North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands: Sun, Sand, Stargazing, and Seafood Capital of the World

One destination offers multiple locations for everything from lagoons and lighthouses to sea turtle-spotting and top-rated golf

North Carolina’s southeastern corner, stretching from the Cape Fear River to South Carolina’s border, is home to the state’s best-kept beach secret — the Brunswick Islands. The area’s barrier island towns — Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Holden Beach, Oak Island, Caswell Beach, and Bald Head Island — offer off-the-beaten-path beaches, while quaint coastal towns like Southport, Calabash, Shallotte, and Leland attract visitors with galleries, shops, and seafood aplenty. For adventure seekers, boating, fishing, golf, and kayaking provide entertainment while history buffs immerse themselves in historic architecture, forts, and showstopping lighthouses.


The storied stretch of shoreline shells out a lot to take in, visually. There are plenty of pristine beaches throughout, plus a stellar spot for watching sea turtles, ample astrotourism options, and even a secret mailbox. 45 miles of unspoiled beaches and intricate waterways offer a variety of seashells — a perfect (free) souvenir. In Ocean Isle Beach, visit the Museum of Coastal Carolina and discover a trove of coastal treasures and interactive science-based experiences. From May to October, sea turtle season allows visitors to watch loggerheads hatch along the shore. Each island has a designated sea turtle protection or watch organization to protect the endangered turtles. On a secluded stretch on Bird Island sits the Kindred Spirit Mailbox, nestled between sand dunes. The hidden mailbox inspired the Nicholas Sparks novel Every Breath — and beachgoers have flocked  from around the world to share memories, stories, and dreams in the mailbox notebooks. Today astrotourism is becoming more of a draw to the area, with more travelers interested in once-in-a-lifetime nature experiences, stargazing being one. The Brunswick Islands boasts some of the most amazing stargazing along the East Coast. Due to the area’s lack of light pollution or high rises, as well as its south-facing beaches, stargazers can enjoy vast constellations surrounded by nothing but the ocean and sand, especially during the Milky Way season. Charming maritime town Southport is a favorite for visitors and for the film industry, with Spanish moss-draped ancient live oaks and romantic views of the Cape Fear River. Southport has preserved its 18th century roots as a military and fishing village while developing a 21st-century vibe with pedestrian-friendly streets lined with antique stores, unique boutiques, art galleries, museums, and great local restaurants serving up fresh seafood. Southport has been the shooting location of over 40 movies and TV shows, such as Safe Haven, A Walk To Remember and Dawson’s Creek.


The islands offer a variety of accommodation options, including quaint bed & breakfasts and beachfront vacation rental properties to fit groups of all sizes. The most common accommodations to be found in NC’s Brunswick Islands are house and condo rentals.


Calabash, a small fishing village in the Brunswick Islands, has been dubbed the "Seafood Capital of the World’ due to its invention and popularization of "Calabash-style" seafood. The area invented and popularized the light breaded and fried seafood —  and several long-standing area restaurants have been serving up the same recipe to the masses since the 1940s. Dine at local favorites like the Waterfront Seafood Shack, Capt. John’s Seafood House, Captain Nance’s Seafood, Dockside Seafood House, or The Oyster Rock with picturesque waterfront views of the Calabash River.


Known as the state’s Golf Coast, the Brunswick Islands offer 30+ championship golf courses designed by greats like Arnold Palmer anx Fred Couples. The Islands provide easy access to some of the best fishing on the Atlantic Seaboard, drawing first-time fishermen and experienced anglers alike. There are five different fishing piers in the area, plus charters and plenty of places to rent everything you need to reel in that flashy fish. Head to Bald Head Island to see the state’s oldest lighthouse, Old Baldy, and Caswell Beach to see its newest, Oak Island Lighthouse. Paddle along local rivers and creeks or check out The Swamp Park to explore the area’s ecosystems from high above via zipline tour or down low on a swamp boat tour or guided ATV. For the ultimate thrill-seeking experience, visitors can also enjoy the 49 elements 7-course Adventure Park, and take a 50-foot jump from the first tower of the Pelican Dive.

Treasures await in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands. On top of ample beach space and temperate weather, the islands provide outdoor adventures, coastal charm, and family-friendly activities that draw visitors back year after year. To learn more about the Brunswick Islands, visit ncbrunswick.com.

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