Sunset and Sunrise: Colors of The Island

Author: Isabella Peadon

March 19, 2023

If Wrightsville Beach is known for anything, it has to be for it’s magnificent east coast sunsets and extraordinary sunrises. Visitors, sunset lovers, and locals flock to the Island to get a glimpse of the incredible orange glow of the sky when the sun peaks up from beneath the ocean. There are very few things that can beat starting and ending the day with spectacular swirls of color that seem to ease the mind and cleanse the soul. 

What many don’t know, is the science behind a sunset is almost as interesting as the sunset itself. The ever changing coloration of a sunset or sunrise is due to a process known as ‘light scattering’ paired with the variation in wavelengths of the light itself. Simply put, ‘light scattering’ takes place when rays of light collide with particles that are suspended in the air. The contact scatters the direction of the light. The different wavelengths of light, often identified by the term many of us learned in grade-school that refers to the colors of the rainbow, ‘ROYGBIV’, combined with the scattered direction of the light is what determines the colors that we see during a sunset. When the sun is at its lowest in our atmosphere (at sunrise and sunset), it passes through more particles, scattering the light. When the sun is higher in the atmosphere, the light is less scattered.  

The colors we see in traditional sunsets and sunrises are a result of red, orange, and yellow light having the longest wavelengths. The shorter wavelength colors like blue and green are easier scattered in the atmosphere. Cloud cover can also affect the vividness of a sunset. Skys with high and midlevel cloud cover often see a more brilliant color change compared to low lying cloud cover. This is because low lying clouds often grab more light from the atmosphere without allowing it to pass through.  

On Wrightsville Beach, the sun rises gracefully on the beach side of the Island, nimbly makes its way across the sky, and then delicately tucks itself away below the water on the sound side. Knowing when the sun will set is an important key to enjoying this phenomenon that is accented by the sea, but it is also important to know the best spots for viewing. For that, I am here to help.  

If you are looking for stunning views of the sunSET, head over to Soundside at the Blockade Runner Beach Resort. Soundside, best know for it’s impeccable reputation as a premier sailing and watersports destination on the Island, is perfectly positioned on the western side of the island. Open to the public, the grassy area that shifts into a small sandy beach is the perfect spot for surveying the colors in the sky at the end of the day and observing passing saiboat’s.  

For a great place to watch the sunRISE, head over to access 36 on the south side of Crystal Pier. This is a public access point located right next to Oceanic restaurant and directly in front of a local favorite coffee shop, Sunday’s Surf Café. In the early hours of the morning, head over to access 36 (parking is free before 9:00 A.M.), grab yourself a hot latte, and take a seat on the sand for a glorious display of red and orange. Access 3, located on the opposite end of the Island to the north, is also a great place to watch the sunrise that is generally a little quieter with less foot traffic in the early hours of the morning.  

Living on Wrightsville Beach can make you a bit of a sunset snob. For this reason, I have developed my own sunset and sunrise ranking system with the help of my fellow Wrightville Beach locals. The ranking system, which varies from 1-10 (1 being the lowest score and ten being the highest) is a great way to stay up to date with how the views look day-to-day on the Island. To get a better look at the rankings, I’ll give you a look at some notable sunrise/sunset pictures I’ve taken and their corresponding score. 

Captured on a docked boat at Soundside, this sunset earns a score of 8. Exceptional colors with a little cloud cover.
This sunrise earns a score of 7. The sun isn’t visible behind the low lying clouds, but the brilliant orange reflection off the ocean is enough to make a grown man cry.
Taken in at the crack of dawn on Access 25, this sunset earns a perfect score of 10. The vibrant red and perfectly clear sky truly cannot be beat.

So, whether you’re an early riser or you prefer to consume your gorgeous views in the afternoon, there are plenty of places to get your sunset/sunrise fix right here on Wrightsville Beach. The pictures are worth a thousand words!


The science behind those picture-Perfect sunsets. (2021, September 10). Retrieved March 19, 2023, from


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