Just got back from a great week in Holden Beach, North Carolina, one of the best vacation spots I've ever been to. Those who hate beaches, surfing, birdwatching, swimming, shells and friendship can stop reading now.

People from my church make an annual trip there after Labor Day -- when rental rates drop significantly -- and I finally got wise to the small town about an hour north of Myrtle Beach. Far away from any hustle or bustle, I did very little apart from the beach. It was grand.

[Holden Beach info] [Rental prices]

You won't find the good restaurants, nightlife or tourist attractions at many nearby locales. That's good news for nature lovers, who usually benefit from a lack of things like good bars. Here's a bit more about three of my favorite attractions:

Surfing: Because the sandy beach faces south, you don't get regular east-west swells or regular breaks as you would on a reef. Action from a NNE tropical storm created chest-high sets on Monday, and conditions were nearly perfect. The most reliable spot I found was near the 1300 block of Ocean Boulevard West, where waves came around a point. [Map] You can rent a board from a number of shops on the island. I got a decent one for $45 for the week.

Birding: Inland marshes, tidal pools, large dunes and open water collide on Holden Beach, providing plenty of avian habitat. Take binoculars and check this website before heading out. One morning, my buddy Derek and I saw royal terns, sandwich terns, ruddy turnstones, semi-palmated plovers, brown pelicans, semi-palmated sandpipers, willets and more.

Shell-seeking: South-facing beaches are always good for shells. Strolling down the sand, you'll find tons of scallops, augers, conchs and others. Here's a good guide to figuring out what's out there.

(Photos courtesy of my friends Matt Waterman and Teake Curry)