Island Hopping in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands

Island Hopping

With five unique barrier islands, it’s no wonder that North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands has been a family favorite beach destination for generations. When you are looking to plan your next beach vacation, are you partial to the resort style of Ocean Isle Beach? Do memories of hanging out at the Oak Island Pier draw you back? Is it the family vibe of Holden Beach that has you visiting year after year? Or perhaps it’s the secrets that Sunset Beach holds? Whichever island is your favorite home-base, we encourage you to go island hopping on your next Brunswick Islands visit and discover the unique activities, cuisine and events that await on each of our barrier islands. Who knows, you may just end up with a new favorite beach to stake your umbrella!

Holden Beach
Geographically located in the middle of our string of barrier islands, Holden Beach is easily accessible from anywhere in the Brunswick Islands. Head here for a spectacular shrimp burger at Provision Company! Each nationally-acclaimed shrimp patty is made from fresh-off-the-docks shrimp, lightly fried and topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and a tasty special sauce, all served on a perfectly toasted bun or enjoyed atop a bed of crisp lettuce, cucumbers, crunchy croutons and garden-ripe tomatoes. Even better, your view overlooks the waterway and the many shrimp boats that call Holden Beach home. The reason this shrimp burger is extra good? Many of the area’s shrimp boats dock at Holden Beach and unload their catch directly to the restaurants and seafood purveyors here. Take a walk along the docks to see the shrimp boats and visit Old Ferry Seafood to pick up the latest fresh catch or a made-to-order Low Country Boil.

holden beach

Oak Island
Next, hop on over to Oak Island which features 14 miles of beautiful uncrowded beaches and is home to the towns of Oak Island and Caswell Beach. While there be sure to check out the newly rebuilt Oak Island Pier, the tallest pier in North Carolina! It is complete with a tackle shop, restaurant and plenty of space for pedestrians and anglers.

For a change of perspective head over to the east end of the island to explore Caswell Beach, home of the Oak Island Lighthouse. Get a bird’s eye view of the area with a free tour to the top of the lighthouse, offered on Tuesday, Thursday and some Sunday mornings throughout the summer by reservation only. General, no reservation required, second level tours are available from Memorial Day through Labor Day on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

caswell beach

Ocean Isle Beach
For a hair-raising adventure, visit The Swamp Park at Ocean Isle Beach! This unique attraction will have you soaring through the sky on a zipline course, exploring the lands by ATV tour, spotting marine life on the swamp boat eco-tour, or swinging through the trees on the aerial adventure park.

Be sure to visit this island on Wednesdays to check out the “All hands-on Deck” program at the largest dry aquarium in the southeast at the Museum of Coastal Carolina. This interactive program gives guests an opportunity to learn about the creatures that live in the diverse ecosystem found in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands.

ocean isle beach

Sunset Beach
Located on the southwestern end of the Brunswick Islands, Sunset Beach is one of the most unique beach experiences that can be found on the east coast because the western end of the island is a completely undeveloped nature reserve. Just a mile’s walk from the last public beach access, is the Bird Island Reserve which is home to a variety of birds, wildlife and beautiful sand dunes. Here you can rejuvenate your soul at the Kindred Spirit Mailbox, where visitors find comfort in divulging their wishes, prayers and dreams among the breathtaking beauty of the ocean. Once back from the beach, finish your Sunset Beach hop with a tour of the Old Sunset Bridge Museum, home to the last pontoon swing bridge on the East Coast!

If visiting Sunset Beach on a Thursday, you can explore the Sunset Beach Waterfront Market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. where fresh produce and local goods are sold. Stay for some Thursday night fun and check out the laser light and music show at the Ingram Planetarium.

Kindred Spirit Mailbox

Bald Head Island
Accessible only by boat, jump on board the ferry that leaves from Southport and take the 20 minute ride over to Bald Head Island. There you can tour North Carolina’s oldest lighthouse, Old Baldy. Rising above the trees, looking out over the sea, marsh and harbor, the lighthouse is only a short walk from the ferry landing. Admission to the Smith Island Museum of History allows you to climb Old Baldy’s 108 steps for an incomparable view of the island and tour the museum to learn about Bald Head Island’s seafaring history.

bald head island

Be sure to make North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands your next island hopping getaway this summer! For more information on the Brunswick Islands and other special offers, please visit www.ncbrunswick.com.

