Bridging the gap: The story of the old sunset bridge

until 1958, the island of Sunset Beach, purchased for the princely sum of $55,000, was accessible only by boat from the mainland. That was the year a wooden bridge was built to link the island with mainland. There it operated for more than 50 years. When it was about to be replaced with a much higher, more modern bridge, a handful of local residents were intent on saving the old iconic swing bridge, which had plenty of stories to tell. The Old Bridge Preservation Society relocated it to a shady, flower-filled park under the shadows of its newer cousin. The much-anticipated museum, housed in the old bridge tender’s house, opened in May. Visit to learn more about this iconic link to Sunset Beach’s past and future.

Insider Tip: You can now purchase cookbooks, ornaments and novels from the Old Bridge Museum or on their website.

A glimpse into the past

if history and culture pique your interest, all you have to do is grab your walking shoes to escape and explore back through time!  North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands’ rich connection to the sea spans three centuries, including several wars and one double-crossed pirate!

Visit the Brunswick Town and Fort Anderson Historic Site and museum, a working archaeological dig that chronicles life during the Colonial and Civil Wars. Here, you can walk amidst one of the most pristine intact coastal fortifications in the United States to see the remains of a pre-Revolutionary town and Civil War fort on the banks of the Cape Fear River. Visit the ruins of captains’ quarters, homes and businesses and walk through the remains of St. Philip’s Anglican Church dating back to 1754.

Insider Tip: Be sure to ask about current and upcoming digs.

From its days as a major U.S. seaport, the area around Southport is full of relics and remembrances of wars dating from the 1700s through WWII. You’ll enjoy the featured nautical exhibits of pirate plunder and shipwrecks at NC Maritime Museum in Southport, or, for a different perspective, explore via water.

Paddle a kayak during a history tour from The Adventure Company or scuba dive to the wrecks themselves with the Scuba South Diving Company. German U-boats, blockade runners, Greek freighters, a navy sea-plane recovery ship and a British anti-submarine trawler are just a few of the underwater sights near Southport.

If you’re looking for family-friendly educational activities, check out these fun places below:


The Mainland

Brunswick Town Fort Anderson Historic Site

The Mainland

Civil War Sites of Significance

The Mainland

Fort Johnston – Southport Museum & Visitors Center


Ingram Planetarium

Sunset Beach

Museum of Coastal Carolina

Ocean Isle Beach

North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport


Oak Island Lighthouse

Caswell Beach

Old Baldy Lighthouse and Smith Island Museum of History

Bald Head Island

Old Brunswick County Jail Museum


Saint Philip’s Episcopal Church


Sunset Beach Swing Bridge & Museum

Sunset Beach

A bird’s eye view

make the climb of a lifetime when you visit the Oak Island Lighthouse, the last lighthouse to be built in the entire state of North Carolina. But make sure you wear your sunglasses! Among its numerous claims to fame, this lighthouse is one of the brightest in the United States with a beacon that reaches about 16 nautical miles offshore. The Oak Island Lighthouse is also one of the only lighthouses in the country that use a series of ship’s ladders instead of the typical spiral staircase. To access the top, you’ll want to trade in your flip flops for some tennis shoes, to climb the 131-step ship’s ladder to the balcony at the top. When you reach the top at 158 feet, you’ll be rewarded with a 360-degree bird’s eye-view of the Cape Fear River and surrounding barrier islands. Oak Island Lighthouse and Bald Head Island Lighthouse, also known as “Old Baldy,” are both accessible to all adventurous spirits. Tours to the popular top level of the Oak Island Lighthouse are available year round by appointment for climbers 9 years of age or older. You can make an appointment through their website at least two weeks in advance. The lighthouse is also open for tours to the second level Wed. and Sat. from Memorial Day to Labor Day from 10 am – 2 pm for ages 7 or older. Built in 1817, Old Baldy is North Carolina’s oldest standing lighthouse. Ticket information and hours of operation may be found at Insider Tip: Tying the knot anytime soon? Old Baldy towers above the majestic, moss-draped, southern live oaks and is bordered by tidal estuaries and meandering creeks – perfect for special occasions, such as weddings.