9 Best Things to Do in Oak Island, North Carolina

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Oak Island, North Carolina docks with a view of town

For a non-typical beach getaway, consider visiting Oak Island, North Carolina. It’s close to Myrtle Beach but without all the Spring Break crowds.

Surf and sand are literally at the end of every street, with no colossal beach condos casting shadows on the shoreline.

Family beach time will take over your days, but that’s not all there is to do. Let’s take a look!

About Oak Island, North Carolina

With a coast that seems to run on forever, Oak Island, North Carolina, consists of beaches on the Atlantic side and inlets along the Intercoastal Waterway on the opposing shore.

Located at the state’s southeastern corner, Oak Island is just 30 miles from Wilmington and 65 miles from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Less popular than the barrier island beaches of the Outer Banks, this community can brag about one working lighthouse at Caswell Beach and one historical one located right offshore on Bald Head Island.

Most visitors come for the nostalgic flavor of a family beach vacation. They enjoy fishing off the pier or playing in the miles of sand.

What Is Oak Island, North Carolina, Known For?

Oak Island was named for its most famous feature — lots of live oaks that the coastal winds have bent.

Tourism is the community’s biggest draw. Its average population of about 9,000 can explode to 50,000 during the summer season.

The region has also drawn much praise for its surrounding golf courses and historical destinations.

Is Oak Island a Good Vacation Spot?

If you like a quieter beach scene, summer temps around 85 degrees, fishing for marlin, or exploring local historic sites, Oak Island is the perfect spot for a getaway.

The town is located on a barrier island and offers typical small-town amenities like a recreation center, library, and several restaurants. But it plays down the “beach” factor, with streets lined with family houses and typical “neighborhood” vibes.

In other words, it’s about as far from a party beach as you can get. So, for a family vacation or a solo outing, Oak Island checks all the boxes.

Family enjoying a picnic at a recreational area in Oak Island, North Carolina.

9 Best Things to Do in Oak Island, NC

There’s more to do than get a tan at Oak Island. Here are nine of our favorite activities.

1. Visit Oak Island Beach

It would be a shame to visit Oak Island and miss the beach scene. There are several public beach access points on the island’s south side.

Take your own beach chair, towel, and cooler, though, as you won’t find any beach concierges to deliver goodies to you. Choose between the 10 miles of beachfront and the 12-mile-long Oak Island.

2. Take a Tour of the Oak Island Lighthouse

Located at the island’s north end, the Oak Island Lighthouse sits in the neighboring Caswell Beach community.

The light shines from 169 feet above the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Take a free tour to the second level every Wednesday and Saturday from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

They also take reservations for free tours to the top of the lighthouse any time of year, but visitors must be at least nine years of age and able to handle 131 steps.

Lighthouse overlooking the ocean Oak Island, North Carolina.

3. Visit Historic Fort Caswell

With a history involving Civil War blockade runners and hunting down German submarines during World War II, Fort Caswell is a time capsule well worth exploring.

Built in 1836, the fort has stood the test of time. Although its wartime duties are over, visitors can still walk its grounds and explore the artillery batteries, sea wall, and staff quarters.

Privately owned, Fort Caswell does charge a nominal fee to enter, but it’s almost devoid of tourists most of the year.

4. Take a Fishing Charter

Book a fishing charter for inshore or offshore fishing, and you could bag anything from a flounder to a mackerel or even a marlin.

Several charter companies know the waters where the Cape Fear River meets the Atlantic Ocean. They’re experts at helping you reel them in.

Everything except your drinks and snacks is included for half-day, full-day, and 12-hour charter experiences.

Man chartering a fishing vessel on vacation.

5. Visit the Ingram Planetarium

See the night sky from a new vantage point at the Ingram Planetarium.

Located just down the island at Sunset Beach, the planetarium presents nightly programs for members and non-members. Programs include studies on the planets, laser shows, and even an explanation of the correlation between waves, wind, and the stars.

It costs $9.50 for adults and $7.50 for children.

6. Visit the Oak Island Nature Center

Learn about native reptiles, shorebirds, and marshland environments at the Oak Island Nature Center. Set in a wetland marsh, the center encompasses a tree trail, butterfly garden, floating wharf, and fishing wharf.

Resident staff handle nature programs throughout the season, which usually begins in April.

Young boy spending time in a butterfly garden Oak Island, North Carolina.

7. Stroll the Environmental Overlook Trail

Enjoy the tranquility of hiking through a salt marsh on the Environmental Overlook Trail.

Coastal birds, fish, and reptiles might entertain you while you cross Davis Canal or climb to the observation deck. It’s an up-close and personal view of plants and animals found on the Intercoastal Waterway side of Oak Island.

The trail begins just behind the recreation center.

8. Ride a Ferry and spend a day at Bald Head Island

A 20-minute ferry ride can take you to the idyllic community of Bald Head Island. The Bald Head Island Ferry is the only transportation to this barrier island, where historic Old Baldy Lighthouse stands, along with an exclusive neighborhood of elegant homes.

Bring your bicycle or plan to ride a golf cart or the tram when you land, as Bald Head doesn’t allow any other forms of transportation.

There are a few services in the tiny village close to the dock, but walking around the island is a treat unto itself.

Ferry headed to its next destination.

9. Catch a Sunset on a Fishing Pier

Oak Island has two piers: its namesake and the Ocean Crest Fishing Pier. Sunset is a great time to check out the waters of the Atlantic from either pier because they face south, and the setting sun will cast stunning colors across the surf.

You might even spot a pod of dolphins bidding adieu to the day if you’re lucky.

Add This Laid-Back Beach Town To Your List

Oak Island, North Carolina, offers a laid-back, cozy beach experience. It entices travelers who crave some sun and surf without all of the craziness of Spring Break.

If relaxing with plenty of sand and outdoor exploration all around sounds like a dream vacation, then book a stay at Oak Island before others discover this gem.

Have you found any hidden treasures like Oak Island during your travels?

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