Southport is a charming coastal town where shopping, dining, history, and just enjoying a waterfront breeze are all celebrated on a daily basis. And while it’s tempting to just find a shaded front porch, settle in, and admire the view – a popular local pastime – there’s miles of fun to be discovered in this lower Cape Fear vacation destination.
So make the most out of your upcoming Southport getaway by participating in one, two, or all ten of these favorite area things to do. From exploring the inland creeks on a wild adventure, to enjoying some of the best antique shopping along the coastline, Southport is brimming with activities that can cater to visitors of all ages, tastes, and vacationing styles.
Tour the Local History
Founded in the mid-1700s with the establishment of Fort Johnston, and officially designated as the town of Southport in 1792, this coastal community is dotted with centuries of history around every corner. Visitors will find a myriad of ways to soak up the local legends and stories via walking tours, bus / vehicle tours, and even boat tours, or can set out on their own adventure by popping by some of the town’s quintessential sites. The Fort Johnston Museum & Visitors Center offers an inside glimpse into the fort’s 250+ year history, (as well as plenty of visitor information for newcomers), while the Old Brunswick County Jail is a fascinating jail-turned-museum that operated for 70 years after it was first built in 1904. For a far-reaching perspective of the local culture, head to the NC Maritime Museum which features artifacts from the Civil War, the American Revolution, and even the original Native American residents. Suffice it to say, in a town as old and historically rich as Southport, history can be uncovered around every corner.
Southport is naturally surrounded by water, and as a result, watersports fans of all varieties flock to the region to enjoy an endless array of adventures on the local rivers, creeks, and lakes that border this region. Newcomers can also join in the fun with ease by trying one of Southport’s favorite (and easy to learn) watersports - kayaking. Several kayaking companies can be found just steps away from the waterfront for hourly or weekly rentals, equipment, launching points, or even guided expeditions, and several tour companies can also be found in the immediate region as well to take visitors on eco explorations of the Blackwater Cypress Swamp, the Cape Fear River, and everywhere in between. With ample opportunities to catch views of local birds, amphibians, and even an occasional alligator, a kayaking expedition is a wild adventure that visitors of all ages will never forget.
Explore the Waterfront
Visitors don’t have to travel very far to enjoy a stunning view of the Cape Fear River while kicking back, relaxing, and simply admiring the scene. Downtown Southport is home to one of the most picturesque parks in the Brunswick region – the Waterfront Park – which offers visitors a myriad of (free) ways to stay entertained. Relax on one of the many benches or swings that line the water’s edge, or take a stroll along the Riverwalk, where incredible views of the Cape Fear can be found in abundance along the way. For a truly decadent vista, (or just a little fishing), head to the on-site Southport Pier and Riverwalk which extends into the heart of the river, and which offers great angling and birdwatching opportunities. A perfect pit stop during a downtown walking tour, the Waterfront Park and adjacent pier and Riverwalk remain a favorite destination for Southport locals and visitors alike.
Have an Artful Adventure
Southport is well known for its fantastic array of local galleries, and visitors can take an easy-going stroll along Howe Street – the main drag in the heart of town – to discover a range of regional talents. Representing both local artists and artists from all across the southeast, these galleries have a distinctive coastal flair while showcasing a wide range of mediums, including oil or watercolor paintings, sculpture, pottery, photography, and even jewelry and home goods. Many galleries have special events and new artist receptions throughout the year while others, like the popular Uncorked by the Sea gallery, have wine tastings to perfectly combine art and good taste. With so many eclectic and unique finds at the various charming shops and galleries, art lovers will feel right at home in this vibrant coastal downtown.
Shop till you Drop
Southport is well known among antique fans, as the downtown area is home to a wealth of charming shops and boutiques that specialize in vintage coastal treasures. Representing varying time periods, but with an underlying coastal or southern style, these shops that are generally concentrated along Howe Street offer treasure seekers a wide range of goodies, including art and furnishings, porcelain and glassware, military memorabilia, toys and games, books, marine supplies, and so much more. Stop by favorite local destinations like Old Elegance Antiques or NC Plantation Antiques, or enjoy an array of vendors in a single location at the Northup Antiques Mall. With virtually all antique stores in a central location in downtown Southport, visitors will have an easy time browsing from one shop to the next on an inherently fun and eclectic treasure hunt.