Brunswick Islands Fun That Won’t Break the Bank

budget

A vacation filled with golden memories doesn’t need to cost its weight in gold. In North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, some of our best attractions are the most wallet-friendly, making it easy for you to enjoy a five-star vacation without the five-star price tag. Learn about the rich history of the area, explore Brunswick Islands’ stunning natural beauty or stroll around on a self-guided walking tour, all without breaking the bank.

Dive into the rich history

From Southport to Calabash, the Brunswick Islands are filled with a rich history, unique ecosystems and interesting animal life. Native American tribes, the Revolutionary War and even pirates have all impacted the area and formed the culture we know today. History buffs can pop into any of the several free or low-priced museums in the area to take a deeper dive into the events that formed the culture of the region today while ocean lovers can visit one of the largest dry aquariums on the East Coast to learn more about our marine and sea plant life.

Maritime Museum of Southport

Stop by the North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport and discover all there is to learn about the maritime history of the area. The museum is located along the waterfront where the Cape Fear River, Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean merge, making it an ideal spot to learn about the local seafaring culture. Admission is free so visitors can easily explore exhibits about shipwrecks, piracy, the Civil War, commercial fishing, hurricanes and much more.

maritime museum

Museum of Coastal Carolina

The Museum of Coastal Carolina is a great way to spend an afternoon with your little ones or to simply learn about the diverse ecosystem of Coastal North Carolina. The museum offers many opportunities to experience marine life up close with hands-on activities like a fossil pit with shark teeth that you get to take home, life-sized wildlife dioramas and a Touch Tank with live animals like sea stars, sea urchins and more. You can also learn more about sea turtle nesting in the area with an informative and entertaining video of nesting sea turtles on Ocean Isle Beach! The museum is $9.50 for adults (13-61), $8.50 for seniors (62+), $7.50 for children (3-12) and free for ages 2 and under. The museum also offers a $2.00 discount if you bring your same-week Ingram Planetarium ticket.

museum of coastal carolina

Sunset Swing Bridge & Museum

Take a step back in time at the Sunset Swing Bridge & Museum and learn about the iconic bridge that linked Sunset Beach with the mainland. The bridge was decommissioned after the opening of the Mannon C. Gore Bridge in 2011. The old swing bridge and tender house still serve as a free museum for the public, only now they’re safely sitting on dry land. During your visit to the museum, be sure to check out the artifacts from the Blockade Runner Vesta which ran aground on Sunset Beach during the Civil War.

old swing bridge sunset beach

Outdoor Fun

With the diverse vegetation found throughout the Brunswick Islands, there’s always a new landscape to explore. Whether you’re most comfortable on the mainland, the islands or in the parks, our communities are filled with fun ways to enjoy the great outdoors.

Live Music in All Settings

Keep an ear out for all the amazing free concerts in the area during your stay. Several of our towns and islands put on summer concert series that are free for all to enjoy. Recline in your beach chair while you listen to music when you stop by the concerts happening at Holden Beach, Southport, Ocean Isle Beach, Oak Island, Calabash or Sunset Beach. If an evening in the park sounds like more of your scene, head inland for the Leland Concerts in the Park series, Shallotte SummerFest series or the Boiling Spring Lakes concert series.

OIB concert

Island Farmers and Artisans’ Market

If you’re looking for a unique, locally made souvenir, or just want to sink your teeth into some fresh produce, be sure to check out the many farmer’s markets that take place from late spring to late fall and features vendors offering produce, homemade jams, cakes and a variety artisan goods like jewelry, furniture, rugs, potholders and much more. Chat with locals while you stroll the aisles of goodies.

