Holden Beach: The Carolina’s Best Family Beach

Sunset on Holden Beach

We first started vacationing on the North Carolina coast in the mid-1980s, but it would be many years before we found a family friendly, southern-hospitality-flavored beach that we could really enjoy.  So many of the beaches in both South Carolina and North Carolina are commercialized and designed for college students on spring break, and others of the same caliber.  That’s not to say spring breakers are bad, but when you want a quiet beach to spend some time swimming and playing with your young family, well, you’re not quite looking for the same type of thing as college freshman on spring break.  For us, Holden Beach in southern North Carolina fit the bill perfectly: and the rates on the rental houses were substantially cheaper than those on other beaches!



Holden Beach is located between Ocean Isle and Sunset Beach about 40 miles from Wilmington, NC (to the north) and 40 mile from Myrtle Beach, SC (to the south).  To get there from I-140, exit I-140 at the end of the road, and turn left onto Hwy 17/Hwy 421 south.  Then take this road down to Hwy 17/Hwy 421/Hwy 76 south.  Just before this intersection is the battleship USS North Carolina, which is well worth stopping and looking at if you have the time.  Parking and viewing the ship from the viewing area (which has informative signs about the ship) is free, as are the restrooms located near the viewing area.  You can also tour the ship itself, although there is a substantial fee for doing so.  We always use the restrooms and visit the viewing area; however I have never personally toured the ship, although I have heard that it is very nice.

Ocean Blvd West

Continue down US-17 South/US-74 West/US-76 West towards Shallotte.  After about 2 miles, exit onto US-17/Ocean Hwy East towards Shallotte/Myrtle Beach.  Drive 22.4 miles; then turn left onto Stone Chimney Road.  This is not the traditional way of going to Holden Beach (in other words, you might not see signs pointing in this direction), but we have found that this way works quite well.  Follow Stone Chimney Road until it turns left.  Instead of turning, go straight onto Old Ferry Connection.  Not long after this, turn right onto Sabbath Home Road.  Then, turn left onto Holden Beach Road.  This will take you directly onto the causeway and across the intercostal waterway onto Holden Beach.  The beach is an island, so the only way to get to it is by the causeway.

Boardwalk over the dunes and down to the beach

Many of the houses on Holden Beach are for rent most of the year.  Exactly how the renting works depends on the realty and the owners of the house, but various houses are for rent for weekends, a few days, or by the week.  In my visits to Holden Beach I have noticed 5 realties that rent houses: Brunswickland, Coastal, Hobbs, Alan Holden and Holden Beach Properties.  Of these, Bruswickland is one of the oldest, and our favorite (mostly because the rent is cheaper on their houses (in general), but they still have quality and good selection of houses to choose from, not to mention wonderful southern hospitality).  Their web address is http://www.brunswicklandrealty.com/, where you can look up rental houses, rates, and the availability of rentals.

So what makes me like Holden Beach better than others in the area?

Building sand castles is a favorite sport

Well, first of all it’s quieter.  The people who are drawn to this beach aren’t the kind who are going to go sunbathe in skimpy swimsuits with their radio volume on 10 telling the entire beach that the singer’s last lover is lost (again).  Although I’m sure there are exceptions to that rule, I haven’t seen very much of it.  Second, the beach is family friendly.  As I said before, the people who come to this beach aren’t really the type who sunbathe in skimpy swimsuits.  In other words, I can go for a walk on the beach and not want to close my eyes because of the dress (or lack thereof) of those around me.  Also, the people there welcome families and love it when families are able to make memories together here.  Even the places that rent bikes and other recreational “toys” offer things that would be good for a family (for example, bikes with child seats on the back).  For a third reason why I like Holden Beach, it’s big enough for everyone to have their own space on the beach.  My family loves to build huge sandcastles and do other things on the beach that you really need room to do, and we’ve always had plenty of space to do our building and playing.  I’ve never visited in the height of the summer tourist season (the closest was in late August), but every time of been there (March, April, May, August, September, October, November, and December), it’s been quiet enough to make sand castles on the beach, have the ocean to ourselves, and take bike rides on the streets without feeling nervous because of the amount of traffic (except on the weekend of one of the beach festivals…then we couldn’t wait to get back to the safety of our beach house).

Flying Kites

Both ocean front and 2nd row houses are available for rent, as well as houses that back up to canals that connect to the intercostal waterway (a few houses are right on the waterway).  I’ve stayed in both ocean front and 2nd row houses, and both can be very nice.  A word of warning, though: if you’re too much beyond 1200 Ocean Blvd W, the island curves, while the road doesn’t, making the houses incredibly far away from the ocean (by Holden Beach standards).  In fact, before that, being in the 2nd row may actually be a shorter walk to the ocean than being in an ocean front house that is at the southern end of the island.  Some of 2nd row houses have public beach accesses nearby, so that’s how you can get to the beach from the 2nd row.  I know “public beach access” sounds like “crowded”, but we haven’t found that to be true in October or December.  There were a few more people in August, but we were using the same beach access as the campground (with full hookups), so I have a feeling that had something to do with it.  Still, it wasn’t overcrowded, and we often had the beach to ourselves.


There are many amenities on the island itself, and many more just over the causeway.  During the summer season, there are a couple of restaurants that operate near the causeway.  There are also a couple of shops with bicycles, sea kayaks, boogie boards, surfboards, cribs, extra linen, etc. to rent.  An interdenominational church, a fire station, a police station, a post office, and a few restaurants (open seasonally) are also located near the causeway.  Part way down the island is the fishing pier, a small convenience shop, and an ice cream place.  In other words, Holden Beach is still very much in civilization without being so in the middle of things that you can’t sit back and relax.

