Discover Natural Beauty on Your Way to the BeachLeland Tourism Development AuthorityCompass Pointe is one of several reasons you should explore the scenic town of LelandMillions of visitors head to the North Carolina coast each year. But only some know about a hidden gem nearby – a charming town that’s close to beaches and feels like a home away from home. You should get to know Leland for your next getaway.Leland is only 10 minutes from the ever-popular Wilmington, and a half hour or less from Carolina Beach and the many beaches and islands of Brunswick County. With so much in close proximity, the laid-back appeal of the town often keeps vacationers from venturing out (but it’s good to know the major tourist attractions are nearby when you want them).Natural beauty is a prevalent theme here, which makes for great parks and trails and, of course, gorgeous backdrops during rounds of golf.Compass Pointe Golf Club opened in Leland in summer 2016, designed by North Carolina native Rick Robbins, who’s crafted golf courses around the world. The tee choices at Compass Pointe – 7,228 yards from the championships to 4,733 yards from the forwards – make it enjoyable, regardless of your handicap. Its greens play fast, so your approach shots need to be high with plenty of ball spin in order to set up perfect putts.Magnolia Greens Golf Course’s 27 holes have hosted PGA Tour and U.S. Golf Association qualifying tournaments. Warm up for them at its driving range, which has natural grass tees. There are chipping and putting practice greens, too. Enjoy a meal or a drink at recently renovated Blossoms Restaurant, where its biggest treat is sweeping views of the course.Leland TDAThe Championship Course at Magnolia Greens was designed by renowned architect Tom JacksonGolfweek magazine has consistently ranked Cape Fear National on its “Best Courses You Can Play in North Carolina” list. The lush setting is filled with native vegetation, and its fairways are challenging but fair. Use the touchscreen computer in the cart to pull up distances to pins and hazards, review aerial views to plan an attack on the next hole, and order food and drinks, which will be waiting at the turn.You may be surprised to learn that Leland is a young town, having incorporated less than 30 years ago. Its popularity is reflected in its population growth, increasing nearly 27 percent during the recent five-year period. This has attracted many new amenities, including The Villages at Brunswick Forest. Its 500,000 square feet of retail and professional space has everything you need. Try the sweet potato French fries seasoned with cinnamon sugar at Bessie Burger. You know they’ll be fresh: North Carolina grows about half of the country’s sweet potatoes. Find organic treats, unique collars and other wholesome supplies for your four-legged friends at Family Dog Naturals, which is locally owned.Leland balances development with a strong dedication to nature and green space. That starts at Leland Municipal Park, the town’s first. It has a playground, picnic tables and a paved trail that’s a little more than a half-mile long. Use the free wireless internet to quickly share pictures of your visit through social media.Leland TDAStand up paddle boarding is becoming increasingly popular on the Brunswick RiverBrunswick Nature Park in nearby Winnabow has trails for hiking and mountain biking throughout its more than 900 acres. Rookie riders will enjoy the flat and fast trails. If you’re more experienced, pedal the single track that winds through woods and wetlands, and test your balance on the obstacles and rock gardens. The park’s pavilion is perfect for large family gatherings. Keep an eye on the clock, though; the gate closes at dusk.The kayak and canoe launch at Brunswick Nature Park provides easy access to Town Creek, whose dark tannin-stained waters start at 13,000-acre Green Swamp Nature Preserve in Supply. Follow the red diamonds that mark the 1.5-mile out-and-back trail. You’ll walk among 14 species of insectivorous plants, including Venus flytraps, and have a chance to see rare animals, such as the bright green and brown Hessel’s hairstreak butterfly.Town Creek’s slow current is well suited for beginner paddlers and sightseeing. North Carolina Coastal Land Trust has led the preservation of more than 4,000 acres along the creek, which English settlers named more than 350 years ago. For a longer expedition, follow it to the Cape Fear River, where you can watch alligators sunning, dolphins swimming and brown pelicans gliding. Beach your boat and explore the river’s islands.Leland TDAEnjoy a peaceful stroll along the Brunswick RiverwalkThe tide affects fishing and small-boat access at Brunswick Riverwalk in Belville. So, enjoy a meal at a picnic shelter, walk a trail or admire the Brunswick River from an overlook while waiting for it to get right – rising for launching and falling for fishing. When it does, cast for big flounder, called “doormats,” and striped bass, whose numbers are rebounding. There also are catfish, redfish and speckled trout to be caught from 125-foot Joseph Breault Fishing Pier, which is wheelchair accessible.And remember, Leland puts you in perfect position to enjoy all that southeastern North Carolina offers. During your time here, easily spend a whole day exploring downtown Wilmington, where you can stroll more than 200 blocks of National Historic District or the Riverwalk, which is lined with shops, restaurants and nightlife. And have your pick of beaches when you want to make a short drive to fun in the sun.Written by Pete M. Anderson for VisitNC.com, in partnership with Leland Tourism Development Authority.