The Carolina Beach Boardwalk: A Carolina Beach Vacation Tradition!

No vacation to Carolina Beach is complete without a visit to the Carolina Beach Boardwalk.

Every once in a while during your North Carolina beach vacation, you find a gem. Maybe you stumble across that perfect piece of sea glass or a giant conch shell.  However, if you’re really lucky, you’ll find yourself in Carolina Beach exploring the Carolina Beach Boardwalk. Not only can we help you find the best Carolina Beach vacation rental, but we can also help you find amazing things to do! Today we take a look at the family-friendly destination known for a fun, safe and exciting atmosphere. No vacation to Carolina Beach is complete without a visit to the Carolina Beach Boardwalk. Keep reading to find out why!

A Brief History

The origins of the Carolina Beach Boardwalk began back in 1881, when Capt. John Harper built a pavilion, the Oceanic Hotel, and a short walkway along the beach for the hotel guests.

And so it began. That small walkway created by Capt. Harper became the foundation for the Carolina Beach Boardwalk. As we will see, despite many ups and downs, the boardwalk grew into its own. Soon, the Carolina Beach Boardwalk would be enjoyed by generations of visitors. Here is a brief history of the Carolina Beach Boardwalk.

1920-1930 : Like most of the country, Carolina Beach wasn’t immune to the devastating effects of the Great Depression. During the depression, tourism dramatically declined along the North Carolina coast. The Boardwalk fell on hard times and it seemed like a great idea may die in its infancy.

In 1936, new life was given to the Boardwalk by the WPA, which allocated a large amount of money and resources to improve the boardwalk. Improvements such as a public restroom helped to put dozens of local laborers to work. As the 30’s came to a close, and despite several attempts by mother nature, fire and poor economics, the boardwalk survived and thrived.

1940-1950:  Golden Era– With the outbreak of World War II, millions of men and women entered the military and civilian workforce. Several bases opened in the area around Carolina and Kure Beach. These bases brought tens of thousands of soldiers and sailors to the area. These servicemen and women found rest and relaxation at the vibrant and booming Carolina Beach Boardwalk.

During this time, all along the boardwalk district, hundreds of cottages and vacation homes were constructed. Many of these homes survive to this day. Businesses came to the area and a wide variety of restaurants, ice-cream stands, retail stores, and amusement rides opened along the boardwalk. Business was booming, and in 1941 the Star-News reported that the Carolina Boardwalk was “The Nation’s Miracle Beach”. But would it last?

1960-1990’s:  State of Decline– As the times changed, so to did the habits of vacationers. Gone were the popular outdoor pastimes so common along the Boardwalk. As vacationers left the outdoor activities that made the boardwalk so popular, business declined. The boardwalk became run down and lost its family-friendly atmosphere. It looked like the boardwalk was doomed to be a mediocre attraction with its best years in the rear view mirror.  

Present Day– In the 90’s, the boardwalk saw a resurgence in popularity, but had still not regained its previous standing. Then, in 2008, a group of civic leaders known as the Boardwalk Makeover Group, along with the Town of Carolina Beach, made a commitment to modernize and revitalize the Carolina Beach Boardwalk. As a result of the leadership of these two groups, the Boardwalk underwent a multi-million dollar renovation.

As part of the renovation, the Boardwalk was expanded by 10 feet. All of the boardwalk was made handicap accessible, along with dozens of swings, benches, and gazebos added to the boardwalk. Businesses along the Boardwalk committed new resources, which provided family-friendly music, events, and even an amusement park. With this new momentum, the boardwalk returned to its previous glory and became the destination that thousands of families enjoy each year during their Carolina Beach Vacation.  Today the Boardwalk is considered one of the best in the nation. Food and Wine Magazine recently rated the Carolina Beach Boardwalk as one of the Top 10 Boardwalks in the Nation.

Today, the boardwalk features a great family-friendly atmosphere. Whether you’re enjoying a romantic stroll along the boardwalk or taking the kids out for a fun evening of rides and amusements, there is literally something for everyone.

During the summer, the Boardwalks comes alive! But don’t think it falls asleep in the winter months. No matter when you visit there is something to do at the Carolina Beach Boardwalk. Looking for some things to do during your Carolina Beach vacation. Click here for all the events you don’t want to miss. 

