In need of a seaside retreat? Look no further than North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands: Bald Head Island, Oak Island, Holden Beach, Ocean Isle Beach and Sunset Beach. Stretching from Southport to the South Carolina border, this chain of barrier island towns is located less than four hours away from Charlotte — perfect for quality beach time.
Bald Head Island
A few miles off the town of Southport, Bald Head Island is only accessible by a passenger ferry. Golf carts, bikes and your own two feet are the only modes of transportation on the island. Rental homes make up the majority of your lodging options, and most come with a golf cart for your convenience.
The vast majority of the island is a nature preserve, making Bald Head Island a lightly developed area. There are a handful of locally owned restaurants, including a pizza joint and an ice cream shop. A cluster of retail stores can be found around the one and only grocery store.
What to do: Climb Old Baldy Lighthouse (the state’s oldest standing lighthouse), play a round of golf, learn about sea turtles with the Bald Head Island Conservancy and get active in a wide range of outdoor activities, including hiking, kayaking and fishing.
With the merging of Long Beach and Yaupon Beach, the town of Oak Island was born in 1999. Having the largest beach community of the islands, Oak Island is a shore destination with miles of beaches, ample fishing, mini golf and restaurants. It’s also close in proximity to Southport, Wilmington and the historic Battleship USS North Carolina.
What to do: Scale the 131 steps to the top of Oak Island Lighthouse to take in panoramic views. Play a round of golf on Caswell Beach. Throw a line out from Yaupon Beach Fishing Pier. Lounge on the longest stretch of sand you can find on this island chain.
No matter where you are on Holden Beach, you’ll find yourself just a few steps away from the Atlantic. There is very little commercialization on the island, and thanks to the town’s strict building height restrictions, homes outnumber condos. As a result, Holden Beach has a charming, small-town vibe.
What to do: Swim, fish and boat — Holden Beach has been named one of the best family beaches in the country. Unwind after a long day in the sun by dining at one of a handful of waterfront restaurants.
Ocean Isle Beach
Years ago, the sand dunes outnumbered the beach houses on Ocean Isle Beach. Today, the island has grown into a vibrant beach town that has some families coming back generation after generation.
What to do: There’s something here for everyone. Sign up for a surf or stand-up paddleboard lesson with Carolina School of Surf. Experience a treetop adventure at Shallotte River Swamp Park, with 10 zip line stations spanning more than 1.25 miles of cable. For a more low-key vibe, sample some of Silver Coast Winery’s award-winning wines.
And, if that doesn’t get you excited, Sunset Beach was also recently included on National Geographic’s list of 21 Best Beaches In The World.
What to do: Check out Bird Island, an uninhabited nature preserve with sandy white beaches and acres of natural tidal beauty. Look for the famed Kindred Spirit Mailbox, where you can grab a journal and add your own thoughts. Some believe sitting down on a nearby bench and writing your own feelings down is better than any therapist’s couch in North Carolina.