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Trip 10: The battle of the beaches

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I like what I like. At my age, I don’t always find it necessary to find a new,  insert whatever you want (mexican restaurant, grocery store, beach) if I already have one I love. 

That’s been my relationship with Sunset Beach.  I love everything about it. I’ve been going there for 16 years, at least. I’ve thought about wandering down to Ocean Isle or one of the neighboring beaches during my stays but I’ve never done it. I mean, I know Sunset doesn’t have many restaurants but I’m perfectly happy fixing fresh seafood we buy from a little shop instead of having to put on shoes and drive somewhere else. I figure the sun looks the same from there as it does from the deck of our oceanfront rental home we stay in every year.                                                           

So when the opportunity arose for a quick work trip to Ocean Isle with fellow writer and friend Vanessa, I decided now was as good a time as any to see if I’ve been missing anything.

Ocean Isle is bigger than Sunset with more “stuff to do”, but it still feels remote, nothing like the tourist frenzied Myrtle Beach. It’s got plenty of rental houses but unlike Sunset there are also some small hotels along the waterfront. I stayed at the Ocean Isle Inn. Their waterfront rooms have an amazing view! You could not beat the location! It’s easily walkable to restaurants, bikes, a playground (closed due to Covid), the pier and of course, beach souvenirs. 

Ocean Isle has a few waterfront restaurants where you can get a fancy cold drink and typical bar beach food. There are bike rentals and putt-putt golf and a great coffee shop too. 

A short drive away we found the perfect antidote to a rainy afternoon.  The Silver Coast Winery is the first winery in Brunswick County. It’s got so much local art inside its like sitting in an art gallery. They even use local art on the labels.

Our tasting guide was incredibly gracious and knowledgeable. Small world moment: Their winemaker used to be the winemaker at one of my favorite New York wineries, Bully Hill!

Oddly enough, my visit to Ocean Isle included a trip back to Sunset Beach for something I had never seen before:

The Kindred Spirit Mailbox (At one time I remember hearing about it but, for some reason, I thought it was on the Outer Banks somewhere.)

Anyway, Vanessa needed to go there for a story she was working on and I was excited to tag along. 

It’s a mile and a half walk south from the south end of the beach. I suggest walking at low tide so you aren’t walking through thick sand.

The mailbox was put on the beach almost 40 years ago. It’s estimated more than 100,000 people have visited it over the years.  It is a place that people go to share their deepest thoughts on a blank page of a journal tucked away inside. Heartfelt confessions, tears of grief, apologies for broken homes, a mother gutted by her children leaving the home.

Some were writing for the first time… others had returned to share an update from their earlier entry like they found the love they were searching for .. or had beaten cancer. 

I sat there for an hour and cried.  

  • I cried for dreams lost.
  • I cried for the hope that remains.
  • I cried for those searching and those that had found.
  • I cried because I could see myself in some and because I wish I could in others.
  • I cried because I felt the humanity that all of these faceless names shared.

A common desire to be seen, to be heard, to be loved. 

The mailbox is the inspiration behind Nicholas Sparks’ latest novel Every Breath.

My friend Stacy would say I’m a sap, so maybe that’s it. But either way, it felt a little spiritual… a little sacred.. a little strange peeking into the lives that poured out on the page. 

Turns out even when you think you know a place there is always more to learn if you just know where to look.

In the end, I can’t really say which beach is better. They both have great things to offer with beautiful sunsets to seal the day. Maybe it depends on what you are in the mood to do.