North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands is known for its picturesque beaches, deliciously fresh seafood, family-friendly entertainment, and enjoyable attractions. However, the area's many historic landmarks and wonderfully vibrant culture also make it the perfect vacation destination! Grab your walking shoes and travel back in time through the five unique barrier islands, six pristine beaches, and the array of charming coastal towns and discover the way life used to be. From historic landmarks to unique museums, a cultural experience awaits around every corner.
Historic Attractions & Landmarks
Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson Site
Explore the grounds of one of North Carolina's state historic sites, Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson, and discover a place that played many roles throughout history. Once a pre-revolutionary port on North Carolina’s Cape Fear River, Brunswick Town was demolished by British troops in 1776, but then, during the Civil War, Fort Anderson was constructed on the grounds. Today, this site holds an abundance of fascinating history, old artifacts, and items that have been uncovered by archaeologists and are now on display. The remains of homes and other buildings of Brunswick Town are a visual reminder of the history found there.
Oak Island Lighthouse
If you’re looking for something closer to the water, take a tour of the newest lighthouse built in North Carolina! Completed in 1958, the Oak Island Lighthouse features a series of ship ladder steps instead of the spiral staircase found in most lighthouses. Tours to the top of the lighthouse that lead to the outside balcony with an epic view of Caswell Beach and surrounding areas are available year-round by appointment. As you climb your way up the 131 steps leading to the top, you'll learn about the rich history of the lighthouse and other interesting facts about the area. Visit the Oak Island Lighthouse website to schedule your tour and be sure to book at least two weeks in advance.
Old Baldy Lighthouse & Museum
Hop on the ferry in Southport and head over to Bald Head Island, where sits the oldest lighthouse in North Carolina, Old Baldy. Built in 1817, this lighthouse was used to guard the mouth of the Cape Fear River for over 187 years. From the top of Old Baldy, one can enjoy amazing, scenic views of the area's natural beauty and some great photo opportunities! Visitors can also explore the adjoining Smith Island Museum to discover facts about the island's rich past. For an in-depth look at the history and background of the lighthouse and Bald Head Island, you can also take the Bald Head Island Historical Tour.
Robert Ruark Inn
Stay right in the heart of history at the Robert Ruark Inn. Once owned by the grandparents of the late world-renowned writer Robert Ruark, this elegant home is where Ruark spent much of his time and was the inspiration for his novel The Old Man and the Boy. This whimsical bed and breakfast is located along the quiet streets of Southport and is nestled among beautiful ancient live oak trees, offering a scenic view of the stunning Cape Fear River. The Victorian-style home offers lavish bed and breakfast accommodations, along with a scrumptious multi-course Southern-style breakfast and daily afternoon wine and cheese. Guests can stay in luxury rooms decorated with antiques and explore Southport's other historic landmarks and attractions that are located just steps away.
Saint Phillip’s Episcopal Church
A historical site you don’t want to miss, Saint Philip’s Episcopal Church, has gone through many changes throughout the years. A part of Brunswick Town, it was destroyed by a fire in 1776 during the American Revolution. Visitors can still visit the remains of the original church in Brunswick Town. In 1843, the congregation decided to move and reconstruct a new church in Southport across the street from the Fort Johnston military reservation which is still active today.
Old Smithville Burying Ground
Explore Old Smithville Burying Ground with a self-guided tour of this historical landmark located in Southport. Surrounded by large oak trees, this site is full of history and has been featured in several films in the area including Nicholas Spark’s A Walk To Remember. Some monuments in the cemetery honor notable figures from America’s history like Benjamin Smith, the founder of the town of Southport.
Fort Johnston Southport Museum and Visitor Center
Highlighting the fascinating heritage and history of Southport, Fort Johnston Southport Museum and Visitor Center features artifacts, original documents, and exhibits relating to Fort Johnston and the town of Southport. Built in 1749, Fort Johnston was the oldest active-duty fort in the United States for 250 years until it was given to the town of Southport in 2006. Visitors can take a guided or self-guided tour and learn all about Fort Johnston and the history, heritage, culture, and natural beauty of Southport.
North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport
The North Carolina Maritime Museum showcases the history and culture of the Lower Cape Fear region. The exhibits allow guests to have a closer look at the natural and cultural history of the area. From pirates to shipwrecks, a ton of maritime history is waiting to be discovered in Southport. The museum also offers educational programs for both children and adults.
Old Brunswick County Jail Museum
Explore the Old Brunswick County Jail Museum in Southport where you can have a chance to witness first-hand the original jail cells and other exhibits that focus on the history of the prison. The jail features two cells and a runabout on the second floor. Learn about the kind of conditions prisoners faced in the facility when it was in use. The Old Brunswick County Jail has also been featured in movies including Crimes of the Heart.
Museum of Coastal Carolina
Immerse yourself in the aquatic life and natural history of the Brunswick Islands at the Museum of Coastal Carolina. The museum features a touch tank with live sea stars, sea urchins, and other animals, a large collection of sea shells and fossils, and the Southeast's largest dry aquarium. Check out the impressive wildlife dioramas to learn about the plants and animals found along North Carolina’s coast, dig in the fossil pit for shark teeth, or build your own dunes in the interactive augmented reality sandbox! Don’t forget to visit the gift shop to pick out a nature-themed souvenir to commemorate the trip.
Sunset Beach Bridge & Museum
Featuring the historic Sunset Beach swing bridge that once connected the island to the mainland, the Sunset Beach Bridge & Museum is a unique historical attraction to the area. Today, the bridge and tender house have been retired to land and currently serve the community as a museum and a reminder of the purpose the bridge once served. The Tender House is now home to many historical artifacts and is open to visitors year-round.
For visitors that want to expand their knowledge and learn more about the history of the solar system, space exploration, and the galaxy, visit Ingram Planetarium. Enjoy high-definition digital projections and surround sound in the SciDome Sky Theater. Experience a laser show, a combination of lights and music, or check out one of the exhibits offered in the Paul Dennis Science Hall.
Whether you love history or are just looking for something fun to do, these attractions and museums are the perfect way to spend the day and learn all about the rich history of NC's Brunswick Islands! For more information on North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands and to plan your beach getaway, please visit ncbrunswick.com.