Your Guide to The Brunswick Islands: Simply Taralynn Travel Blog
Even though I’ve been to some pretty great places, the Brunswick Islands has landed in my top favorite spots to travel. Fortunately for me, it’s not too far of a drive from Charlotte. Last fall, I was invited to visit the Brunswick Islands on a media trip. Unfortunately, it was when the hurricane hit, and we had to postpone. Luckily everyone was safe, and the Islands recovered quickly. Last week, I finally packed my bags and made the road trip down to the Brunswick Islands to experience it all. We were blessed with sunny weather, the entire itinerary was planned out perfectly, and I left with a whole new group of friends, who happen to be talented writers from all different publications.
We tested our strengths and fears by climbing the steepest lighthouse, ziplining over a 300-year old swamp, kayaking against the wind, riding bikes on the beach, and taking our first bites of crawfish. We wrote letters the Kindred Spirit, drank wine at sunset, filled our bellies with all the freshest seafood, chatted with the kindest locals, and went to bed listening to the sounds of the waves outside the window.
I believe that the Brunswick Islands are for everyone, and if it’s solitude or relaxation you’re looking for, this spot was made for you.
Before I begin sharing what we did in the Brunswick Islands, let me tell you a little bit more about the Islands. It’s made up of ten different communities. You may have heard of some of them, and some may be very new to you!
If you can, venture out from where you are staying and explore as many of the communities as you can. They all offer unique experiences, and you’ll be able to see that in this travel guide. I can’t wait to visit again. There are endless activities to do, and places to eat. I covered maybe 1% of them in this blog, so that means a second trip will be necessary. If you’ve ever been to the Brunswick Islands, please share a memory or your favorite spot in the comments! I’d love to add it to my next trip, or a suggestion for someone else reading here. And if you have any questions that I didn’t answer for you in the guide, please feel free to leave them for me! 💜 (ps there’s a giveaway at the end of the blog!)
In my opinion, if you’re going to visit the Brunswick Islands, rent a beach house! The sunrise, the sunset, coffee with a view, and waking up to the ocean waves is all so worth it. We stayed at one of the beautiful homes on Holden Beach. If you’re looking to rent a beach home during your trip to the Brunswick Islands, check out Holden Beach Vacations! You’ll be able to search hundreds of rentals and find the perfect one for your trip.
Our first stop was the Oak Island Lighthouse. It was completed in 1958 and was the last lighthouse to be built in North Carolina. This lighthouse is no ordinary lighthouse climb. This climb is one of those experiences, that’ll make you want to buy the “I climbed the Oak Island Lighthouse” t-shirt afterward! Who would have thought climbing a lighthouse could be adventurous? You’re in for a real treat!
Every lighthouse I climb from here on out will be an easy-breezy lemon squeezy after climbing 131 “steps” on ships ladders to get to the observation platform. Most lighthouses have spiral staircases leading up to the top, but not this one! Oak Island Lighthouse Climb will surely get your adrenaline pumping, but worth it because the views from the top are breathtaking. You will be able to capture unbelievable aerial photos of Oak Island and the ocean views from the top look like a real-life painting.
The tour is more than just a climb. It’s very informative, and I learned a lot about lighthouses. The way for boats to identify a lighthouse is by their characteristic flashing pattern. Since it’s hard to see lights during the day, every lighthouse has a unique distinguished color pattern. This is why no lighthouse looks the same.
The Oak Island Lighthouse is owned by the Town of Caswell Beach and run by the volunteers.
See what I mean about the view being worth the climb?
Here’s what you should know!
• Make sure to wear closed-toe, rubber-soled tennis shoes.
• You must be nine years and older to climb
• You will need to make a reservation to take a top tour at least two weeks in advance.
• Tours are free.
• Location: 100 Caswell Beach Rd. Caswell Beach, NC 28465 // WebsiteWe stopped by to visit Oak Island Beach Pier! This pier is still in the process of being built. We could only admire it from the bottom because it’s not scheduled to open until May of 2019! If you visit the pier, you’ll have to let me know what the views are like from the top. Oak Island Beach is the picture-perfect spot where you’ll see visitors riding beach cruisers with melting ice cream cones, and dogs running to catch frisbees.