The Intercoastal Waterway

We also enjoy biking on the sidewalks.  When we’ve been there, there have been other people walking and/or riding bicycles, but as long as you watch where you’re going, you should be fine.  There supposedly is a bike trail that goes down the island, but it must not be finished yet, because half the time if you follow the signs, you’ll end up at a dead end in a canal.  Anyway, there’s ample room for cyclists.  We especially enjoy riding down to the northern end of the island.

Here are short descriptions of several of the houses we’ve stayed in over the years.  Things may be very different now, as for some of them it’s been a while since we stayed there, but it should give you an idea of what to expect in the beach houses.


One of our smaller sand castles

Casa del Sol was the very first house we stayed in on Holden Beach.  It appears to have been constructed in the 1950s, before the island was so built up, so it looks a little out of place beside the bigger houses on either side of it.  But, hey, there’s lots of smaller, older houses as well as huge, modern ones, so that’s not really out of the ordinary.  The house itself still looks quite ‘50s, and is furnished similarly to the way it was originally.  A crow’s nest is on top of the house, which can be great for those who want to sit and see the ocean from a distance.  It is located just before the guard station that blocks through traffic from the end of the island, and is located a little farther from the ocean than most of the other houses we’ve stayed in, but it’s not a terrible walk down a wooden boardwalk to the beach.  Parking is under the house.

Captain’s Quarters is a huge, more modern house that looks like the people who furnished it had tons of money and wanted to make their guests feel rich living there.  We made the mistake of renting it when we had two 1-year-olds between the families, which was a mistake only because they were both into everything and the house wasn’t designed to be baby-proof.  Can you imagine a sea turtle statue that holds up a glass table top, and then imagine a young child trying to pull themselves up on it?  How about staircases that don’t have backs on the stairs, so a small child could fall through?  Anyway, it was very nice and very well furnished.  The children (of all ages) loved the bunk beds on the ground floor, and the living area is on the next floor up, with more bedrooms on the balcony above.  This was one “wealthy-styled” house.  My biggest complaint was the long walk to the beach on a wooden boardwalk that didn’t even have railings on it.  The house is located beyond the guard station, so the road is quieter than it might be.  Unlike many houses, the ground floor is furnished, and parking is in the driveway.

The campground and fishing pier as seen from the enclosed porch of Pier View

Deciding to try out duplexes next, we went to Sea Landing West and Sea Landing East.  Both sides of the duplex were very nice, although we found the east side kitchen was better stocked than the west side kitchen (when we were there) and that the west side had all of the vacuum cleaners.  Still, both are nice properties for a beach vacation with ample seating in the living rooms.  Like many houses that we’ve visited, the dining area didn’t seat the same number of people as the beds slept (in other words, it might sleep 8 or 10, but the table only seats 6).  The others have to sit at the counter.  This isn’t a huge issue, but it’s worth noting.  We also felt that although there were other people renting the other side of the duplex, their noise didn’t disturb us, and we didn’t disturb them…in fact, it was so quiet, we would forget they were there!  The walk to the beach isn’t terribly long at this house.  Like many of the beach houses, parking is under the house.

Pier View was our first attempt at staying in the 2nd row.  It’s located near the pier, and right across from the campground, so there’s a mostly unobstructed view out to the ocean.  Also, there’s a beach access right next to the campground, so you don’t have to walk too far to get to the beach.  The house itself is very nicely furnished, and appeared to have been somewhat re-decorated in 2008 (according to the pictures on the web site).  Some of the chairs in the living room looked a bit warn, but there was ample seating, and the couches looked new.  Also, the TV was quite new, although it would turn on every time one of us would use his laptop!  Again, the dining room table only sat 6 people, but everyone else could sit at the counter.  There is a front porch on the first level, and a half enclosed/half covered front porch on the upper level with the bedrooms.  Parking under the house.


I forgot to mention, there’s quite a bit of wildlife (birds) on the island as well. Here is a heron in the canal.

Happy Ours is another house that looks like it was built and furnished in the 1950s (this is significant because most of the houses are much newer then that).  It also looks like it was refurnished several times, with tiles from the 2000s, curtains and one of the couches from the 1990s, a color scheme, kitchen, and one wall ornament from the 1970s, and another couch, day bed, and dishes from the 1960s.  One curtain could easily be original from the 1950s.  Anyway, the kitchen is well-stocked, and the bedrooms are nicely furnished, even if the entire house has tile floors (most houses have at least some carpeting).  Also, like Casa del Sol all of the living space and bedrooms are on the same level, with parking underneath the house.  The table only seats 6 (again), but at one point we managed to get 12 people seated, between the 3 chairs at the counter and pulling up extra chairs from the living room.  There are two couches, which makes for a pretty good amount of seating.  The TV is fairly old, but it’s ok if you’re not used to a big screen.  The beach access is across the road and a few feet over in front of a different house, but it’s not a bad walk, although it seems slightly longer than the one from Pier View.

Other houses have other amenities.  Most have washing machines and dryers, telephones (Happy Ours doesn’t, but that’s very unusual), heating and air conditioning, etc.  Some of wireless internet, pools, and/or elevators and are wheelchair accessible.  There is something for virtually every budget and group size on Holden Beach.

Fees: Prices vary by time of year, house, and realty.  Bruswickland’s prices range from approximately $400 to $5000 a week during the winter season, and $600 to $8000 in the summer for a week’s stay.

Road ★★★★★

Signs ★★★★★

Scenery ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★½


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2 thoughts on “Holden Beach: The Carolina’s Best Family Beach

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