Driving across the high bridge spanning the Intracoastal Waterway to reach Holden Beach, I can never understand why they call it a causeway. It’s an impressive approach to an 11-mile strip of North Carolina coast. It’s time to take a deep breath and begin a week of escape from rushing around in your normal nine-to-five life.
As soon as we cross the bridge and I spot Paradise Cafe, I cannot resist the urge to stop for their fried flounder sandwich. Calling this a sandwich is a misnomer; it is actually two large fillets of real fish, about four times too big to fit on a bun and nothing square or frozen in sight. Fresh and delicious, it’s served with thick-cut homemade potato chips. Have it with a beer, a standard part of this lunch. Of course, one trip to Paradise Cafe is never enough; I’ll be back for cheese grits for breakfast, too. And even though plenty of other restaurants also serve fresh local seafood with a beachy ambiance, I just happen to fancy the idea of going to paradise.
The tourist season opens in late April with Days at the Docks when the local merchant association sponsors two days of music, kids’ entertainment, and dozens of food and craft vendors at the annual event. A pavilion with a small staging area has been built for these recurring events, showcasing the shrimp boats at the docks and the waterway traffic. Chris Politis chaired the group this year, and he’s always proud to describe the festival foods that are available, usually deep fried or sugar coated. He calls it healthy stuff—I think because it’s the food that keeps a festival healthy!
The merchants also host a seafood festival in October called NC Festival by the Sea. Die-hard beach lovers like my family and friends recognize fall as an ideal time to experience the beauty of the Carolina coast (without the crowds of summer) and a great excuse for a weekend trip, which we will plan before summer fades.
No high rises or roller coasters mar the landscape of Holden Beach. We rent a beach home or condo from a private owner or local rental company, and we can find fun entertainment nearby for a quick day trip if necessary. This is a surprisingly active place for a small-scale vacation spot. But when I say active, I’m referring to local people and family vacationers playing golf or going fishing in the morning, walking the beach and collecting shells in the afternoon, and gathering at a few favorite spots for live music during the evening. Kayaking definitely lures us into the water, but nothing strenuous is required. Lounging on the porch and backyard grilling are always included. And shopping at Beach Mart is a necessary stop, whether for bathing suit choices or beach gear you forgot at home or can't get at home.
For anyone who likes a quiet, friendly, and fun beach atmosphere at any time of year, I cannot recommend Holden Beach strongly enough.
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