Stop and Smell the Flowers this Spring with Insider Danielle Merritts

Danielle here! Marketing professional and southeastern North Carolina native. Growing up in the Inner Coastal Plain region was truly a blessing, and calling NC’s Brunswick Islands home now is just as special. I’m happiest when outside exploring, reconnecting with myself and eliminating distractions – and I get all that and more by just stepping out my front door. Here are some of my happy places near home:

At the beach

Living close to the Atlantic Ocean for the majority of my life, I have always been drawn to the water, so it’s no secret that I’m a “beach bum.” But that term goes far beyond lying back in your beach chair catching rays. My go-to beach activities include: 

Man walking on sand maze in middle of beach
A sand maze in Sunset Beach
  • Spending the day on Sunset Beach: My boyfriend, Drew, and I enjoy going to the far east end of Sunset Beach. There typically aren’t many people down that way, so it feels like you’re on your own private island! On days we don’t feel like taking the walk down to the east end, or when we have other friends and family members with us, we go around 15th Street. During spring and summer, it’s common to see large sand sculptures made by locals, and mazes created by the Sunset Beach Maze Man!  
  • Shelling on Holden Beach: Holden Beach is my go-to place for shelling. Tip: Low tide is the best time to find larger shells that are still intact, and I usually find sea biscuits from the shoreline to ankle-deep water. 
  • Climb the Oak Island Lighthouse: This is for when I like to venture out of my comfort zone. The climb itself is truly a unique experience because the lighthouse has a ship’s ladder concept instead of the traditional spiral staircases that you see in most lighthouses. The view from the top is breathtaking, and the volunteers who lead the climbs are very knowledgeable, so you get to learn about the history of the lighthouse as you climb to the top. Tip: Be sure to schedule an appointment for your climb on the OKI Lighthouse website.

Out to eat

Calabash is home to a variety of delicious restaurants, but if I had to choose a couple:  

Plates of food and sides on table at dinnertime
The Oyster Rock
  • Toasted for brunch: The food is delicious and they have a wide variety of mimosas to choose from. We’re talking more than 50! Milk & Honey is my other favorite brunch spot. The shrimp omelet is my go-to item, and the chicken and waffles never disappoint.
  • Waterfront Seafood Shack for lunch: This is my favorite spot. Nothing compares to eating delicious seafood on the waterfront while watching the pelicans hang out around the fishing boats. Make sure you try the fried pound cake! 
  • The Oyster Rock for dinner: This is my go-to spot for this meal. Drew is a pork chop connoisseur, and he says Oyster Rock has the best! We usually make dinner reservations on a Friday or Saturday night and get there an hour early to have a drink at the dock bar to catch the sunset and listen to live music on the patio before dinner.

Savoring hidden gems

NC’s Brunswick Islands is full of hidden gems, and you’ll find me here a lot: 

Swamp and grasses in open meadow during daytime
Green Swamp Preserve
  • Green Swamp Preserve: my favorite hidden gem in the area. It’s located off Highway 17 on Highway 211 in Supply. My favorite time to visit is around late April to early May, when everything is in bloom. The moment you get to the end of the trail – when you arrive in an open field of ferns with pitcher plants and other wildflowers – feels almost magical. You’ll also find orchids, Venus flytraps and other unique plants along the way. Tip: Bring a backpack with water and bug spray, and wear closed-toe shoes. 
  • Kindred Spirit Mailbox: Visiting the Kindred Spirit Mailbox is always a special experience any time of year, and the walk to Bird Island is so scenic and relaxing. Whether you spend time reading the letters in the mailbox or sitting on the bench and jotting down your own thoughts, a visit here always provides mental clarity and reminds me to appreciate the important things and people in my life. 
  • Sunset Beach Town Park: Watching the sunrise at Sunset Beach Town Park is my favorite way to start the day. It’s always peaceful and quiet, and I enjoy watching all the birds along the marsh. 

Craving more spring travel inspiration? Let Insiders Dana Grimstead and Veda Gilbert lead the way.

Visit Outdoor NC for additional tips on how to connect with nature and help preserve the natural beauty of our state. 

Updated March 21, 2024
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