Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Brunswick County, NC

  • Published 2022/11/06

A bustling tourism destination, Brunswick County greets you with scenic shorelines and impressive seaside attractions.

Located in North Carolina’s southernmost area, the county is among the fastest-growing county in the state and ranks fourth in that category in the whole country.

Its county seat is Bolivia and includes the cities of Boiling Spring Lakes, Northwest, Southport, and Leland, the largest city.

Brunswick County is your ideal location to relax with its beaches and piers, golf links, nature preserves, and other interesting places.

Here are the best things to do in Brunswick County, North Carolina:

Tour around the Old Baldy Lighthouse

Exterior of the Old Baldy Lighthouse

Ryan Richter /

Old Baldy Lighthouse is North Carolina’s oldest lighthouse standing tall at Bald Head Island on a 10-acre land donated by Benjamin Smith in 1789.

Abishai Woodward completed the original lighthouse in 1794; she imported the wrought iron lantern and over 60,000 bricks from the state of Philadelphia.

When a hurricane destroyed the original lighthouse in 1764, a new lighthouse, now the Old Baldy, was constructed out of the old bricks and lantern from the former lighthouse; its lantern was replaced with Fresnel lenses in1852.

Take a self-guided tour of this famous landmark, climb the 108 staircases, and enjoy the breathtaking view of Bald Head Island and the Cape Fear River inlet once you reach the top.

Entrance door of the Old Baldy Lighthouse

Serena Apostal /

Visit the Smith Island Museum of History to learn about Bald Head Island’s historical significance and see various permanent collections of artifacts and manuscripts; otherwise, get unique keepsakes at the History Gift Shop to remind you of your memorable trip.

You can also take an in-depth guided tour of the island and learn about four centuries of the island’s history.

You can access the Old Baldy Lighthouse via Bald Head Island ferry service in Southport, which has daily trips to and from the island.

Silhouette of the Old Baldy Lighthouse during sunset

iofoto /

Discover the Region’s Natural History at the Museum of Coastal Carolina

The Museum of Coastal Carolina sits on Ocean Isle Beach and features various themed galleries about the region’s natural history, culture, and environment.

Step inside the Ingram Lobby to see portraits of Stuart and Louise Ingram, founders of the Museum and Ingram Planetarium, and browse collections of the Fort Caswell map, archaeology artifacts, and Civil War rifles.

View the Changing Tides Gallery with the Mastodon exhibit, the Megabites exhibit featuring shark teeth and shark jaws found in North Carolina.

See the Waterways Gallery with various displays like a diorama of flora and fauna found in the Greem Swamp, an aquarium with live sea animals, and the Shipwreck exhibit, among others.

You’ll also be amazed at the huge Diorama at the Ocean Reef Gallery featuring life-size models of sea animals.

Little ones can also enjoy the toddler area in the Museum of Coastal Carolina, with plenty of toy plush, puppets, and puzzles.

Learn about Space and Astronomy at Ingram Planetarium

Another fun educational attraction you can visit with the family is Ingram Planetarium in Sunset Beach.

The Planetarium has several featured shows you can catch, like the Animated adventures of Cy, Annie, and Armstrong the Dog on Accidental Astronaut.

Learn about Chile’s observatories at the Big Astronomy: People, Places, Discoveries show and discover the ancient Mayan civilization, science, art, and traditions at the Tales of the Maya Skies.

You can book tickets and check out the planetarium show schedules on their website.

Visit the Paul Dennis Science Hall for free to learn about different scientific disciplines through various interactive displays and exhibits.

You’ll also enjoy Ingram Planetarium’s popular laser music shows and get immersed in the sights of laser artwork, sound effects, and well-loved music performed by planetarium facilitators.

Climb the Old Oak Island Lighthouse

Exterior of the Old Oak Island Lighthouse

karenfoleyphotography /

Oak Island Lighthouse is located on the island’s Caswell Beach Road.

It was completed in 1958 with carbon-arc mercury lamps and 36-inch reflectors converted from spotlights used in World War II aircraft until it was updated with 1,000-watt halogen bulbs in 2010.

The working lighthouse stands 153 feet tall but has no spiral staircase like the typical lighthouse; instead, it has a series of ship ladders with 131 steps up to the lantern gallery area.

You can choose from the Top Tours available all year round or go for the Open House tour available from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Clear skies over the Old Oak Island Lighthouse

Ruth McNeill Photography /

The Top Tours take you to the top of the lighthouse, while the Open House stops at the second level.

During the tour, the guide will share facts, specifications, and information about the lighthouse along with three other Cape Fear Lighthouses and safety instructions.

You’ll find cable and power supplies and items on display like the original mercury bulbs, a sample of the current halogen bulb, reflectors, a Corps of Engineers GPS, and some lighthouse models.

At the top, you’ll enjoy picturesque views of Old Baldy on Bald Head Island on the east, Fort Caswell, and beach areas on the south; you can also spot other points of interest like Southport and Battery Island.

