Visitors are often surprised at the number and variety of weekly vacation rentals throughout the area.. Vacation rentals are, in fact, an increasingly popular accommodation available to vacationers, and visitors will find that the sheer number of rentals available allows them to find an ideal retreat to fit their crew, from quiet condo complexes to brightly colored oceanfront sand castles.
Situated on the edge of the Cape Fear Coastline in between the bustling towns of Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach, the Masonboro Island Estuarine Reserve is a unique slice of undeveloped and natural barrier island shoreline that’s an important habitat for countless coastal species. Hard to reach but wonderfully isolated, visitors who make a trip to this literal deserted island will be rewarded with great shelling, beautiful landscapes, and miles of beaches to go around.
The sunny Wrightsville Beach Park, conveniently located in the heart of town, is a fantastic destination for an outdoor adventure that doesn't necessarily entail a trip to the beach. Adjacent to the Wrightsville Beach Parks & Recreation's main facilities, the Wrightsville Beach Arboretum, and plenty of wide open green spaces, this park is a perfect spot for enjoying a little free fun in the sun, without the risk of getting sand in the shoes.
But despite being an instrumental component to the island's very existence, and a protector against erosion and storms, Bald Head Woods serves a more visible role as a fun, outdoor destination for visitors to enjoy off the beach. A popular spot with bird watchers, hikers and nature fans alike, this rustic destination allows vacationers to easily step off the beaten path, and dive into Bald Head Island's natural landscape.
Surrounded by creeks, rivers, and coastal terrain, Southport is understandably a dream destination for kayakers of all varieties. From this central and slightly inland launching point, visitors can cruise past towering trees and deep maritime forests, or enjoy picturesque open water views of the sunny downtown region. The possibility of routes is seemingly endless, and newcomers will be treated to a myriad of tours, lessons and rentals to give them a head start in exploring the open water.
Located on the southern tip of the Cape Fear coastline, and jetting out into the ocean like a jewel of green land in a sea of blue, Bald Head Island is a beach vacation destination that is truly unique for its geography, history, and distinctive character. Isolated from the rest of the world, but wonderfully accommodating with plenty of vacation homes and attractions, this tiny island is a paradise for nature fans, mariners, and beach lovers of all varieties.
Fort Anderson, also known as Brunswick Town, is the historic site of the first permanent settlement in the Cape Fear area. Established nearly 300 years ago in 1726, and destroyed just a few decades later by British Soldiers during the start of the Revolutionary War in 1776, visitors can still explore the ancient ruins of this long-gone civilization and enjoy a glimpse into the area’s centuries-deep roots.
The Riverwalk in Downtown Wilmington is a showstopper of a stroll that is a distinctive attraction all its own. Originally conceived in the 1980s as a way to generate more interest and tourism to the Cape Fear River waterfront regions of Wilmington's historic Downtown, today the Riverwalk encompasses a full mile of scenic boardwalk, hugging the borders of the riverfront, and providing visitors with endless views and easy access to some of the Downtown's most beloved attractions.
Zeke's Island Estuarine Reserve is found just south of the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, and is one of the three original 1985 National Estuarine Research Reserve components dedicated by NOAA and the Division of Coastal Management. Encompassing a wide range of habitats, the lagoon-like reserve is one of the most important feeding regions of the North Carolina shoreline for a wide range of birds, and is a popular destination for nature lovers, mariners, kayakers, and birdwatchers alike.
The lower Cape Fear region has played a role in American history since the region was first discovered by Spanish explorers and English colonists. At the same time, the local coastal habitats have been heralded (and preserved) as some of the most pristine coastal regions in the country. As a result of these roots as well as present-day ecosystems, a number of museums have been established to celebrate this legacy and cultural heritage.
