9 Things You Can Only Do in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands

Brunswick County Tourism Development Authority9 Things You Can Only Do in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands

Prepare for plenty of new experiences when you visit the Brunswick Islands

Nestled along the southernmost stretch of North Carolina’s coast, the Brunswick Islands are known for their tranquility. Bypassed for points to their north and south by development, much of these five barrier islands are pristine, covered with rolling dunes and waving shore grasses. But that respite isn’t the only attraction. There’s plenty of golf to play, cuisine to taste, celebrations to join, history to explore and unique views to enjoy.

While the Brunswick Islands offer enough adventures to fill several trips, these nine are the experiences you won’t find just anywhere.

Explore North Carolina’s oldest standing lighthouse, Old Baldy

Standing at the Cape Fear River’s mouth for more than two centuries, Old Baldy is the elder statesman of North Carolina’s seven lighthouses. Today, instead of steering ships, it beckons visitors to automobile-free Bald Head Island. Follow the wooden stairs to its top, an easy climb that turns slightly more difficult if you continue up the ladder to the lantern room. Stop at Smith Island Museum, inside the keeper’s cottage, for a souvenir and local ecology lesson.

Old Baldy Lighthouse


Climb the state’s youngest lighthouse, Oak Island

Oak Island Lighthouse, across the Cape Fear and within sight of Old Baldy when skies are their Carolina bluest, is the state’s youngest lighthouse. Climbing its 153 feet requires a reservation and some nerve. Instead of stairs, you’ll scramble up a series of ship ladders to the top. There you’ll find panoramic views of Caswell Beach. Its gentle slope makes for spectacular shelling. The best time to go is right after the tide changes, when whelks, sand dollars and countless other varieties are exposed.

Oak Island Lighthouse in Caswell Beach


Watch the sun rise and set from one spot

From late fall through early spring, you can watch the sun rise and set without moving your beach chair. The islands’ east-west orientation offers the perfect perspective for seeing the sun arc just above the southern horizon. It’s one of a few places worldwide where this view is so accessible. That earned the islands a spot on The Weather Channel’s list of “10 Incredible Phenomena You Have to See in Fall.”

Sunset over Brunswick Islands


Try the original (and tasty) Calabash seafood

What the small fishing port of Calabash lacks in size, it makes up in flavor. Savor it by grabbing a seat at one of the self-proclaimed "Seafood Capital of the World’s" family-run restaurants. Most were started by local fishermen almost a century ago, when they began serving visitors the shrimp, crab, scallops and fish that they plucked from nearby waters. The unique preparation — a light breading and gentle fry — and generous portions make it popular and widely imitated.

Calabash seafood plate


Celebrate at the NC Oyster Festival

While oysters’ power as an aphrodisiac can be debated, you’ll feel the love for this tasty mollusk in Ocean Isle Beach. Head here in October, when the state’s oyster fishing season starts, for the two-day NC Oyster Festival. Meet crafts vendors, enjoy live music and choose from a variety of foods. Test your shucking skills in the competition, or sample the oyster stews that local restaurants have entered in the cook-off. There’s also an oyster-eating contest; you’ll win by downing a dozen pre-shucked ones the fastest.

North Carolina Oyster Festival fresh oysters


Take part in the state’s official 4th of July celebration

What started with a simple toast and a few cannon blasts in 1792 has become a 10-day celebration of our nation’s birthday. The North Carolina 4th of July Festival welcomes about 50,000 people to Southport each summer, who see firsthand why Coastal Living named it the "Best Beach Town in America for the Fourth of July." Watch the parade, admire classic cars, take part in plenty of family-friendly activities, a day dedicated to beach activities and a gigantic firework display on the waterfront.

North Carolina 4th of July Festival parade


Enjoy some solitude on one of the world’s best beaches

Ponder your thoughts to a soundtrack of rolling waves and salt-air breezes on Sunset Beach, where the lack of development earned it a spot on National Geographic’s list of the "21 Best Beaches in the World." Explore adjacent Bird Island, where the Kindred Spirit Mailbox has stood for more than 35 years. Write your experiences or thoughts on the notebooks inside, or read entries left by previous visitors.

Sunset Beach ocean pier


Play all the golf you like, all in one place

You’re never far from a tee in the Brunswick Islands. Nicknamed "North Carolina’s Golf Coast," it’s home to more than 30 golf courses, whose 120 miles of fairways wind through scenic stands of pine and oak and along quiet estuaries. Mild weather drives year-round play, and the variety of courses, designed by some of golf’s biggest legends — Arnold Palmer, Willard Byrd, Fred Couples and Rees Jones — means you won’t have to play the same one twice.

Brunswick Islands Golf Courses


Visit famous TV and movie locations

The Brunswick Islands have starred in many favorite vacations, not to mention television shows, such as Under the Dome, and movies, especially those based on Nicholas’ Sparks best-selling novels such as A Walk to Remember. Stop by the Southport Museum and Visitor’s Center for a map of past filming locations and see how many you recognize. Keep your eyes open while on your self-guided tour. There’s always the chance that you’ll come across a live set.

Movie Filming Locations in Brunswick Islands


Start planning your trip today to the beautiful Brunswick Islands of North Carolina.

Written by Pete M. Anderson for VisitNC.com, in partnership with Brunswick County Tourism Development Authority. All photos courtesy of Brunswick.


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