Oak Island Lighthouse

When visiting Caswell Beach be sure to visit the Oak Island Lighthouse. The lighthouse opened in 1958 to replace the Cape Fear Light, and stands as the newest lighthouse in North Carolina. Climb to the top through a series of ship ladders for a stunning view of the Brunswick Islands. Top tours of the lighthouse are available for free year round by appointment and second level tours are available on Wednesdays and Saturdays from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

oak island lighthouse

Family Tee Time

Spend some quality time on the course with your family.  Many area golf courses such as the Brunswick Plantation Resort and Golf, Rivers Edge Golf Club, Sandpiper Bay Golf Club, Crow Creek Golf Club and Sea Trail Golf Club, offer free golf for juniors while playing with a paying adult. Check their websites or call the pro shop for details.

junior golf

Walking Tours

If you’re looking to get some steps in on your vacation, a walking tour could be just the ticket. There are several guided and self-guided tours in the area highlighting everything from the islands’ rich history to popular movie shooting locations.

Self-Guided Movie Location Tour

Check out the backdrops for some of your favorite movie scenes with a self-guided tour of the movie and TV shooting locations in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands by picking up a map from the Fort Johnston-Southport Museum & Visitor Center. Our charming towns and beaches have been featured in box office hits like Iron Man 3, Weekend at Bernie’s and Safe Haven as well as episodes from popular television shows like Dawson’s Creek, Hart of Dixie and Matlock. See for yourself the familiar homes and beaches that brought these scenes to life!

safe haven

Historical Walking Tour of Southport

Get active and take a self-guided walking tour through historic Southport. The tour will lead you to architecture dating back to the 1800s, as well as several significant landmarks in the area. Grab a map from the Fort Johnston-Southport Museum & Visitor Center and make your way around while learning the history and events that shaped Southport into the town we love today.

fort johnston

Soak Up Some Vitamin Sea

No vacation to North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands is complete without a few hours simply relaxing on the sand and soaking up some rays. Take some time to slow down and enjoy the natural beauty of our beaches.

fun

Shelling on the Shore

If you’re looking for an active alternative to sunbathing on the beach, North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands’ 45 miles of breathtaking beaches offer a perfect spot to go hunting for beach gems like the variety of seashells that wash up on the sand. Shelling is a great activity to teach kids about the ocean, or just to take in the scenery. The most abundant types of shells that you might find include Angelwings, Olive Shells, True Tulips, Sand Dollars and Starfish. Take a scenic stroll down the beach and search for these little treasures of the tide!

shells

For more information on activities to enjoy during your vacation in the Brunswick Islands, please visit www.ncbrunswick.com.

Make Travel Plans for Labor Day Weekend in NC’s Brunswick Islands

Still considering Labor Day travel plans for your family? Make crowded beaches and umbrella mazes a thing of the past with a holiday getaway to North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands. Our 45 miles of pristine, uncrowded beaches will take you back to the beach vacations of your childhood. With a uniquely relaxed atmosphere and plenty of beach for your blanket, there is no better place to celebrate the end to a fun-filled summer. Our six island beaches house a collection of family-friendly activities perfect for saying farewell to summer. Be sure to check out these suggestions for ways to make the most out of your long weekend in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands.

Shallotte River Swamp Park

Families can experience the swamp like never before with an action-packed, high flying adventure. The park features a two and a half hour zipline tour, seven course adventure park, 50-foot Pelican Dive jump and more. Park owners did not want to sacrifice the beautiful, natural surroundings for adventure, but rather enhance guest experience by seamlessly weaving the two together. The park is uniquely designed around the landscape and rangers educate guests about the ecological benefits of the natural habitat. With an outdoor adventure perfectly suited for ages four and beyond, there is something for every member of the family.

Shallotte River Swamp Park

Last Turtle Talks of the Year

In North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, summer is sea turtle season. For centuries our beaches have been home to loggerhead sea turtles, and every summer local sea turtle protection organizations offer free weekly family-friendly seminars to share important information about loggerhead sea turtle conservation efforts. These “Turtle Talks” are held late spring through summer, with the last of the popular events scheduled just before and over Labor Day weekend. Be sure to check the calendar of events and see if your family can make one of these fun and educational seminars.