Southport can easily serve as a launching point for a myriad of shelling adventures. From this small community on the Cape Fear River, visitors can board a ferry to Bald Head Island, Fort Fisher, or even take a cruise to smaller and lesser-known island destinations like Zeke’s Island Reserve. As a result, visitors will find that a myriad of shelling beaches are just a short boat ride (or drive) away, leading to miles of shoreline to explore, and long sun-filled days of combing and enjoying the local beaches.
Enjoy a freshwater environment just a block or so away from the beach with a visit to Carolina Beach Lake Park. This public park is centered on the 11-acre freshwater lake, which was noted in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the closest freshwater lake to a major body of saltwater. This unusual feat has produced a sunny and surprising environment that’s perfect for off-the-beach relaxation and entertainment.
Visitors will find an easy-to-get-to beach paradise at Oak Island, an expansive but peaceful retreat that's located an easy drive away from Wilmington, Southport, and other inland North Carolina communities. Both the main town and the island itself share the name of "Oak Island," and while the town extends slightly inland, encompassing the Cape Fear Regional Jetport, the rest of the community is cut off from the world by the long Elizabeth River, and a network of salty creeks and canals. This watery gap may not be particularly wide, but visitors will feel the change as soon as they cross over the bridge. Once ashore, Oak Island is a picturesque landscape of charming vacation rental homes, cool seafood restaurants and shops, and miles of ocean shoreline.
As the name would suggest, Hang Ten Grill is a casual beach joint with a definitive surfer vibe that serves as the perfect hang-out after a long morning or afternoon of riding the waves in Carolina Beach. Located along Carolina Beach’s “main drag,” Lake Park Blvd, and just a couple pf blocks away from the beach, this cool eatery is a great spot to refuel after an active day on the seashore.
Seafood lovers who don’t mind getting their hands dirty will want to take a stroll to the Shuckin’ Shack. Located in the heart of Downtown Wilmington along a busy section of Market Street, this casual and cool seafood joint is the perfect spot to dive into a world of fresh and messy seaworthy cuisine.
Michael’s Seafood Restaurant is an all-encompassing stop for both easy-going seafood meals and catering for casual parties or big events. Located in a central shopping and business section of inland Carolina Beach, this fresh eatery has been wowing patrons of all varieties – from event planners to vacationing families – with a big selection of coastal eats.
Situated on the coastal edge of the causeway bridge to Ocean Island Beach, McClure Realty Vacations is a welcoming sight for visitors who want to enjoy a great vacation in an exceptional vacation rental along the coastline. Offering well over 100 vacation properties in all shapes and sizes, McClure Realty Vacations can help visitors of all tastes and party sizes find just the right home for their upcoming stay in the heart of the Brunswick Island beaches.
Southport has been hailed by North Carolina locals and visitors alike as one of the most authentic and unique coastal communities along the shoreline, and it doesn't take long for newcomers to figure out why. The small, 2.2 square mile village is a stunning combination of historic residences, lush coastal landscaping, and miles of water in every direction, making it a both a quintessentially southern and maritime community with a distinct culture all its own.
The romantic setting for dozens of TV shows and movies, and featuring a long maritime heritage that is on full display along virtually every downtown street, this surprising weekend or weeklong vacation destination is filled with genuine coastal charm.
Southport's distinctive culture can easily be linked to its equally unique location. Perched on the very edge of the southern North Carolina mainland, the town of Southport sticks out into the waters of the Cape Fear River, and is bordered by small islands and large barrier island vacation destinations in virtually every direction. Southport is also just miles away from where the Cape Fear River joins with the Atlantic Ocean, making it a vital stop for commercial fishermen, small shipping vessels, and maritime travelers along the bordering Intracoastal Waterway. This waterfront locale was essentially responsible for Southport's initial discovery, as well as its later growth as a populated North Carolina port town.