Make sure to stop by Oak Island Beach. It was recently named one of the best beaches in North Carolina by US News & World Report and USA Today 10Best. Unlike most beaches on the “best beach” list, Oak Island is uncrowded. You won’t have to wake up at 5 am to save your beach spot here.
Here’s what you should know!
• Oak Island is extremely dog-friendly, with designated areas for dogs to run free.
• You may be able to witness the sea turtle protection in full-force since this is a popular beach for loggerhead sea turtles to nest.
Location: 705 Ocean Dr, Oak Island, NC 28465 // Website
If you’re a romantic movie lover, Southport should be number one on your list. Southport is like walking through a real-life movie set. It’s picture-perfect, and its natural charm is the reason why so many movies have been filmed here. Some of the films and shows you may know of are A Walk to Remember, Safe Haven, Weekend at Bernie’s, Domestic Disturbance, Dawson’s Creek, Revenge, I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Secret Life of Bees, Nights in Rodanthe, and so many more!
Now can you see why people call this America’s happiest seaside town? Even though this is a favorite spot for filming, it hasn’t lost it’s “small town feel.” As we were taking a tour with our guide, everyone stopped to wave from their porches and converse back and forth with him. They would exchange jokes with one another, and you could tell that they’ve all known each other for a long time. I will say that the Brunswick Islands are filled with some of the kindest people I’ve ever met.
You will most definitely want to sign up for a Southport Fun Tour. Not only do they live up to the “fun” in their name, but you’ll be able to learn so much more history about Southport and see it all in a short drive. Southport is filled with history, and the stories are better when told by the locals. You’ll also be told a few “off the record” stories that’ll make your day (but oops, those off the record stores somehow made their way into my video)
If you think the cute little Grey Burriss house looks familiar, that’s because it was Alex’s house in the movie Safe Haven.
Here’s what you should know!
• If you are a bed & breakfast type of traveler, Southport is rich with them.
• Southport has an excellent downtown for shopping and dining.
• The 45-minute Southport Fun Tours are only $10 for adults & $5 for children.
• Reservations are highly encouraged and can be made by phone.
Location: 203 E. Bay St, Southport, NC 28461 // Website
I’ve been to Fishy Fishy twice now, and the second time was just as good as the first. Fishy Fishy Cafe is the perfect spot to have dinner with sunset views. Sit outside on the patio with a cocktail, and enjoy the historic yacht basin and marsh views while listening to live music. This restaurant was featured in the show Revenge as Jack’s Stowaway Tavern.
Here’s what you should order:
• The baked crab dip is a popular one, and it’s served with french bread. You’ll want to save some to dip your french fries into!
• Fried green tomatoes are also a must. They are served with a red onion jam and remoulade sauce.
• The coconut shrimp and crispy calamari were just as popular at the table.
• You can never go wrong with Fish n Chips.
• Keeping it healthy? Try their strawberry harvest salad topped with salmon.
• Crab steam buckets are my cup of tea! It comes with 1 pound of crab legs, six clams, five shrimp, sausage, corn, and red potatoes!
• Seafood isn’t your thing? I hear they have some pretty epic burgers.
• Famous Fishy Bloody Mary
• The Fishbowl
• Refreshing IPA
Dessert in Southport
• After dinner, head to Flavas Ice Cream for dessert. It’s one of Southport’s favorite ice cream spots.
Location: 318 W Bay St Southport, NC 28461
Here’s what you should know!
• Fishy Fishy Cafe is pet-friendly.
• They do not accept reservations but have plenty of seating.
• Vegetarian options are available.
• Casual attire.
Location: 106 Yacht Basin Dr. Southport, NC 28461// Website
One of the best parts about a beach vacation is waking up for the sunrise. Before you go to bed, ask Google what time the sun rises, set the alarm, make some coffee, and enjoy it.
Sunrise is the best time to take a walk and collect seashells or look for sea turtle nesting tracks. One of the great things about staying in the Brunswick Islands is that the beaches are not overcrowded. The morning beach is calm and quiet. I was living the best of both worlds as the moon hovered over the ocean while the sun slowly made it’s way up. Not a soul on the beach and the only footprints were my own. Imagine waking up to a view like this every morning? Sign me up.