Ingram Planetarium

Looking to expand your family’s horizons this Labor Day holiday? Venture to Sunset Beach to explore the Ingram Planetarium. The state-of-the-art planetarium features an 85-seat SciDome Sky Theater with high definition digital projection and surround-sound system. Families can catch thrilling and educational programs about space exploration and astronomy before wondering through the many interactive exhibits.

Planetarium

Waterfront Dining

The vibrant communities of North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands are home to countless culinary hot spots serving up the tastiest coastal creations. Whether families are craving seafood, home-style dishes or international cuisine, there is a dining experience for everyone. Some of the best parts of a beach vacation are the views, and the Brunswick Islands boast beautiful waterfront dining spots with a family friendly atmosphere. There are many great options that offer incredible views, fresh seafood and a friendly atmosphere.

Ice Cream Shops

Everyone loves a sweet treat, and lucky for families the Brunswick Islands have numerous local ice cream shops that serve up smiles every day. Each island and town has several spectacular ice cream choices as unique and individual as the islands that house them. Say cheers to the season with the signature treat of summer.

 For even more family-friendly Labor Day travel ideas, be sure to visit www.NCBrunswick.com.

Summer is Sea Turtle Time in the Brunswick Islands

sea turtle Brunswick Islands

For many people the word “summer” evokes mental images of sandy beaches, gentle waves, glowing sunshine, pearly white sea shells and freshly caught seafood. While these classic coastal elements are key parts of a summer escape to North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, locals and visitors alike know that the 45 miles of picturesque, uncrowded beaches bring in more than happy beachgoers each summer. For centuries, the beaches of North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands have been home to loggerhead sea turtles. These spectacular creatures travel great distances to lay their eggs along the shore from May to August, with hatchings happening July through October. Many visitors book their stays to have front row seats to this bit of maritime magic, making summertime sea turtle time in the Brunswick Islands. With so many ways to take part in the action, it is easy to see why!

Museum of Coastal Carolina

Turtle loving travelers can venture to Ocean Isle Beach for the Barrier Island Gallery at the Museum of Coastal Carolina. The museum shares The Legend of the Loggerhead with an exhibit featuring a sand dune model complete with mother loggerhead turtle laying a nest and hatchlings emerging from the nest. Visitors can walk through the dune to check out interior views of the nest and watch a video about the lifecycle of Ocean Isle Beach’s loggerhead turtles. With one of the largest dry aquariums on the East Coast, the Museum of Coastal Carolina also gives guests an opportunity to see life-size loggerhead turtles and other native wildlife displayed.

sea turtle exhibit

Turtle Talks

The Brunswick Islands has sea turtle protection organizations in Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Holden Beach, Oak Island, Caswell Beach and Bald Head Island. Many of the local sea turtle protection organizations offer free weekly family-friendly seminars, designed to share important information about loggerhead sea turtle protection efforts. These “Turtle Talks” are held in Holden Beach, Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach and Oak Island late spring through summer. With different locations and times throughout the summer season, there are plenty of opportunities to entertain and educate your family about these magnificent creatures during your stay in the Brunswick Islands.  Visit our calendar of events for details.

Turtle Talks – Holden Beach

Every Wednesday, June-August, 7:00 p.m.

Turtle Talks – Sunset Beach

Every Sunday, June 10-August 26, 7:00 p.m.

Turtle Talks – Ocean Isle Beach

Every Monday, May 28-September 3, 3:30 p.m.

Every Tuesday, May 29-August 28, 7:00 p.m.

Turtle Talks – Oak Island

Every Tuesday, June-August, 6:00 p.m.

baby sea turtles

Summer Internships

The Ocean Isle Beach Sea Turtle Protection Organization offers several week-long summer internships for middle and high school travelers ages 13-18. During this interactive experience, interns and their parents assist in monitoring sea turtle nests, collecting and logging sea turtle activity and by supporting visitor and resident awareness initiatives. Interested families can apply online. Insider tip: be aware of application deadlines to secure your spot on the sea turtle conservation team.

sea turtle nest

Visitor Tips for Sea Turtle Conservation

Sea turtles are a special part of the summer experience at North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands. While sea turtle sightings are exciting, we all must do our part to support the loggerhead turtles’ journey and keep them returning to our beaches for the next 100 years. Check out our tips to creating a better beach environment for the sea turtles:

