The Town consists of both mainland neighborhoods and a barrier island of approximately 1200 homes. Three of the larger mainland neighborhoods in the Town are golf course developments at Oyster Bay, Sea Trail Resort and Sandpiper Bay. Ocean Ridge Plantation, while not in the city limits, has one of its ‘sister communities’ in Sunset Beach’s ETJ. Ocean Ridge has an amenities center/clubhouse on the island while Sea Trail Home Owners Association has a designated parking lot for members. The island is primarily home to vacation rental homes and cottages, although there are close to 100 full-time residents as well.
Since most of Sunset Beach and the adjoining Bird Island coastal reserve encompass a barrier island, the only way to get there from the mainland was by crossing a pontoon bridge (swing bridge) straddling the Intracoastal Waterway and adjacent marshland. It was a wooden structure that could only hold one lane of traffic at any given time, and was the only one of its kind still in use along the East Coast until 2010. During the day in the summer, traffic would be stopped every hour, on the hour, and the bridge would open to boat traffic on the waterway for 10 minutes. At 10 minutes after the hour, every hour, the bridge would reopen for vehicular traffic again for 50 minutes. During the off-season, the bridge only opened at the request of boat traffic. While this caused headaches for those trying to get on or off the island, many locals said the bridge did, however, give the town a more relaxed feel. Historically, this had been in stark contrast to the rapid growth affecting other beach communities along the Grand Strand.