Make sure you sign up for some adventure at the Shallotte River Swamp Park to spice up your beach vacation! They offer zip line tours, an aerial adventure park, boat rides, walking tours, and now muddy ATV tours. We are making a trip back just for that! Just like the Oak Island Lighthouse Climb, Shallotte River Swamp Park is the ideal spot for all of you adrenaline seekers.
Be prepared to see lots of gators. Lots & lots of gators! The Shallotte River Swamp Park embraces the naturally beautiful landscape. “We do not sacrifice our surroundings for adventure, but rather cautiously enhance the experience by weaving the two together.” The tour was very educational, and we learned a lot about the surrounding habitat and had the best views of all the swaps critters.
The zip line towers are nestled among 100-year-old cypress trees. The tour lasts about 2 1/2 hours, but it’s so fun that it feels like five minutes. Not only will you be ziplining, but you’ll be crossing bridges, and stopping for a few photo ops!
Things you should know
• You may see animals such as deer, turkeys, gators, snakes, turtles, beavers, raccoons, owls and wild boar.
• Before ziplining, you’ll go through a quick safety and demonstration talk, and then practice your first go on a small line.
• Your guides work so hard, and I highly recommend tipping them.
• Water is provided on the tours.
• Leave your cell phone and camera in the provided lockers. They’ll take pictures of you during the tour.
• Ziplining is a great teambuilding activity, and they offer group rates.
• You must be ten years or older with a 70lb – 250lb weight limit.
• You will want to wear tennis shoes and athletic pants.
• Check their tour availability and book online before your trip!
Location: 5550 Watts Road, Ocean Isle Beach NC 28469 // Website
I’m going to use my beg card on this spot. Please, please, please stop at Waterfront Seafood Shack for lunch. Not only is the food fresh as it gets, and perfectly prepared, but it’s owned by the sweetest, most down to earth couple you’ll ever meet. This spot is truly a gem, and it’s a place you’ll be talking about long after your visit is over.
When they say “fresh seafood,” they don’t mean seafood that is freshly defrosted from the freezer, they mean freshly off the boat and into the kitchen! The Calabash Water Seafood Shack knows for a fact that the seafood is fresh because they own the boats that go out to catch the fish.
What You Should Order:
• Don’t think twice, order a basket of hushpuppies for the table.
• 1 lb of steamed snow crab legs.
• Grilled grouper with a side of slaw
• Crab cakes and deep-fried corn.
• Dessert is an absolute must. Split a selection of fresh pound cake, key lime pie with a crust that’ll melt in your mouth, or creamy ice cream. You never knew you needed dessert until you take your first bite. Soon, your “I’m too full” excuse turns into “pass me that pound cake.”
Location: 9945 Nance St., Calabash, NC 28467 // Website
If you’re ready to pack more adventure into your vacation, sign up to go kayaking at Sunset Beach with Summertide Adventure Tours.
Even though I felt it in my arms the next morning, kayaking at Sunset Beach was more of a relaxing and leisure activity. Our guide, Cari VanWinkle was the best. She helped us whenever we got stuck in the marsh (it happens), let us know when we were holding the paddles the wrong way and took the time to explain the wildlife and all kinds of sea creatures. I didn’t expect to learn so much during our tour. Now, I feel like an oyster, jellyfish, spider crab, and seashell expert. You may even see dolphins or sea turtles on your trip!
The tour was about 2 1/2 hours, but we stopped at a sandbar halfway through to check out the shells, jellyfish and gave our legs a good stretch. On the way back, we made our way through a marsh maze that was so fun to navigate.
What You Should Know:
• Summertide Adventures will provide all equipment
• Bring a bottle of water and water-friendly clothes + shoes
• Low-moderate fitness level on all tours.
• Make a reservation online.
Location: End of Park Road, Sunset Beach NC 28468 // Website (confirm your tour’s location after reservation)
After a day of activities, treat yourself to a delicious seafood dinner at Jinks Creek Waterfront Grille in Ocean Isle Beach. I heard that the seafood is the star of the show at Jinks, but after seeing all of the appetizers, I started to question that statement. If you plan on heading to Jinks, you’re in for a real treat. No matter what you decide to order, it’ll be the right decision.