The first visitors to Southport arrived around 1524. Spanish explorers first discovered this area close to the Atlantic Ocean's navigational route after a ship had been wrecked, and spent time in the region building a replacement boat along Southport's shores. (In fact, this 1526 boat was the first European vessel to be built in the New World.) This first and somewhat accidental visit proved prophetic, as by the mid-1700s, the town was thriving as both a port of entry along the Cape Fear River, as well as a populated fort, Fort Johnston, that protected the region from privateers and pirates. The town was officially incorporated as the town of "Smithville" in 1792, named after a Continental General who later became a North Carolina Governor, and was later changed to "Southport" in 1887 as an effort to promote the town as a major shipping port.
Though the town has always had a relatively small population, with just 2,300 current year-round residents, it thrived as both a fishing village and a port where weary travelers along the ocean waters and the Cape Fear River could dock for a while, and enjoy a rest on land. That reputation still stands, and Southport features nearly a dozen marinas along the waterfront open to the maritime traffic of the Intracoastal Waterway. As a community that's devoted to the water, visitors here will also find ample boardwalks to explore the waterfront, restaurants and lounges with incredible views overlooking the river, and even a Waterfront Park and town pier for a front-row vista of the ships passing by.
The town has a number of historical attractions that pays homage to its long legacy as well, including dozens of historic homes along the Downtown area, like the Northrop House and the Peacock House, ancient live oaks that are centuries old and can be spotted throughout town, and the renowned North Carolina Maritime Museum. The museum is an especially popular attraction, and outlines the region's history from the original Native American settlers to coastal North Carolina's crucial role in the Civil War, both World Wars, and the modern day fishing industry.
Day trippers will definitely want to spend the majority of their time either along the waterfront or strolling through the Downtown area, which is home to countless restaurants, boutiques, coastal art galleries, and renowned antique stores that display rare, and uniquely southern pieces. The dining scene in Southport is especially revered, as patrons will find nearly 70 restaurants in the region that range from national fast food chains to unique waterfront grills and cafes.
Newcomers are advised to stop by the Visitors' Center upon arriving for an in-depth look at the restaurants and attractions in the area, as well as a brief primer on the community, from the first Spanish Explorers to Fort Johnston to local historical graveyards.
As for accommodations, visitors will find a handful of chain motels and hotels around the outskirts of town, a nice selection of Bed and Breakfasts throughout the historic Downtown region, and a variety of charming and inviting vacation rental homes, with rich landscaping and shaded porches ideal for just sitting back and letting the day slip away.
This relaxed pace of life, unique southern history and coastal culture is evident in virtually every part of town, and has made Southport the "go to" location for a number of movie and television studios. In fact, the town has served as the backdrop for a number of movies through the years, including I Know What You Did Last Summer, Crimes of the Heart, Summer Catch, Domestic Disturbance, Mary and Martha, Nights in Rodanthe, A Walk to Remember and Safe Haven. It is also the setting of several acclaimed novels, including "Safe Haven" by Nicholas Sparks, and the filming locale for the television series Revenge and Under the Dome. Clearly, it's not hard to fall in love with the Southport scene, and even movie-makers and producers are not immune to the community's charms.
The town of Southport also has a number of incredible seasonal events, including multiple fishing tournaments, a weekly summer farmer's markets with vendors from the coastal region, and annual gardening and holiday festivals that attracts visitors from all across the state. In fact, Southport's annual 4th of July Celebration attracts 40,000 - 50,000 people every year for its incredible maritime themed parade, and incredible fireworks display over the Cape Fear River.
While Southport is clearly a worthy vacation destination in its own right, the town is also remarkably close to two of the southern Carolina coastline's favorite barrier island beaches, Bald Head Island and Fort Fisher. Both islands are located just a 20-35 minute ferry ride away across the Cape Fear River, with two ferry terminals that are easy to access for Southport visitors and residents, making it a simple endeavor to enjoy a day trip or overnight adventure to the offshore beaches.
Southport may be almost off the map, but the town is a must-see North Carolina destination for maritime travelers, history fans, and anyone who needs a break from the fast-paced outside world. With ample front porches and dockside seating to slow down and enjoy the view, longtime Southport visitors attest that there's no better place in the world to relax and catch your breath.