Searching for a tranquil home away from home? Carolina Shores is a small incorporated town at the southern tip of North Carolina perfect for families vacationing close to the coast. Staying near this tree-lined residential spot puts you at the center of the “Golf Coast” resort area and next door to some of the state’s most stunning beaches. Whether you’re looking for an oceanfront paradise or quiet gated community, here are nine places to book the perfect Carolina Shores vacation rental.

1. Calabash, North Carolina

boat rental
Source: ncbrunswick.com

Carolina Shores was once part of Calabash, a town proudly known as the Seafood Capital of the World. Restaurants serving famous Calabash-style cuisine provide convenient spots to try local seafood after a fun day of charter boat fishing with the family. Fans of everything aquatic quickly fall in love with scenic views of the Calabash River or join ocean cruises to spot dolphins and whales riding the waves. If you prefer to venture out on your own, rent a boat and enjoy lunch out on the open water.

2. Sunset Beach, North Carolina

morning sunlight
Source: Flickr / Tonya Lane Rucker

National Geographic rightfully ranked Sunset Beach as the fourth best beach in the world. Vacation rentals near the beach grant daily views of the pristine shoreline and gorgeous sunsets. Visit from July to October to spot loggerhead turtles as they hatch and trek to the ocean. Sunset Beach is a nature lover’s haven where you can admire feathered friends along the Bird Trail, and nearby Bird Island houses rare species you can’t find anywhere else. Be sure to play a round of golf at one of several local country club resorts, and finish up a day of science exploration with a laser light show at Ingram Planetarium.

3. North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

beach park
Source: Flickr / Myrtle Beach TheDigitel

North Myrtle Beach is an entertainment-packed vacation hub, making it easy to please many personalities. Round up the family for horseback riding by the seashore, and enjoy a picnic lunch while you listen to lively tunes at the summer concert series in local parks. Relive the nostalgic days of riding Ferris wheels, water slides and roller coasters by the shore at OD Pavilion, an oceanfront amusement park. A summer-long schedule of beach sports ranging from Ultimate Frisbee to pickle ball keeps the locals active. If you’d rather be on the water, jet skis, fishing boats and other water sports equipment are readily available for an exciting marine excursion.

4. Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina

blue sky over the ocean
Source: Flickr / JanMB2

Ocean Isle Beach captures the essence of North Carolina coastal culture. This serene beach town revolves around a celebration of nature, wildlife and local flavors, making it worth an extended stay. Food, music and arts collide at the annual Oyster Festival, where you can chow down on seafood and pick up souvenirs from local artisans. Have an early supper at your vacation rental before taking a ghost walk on the beach, and explore haunted shores where battles were fought and ships met their ends. Before heading home, visit the Museum of Coastal Carolina on a barrier island for a crash course in sea creatures and natural history.

5. Tidewater Plantation

aerial view of a golf course
Source: tidewatergolf.com

The expansive gated community of Tidewater Plantation makes up a stretch of North Myrtle Beach, welcoming vacationers for seasonal stays in resort condos. A world-class golf course is the resort’s star attraction, but there’s plenty of ways to keep busy at onsite pools, tennis courts and summer concerts. If the breathtaking scenery outside your window isn’t enough, visit Myrtle Beach for hours of shopping on the boardwalk, building sandcastles and walking trails in the state park. The area is abundant in off-the-wall attractions, so don’t miss a chance to explore an escape room or marvel at oddities at Ripley’s Believe It or Not. At the end of the day, you can dine at the resort’s Tidewater Grille before retiring to your condo.

6. Little River, South Carolina

waterfalls
Source: Flickr / ncrob1

Little River offers a quaint look at small-town life in South Carolina. From the moment you arrive, historic towering oak trees draw you into the handsome natural landscape, and cozy waterfront decks make you feel right at home. No matter what time you visit, there’s sure to be a festival coming up. The Blue Crab Festival, Oktoberfest, Waterway Boat Parade and Shrimp and Jazz Festival keep your days packed with great entertainment. Much like its neighbors, Little River offers golfing, fishing and boating, but the simple pleasures of a rushing waterfall or a tranquil hiking trail make this village ideal for relaxation away from the city.

7. Cherry Grove Beach, South Carolina

scenic pier
Source: Flickr / Michael Au

Known for its scenic pier, Cherry Grove Beach sits on the northeastern coast of North Myrtle Beach. A love of sun, surf and sand defines this laid-back environment, where oceanfront condos offer a quiet retreat after a day of sightseeing. With the beach right in your backyard, it’s common to find golfing, sailing, kayaking, volleyball and swimming as convenient amenities at many vacation spots. If you plan to fish, bring your daily catch home for a grilled seafood feast at your rental property.

8. Holden Beach, North Carolina

aerial view of bridge
Source: Flickr / GeniesWords

Another hot spot for turtle watching, Holden Beach is a family-friend community that lets you get close to nature and wildlife. Good old-fashioned fun and cultural celebrations make this small-town spot appealing for travelers who want to experience coastal living at its best. When you’re not watching the passing shrimp boats or cruising the waters in a canoe, try walking the pier to catch some memorable photos overlooking the ocean. Visit in the spring to catch Days at the Dock or in October for the North Carolina Festival by the Sea, where the kids can test their mettle in hermit crab and paddle races.

9. Shallotte, North Carolina

green forest
Source: townofshallotte.org

Set aside time for shopping if you plan to stay in the busier town of Shallotte. Its proximity to Wilmington and Myrtle Beach offer a quick drive to the county’s lively festivals, city attractions and popular golf clubs. The Summer Fest brings family-friendly movies and live music to Mulberry Park for anyone who wants to take it easy on warmer days. Send the adventure lovers in your group to the swamp park in Ocean Isle Beach, where they can visit the reptile sanctuary or enjoy eco-tours, boating and zip lining around the the Shallotte River Swamp.