Things To Do

Summer Fireworks by the Sea and Boardwalk Gazebo Music

Each summer, beginning on Memorial Day Weekend (May 25th), the Boardwalk features a free summer concert series and weekly fireworks.

Concerts range from Jazz to Country, and of course the famous Carolina Beach Music that is so famous along the North Carolina Coast. All concerts are free, open to the public and are family-friendly. So break out the dancing shoes and get ready to have some toe-tapping fun as you listen to the tunes set to the rhythm of the waves.

The best place to watch the fireworks is from anywhere along the boardwalk! However, a local tip is to head over to the gazebo early to get a chair so you have the perfect seat for the music and the fireworks.

Here are a few details:Music starts at 6:30 pm followed by fireworks at 9:00 pm. The first event will be held Friday, May 25th, however the weekly event continues on the each Thursday night for the rest of the summer. Get there early to make sure you have a great seat. All events are handicap accessible and free to the public. If you need additional information please call (910)458-8434 for more details.

Amusement Rides

If you are looking to spin, zip and whirl the night away then the amusement park on the Carolina Beach Boardwalk is the place for you. Each summer the amusement park brings a whole host of family-friendly rides to the Boardwalk. The little ones will love some of the milder rides, like the carousel or merry go round. Don’t worry, your teenagers will get their adrenaline pumping with rides that spin and zip around faster than an Atlantic hurricane. The best time to hit the amusement park is at night, when you can get the full carnival effect of the neon lights and that nostalgic boardwalk atmosphere.  It all comes together at the amusement park on Carolina Beach. Bring the camera… and don’t forget fireworks on Thursday nights! 

Britt’s Donut Shop

You might wonder how a donut shop can change your life. Well trust us, it can!! When that first Britt’s donut hits your lips, you’ll wonder how you survived up to this point in time.

For 75 years, Britt’s has been cranking out delicious donuts and changing the lives of visitors to the Carolina Beach Boardwalk. It would be an understatement to say this is an institution. Anyone moving to North Carolina will hear about Britt’s Donuts.  It is truly one of those nostalgic places you simply must visit.  Be forewarned… this is not the place to go if you are on a diet. But, if you’re like us and love a great donut and understand that vacation is a time to splurge a bit, then make sure to grab a donut at Britt’s Donuts. 

Arcade Fun

Break out the quarters, head over to one of the arcades along the Carolina Beach Boardwalk and get in touch with your inner Pinball Wizard. It is hard to not have fun with the kids playing skee ball. With a safe and family-friendly atmosphere, you’ll be reminded of a more nostalgic time. Kids will love the variety of games. Whether you’re looking for something fun to do on a rainy day or just looking to have a great thing to do in the evening, the arcades go with boardwalks like cake goes with ice cream. Speaking of ice cream…

Ice Cream

Is there anything as refreshing on a hot summer day than a cool treat?

The folks at Squigleys’ Ice Cream and Treats have been churning out homemade ice cream right here on Carolina Beach for over 20 years. Just a few steps off the boardwalk, Squigley’s is the perfect place to pick up a shake or cone to enjoy while meandering along the boardwalk. However, if you miss Squigley’s, don’t worry because there are several great ice cream stands and vendors along the boardwalk. In fact, we promise you’ll be hard pressed to not find amazing ice cream on the Carolina Beach Boardwalk. 


If you’re a foodie, you are going to love the Boardwalk. With literally dozens of places to eat, from Frank’s Pizza to The Shuckin Shack, there is something for everyone. Burgers, fresh local seafood, cotton candy, and anything you can think of is right here on the boardwalk. There are simply too many places to mention. Need a little help? Check out TripAdvisor’s Top 10 places to eat. If you find your favorite place, make sure to leave a comment below and let us know all about it.

Christmas By The Sea

Each year the Carolina Beach Boardwalk holds the Christmas by the Sea event. Christmas by the Sea is a wonderful family event you won’t want to miss. During Christmas by the Sea,the Boardwalk is transformed into a magical Christmas themed destination. Even Santa can’t stay away! Several family-friendly activities take place during the celebration, including: Santa’s North Pole display, a fire pit for roasting marshmallows, pony rides, and of course hot chocolate. Pack up the kids this Christmas and make sure to spend a day at the Carolina Beach Boardwalk for a Christmas celebration you won’t forget.