Experience Fall At The Beach With A Trip To North Carolina's Brunswick Islands

It’s prime time for seafood–and a visit to the annual North Carolina Oyster Festival.

<p><a href="https://www.gettyimages.com/search/photographer?photographer=Andrew%20Miller">Andrew Miller</a>/Getty Images</p>

Andrew Miller/Getty Images

Even though summer is at an end, it doesn’t mean that we have to wait an entire year to embark on more fun at the beach. As the sandy-footed travelers we are, we’re always looking for our next coastal getaway, and North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands offer all of the excitement and outdoor adventure of a beachy destination with the addition of uncrowded shores, charming small towns, and fresh seafood, as well as an annual celebration of oysters that you won’t want to miss. Sounds relaxing, right? Put an autumnal beach vacation on your calendar this year, and explore the beauty of the Brunswick Islands–your state of mind will thank you.

<p><a href="https://www.gettyimages.com/search/photographer?photographer=Thinkstock" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="externalLink" data-ordinal="1">Thinkstock</a>/Getty Images</p>

Thinkstock/Getty Images

Where Are The Brunswick Islands?

Located along the shores of North Carolina south of the Outer Banks, the area known as the Brunswick Islands encompasses a stretch of coastal destinations that spans Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Holden Beach, Oak Island, Caswell Beach, Bald Head Island, Leland, Shallotte, Southport, Calabash, and the mainland. According to the Brunswick County Tourism Development Authority, “Five barrier islands [...] separate the mainland from the Atlantic and supply 45 miles of spacious beaches that continue to bring families back year after year.”

Related: Duck Is the Tiny Outer Banks Town You Have to Visit Now

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Nathan Denton/500px/Getty Images

Where To Find The Beaches Of The Brunswick Islands

Beaches reign in this region of North Carolina, and the Brunswick Islands have some great ones. They cover 45 miles of sandy coastline and have public access points at Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Holden Beach, Oak Island, Caswell Beach, and Bald Head Island. Caswell Beach is one of the best-kept secret stretches of shoreline, as it is one of the less frequented but no less beautiful sections of coast. According to the Brunswick County Tourism Development Authority, “Although all pristine and uncrowded, each beach has its own allure and personality, ensuring there’s something for everyone.” You can find more information about each one here.

<p><a href="https://www.gettyimages.com/search/photographer?photographer=Andrew%20Miller" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="externalLink" data-ordinal="1">Andrew Miller</a>/Getty Images</p>

Andrew Miller/Getty Images

What To Do In The Brunswick Islands

See the Lighthouses

Beyond the beaches, which are spacious and abundant, there are other things to do in the Brunswick Islands too. Several lighthouses stand tall in the area, and those interested in lighthouse architecture and lore will no doubt want to make a visit to these excellent ones. Oak Island Lighthouse is located on Caswell Beach. Tours of the light are available by appointment made in advance. While no longer a working lighthouse, the legendary Old Baldy is also open for visitors. It has the designation of being the oldest lighthouse in North Carolina. Other popular activities in the Brunswick Islands include visiting the many area museums, including the Museum of Coastal Carolina, North Carolina Maritime Museum, and Ingram Planetarium.

Go Birding

Out of doors, you’ll also find plenty of places to launch a kayak or paddleboard. According to the Brunswick County Tourism Development Authority, you can “kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard your way through local creeks and rivers that offer unmatched opportunities to view the natural wonders and wildlife habitats of the area. Look around and you'll likely spot an osprey or eagle, or maybe even a fox squirrel or white-tailed deer.” Walking and biking trails can be found throughout the region, and they’re also ideal places for birding. The North Carolina Birding Trail has several sites along the coast here, including at Bald Head Island and Sunset Beach. Bird Island at Sunset Beach is an undeveloped area that serves as an outdoor classroom for researchers and students.

Take to the Water

Paddle your way along the Cape Fear River or Intracoastal Waterway for unmatched views of the coastal landscape. According to the Brunswick County Tourism Development Authority, “When you're ready to plan your excursion, there are a number of expert adventure outfitters who can provide everything you need to explore the marshes and wetlands, including equipment, training and guide services.” Riverside Adventure Co. is a good one for bike and beach rentals, while Long Beach Paddle Company, The Adventure Kayak Company, and Summertide Adventure Tours can set you up for a launch into one of the area’s beautiful waterways. Each offers an array of excursion assistance, from rentals to tours.

<p><a href="https://www.gettyimages.com/search/photographer?photographer=Alexander%20Spatari" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="externalLink" data-ordinal="1">Alexander Spatari</a>/Getty Images</p>

Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

Where To Eat In The Brunswick Islands

Calabash calls itself the Seafood Capital of the World, and when you visit, you’ll likely agree. Order yourself some freshly caught shrimp, clams, fish, or oysters for a true taste of the region. Beck’s Restaurant dates to the 1940s, while Ella’s of Calabash got its start in 1950. Waterfront Seafood Shack Market and Eatery is both a meal and an experience, with multicolored signs and straw umbrellas shading picnic tables out front next to the boats that brought in the catch.

Elsewhere, don’t miss Delphina and Jules’ Salty Grub & Island Pub at Bald Head Island. They’re perfect places to refuel after climbing the 108 stairs of Old Baldy. In Oak Island, Island Way and Kai-Joe’s have both garnered big groups of loyal fans. Try Oliver’s on the Cape Fear River or Mr. P’s Bistro in Southport and Jinks Creek Waterfront Grille or Sharky’s Restaurant in Ocean Isle.

Where To Find Oysters In The Brunswick Islands

October brings one of the islands’ favorite annual traditions, the North Carolina Oyster Festival, which marks the beginning of oyster season and has been happening here for more than 40 years. It takes place at Town Center Park in Ocean Isle Beach, and it features live music as well as plenty of food, crafts, and family fun.

If you’d like to order up some oysters, try The Oyster Rock for an upscale waterfront meal or The Boundary House for a little bit of everything. If you’re in downtown Southport, you can’t miss Moore Street Oyster Bar, which  makes its home in a revamped pharmacy dating to the 19th century. Inlet View Bar and Grill near Ocean Isle Beach is another fantastic place for oysters, as is Castaway’s Raw Bar & Grill in Holden Beach.

<p><a href="https://www.gettyimages.com/search/photographer?photographer=zimmytws" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="externalLink" data-ordinal="1">zimmytws</a>/Getty Images</p>

zimmytws/Getty Images

Where To Stay In The Brunswick Islands

You can choose your own adventure when it comes to staying overnight in the Brunswick Islands. Visitors can always find a family-friendly Airbnb or other rental, but we’re partial to the area’s cozy inns and hotels. Both The Inn at Bald Head Island and the Marsh Harbour Inn bed and breakfast are on Bald Head Island and offer elegant accommodations close to Old Baldy and the island’s beaches.

The Robert Ruark Inn is a lovely bed-and-breakfast ensconced in historic architecture in Southport. Also in Southport, The River Hotel has bright rooms with balconies, all the better to see the surroundings which, the hotel says, includes “views of the Oak Island and Bald Head Island lighthouses. As you gaze out, mesmerized, you’ll see the river come alive with boats under sail, ferries, and massive container ships journeying from distant shores.” In Sunset Beach, The Sunset Inn Bed and Breakfast at Sunset Beach has marsh views and proximity to the Intracoastal Waterway as well as white-sand beaches. Other hotels and resorts in the islands also have water views and access to both area attractions and excellent spots for fresh seafood.

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