Feast on Coastal Eats
Southport is a dream vacation destination for foodies. The downtown area alone - despite its small size - is home to more than 30 unique restaurants that specialize in everything from easy-going diner fare to Thai and Indian cuisine. Pop into one of the local bakeries or coffee shops for a great start to a town-wide exploration, or reserve a table at one of the region’s chic waterfront restaurants for a delicious and romantic meal with a killer view. Additional options include local seafood shacks, barbecue joints, and casual sandwich shops, where the flavors are always unique, and the ingredients are traditionally fresh and local. With a wide range of neighboring farms and fishermen providing the goods to make a stellar meal, dining patrons will be treated to a boatload of tempting downhome dishes when they satisfy an appetite in always tasty Southport.
Have a Beach Day
Southport is close to a myriad of beach towns, which makes it a great launching point for a relaxed day of lounging on the sand. Take the Fort Fisher / Southport Ferry to the southern end of Pleasure Island for easy access to the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area – a refreshingly undeveloped six mile long stretch of shoreline that’s a great destination for surfing, shelling, and playing in the waves. For something a little closer to home, with no boat ride required), visitors can also take an easy 15 minute drive to nearby Oak Island / Caswell Beach, where ample beach accesses and public parking can be found, and where the wide beaches with gently sloping shorelines provide the perfect sandy playground for visitors of all ages. With miles of beaches just a shell’s throw away, visitors will find that enjoying a day on the shore is a breeze when Southport serves as a vacation home base.
Take a Day Trip
The Cape Fear region is known for its wealth of history, culture, and attractions, and no vacation is complete without discovering all the enticements this corner of North Carolina has to offer. Take a roughly 35 minute drive north to Wilmington to explore a collection of acclaimed museums, shops, and attractions, such as the USS Battleship North Carolina, the Cape Fear Museum, and the historic (and sprawling) downtown area. For a coastal adventure, climb aboard the Bald Head Island ferry, which shuttles visitors to a barely six square mile island where cars aren’t allowed, but beautiful beaches and historic landmarks (like the Old Baldy Lighthouse) can be found in abundance. Every highway presents a route to discover something new, so use a Southport vacation as an opportunity to uncover everything the southern North Carolina coastline has to offer.
Soak up the Hollywood Scene
Because of its proximity to Wilmington, (which is home to one of the largest film studios east of Hollywood), as well as its natural beauty, Southport is renowned as a backdrop for a number of famed movies and television shows, and visitors who explore the downtown area may find a few of the local landmarks and landscapes remarkably familiar. Several walking and vehicular tours can take visitors to the sites that made Southport famous, while sharing stories of the Hollywood legends that walked the area streets. Visitors who want to make their own expedition can swing by the Old Brunswick Jail, where Sissy Spacek filmed scenes for the 1986 movie “Crimes of the Heart,” stop by the waterfront café where Julianne Hough worked in 2013’s “Safe Haven,” or swing by the old Southport High School baseball field and Howe Street where 2001’s “Summer Catch” was filmed. With a long list of productions that can call Southport home – including, but not limited to, “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” “Domestic Disturbance,” “Nights in Rodanthe,” “A Walk to Remember,” (as well as TV shows like “Dawson’s Creek,” “Revenge,” and “Matlock”), Southport truly has a setting so picturesque that it’s made for the movies.
Have an Eventful Trip
Even though it’s a small town at heart, Southport certainly has a big community spirit. As such, the town is home to an array of weekly, monthly, and annual events that will allure vacationers of all interests, and will showcase the celebratory atmosphere that this town is known for. Plan a 4th of July vacation to enjoy one of the town’s most famous and longest running festivals, the NC 4th of July Festival and Fireworks event, which has been held for more than 200 years. With a classic car show, live music, children’s games, fire fighters competition, and a fireworks extravaganza as the grand finale, this Independence Day celebration is simply unparalleled. Seasonal visitors can also treat themselves to a tempting exploration of the town through regular weekly events including a summer Southport Waterfront Market on Wednesdays, a “First Friday” Gallery Walk in the downtown area, and a myriad of live theater performances, outdoor concerts, gallery receptions, and other sporadic events. In a nutshell, with so many things happening on any given day, a Southport vacation is always eventful.
From paddling, to shopping, to just enjoying a grand view, Southport is a dream destination for visitors of all tastes. Discover the local history, Hollywood movie sets, and the beautiful waterfronts that Southport is known for, and see for yourself why visitors return to this picturesque and always fun coastal vacation destination year after year.