carolina it's just a short ride down the road.

UNCMickey is a big proponent of Holden Beach, so you might check that one out as well. Our family really enjoys Ocean Isle and Sunset (though Sunset is lower key than OIB, with fewer things to do).

Emerald Isle might be another one worth checking out. Pretty nice beach and lots of stuff to do.

Ocracoke, North...
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2. Re: First family vaca to NC beaches with young kids-please help!

Come visit Ocracoke Island, beautiful beaches, family friendly, safe, lots to see on bikes, golfcarts, or family walks!!!! Stop in Gaffers Sports Pub for great food and service!!!!

Charlotte, North...
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3. Re: First family vaca to NC beaches with young kids-please help!

While I love Ocracoke and all the(more Southern) Outer Banks, the surf there is generally rougher than other NC beaches. That's a great trip for older kids who can enjoy more of what the area has to offer.

As for the beach towns you mentioned, I think Oak Island would be your best bet. (Caswell Beach is in the same general area, and is very pretty, but is close to the mouth of the Cape Fear River, so the water there is often churned up/murky.) Oak Island has made some great strides in the past 15 years, new development, etc. and now that they have a 2nd bridge to the island, the majority of my former complaints have been taken care of. southport-oakisland.com/index.php/site/index The beaches there are good & wide(very wide at the far West end), there's plenty to do/see...things you asked about.. ice cream, putt-putt, a park with shade, playground, etc. …insiderinfo.us/sports-fitness-parks/… and a great family-friendly museum within 15 minutes drive. (plus there is a lighthouse to see/climb..be sure to make reservations several weeks out to climb.. http://www.oakislandlighthouse.org/ )

The great little historic waterfront town of Southport http://townofsouthportnc.com/ is nearby(10-15 minutes drive from Oak Island, vs. 45+ minutes drive from Ocean Isle Beach), it has some neat historic homes and sites, nice shopping(antiques, art, boutiques, etc.), great restaurants, a pretty and relaxing waterfront park, plus a wonderful Maritime Museum that offers some great activities for children. www.ncmaritimemuseums.com/southport.html

TV shows and movies sometimes shoot in Southport, so you may see some celebrities.

As Panchopup mentioned, you can take the ferry from Southport to Fort Fisher (my kids loved this when they were little) www.southporttimes.com/southportferry.html Once at Fort Fisher, there's a great NC Aquarium, perfect for little kids.. http://www.ncaquariums.com/fort-fisher Lots more to do in that area, even enjoy the best parts of Carolina Beach...but as a beach area to stay in, I too, am not a fan. carolinabeach.insiderinfo.us/things-to-do/

I'm also not a big fan of Ocean Isle Beach, to me it's the least attractive of the Brunswick Islands, and the most crowded. There are better choices in the area.

As for adult-friendly places you'll find a nice variety in Southport; Mr. P's Bistro is excellent for an adult dinner out, be sure to make reservations... http://www.mrpsbistro.com/

You can even drive to Wilmington, from Oak Island in less than 45 minutes, there's a lot of great, adult-friendly things to see and do there. http://www.wilmington.net/ http://www.wilmingtonandbeaches.com/

Best Wishes!

Lumberton, North...
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4. Re: First family vaca to NC beaches with young kids-please help!

The beach you described in Ocean Isle. The most popular and prettiest of the Brunswick County beaches. It has everything you asked for in you post. Very nice ice cream shop for the kids. The Museum of Coastal Carolina, putt, putt, arcade and several nice resturaunts on the island. The other beaches don't have all this. A nice park on the east end of the island at the waterway. Children's playground and Park and public area beside the museum, where there is a free concert each Friday night. Several of the resturaunts on the isle also have bar areas for the adults. The is also Ocean Isle Beach Park on the mainland, with two childrens playgrounds, tennis courts, and more located on Old Geogetown Rd.

If you are not planning to stay ocean front, Ocean Isle offers more beach access areas than the surrounding beaches, all with paved parking. All roads on Ocean Isle are paved also unlike other area beaches. The land scaping on Ocean Isle is also much more extensive and prettier than the other beaches. And if cannot find enough for the kids and adults to do, Myrtle Beach is just minutes down the road.

Charlotte, North...
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5. Re: First family vaca to NC beaches with young kids-please help!

Thanks so much everyone! Our two favorite rentals were available in Oak Island and Ocean Isle Beach - looks like we'll do well either way! The tips are tremendously appreciated!

Charlotte, North...
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6. Re: First family vaca to NC beaches with young kids-please help!

