With 10 miles of south-facing beaches; two fishing piers; plenty of kayaking, boating, and swimming options; and easy access to Bald Head Island and Southport on the mainland, this barrier island is a great spot for a trip that can be as active or as laid-back as you like.
Staying for a few days? Rent a cottage. "If it's just the two of you, a small oceanfront fishing shack on stilts is perfect," says Lynn Seldon, a travel journalist who, along with his wife, has lived on Oak Island for more than a decade. There are plenty of options for families, too, but splurge on an oceanfront rental, Seldon says. (His budget-friendly tip: If you're planning ahead for fall, October is a great month to visit because the crowds are gone but you can still enjoy "75-degree days, stunning sunshine, and a bit of crisp morning air.")
No matter when you come, give yourself a few days off the grid and see what island life is all about. The Internet will still be there when you get back.
Rent a beach cottage from a local company, such as Oak Island Accommodations, which has over 600 rentals, including pet- and event-friendly options (rentalsatthebeach.com), or rent directly from homeowners (vrbo.com).
Don't miss the fresh local shrimp. Jon Haag, the owner of Haag & Sons Seafood (haagandsonsseafood.com), recommends Joseph's Italian Bistro (josephsitalianbistro.com), Mr. P's Bistro (mrpsbistro.com), and Fishy Fishy Cafe (fishyfishycafe.com)—all in Southport. Be sure to ask for the catch of the day.
If you want to cook your own feast—or load a cooler for the trip home—Haag & Sons is the hands-down favorite for fresh local seafood. "Look for the Brunswick Catch labels," says Emma Thomas, owner of The Adventure Kayak Company in Southport. "Staff experts can share the best way to cook your purchase."
Feel like doing a little angling of your own? Launch a kayak at the 39th Street landing and paddle west, Haag says. Before you get to Blue Water Point Marina, you'll find public clamming along the edge of the marsh and on sandbars. Fish for blue crabs underneath the bridge leading onto the island or at May Moore Park off Elizabeth Drive (capefear-nc.com/may-moore-park.html). "Tie a piece of chicken to some string, drop it in the water, wait for the crab, pull it up, and net it," Seldon says. If you're a little more ambitious and hoping for a bigger catch, buy a crab trap at Oak Island Hardware. oakislandhardware.com
On the east end of Oak Island is the smaller of its two communities, Caswell Beach, which is home to one of the most powerful beacons in the world: the Oak Island Lighthouse. (You can make tour reservations at oakislandlighthouse.org.) On the west end of Oak, just off neighboring Sheep Island, you'll find a solitary slip that's almost exclusively sandy beach. Seldon says that locals either kayak to it or wade through waist-high water at low tide to get there. The Adventure Kayak Company offers trips to the spot. theadventurecompany.net
If you're hankering for a day trip, take a ferry from Southport on the mainland (ncdot.gov/ferry) to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher on Kure Beach (visitkurebeachnc.com), or sample some North Carolina wine at Silver Coast Winery on the way to Ocean Isle Beach (silvercoastwinery.com; oceanislebeach.com). You can always stay in Southport and visit the North Carolina Maritime Museum and the waterfront where the Cape Fear River, the Intracoastal Waterway, and the Cape Fear Inlet intersect. (The long dock at the Old American Fish Co. bar offers an ideal vantage point.) ncmaritimemuseums.com/southport; oldamericanfish.com
"Southport has incredible views, great restaurants, one-of-a-kind shops, museums, art galleries, and streets full of live oaks," says Thomas. "And did I mention the incredible views?"
You can visit ncbrunswick.com for more information on planning your Oak Island Vacation.