Enjoy Nature Activities at Bald Head Island Conservancy

Bald Head Island Conservancy lies on the shores of Cape Fear River, providing scientific research for coastal communities and offering various educational and public recreational activities.

Go on an Island Nature Tour with the family to discover the beach, marshes, and forest habitats that make the island unique; spot some wildlife and learn about the initiatives of the Conservancy.

Take the Middle Island Tour featuring the views of Cape Creek and Ibis Sanctuary, search for various bird species in the ecosystems, or learn nature photography tricks and capture snapshots of wonderful nature subjects.

Your family will surely enjoy activities you can do together, like BHI After Dark, Kayaking the Creeks, and Family Beach Fishing; older kids can also enjoy Youth Marsh Crabbing and Fishing and Youth Night Surf Fishing.

Watch nesting sea turtles hatching nests at the Beach Patrol Ride Along program, or meet the ambassador animals in the Conservancy at Reptile Round-Up.

Kids can also experience dissecting a coastal specimen at the Hands-On Dissection program and learn everything about sea turtles at Sea Turtle 101.

Play Golf and Relax at Oyster Bay Golf Links

Oyster Bay Golf Links is located on Sunset Beach at Myrtle Beach’s northern end.

The par-70 course spans 6,700 yards with rolling greens, vast bunkers, and extensive par 4’s that will challenge your golfing skills.

Gold Digest voted it “Resort Course of the Year” in 1983, and it has received various recognitions from the same publication.

Architect Dan Maples and developer Larry Young designed it with innovative features like freshwater lakes and short and long holes.

You can avail of Legends Golf Resort’s all-inclusive golf package and enjoy unlimited use of the driving range, practice facility, breakfast buffet and lunch, plus two beers and beverages during your stay.

Stop by the Oyster Bay Golf Links Shop and get an exclusive polo shirt, logo ball, gift cards, and other mementos.

Explore the Historic Brunswick Town and Fort Anderson

Church ruins at Brunswick Town and Fort Anderson

Upstateherd, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Brunswick Town and Fort Anderson are historical landmarks you can visit in Winnabow.

Brunswick was a major port on the Cape Fear River but was torn down in 1776 by British troops and was never rebuilt after.

Fort Anderson was built during the Civil War in the old village area serving as part of the defense before the Confederates fell.

Today, you can tour the site for free and view the archeological remains of St. Philips Anglican Church and the Russelborough, home to governors Arthur Dobbs and William Tryon.

You’ll also see other foundations of colonial residences and the old earthen walls of the fort.

At the Visitor Center, you can watch an audiovisual program narrating the story of Brunswick Town and Ft. Anderson and see various displays depicting that era, the colorful mural by Claude Howell and Catherine Hendricksen, and a recovered cannon from the Spanish ship Fortuna.

Don’t forget to drop by the gift shop for some colonial and Civil War-themed items.

Brunswick Town and Fort Anderson also hold special events like reenactments of the 18th-century period and Civil War events.

Enjoy Fun Adventures at The Swamp Park

Bring the family toThe Swamp Park in Ocean Isle Beach and have loads of fun and adventure!

Zoom your way down the Eastern Seaboard area’s largest and longest zipline—it includes 10 lines, three bridges, and a two-and-a-half-hour guided tour.

Let the kids take the challenge on the Aerial Adventure Course with three difficulty levels and see if they can get past the different but fun obstacles.

Go for an Eco-Swamp Boat Tour and see the surrounding ecosystem on a 50-minute tour.

You’ll also see live alligators at the Sanctuary and get to explore the swamps on the boardwalk.

Ready for more adventures?

Go for a guided ATV Tour and enjoy the rugged ride.

The Swamp Park is a great place for endless fun!

Find Unique Local Art Pieces at Franklin Square Gallery

Located in historic Southport,Franklin Square Gallery is a noteworthy place to see the creative works of over a hundred local artists.

Twelve members of The Associated Artists of Southport started the gallery, and now it has several member artists from southeastern North Carolina.

Discover different styles and techniques from oil, watercolor, and acrylic paintings along with ceramic decorative and functional pieces like vases bowls, and platters; you’ll also find creative items like jewelry, mugs, napkin rings, and more.

You can also join figure-drawing and watercolor classes for minimal fees.

They also have the First Friday Gallery Walks, which hosts the Wooden Boat Show.

Spend a Day at Sunset Beach Fishing Pier

Small waves under the Sunset Beach Fishing Pier

Richard A. McGuirk /

Sunset Beach Fishing Pier is the southernmost fishing pier in the state, sitting at Sunset Beach.

Enjoy fishing at the 900-feet long pier—who knows, you might even win the Annual Season Pass Fishing Contest with your big catch.

Take a pier walking tour and learn about the pier’s beginnings, history, and significant dates and stories.

Enjoy delicious snacks at the Grill, like Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, grilled and fried sandwiches, fresh wraps, curly fries, and onion rings.

