Story Ideas

North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands:
Small Town Charm, Bird’s Eye-view, Golf Coast, Food Fights, Kindred Spirits and Pedaling Through the Past

In the southernmost corner of North Carolina, stretching from the Cape Fear River to the South Carolina border, lies North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands. Five barrier islands provide secluded spots on six pristine beaches for families and nature-lovers. Quaint island and mainland towns beckon with friendly faces and family-owned B&Bs, restaurants and shops. Forts, lighthouses, historic architecture as well as boating, fishing and 30 golf courses offer plenty to do and see. Reminiscent of yesteryear’s beach vacation, thousands of families fall so in love with the area that they return year after year, generation after generation.

North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands Appear on the Big and Small Screen

If North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands look familiar, it may be because we’ve appeared on the big and small screen. Towns like Southport have appeared in A-list flicks including "Safe Haven," "Crimes of the Heart," "A Walk to Remember," "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and 2012’s breakout TV show, "Revenge." Numerous films and television shows have called on NC’s Brunswick Islands for magnificent backdrops and key scenes. New York Times best-selling author Nicholas Sparks fell in love with this area and has not only written about it in his books but also brought them to life by filming on location here. The CBS series, "Under the Dome", based on the Stephen King novel, was shot in Southport and the surrounding area. The Southport Museum and Visitor’s Center provides a map for a self-guided tour of "Safe Haven" film locations shot in downtown Southport.

Climb a ship’s ladder 158 feet for a bird’s eye-view.

Oak Island Lighthouse is one of only a handful in the country that use a series of ship’s ladders, instead of the typical spiral staircase, to access the top. Those who climb the 131 steps are rewarded with a 360 degree view of the Cape Fear River and surrounding barrier islands. Oak Island Lighthouse and Bald Head Island Lighthouse, "Old Baldy," are both open to the public. When Oak Island Lighthouse was activated in 1958, it was the brightest lighthouse in America and the second brightest in the world. The paint colors are mixed into the concrete so the bands of grey, white and black will never need to be repainted. 

North Carolina’s Golf Coast

Just a chip shot across the NC/SC border from more well-known and well traveled golf destinations, North Carolina’s Golf Coast quietly features more than 30 championship courses boasting all the pedigree but none of the crowds. Designed by Arnold Palmer, Rees Jones, Fred Couples, Dan Maples, Tim Cate and other golf greats, courses with magnificent coastal scenery and challenging play come with easy availability of tee-times, great deals and packages for groups of every size. Accommodations range from inns, hotels and condos to resort settings.

Kindred Spirits Mailbox Personifies Laid-back, Intimate Vibe of NC’s Brunswick Islands

Walking down a deserted beach in 1981, a mysterious lady had a vision: a shimmering mailbox near the tide line. Realizing it was a mirage, the Brunswick Islands resident decided to "plant" a mailbox near the spot and placed notebook and pencils inside. What started as a plea to help save Bird Island from development has morphed into a local treasure as residents and visitors from the U.S. and overseas convey fond memories, tales of love won and unrequited, letters of encouragement to lost souls, and other reflections. A 30-minute walk from the last public access on Sunset Beach gives writers time to reconnect with self and spirit.

Destination Weddings Can Be More Than Just a Dream

How do I marry thee? Let me count the ways: North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands offers options on land, sea and sand. Imagine the romantic memories of exchanging vows in a lighthouse, among the ruins of a historic church, with sand between your toes, at an elegant and art-filled winery, or under a lavishly-decorated tent or gazebo. Here, the sun both rises and sets over the ocean, setting the stage for romance in a way that few other places can. More than a dozen wedding planners, 30 caterers and 11 photographers in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands are available to help with beach weddings, rehearsal dinners and other details for a memorable event.

Adventure Beyond the Beach

Grab a Paddle: Eco-friendly kayaking and kayak fishing allow access to areas impassible by larger craft for close encounters without disturbing wildlife. Experienced local guides offer different trips daily. Visitors can enjoy a sunset or full-moon paddle, explore tidal pools on barrier islands, glide down blackwater rivers past 1,000-year-old Cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss, or cruise inland waterways and paddle out to sea.

The Original Food Fight: Birthplace of the Calabash Seafood Platter

Calabash started building its reputation of "Seafood Capital of the World" in the 1940s, when local captains brought their shrimp, clams, fish and oysters to the docks to be flash-fried in a unique light cornmeal-flour batter. Word spread, lines grew, and the town’s signature Calabash seafood preparation transformed North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands into a summer tourist destination. It seems that everyone in Calabash is kin to either a High or a Coleman or a Beck, and the families have been serving up their specialties ever since. The descendants of those who broke away and started the feud still proclaim theirs is the original version. Visitors sample them all to determine their personal favorites.

Revolutionary/Civil War Sites

Brunswick Town and Fort Anderson, a North Carolina state historic site, is a working archaeological dig with a treasure trove of Indian, Colonial and Civil War artifacts. Here, colonialists revolted against British taxes eight years before the Boston Tea Party. Brunswick was attacked by the Spanish in 1748, razed by the British in 1776 and never rebuilt. During the Civil War, Fort Anderson was built on the ruins to defend the Cape Fear River, falling to the Union in 1865. From March to mid-May that year, Fort Anderson became a refugee camp for freed slaves who had followed General Sherman’s army from Georgia and South Carolina. This site is also featured on the NC Birding Trail.

Bird Watching at Its Best

For the bird enthusiast, North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands are home to nine official sites along the NC Birding Trail where visitors can see numerous examples of indigenous bird species. Nature trails explore the area from Sunset Beach and the shores of the Cape Fear River to Brunswick Town-Fort Anderson State Historic Site and several nature preserves, offering plenty of places to perch and observe the Wilson’s Plover, Piping Plover, Sandwich Tern, Least Tern, Painted Bunting, Summer Tanager, Prothonotary Warbler, Bald Eagle and waterfowl that make their home here. A ferry ride to Bald Head Island Conservancy provides access to 14 miles of pristine beaches and one of the stops on the NC Birding Trail.

Adventure on the High Seas

Consider exploring ocean wildlife with a range of cruise options. Visitors can begin with an inlet cruise accompanied by a marine biologist who will acquaint guests with local species of sea life such as urchins, whelks, sponges and sand dollars. Or, if bigger fish are your interest, head out to the deep sea on a dolphin cruise and tour. Cruise boats sail alongside working shrimp boats to give visitors a tour of how this delicacy is harvested. Porpoises and sharks jump in and out of the water as they feed off the nets, so visitors enjoy a "close encounter" with these amazing creatures.