North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands – five barrier islands featuring six quaint island towns – make for a sweet Atlantic Coast beach escape that you’ll want to return to with your family time and again. This sliver of North Carolina coastline offers plenty of space to relax, explore and enjoy time with family – whether you are visiting for a weekend or a week. Plan to hop between the islands to enjoy 45-miles of south-facing beaches along this historic Atlantic coastline.
I visited North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands in October – here are my recommendations for a beach getaway that the whole family will enjoy:
Home Base at Holden Beach
All five of the Brunswick Islands offer beachfront home rentals and hotels, but I recommend making Holden Beach your home base. Recently named one of country’s top 10 family beaches by National Geographic TRAVELER Magazine, Holden Beach is a resort community offering nine miles of oceanfront, three bike trails totaling 20 miles, and limited commercial development.
During my visit, we stayed in a beautiful beachfront home dubbed Treasured Nest, which can be rented through Holden Beach Vacations. Each morning, we drank coffee and watched waves crashing on the sand from a variety of porches overlooking the beach – it was pure relaxation.
If you have children or teens with you when you visit Holden Beach, take note that there is a fantastic locally-owned candy store on the island, Sandman’s Candyland. Also, the nearby town of Shallotte, located within 10 minutes of the beach, offers local and chain restaurants, as well as shopping.
Kayak & Zipline Adventures at Ocean Isle Beach
Ocean Isle Beach is your hub for outdoor recreation while visiting North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands. You’ll want to make reservations to experience Shallotte River Swamp Park’s zipline canopy adventure through the island’s swamp cypress grove or their boat ecotours through the marshes.
Another Ocean Isle Beach exclusive is paddling with Summertide Adventure Tours, an outfitter that provides kayak and fishing tours in the Ocean Isle and Sunset Beach area. During my trip, we kayaked the Tubbs Inlet Tour, which winds through pristine marsh estuaries between Ocean Isle Beach and Sunset Beach. We found ourselves paddling alongside a pod of pelicans, and when we took out at the tip of Sunset Beach I spent some time trying to befriend the island’s coveted pair of endangered American Oystercatchers.
After a day of adventure at Ocean Isle Beach, stop by Silver Coast Winery to sample some of their award-winning wines made in-house using regionally-grown grapes. Then head to dinner at Sharky’s, a long-standing Ocean Isle favorite on the Intracoastal waterway.
Bike on the Beach at Sunset Beach
If you have ever felt the urge to ride off into the sunset, riding a bike on Sunset Beach at low tide might be the closest you’ll get to actually doing it. Riding a bike on wet sand is pure joy – and much easier than you might expect. Rent bikes at Julie’s Rentals in the quaint seaside town of Sunset Beach, the southernmost barrier island in North Carolina.
The west end of Sunset Beach has been preserved as Bird Island Reserve, part of the North Carolina Coastal Reserve & National Estuarine Research Reserve. With pristine, sandy white beaches and high natural dunes, this section of the island provides important habitat and nesting for species that are
endangered, threatened or of special concern, including Kemp’s Ridley and Loggerhead sea turtles. In the summer, the Bird Island Preservation Society Stewards offer guided educational walks to the island.
One of Sunset Beach’s most notorious sites is the Kindred Spirit mailbox, located on Bird Island just a short 1.5-mile walk/bike ride from the Sunset Beach pier.
There, planted in the dunes, is a mailbox that has been visited by more than 100,00 people in its 35+ years of existence. It’s a sacred space where you’ll feel drawn to sit, breath in the sea, and peruse notebooks that reveal the thoughts, prayers, grief, hopes and dreams of those who have visited and felt led to leave their thoughts. You can add your own, if you feel so inclined.
Historic Strolls at Southport
Southport is a historic coastal town that overlooks the Cape Fear River as it flows into the AtlanticOcean. Named America’s Happiest Seaside Town in 2015 by Coastal Living magazine, the town is so quaint that the movies Safe Haven, A Walk to Remember and The Secret Life of Bees have been filmed there.
Stroll along the coastline to take in sea breezes and 19th century structures, and be sure to stop by the North Carolina Maritime Museum to learn about the area’s history. While there, enjoy the sunset and a delicious dinner from the porch overlooking the water at Fishy Fishy Café, which serves local seafood, Calabash-style entrees and steaks, as well as cocktails and desserts.
Oak Island & Caswell Beach
Oak Island is the longest island within the Brunswick Islands, offering 10 miles of uncrowded beach with 60 public-beach access points. Families with children ages 9 years and older can make reservations to climb to the top of the Oak Island Lighthouse (131 steps!) at Caswell Beach for a stunning view of the coastline. The 153-foot-tall lighthouse guards the entrance to the Cape Fear River and warns ships of the dangerous shifting sands of Frying Pan Shoals.
To learn more about North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, visit www.ncbrunswick.com.