3 Southern beaches not overrun with people

Sunset Beach, North Carolina
Photo: sunsetbeachnc.gov

Credit: sunsetbeachnc.gov

Credit: sunsetbeachnc.gov

Sunset Beach, North Carolina Photo: sunsetbeachnc.gov

Beaches aren’t just for the summer. The water might be a little chillier, but the shore is just as sandy, and the sunsets and sunrises are just as stunning.

If the only thing holding you back from a beach getaway is having to share your stretch of sand with hundreds of other people, then you might want to dip your toes in the waters off these three beaches.

Sunset Beach, North Carolina

Most people are familiar with Myrtle Beach. It’s a very popular seaside destination. Keep driving less than hour up the coast, however, and you’ll find Sunset Beach, North Carolina, where the sand is white and mood is relaxed.

It’s only 3 miles long, but the undeveloped beachfront has wide setbacks for more space to lounge or look for seashells.

If just sitting on the sand isn’t your thing, Sunset Beach has charming shops and fine restaurants to explore, plus championship golf courses nearby. Bring your boat for a day at sea or go fishing off the full-service pier.

For a family outing, consider a walk to Bird Island. As the inlet has filled with sand, Bird Island is now easily accessible from the beach.

The nearly 1,300 acres of wetlands, beach and marsh are protected habitat for “Kemp’s Ridley and loggerhead sea turtles, sea beach amaranth, piping plover, wood stork and black skimmer,” among other species.

If you’re in the area on the last full weekend of October, head up to Holden Beach for the N.C. Festival by the Sea. Although there will be no parade down the Holden Beach causeway this year, pedestrians will be allowed to walk across the Holden Beach bridge both days of the festival.

The free event — even parking is free —includes arts and crafts vendors, food, music, a sandcastle building contest, rides, kites and more.

Fishing along Padre Island National Seashore
Photo: National Park Service

Credit: National Parks Service

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Credit: National Parks Service

Padre Island National Seashore

Not to be confused with the ever-popular spring break destination South Padre Island, Padre Island National Seashore is part of the National Park Service.

According to NPS, Texas’ narrow barrier island along the Gulf the Mexico “is home to one of the last intact coastal prairie habitats in the United States. Along the hypersaline Laguna Madre, unique tidal mud flats teem with life.”

This is an excellent location for those who enjoy camping, which is open year-round in the park.

Primitive beach camping is allowed on both North and South Beach, the only difference being how you get there. The 1.5 mile North Beach can generally be accessed with a two-wheel drive vehicle, but a four-wheel drive is recommended. The same applies to the the first 5 miles of South Beach.

Miles 5-55 require four-wheel drive vehicles. “Popular destinations along this stretch of beach include the sections of beach known as Little Shell Beach and Big Shell Beach, as well as Yarborough Pass, a high-clearance four-wheel drive road with access to the Laguna Madre,” according to the park service.

There are also a couple of campgrounds in the area for those who aren’t quite so primitive.

Open to both tents and recreational vehicles, Malaquite Campground offers designated paved and gravel camp sites, restrooms, cold water showers and picnic tables. Some sites also have grills.

Bird Island Basin Campground along Laguna Madre has 35 RV spots and 10 tent-only sites. It also has access for fishing, birding, windsurfing and kayaking, so it might be a little more crowded during the day.

Harbor Island. Courtesy of beaufortsc.org

Credit: Photo: beaufortsc.org

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Credit: Photo: beaufortsc.org

Harbor Island

This 3-mile stretch of secluded beach in South Carolina’s Lowcountry is hidden gem between Beaufort and Fripp Island. According to Southern Living, “Each day here begins with a sunrise that turns the Atlantic into a pink sea framed by golden marsh grasses.”

Once uninhabited, the island was mostly a hunting destination until the 1930s, according to beaufortsc.org. It’s now a resort community with a variety of vacation rental options, including condos and houses.

Bird watchers will love checking out the more than 200 species of winged creatures, including terns, pelicans, egrets and herons. Other animals to look for include blue crabs, loggerhead turtles and dolphins.

In addition to dining options that range from Southern dishes to fresh seafood fine dining, area also offers tennis, golf, surfing, biking and boating, so you can create your own vacation experience.

Harbor Island is just five hours from Atlanta via Interstate 20 east.