Statements such as a place being "the best", or "the prettiest" are subjective; people's opinions. And there's clearly a lot of differing opinions here on TA...which is good because we're all different; and want different things. Yes, what's pretty, or the best to one person, may not be to another. What some see as "crowded", others, I guess see as "popular", and obviously to them that's a good thing. Kinda reminds me of a conversion I recently had with my daughter after she spent her first weekend in New York City, she thought the city was "claustrophobic", a few nice spots, history, and Broadway, fun for an occasional weekend trip, but she was happy to be leaving! I later talked with a friend of mine who's daughter moved to NYC a year ago; her daughter loves it, told her mom it was the most amazing place she's ever been, she loves the energy of all the people moving about, and she never wants to leave. LOL!

Back to NC beaches/subjectivity... while some people may be impressed with a few formal, professional landscaping vignettes, others mainly see that an area has been poorly planned and overly developed, removing most of the beautiful natural flora.

With subjective matters you really have to try to read between the lines, and draw your own conclusions. It can be tough to do.

OTHER THINGS ARE NOT SUBJECTIVE. Stating that other beaches don't have amenities that they clearly do have, is giving false information. Sadly, from time to time, there is totally false information given on TA, some of it may be by accident, other times it may not be.

Let me assure you that all of the beach areas you are considering have nice beach-type ice cream shops, putt-putt, arcades, restaurants/bars, etc. and very nice museums (plus much more..as mentioned in others' earlier posts) within a very short drive. Most of the other beaches also offer free concerts, some also have fun, free activities for kids). All those things are not unique to OIB. (I think all the beaches you are considering have town, and chamber of commerce type websites that you can check businesses/amenities for yourself; you can also check restaurants, attractions, etc. reviews on TA, Yelp, and other review sites)

Oh, yes, Ocean Isle Beach does have a playground and park, but the reason that they were not mentioned before, is that they sit out in the blazing, hot sun....No shade at all. .. the other beaches have un-shaded playground areas/parks, too. The playground and parks in Oak Island and Southport that I named in my earlier post, both have shade, which is what was asked about.

Lastly, I guess the phrase, "just minutes down the road" is subjective also. Fact, the heart of Myrtle Beach (where the amusements, museums/aquarium, etc. are located) is a little more than 40 miles from OIB. During Summer months traffic to/from MB is horrible, and that trip will most likely take well over an hour+. Myrtle Beach can be a fun trip for the whole family, but (especially in Summer), it's an all-day trip, not a run down the road in 10-15 minutes type trip.

Best Wishes :)

Lumberton, North...
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7. Re: First family vaca to NC beaches with young kids-please help!

Surely you did not read my post clearly or maybe the typos have you a little confused, for those i apologize, I can be a little "thummy" sometimes. The things the OP requested, OIB is the only beach the OP mentioned that has all items requested, putt putt, ice cream, museum, beach at high tide, adult activites "on" the island as I stated. That is why I stated the OP described OIB. Other beaches have some of these items on the island but not all. I will correct myself that the playground "on" the island is not shaded, unless some consider palm trees shaded but the mainland park does offer shade. And yes OIB does offer more beach access with paved parking than the other beaches and yes all roads on OIB are paved unlike some other area beaches. Surely you don't suggest these facts to be false. I don't think I stated that the other beaches the OP mentioned don't offer these things within a short drive as the OP is requesting. Its just OIB has all these things "on" the island.

And oh yes, I forgot to mention, a quick google shows MB to be a 30 ride from OIB with more adult and kid activities. And if you want to beat the traffic to South MB try SC HWY 31, a 4-land bypass of all the stoplights and related slow traffic. This by-pass is still relatively new and many vacationers have not discovered it yet. It will greatly speed your travels. And one subjective statement, I find OIB to be the prettiest of Brunswick County beaches.

What is really sad, is that some posters on TA are so full of themselves and their opinions that they cannot give fair and unbiased information to those seeking help to plan their vacations without trying to bash other

posters' opinions and statements.

Chapel Hill, North...
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8. Re: First family vaca to NC beaches with young kids-please help!

Kate G, as you can tell, people really love their favorite beaches in NC. You will find folks who feel just as strongly about Carolina and the Oak Island beaches, too. (BTW, there used to be more separate beach areas on Oak Island besides Caswell. There was also Long Beach and Yaupon Beach, but they merged and consolidated into the town of Oak Island in 1999.)

