7 Coastal Adventures for the Whole Family

Article and photography by Sara Kendall

North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands is the perfect playground for families. Oak Island, Caswell Beach, Holden Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Sunset Beach, and Bald Head Island offer ideal outdoor activities for quality family time, each with their own, unique fun. These wonderful islands are one of my family's most favorite travel destinations. From climbing a lighthouse to riding the waves, the following 7 adventures are how my family builds family memories while on this beautiful stretch of North Carolina’s coast. Check them out and decide which adventures your family should go on.

Climb Oak Island Lighthouse

Oak Island Lighthouse Scale the 131 ship stairs to an outside observation balcony to take in the beautiful surrounding coastal vistas from the Oak Island Lighthouse. A climb to the top requires a sense of adventure and a good pair of sneakers. All climbers must be 9 years old and older. Tours are given by a group of volunteers, Friends of Oak Island Lighthouse. There are no set hours, with tours available by appointment only. To set yours up, check out their website and send them an email.

Throw a Line Out on Oak Island Fishing Pier

The east end of Oak Island is home to the Oak Island Pier, formerly known as the Yaupon Pier. Standing 27 feet above sea level, the  Oak Island Pier is the tallest in North Carolina. For the angler in the family, there’s a tackle shop located at the pier for anything you may need to catch the big one. If fishing is not your thing, but you want to walk on the pier, there is a $1 charge. Kids under 10 are free. My girls love to walk on the pier to take in the breeze and to see what fish were caught.  Besides the Oak Island pier, there are 4 other ocean piers in the Brunswick Islands.

Go Crabbing

Go crabbing in North Carolina's Brunswick Islands Live like a local and toss a cast net into the water to see if you can catch your dinner during your stay on Holden Beach. For an ideal spot to fish or crab, go to the end of Sailfish Drive where you’ll find a public pier with a landing area. There are also plenty of parking and picnic tables. At low tide, you’ll find families with their small children fishing and splashing around in the tidal pools near Lockwood’s Folly Inlet. Throughout the day, the kids in my family love to check how many crabs they caught in the crab trap and then they set them free by the day’s end.

Experience the Waves

While on Ocean Isle Beach a must-do is a surf or standup paddleboard lesson with Carolina School of Surf. They offer both group and private lessons. It’s a great way for everyone to ride the waves and have fun in a healthy way. The surfing lessons are held at the beach access at Ocean Isle Beach Community Center and standup paddleboard tours on calm waters throughout the canals.

Walk to Kindred Spirit Mailbox on Sunset Beach

Kindred Spirit Mailbox on Sunset Beach Get in a walking mode and hit the beach toward Bird Island, an uninhabited nature preserve, adjacent to Sunset Beach. Once on the island, depending on where you start, this could be a good half hour or more walk. Look for the American flag swaying high above the dunes. Below it is where you will find the Kindred Spirit Mailbox. Planted back in 1977 by Frank Nesmith to have a place to exchange letters with his lady friend, this notion has grown into something far from what Nesmith originally started. After a few years, Nesmith started leaving journals and pens. This prompted those who came upon the mailbox to leave notes of their own. The topics range from love and gratitude to troubles and joys. So, make your way down to this special mailbox, grab a journal and add your own thoughts. This spirited walk is one of my family’s favorite activities.

Take Flight at Shallotte River Swamp Park

Experience a treetop adventure at Shallotte River Swamp Park, Brunswick Islands’ first open-air ropes course. Here a family can challenge their athletic abilities, enjoy the outdoors, and bring home some exciting stories. Located on Ocean Isle Beach, your family can zoom on the 10 zip line stations across more than 1.25 miles of cable and over 3 bridges, take on 53 challenge elements on the high ropes or explore the wildlife on a swamp boat eco-tour.

Kayak Around Sunset Beach

Kayak Around Sunset Beach Head down to Sunset Beach, hop in a kayak and paddle through the scenic waterways, get up close to nature, and create a lasting family memory. Book your kayak trip with Summertide Adventures Tours. Owner Cari Van Winkle is passionate about giving vacationers a great kayaking experience. If weather gets in the way of your planned tour, she will do everything she can to accommodate your group at the next possible time slot. Summertide’s most popular tours are the Bird Island and Twilight, which range from low to moderate in activity level.  There are additional outfitters in the Brunswick Islands, if you're interested in kayaking around one of the other islands.

For more information about the adventures that await your family in NC’s Brunswick Islands, request a free Vacation Guide, which is filled with everything you need to know about the beaches and towns, attractions, events and much more. 

A mother of two daughters, Sara Kendall is a travel writer who wants to give her children the same summer vacation she had as a child. Her family often travels to the Brunswick Islands to retrace some of Sara’s childhood experiences. Her travel publishing credits include The Charlotte Observer, JohnnyJet.com, Charlotte Agenda, and numerous regional parenting magazines.