Oak Island is quintessential coastal Carolina, with incredible sunrises and sunsets, along with a healthy population count. However, this slice of paradise is considered to be somewhat of a serene getaway, as it doesn’t see the same traffic as Hilton Head or Myrtle Beach. Only a short drive from Wilmington, this area with an immense amount of preserved charm manages to deliver that dream vacation of both excitement and calmness. Ready to plan your trip? These are the top things to do in Oak Island.
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See the Lighthouse
Impossible to go unnoticed is the torpedo-like lighthouse that sits beside the Coast Guard building on the island, as its one of the top lighthouses in North Carolina. It was built around 70 years ago and has become a significant symbol of Oak Island. While guests cannot actually go into the lighthouse, it’s a neat thing to see up close and is conveniently situated beside the beach. So take a cool photo and drop a few bucks into the donation box to keep this area beautiful.
Go to the Beach
Probably the most obvious thing to do is go to the beach. Oak island isn’t overcrowded like many popular destinations nearby, and one can easily spread out and toss the football on the flat, compacted sands or just read a book in peace. Things can pick up a bit in the summer, but if you are looking for some sea therapy in the fall or winter, it’s pleasantly deserted.
Back in the 1800s, a military base was built to protect the mouth of the Cape Fear River, which is in fact along Oak Island’s shores. Today guests are welcome to come and explore the historic bunkers and creepy structures of Fort Caswell, but always check in advance to be sure they’re open.
Oak Island Nature Center
The Oak Island Nature Center allows visitors to learn about native wildlife and foliage through a variety of exhibits. Wander through walkways hugged by oaks and pine, traverse the floating dock, wow the kids with fossils, and delight them by visiting the butterfly garden.
With two fishing piers, Oak Island is beloved by seasoned and beginner fishermen alike. Not only can anglers catch some impressively sized meals without ever boarding a boat, but Ocean Crest Fishing Pier is also quite scenic. So if you’re not into fishing, you’ll be captivated while just sitting there.
Long stretching beaches, piers that create a stunning silhouette against a North Carolina sunset, and dramatic trees and foliage give Oak Island a pristine southern beach presentation. That being said, this is a photographer‘s paradise. Whether it’s just a hobby or profession, you’ll leave with some seriously jaw-dropping shots.
Kayaking is a chill way to get out into the water, and it doesn’t take long to get the hang of handling a two-person vessel. Mr. Beach Rentals will deliver kayaks to your Oak Island location, whether you’re looking to rent for the day or entire week.
Paddle boarding is another relaxed option for getting out into the salty sea. Bring your own boards and launch off at the NE 55th St Municipal Boat Ramp, which introduces guests immediately to the coastal marsh scenery.
Paddleboarding and kayaking too slow-paced? Rent a jet ski from Carolina Watersports. Not only will you have some comfortable freedom while getting to zoom around on your jet ski, but there will be a guide in the distance to help you out, just in case (note that it’s pretty easy to fall off a jet ski and surprisingly tough to get back on). You’ll even get a popsicle at the end.
Undoubtedly, food is a huge fraction of any vacation, no matter how simple or complex the cuisine. And when on the southeast coast, most want delicious, authentic seafood—Swain Seafood Shack is where it’s at. Simple fried or blackened goodies including killer oysters and scallops dominate the menu. But the fish tacos and house-made, super crunchy potato chips are stars too.
Try the Pizza
Some people don’t like seafood (gasp), and luckily Oak Island has more than a handful of way better than average eateries. Pizza Shack outdoes its basic name, even though they describe themselves as “no frills”. If you want a hot, cheesy slice of pizza, they’ve got you.
Indulge in a Cone
Oak Island has plenty of ice cream, but the top-rated spot to get a homemade scoop is Lil and John’s Sweetreat Ice Cream Parlor. Flavors like Keylime pie and caramel mocha can be piled on top of a sweet waffle cone. The texture is rich, creamy, and dreamily indulgent, and the outdoor seating is a special touch.
Ride in a Helicopter
Oak Island can be appreciated in an entirely different way from the sky. That’s why you should take a helicopter tour. Dramatic landscapes and the unique shape of the island can be seen while whisking around in the sky. Perspectives of even the beaches and lighthouse change. High Tide Helicopters provide informative experiences, and the pilots can easily point out landmarks from the high altitude.
Fish on a Boat
Depart from the shoreline into the deep waters of the Atlantic via a fishing charter. If you are looking for a personalized angling experience without others around to compete with, nothing is better than a private day with just the family. Tours can last as long as ten hours, so come prepared with lots of sunscreen. Oak Island Fishing Charters offers several different outing options.
You don’t have to fish to go out on a boat, you can rent a boat just to yourself, or there are boating tours that just take guests for a scenic ride through the surrounding waters. The latter is by far the cheapest option, but if perhaps it’s a big family gathering, go for the entire boat!
Ride a Bike
Last but not least, you’ll want to enjoy the classic beach town environment of the quaint North Carolina Island. Biking is the perfect in-between of walking and driving—you can move quickly, but still slow enough to absorb the atmosphere. Mr. Beach Rentals also has a lengthy selection of bikes.