Beach towns typically focus on one thing and one thing only … the beach. But not Brunswick Islands. From lighthouse climbs to sea turtle sightings, the six coastal towns that make up the Brunswick Islands are teeming with just as much laid back and low key fun offshore as there is on shore. Keep reading to discover seven things you’ll want to add to your itinerary when you check it out.

photo: Nick S. via Oak Island Light House

1. Climb to the tippy-top of a lighthouse.
In this area, multi-level condos and hotels are a rarity. So, the island’s version of a skyscraper? The Oak Island Lighthouse, standing just over 150 feet tall, offers the perfect opportunity for bigger kids and their grown-ups to see amazing coastal views. Venture up the 131 steps to the observation platform, and you’ll be able to capture ridiculous aerial photos of Oak Island and the seemingly endless ocean of Caswell Beach. But this isn’t your normal lighthouse excursion—within the Oak Island Lighthouse, the steps leading to the observation platform are ships’ ladders, not the typical spiral staircase found in most lighthouses. After you climb up and back down, get a friendly bystander to snap a photo of you in front of the lighthouse.

1100 Caswell Beach Rd. (Caswell Beach, NC)
Online: oakislandlighthouse.org

photo: Ayren Jackson-Cannady

2. Nosh on Calabash-style seafood.
Unique to the Brunswick Islands-area, Calabash cooking includes soaking freshly caught seafood in a thin, seasoned batter, and then deep frying it to perfection. You can score this and more kid-friendly noshes at Fishy Fishy Cafe in Southport. Bonus: The restaurant is mostly open-air and overlooks a historic yacht basin and marsh.

106 Yacht Basin Dr. (Southport, NC)
Online: fishyfishycafe.com

photo: Shallotte River Swamp Park

3. Swing from the trees. 
Calling all adventure (and nature) seekers! The still new-ish 
Shallotte River Swamp Park located on Ocean Isle Beach was created to organically fit into the 300-year-old swamp landscape and enhance the park’s natural surroundings. Featuring boat tours, an educational nature trail and a guided swamp buggy tour showcasing the plant and animal life, this park is just as educational as it is fun. For a thrill, head to the tree-top aerial adventure park, offering 53 challenge elements (think: zip line) with three varying intensity levels perfect for all ages (4 & up).

5550 Watts Rd. (Ocean Isle Beach, NC)
Online: shallotteriverswamppark.com

photo: Ayren Jackson-Cannady

4. Get a history lesson (on a bridge).
If your crew is into trains, planes, automobiles, and BRIDGES, stop by the iconic Sunset Beach swing bridge museum. Once upon a time, the bridge linked the island and the mainland. It was rickety and a little slow, but for most visitors, it was the cue that they were about to cross over from their every day to their vacay. The bridge was decommissioned when the Mannon C. Gore Bridge opened, but a portion of the old structure—bridge and tender house—was preserved and relocated to dry land where it serves as a museum and gathering place for the community and visitors. 

109 Shoreline Dr. West (Sunset Beach, NC)
Online: oldbridgepreservationsociety.org

photo: Ayren Jackson-Cannady

5. Go on a bike ride.
Bikes are the best mode of transportation around Bird Island, a natural area filled with 
pristine sandy white beaches, high dunes and more than 1,200 acres of beautiful salt marsh and tidal creeks. Bring your own or rent bikes, and ride the beach at low tide, when the sand is damp and packed down. Be sure to stop by the Kindred Spirit planted mailbox (right before the rock quarry and the South Carolina border), where residents and visitors from around the world write down fond memories, reflections, wishes, sorrows, prayers and dreams, drawing comfort or sending encouragement from the heart. Kids can draw pictures of the favorite part of their vacation. 

40th St. and West Main St. (Sunset BeachNC)
Online: ncbrunswick.com

photo: Ingram Planetarium

6. Get your star gaze on. 
Sunrises and sunsets on the Brunswick Islands are some of the best in the country. Take sky-gazing to the next level with a visit to this local planetarium. Ingram Planetarium is a 
state-of-the-art high definition digital projection and surround-sound systems with an 85-seat SciDome Sky Theater. Check the calendar for details on special events and music-accompanied laser light shows. 

7625 High Market St. (Sunset Beach, NC)
Online: museumplanetarium.org

photo: Calabash Creamery 

7. Go for an ice cream run.
The ice cream at Calabash Creamery is made of 16% butterfat cream, resulting in a one-of-a-kind taste that kids (and grown-ups) adore. Locals love Cow-a-Bash Crunch, a white chocolate base with chocolate cake crunch. If it’s on the menu, try it!

9910 Beach Dr., SW (Calabash, NC)
Online: calabashcreamery.com

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Considering a trip to Brunswick Islands in North Carolina? Let us know how your trip was in the comments below.

—Ayren Jackson-Cannady

This trip was paid for by Brunswick County Tourism but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.