QUESTION: My husband and I want to retire to a beach town near Wilmington, NC, but we’re unsure which town to concentrate our search on. Are there substantial differences between the Wilmington area beach towns?
ANSWER: Some people think if you’ve been to one beach town you’ve been to them all. The reality is every one has its own identity, character, and vibe. Because you asked about Wilmington area beaches, I’ll limit my responses to address the differences in the New Hanover County beaches.* They include Figure Eight Island, Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, and Kure Beach.
Unlike the other three beach towns, Figure Eight Island isn’t incorporated as a town. Located on the northern end of New Hanover County with a Wilmington mailing address, it is, technically, outside the city limits and an unincorporated part of the county. Yet, many locals think of it as a separate place. That’s because, both literally and figuratively, it is as set apart from the rest of the county as possible.
Consisting of 1,300 acres and roughly 475 home sites, Figure Eight Island is connected to the mainland by a single, private gated bridge. You must own property on the island or have permission from a property owner to cross the bridge.
With only a handful of lots smaller than 1/3 acre and the vast majority of them larger than ½ acre, residents appreciate the uncrowded feel of the island. In fact, other than on Bald Head Island in Brunswick County, there is no other beach community in our area with lots this size.
Every home is custom built. There is a wide range of architectural styles represented. While some homes are now dated, many of the older properties have been remodeled, usually to high quality standards. Newer homes are typically build with many luxury touches, including extensive architectural details, elevators, custom pools, and/or saunas. Home prices start around $1.5M for older homes needing updating and go up from there.
Community amenities include the beach, of course, tennis courts and a boat ramp. There are no commercial entities on the island, except the Figure Eight Island Yacht Club. Members of the Yacht Club have access to its top notch restaurant, exercise facilities and a pool.
If this will be your primary residence, keep in mind the majority of homes on Figure Eight Island are second homes and the quiet pace there is even more so during the winter.
While Figure Eight Island is known for its privacy, Wrightsville Beach is “the place to be seen.” Many of the homes are every bit as posh as those on Figure Eight Island, but the lots are considerably smaller (typically 50X100’) creating, quite literally, a tighter sense of community.
Of course, the ocean is the main attraction, but another well-known town feature is “The Loop.” The Loop is approximately 2.5 miles long. As its name suggests, it loops through the center of Wrightsville, providing a well-maintained and scenic path enjoyed by walkers, bikers, and runners. It’s a great way to meet both your neighbors and visitors.
A few of the annual traditions include the lighting of a large Christmas tree in the town’s main park; the Holiday Flotilla – a floating parade of boats adorned in bright holiday lights and decorations – along Banks Channel; free weekly summer concerts; a Shag dancing contest; regular surfing, stand-up paddle board, and fishing tournaments; and Bark in the Park – a Frisbee catching competition for canines.
Wrightsville Beach is also the beach closest to Wilmington’s colleges, which means it is the stretch of sand where students from UNCW and Cape Fear Community College are most likely to hang out when they’re not in class. Perhaps the area’s best known beach, it is also its liveliest. If you love the energy of a hopping beach town, you’ll love Wrightsville Beach.
Carolina Beach is 25 minutes south from downtown Wilmington. Compared to the other New Hanover County Beaches, it is the most commercial. There are two supermarkets (the other three have none); more budget and mid-price motels and hotels; and many more family-friendly activities such as weekly fireworks during the summer, a boardwalk, carnival rides, and outdoor movies.
Prices are more affordable in Carolina Beach. There is a wider selection of condominiums and classic beach cottages. You will also find a relatively large number of duplex-style condos that look like townhouses. These can be a great option when you want more space than the traditional beach condo offers, but don’t want the hassle of keeping up a large yard.
Oceanfront condos start in the low $200’s for a one-bedroom and go as high as $750,000 for a three bedroom in a completely renovated complex. Free standing homes start in the low $300’s for small places several rows back from the beach and go up from there.
About 30-35 minutes from downtown Wilmington, Kure Beach is at the southern most tip of New Hanover County and is the county’s least commercial town. It has a small business district and only a handful of motels.
Like all of the beaches, many of the houses are second homes and occupied only a portion of the time. While the population swells on weekends and holidays, it tends to be the quietest of the New Hanover County beaches.
Considering its small size, the town has built a number of amenities for its residents and visitors to enjoy. They include an ocean front park where free weekly concerts are held during the summer, lighted tennis courts, a softball field, a disc golf course, and a dog park.
The population of Kure Beach tends to skew on the older side, as many of its full-time residents are retirees who moved South to enjoy the milder winters and a relaxed beach life.
Worth noting is Kure Beach’s elevation, one of the highest on the southern seaboard, making it relatively easy to find a home close to the ocean, but not in a hazardous flood zone.
There are only a couple traditional condo complexes in Kure Beach, but several duplex-style condos. Condo prices start in the mid $300’s and can exceed $1 million for an oceanfront duplex-style condo. Free-standing, single family homes start in the mid $400,000’s and top out a little over $2 million.
*Other beach towns where we regularly help buyers purchase are Oak Island, Holden Beach, Yaupon Beach, Ocean Isle, Sunset Beach, and Bald Head Island (all in Brunswick County); and Topsail Beach, Surf City, and North Topsail Beach (all in Pender County.)