I haven't been to Holden recently, but I have been to Sunset (my family beach for 40 yrs), Ocean Isle (friend has a place there), Bald Head Island, and Emerald Isle & the Crystal Coast in the past few years. I think they're all great areas. Sunset is the most laid back and low key w/o any putt-putt, restaurants, museums, etc on the island (although it's not far away). OIB has more "things to do", but is not super crowded or overly touristy like Myrtle. Emerald Isle is similar. There are more things to do, and lots of places to explore nearby. I didn't think the beach was quite as nice as the beach at OIB or Sunset, but it was wide at low tide and not too narrow at high tide.

I think the OIB and Sunset beaches are fantastic for little teeny ones. Tide pools often form at low tide that they can play and splash in w/o fear of a wavelet in the face. If they don't naturally occur you can dig your own with a shovel easily and make a big puddle. Fun for the 10 mo old and maybe the 2 yr old, too. I used to do that a lot.

One difference on Sunset and OIB is that at Sunset you can set up a cabana (rent one or bring your own) at the high tide line for some shade. These are very popular, but have to be taken down at sunset each day. The rental company will do that for you. At OIB, cabanas are banned, but beach umbrellas are okay. I'm not sure of the rationale behind either position. I usually just use a beach umbrella because it's more portable and I can take it down to the water's edge if I want to let the little ones play in the water w/o getting too much sun.

I'm not sure what Emerald Isle or the other beaches on your list do about that.

The little museum at OIB is perfect for your little ones. It's very small, but has a touch tank monitored by volunteer docents who will tell your kids about each creature. My kids loved it when they were little. We would make a short trip from Sunset to go over to visit it. We also like the big NC Aquarium at Ft Fisher, but it's more of an expedition and can be overwhelming for some little ones. Your six year old would probably love it though.

The water at OIB and Sunset is usually very gentle and the slope is gradual for the most part. It's not uncommon for a trough to form at very low tide with a bumpy bottom with some "holes", but my kids loved that because the breakers would break at the far edge of the trough and just leave them a more gentle pondlike area to play in. I would imagine this natural feature is a pretty common occurrence at most NC beaches. Most of the beach slope is very gentle, though, at high-tide through mid-tide. The trough area just is apparent at really low tide and is not scary.

Weather is the main factor in how gentle the surf is . When I was at Emerald Isle and Bald Head we hit off weekends early in the season (May) and the surf was very rough. I think Emerald Isle in particular is known for often having a very glassy surf, but we just hit it on an off weekend weather-wise. We're off to Ocracoke for Memorial Day this year, so I will cross my fingers for better weather this year.

Educate yourself on rip currents before you go and keep an eye on the kids. Some folks like to put life jackets on the little ones, but mine never strayed (usually clinging to my leg like little limpets) so I didn't feel the need. http://www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov …howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/ocean…

Charlotte, North...
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9. Re: First family vaca to NC beaches with young kids-please help!

Thoroughly enjoyed our week at Oak Island! The beautiful beach was not over crowded and during low tide there was plenty of space for the little ones to play in the sand. High tide left almost no beach space where we were staying, but the older kids and adults still enjoyed time out in the water which was not too rough at all. We spent time in the pool or elsewhere during high time most days anyway. The kids really enjoyed an early morning shelling trip shortly after high tide and saw a hermit crab, and lots of little fish in the water. There was a nice park close by and also a skate park which was fun to watch. We visited Holden Beach one afternoon and the bridge to the island makes your toes tickle! Looks like you're driving out into the ocean! Enjoyed some put putt and ice cream there too. We also took a day trip to Pleasure Island via the Southport ferry which the kids LOVED! Best $5 that could be spent! We walked the boardwalk at Carolina Beach but apparently, most places there don't open until later in the afternoon. Wish we had known that. We also spent some time on the Kure Beach fishing pier which was neat - just watching the fishers & pelicans. Squigley's Ice cream was good. A little over priced to me... but good none the less. We ran out of time for a trip to the aquarium, but I think the kids would probably enjoy it more when they're a bit older anyway. The adults enjoyed some evening time at Southport which was a very easy drive - wish some of the little shops downtown had been open. ... Again hit it at the wrong time I guess! The waterfront park area is so nice in the evening though - a very relaxing stroll. And the restaurants were small/local and inviting. Took one night to catch a movie at the small local theater which was refreshingly uncrowded and quiet! All in all - a very enjoyable vacation for the whole family! Thanks everyone for the great advice!

Edited: 09 July 2014, 22:25
10. Re: First family vaca to NC beaches with young kids-please help!

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