Jinks Creek is a beautiful restaurant and the perfect spot to catch the sunset. I would recommend this place for a romantic date night, or special occasion dinner.
What You Should Order:
• Geechie boy cornbread with the hot honey glaze.
• Low Country Smothered Grouper (instead of greens, go for the fingerling potatoes!)
• BBQ Shrimp & Grits
• Signature Cocktail: Jinks Juice
Location: 14 Causeway Drive, Ocean Isle Beach, NC 28469 // Website
The Brunswick Islands are just like the Nicholas Sparks movies. It’s the perfect excuse to grab a book and sit on the beach for a chance to unplug. If you want a book fitting to your location, grab a copy of Nicholas Sparks Book, Every Breath. It takes place in the Brunswick Islands, and you’ll find yourself looking up to get a glimpse into what the characters were seeing at that moment.
I was looking for a coffee shop in Holden Beach to get my afternoon pick-me-up and came across Ahora Cafe. After reading it’s highly rated reviews, I knew I had to try it out for myself. Their blends are from three tropical regions, Costa Rica, Indonesia, and Tanzania. Since they roast them at their coffee shop, the coffee is fresh as it gets.
I ordered the almond milk cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso, and it did not disappoint. I can confirm that the coffee is delicious. Make sure to stop by Ahora Cafe to enjoy a latte in their surfer-decor coffee shop.
Location: 3369 Holden Beach Rd., Suite 4, Holden Beach NC 28462 // Website
If you love learning about the history of the places you visit, make sure to stop at the old Sunset Beach Swing Bridge Museum for a tour. The iconic Sunset Beach Swing Bridge linked the island and the mainland from 1958 to 2011. It’s fascinating to hear about how the bridge was built and why it holds a special place in the city’s heart. You will be able to walk on the old bridge and visit the tender home since it was moved to dry land to serve as the museum.
Location: 109 Shoreline Dr. W, Sunset Beach, NC 28468 // Website
Taking a bike ride to the Kindred Spirit Mailbox was a dream, and should be added to your plans while visiting the Brunswick Islands. If you’ve read the new Nicholas Sparks book, you’ll know what I’m talking about here. This place is just as magical as it is in his story.
The “Kindred Spirit” a lonely mailbox is filled with notebooks and pens for visitors to write down their thoughts, prayers, sorrows, dreams, memories, or reflections. This mailbox came about in 1981 when a couple took a walk on bird island, a secluded beach. They planted the mailbox, and now it’s filled with letters from the heart from people all around the world. The letters are there for anyone to read, and there are empty pages and pens for anyone to contribute.
“The destiny that matters most in anyone’s life is the one concerning love.” That’s the quote that Nicholas Sparks found in the mailbox which led him on a journey to search for the man who wrote it, in hopes he could turn this man’s story into a novel.
What you should know:
• Bird Island is approximately 1,300 acres of a secluded beach. You won’t find any homes, or buildings, just a lonely mailbox.
• The Mailbox is a little hidden but looks for the flag pole with the American flag.
• Rent a bike from Island Hoppers Bicycle to get the full beach cruise experience. It’s the best way to visit the mailbox!
• Keep an eye out for the pelicans!
Location: 432 Sunset Blvd S, Sunset Beach, NC 28468 // Website
We headed to the Museum of Coastal Carolina for the Turtle Talk with the Ocean Isle Beach Sea Turtle Protection Organization. I enjoyed learning about the turtles and surprised at how smart these gorgeous sea creatures are. Watching the demonstration of how the mamas lay their eggs, how the babies make their way to the ocean, and what we can do to help protect these magnificent animals was so cool. The community comes together to help these turtles. And when they are about the hatch, people will gather all-around to help the turtles make their way to the sea. I’m so glad we got to experience this talk, learning how we can contribute to saving the sea turtles. The museum also has a touch tank, a dry exhibit, and other fun activities to explore.
Location: 21 E 2nd St, Ocean Isle Beach, NC // Website
The restaurants we visited during this trip are filled with character and charm. You can quickly tell why they are the local’s favorites. We stopped at Provision Company in Holden Beach for lunch. You’ll be able to enjoy delicious seafood, salads, & sandwiches with views of the Intracoastal Waterway. You can even get here by boat if you want.