  1. Do not disturb a sea turtle as it makes its way to or from the ocean.
  2. Know how to spot a sea turtle nest and do not disturb. Nests will typically be numbered and marked by surrounding fencing.
  3. Lights may confuse the sea turtles, so avoid shining lights at the turtles and turn off all lights near the beach, including outdoor lighting.
  4. Be a responsible beachgoer and pick up all litter, fill in beach holes and remove your beach equipment.
  5. Avoid the use of flash photography in capturing a sea turtle sighting.
  6. Do not ever pick up a sea turtle.

For more information on ways to stay and how to plan a terrific turtle experience at North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, please visit www.NCBrunswick.com.

Check Off Your Beach Bucket List in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands

Beach Bucket

A beach vacation in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands offers a chance for some rest and relaxation and also opportunities to create lifelong memories with loved ones.  Across the destination’s five islands, you’ll find all the activities that make for the best beach vacation memories, along with a few unexpected surprises.

Here are seven Brunswick Islands’ beach bucket list activities sure to make your vacation memorable for the whole family:

Build a Sandcastle

Sandcastle

Opportunities abound to try your hand at sandcastle artistry, or relaxing in the sun and strolling alongside the ocean. With 45 miles of idyllic beaches and six separate beach communities over five barrier islands, fun in the sun awaits travelers in need of a relaxing escape or an adventure-packed getaway.  Sandcastle building tip: create a good strong packed foundation for your sandcastle and be sure to keep your sand wet while building!

Get a Sweet Treat

Satisfy your sweet tooth and stop by one of the many locally-owned ice cream shops and creameries sprinkled throughout the destination. With unique flavors and quality ingredients, you’ll be in for a treat. Each shop offers something special, whether it’s homemade recipes, specialty cones, or a welcoming environment with rocking chairs to sit and enjoy some dessert.

Savor Local Seafood

Calabash seafood

Fulfill your craving for fresh seafood with famous Calabash-style cuisine in the town where it was created. Calabash, the “Seafood Capital of the World,” is home to several locally-owned restaurants serving up lightly-battered, perfectly prepared seafood. Numerous restaurants throughout the islands – many with outdoor waterfront dining – feature menus with fresh, locally-caught seafood and home-style sides.

Discover a Coastal Secret

Venture one mile down the coast on foot or by bike from the last beach access on Sunset Beach and take a serene journey to the Kindred Spirit Mailbox, an unexpected sight among the dunes of Bird Island. Take a seat on a nearby bench and write down your innermost thoughts and dreams on one of the notebooks inside the mailbox, or read notes left by other visitors.

See an East Coast Phenomenon

With the beaches of the Brunswick Islands’ unique positioning toward the South, you can set up your chair on the beach to watch the sunrise over the Atlantic and stay put in the same spot to catch a breath-taking sunset over the ocean. You can see this phenomenon for yourself beginning in the fall and continuing through the winter months.

Be on Turtle Watch

Witness the incredible sight of 250-pound Loggerhead sea turtles laying their eggs on the beach, followed by their babies making their first journey from their nest to the sea. From May to August, you might spot the mother laying her eggs in the dunes, and from July to October the babies hatching and venturing toward the ocean.  Local Sea Turtle Protection Organization volunteers monitor the nests throughout the season to answer questions about the process and can tell you when nests may be ready to hatch. Also, several of the Sea Turtle Protection Organizations offer free “Turtle Talks” throughout the summer. See the events calendar for details.

Go Beyond the Beach

Paddleboarding

Looking to get your toes out of the sand and into a marsh or inland adventure? Explore the beautiful marshes, creeks and estuaries along the Intracoastal Waterway by paddle board, kayak and boat. Channel your adventurous side with some fishing or climb the Oak Island Lighthouse or Old Baldy for a stunning aerial view of the ocean and the marshland. Go ziplining over a swamp or explore nature preserves for carnivorous plants.

To begin planning your bucket list-worthy beach vacation to North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, visit www.NCBrunswick.com.