You can eat in the dining area or with a view of the relaxing beach and the pier; you can even have breakfast and get nachos any time of the day.

Purchase Sunset Beach Fishing Pier branded items like sweatshirts, hats, and t-shirts for souvenirs.

Enjoy a Friendly Tournament at Tropical Adventure Mini Golf

Tropical Adventure Mini Golf in Calabash is another family attraction you can enjoy.

The course is open seven days a week with your choice of per-round games or unlimited play on All Day Play Special.

You’ll enjoy playing hours of mini golf with surrounding palm trees and amusing decors.

Each course offers different levels of challenge and obstacles.

Challenge each other and test your golfing wits on the 18th hole to see if you can win a free game, then tally your scores in the rocking chairs to see who’s the champion.

Stop by the bridge and boardwalk to greet and feed Moby, the white koi, and other fish and turtles.

Enjoy wholesome fun at Tropical Adventure!

Drop by the Old Brunswick County Jail Museum

Old Brunswick County Jail Museum in Southport was built in 1904, making it an important piece of history.

It has been open to the public since 1984, with the Southport Historical Society maintaining the attraction.

The two-story brick house features living quarters, two cells, and a runabout on its upper floor; the cells include four bunks, a wash basin, and a commode.

Relive the past and see where prisoners were incarcerated during the old times.

Take a guided tour and let kids enjoy the fun activities designed for them by the museum.

You can visit and bring your family to the Old Brunswick County Jail Museum from April through October.

Try Fun Seaside Activities at Holden Beach

Sunny day at Holden Beach

CathyRL /

Holden Beach is a fun family beach area on North Carolina’s southern coast, between Oak Island and the Ocean Isle Beach area.

National Geographic Traveler magazine hailed it as the top family beach in the country.

Stretching over nine miles of shoreline, the beach area is the longest and largest among the three island groups—South Brunswick Islands.

You’ll cross a 65-foot bridge from the mainland along the Intracoastal Waterway and see the picturesque ocean and inviting beach.

People enjoying the sun at Holden Beach

Alejandro Guzmani /

Bike your way to the Lockwood Folly Inlet on the island’s easternmost area, play beach volley, ride on boats, kayaks, and boards, or just lay on the beachside.

Catch sight of dolphins in the ocean waters, explore the small pools during low tide to find different sea creatures and fish, or go surf fishing at the shores.

You can also enjoy lunch with a seaside view at one of the restaurants in the area; you might even catch the North Carolina Festival by the Sea, a yearly arts & crafts festival held at the beach.

Aerial view of Holden Beach

AM Custom Aerials /

Go Nature Hiking at Kent Mitchell Nature Trail

Located on thesouthern edge of Bald Head Island,Kent Mitchell Nature Trail extends through 800 acres of maritime forest area.

The scenic trail provides a major vantage point for wildlife watching, birding, and nature hikes.

Enjoy trekking the half-mile-long trail and get immersed in the relaxing nature views; you can stay on the grassy areas or the benches dotted on the path.

The paved main trail offers easy access for any age and ability, while you can also divert to other paths from the main trail to discover other natural sites.

Expect to encounter different birds, reptiles, and other wildlife species abundant in the woods and marshes.

Enjoy your nature walk at Kent Mitchell Nature Trail!

Enjoy the Views at Zeke’s Island Reserve

Zeke’s Island Reserve is situated in the Cape Fear River basin south of Wilmington and is also known as a Dedicated Nature Preserve.

Established in 1985, the lagoon-like area is popular for being one of North Carolina’s most unique areas.

Its land area is approximately 1,600 plus acres, including No Name Island, North Island, Zeke’s Island, a barrier spit, marshes, and several tidal flats.

Join other beachgoers on the wide, uncrowded shores for a swim or enjoy wading in the waters; make sure you’re cautious, as lifeguards are unavailable in the area.

Try a shelling adventure during low tide or after a storm, and you’ll get to collect sand dollars, whelks, and olive shells, along with rare Scotch Bonnets.

The island is a famous paddler’s paradise with endless marsh trails surrounding isolated islands—you can launch your kayak at Federal Point’s eastern border.

Go inshore fishing and catch fresh mackerel, flounder, pompano, and mullet, but make sure you have a North Carolina Saltwater Fishing license.

You’ll be amazed at the wonderful shorebirds on the beach shores, marshes, and tidal flats, like the white ibis, great blue herons, mallards, and more.

If you’re into nature photography or landscape arts, you’ll get so much inspiration from Zeke’s Island Estuarine Reserve, with many secluded spots to focus on.

Final Thoughts

Brunswick County is a wonderful oceanside destination with plenty of learning and fun activities.

Experience the charms of the tourist area with hosts of pristine beaches and piers, remarkable historic sites, and stunning natural locations.

There are also plenty of family attractions.

Bring the family and enjoy the best things to do in Brunswick County, North Carolina.

© All rights reserved.