When you walk in, you’ll order your food at the counter right away, and head into the dining area to find a spot. There is also outside seating, but the inside is so fun to look at with all its decor. License plates and dollar bills cover the walls, and the dining area was built to resemble a ship.
What you should order:
• Provision Company is known for their famous grilled shrimp burger (everyone raved about it at the table)
• The french fries are a must! They are perfectly fried, seasoned, and make the perfect side.
• Grilled Grouper on the house salad. Keep things light with fresh fish on a salad dressed in their housemade Italian dressing.
Location: 1343 Cedar Landing Rd SW, Supply, NC 28462 // Website
We stopped by Old Ferry Seafood for a little tour. It was fun to learn all about their process of catching fresh fish, and being able to see where our dinner later that night was coming from. Visitors can get fresh local seafood straight off the boat here.
Grab a bottle of local wine and enjoy a low country boil prepared by Anna, from Old Ferry Seafood. This was my first low country boil experience, and it was one I’ll never forget. Visitors can order a low country boil prepared by Anna to take back to the house for dinner, which is perfect for parties. All you have to do is grill, steam, or boil to finish it off. If you want the full coastal experience, you have to finish your trip off with a low country boil!
Location: 1069 Songbird Ln SW, Supply, NC 28462 // Website
We took a boat cruise through the Intracoastal Waterway, and it was a perfect way to relax while enjoying the beautiful views. A boat ride, a low country boil, and a beautiful sunset was the ideal way to end the trip. I wish I could pack all of my bags and move here permanently!
After packing my bags, I felt sad to be leaving. The only thing that doesn’t have four legs but has the power to cheer me up is a good cup of coffee.
I decided to make a stop at Drift Coffee & Kitchen before making my trip back to Charlotte. I’ve heard many good things about Drift Coffee, and it was a place many people were messaging me about daily. It’s a few steps from the ocean, and the atmosphere is a very rustic beach vibe. It reminded me a lot of a spot I used to visit on the Big Island of Hawaii. I loved all of the healthy and delicious options. I went with the popular avocado smash on gluten-free bread, a green smoothie, and a small coffee. That first sip of coffee was heavenly.
It gets pretty busy, so the seating is limited. If I were going to stay longer, I would have taken my breakfast over to the beach to enjoy. Luckily, an older gentleman noticed I was standing by the bar and offered a seat at his table. He was sitting at a larger table by himself, and it was kind for him to offer up a chair. We chatted a bit before he finished up his avocado toast and iced coffee. I learned that he was from Raleigh, which isn’t too far from Charlotte. He has owned a house in Ocean Isle for many years, and it’s his favorite place to escape during the weekends. He shared a few of his favorite coffee spots for me to check out the next time I visit. He said, “I can tell you’re a real coffee lover by the way you enjoy its natural flavors without all that creamy stuff.” It made me laugh because it’s only been a few years since I’ve been able to drink coffee without all that creamy stuff. When he got up to leave, about three people called him by name and waved at him as he walked out the door. At that moment, the small town feels felt more real than ever. The people you meet in the Brunswick Islands are all similar to this friendly man I had just met. You don’t feel the rush of the overcrowded tourist trying to make their way down to the beach to snag a spot. You’ll meet people that inspire you to talk to strangers, take a step back from your busy lives to enjoy a moment, and to go out of your way to open a door or offer up a seat. I can see why many people make this place their permanent home. It’s a gem, and I hope you feel inspired to plan your next trip to the Brunswick Islands.
Location: 20 E Second St Ocean Isle Beach, NC 28469 Website
I will be giving my Nicholas Sparks book away with a $20 Starbucks gift card and the best granola (a Brunswick island’s local business hippie chick granola) you’ll ever have to one lucky winner! The book brought much joy to my day, and I’d love for you to experience it yourself. All you have to do is leave a comment with your suggestions on where I should travel to next! I will be writing more of these types of blog posts this year, so I hope you enjoyed it! xo -I’ll announce the winner on Wednesday, May 8th!
Questions for you!
- Have you been to any of the Brunswick Islands?
- What do you look for in a vacation? Adventure or Relaxation.
- Which activity in this post would you like to do?
This was not a sponsored blog post, but the cost of my trip was covered by Pineapple PR. Thank you for supporting Simply Taralynn!