Ocean Isle Beach is an interesting place. To the north, Wilmington is busting at the seams, with over 100,000 residents clamoring for breweries, restaurants, arts, and entertainment in the historic port city. To the south, the Grand Strand stretches along 60 miles of pristine South Carolina coastline filled with tourist attractions, flashing neon lights, and shopping centers. But in the middle, Brunswick County has stubbornly resisted the development of the modern beach town.

READ MORE: 17 Craft Breweries You Need to Visit in Wilmington, NC

I had planned to traverse Brunswick County in a single day at the beginning of my one-month road trip across North Carolina. Calabash had already ground those whirlwind plans to a halt when I stumbled upon the story behind calabash-style seafood. The next day, I rolled into Ocean Isle Beach, intent on spending just two hours exploring the beach town.

But every place I visited, someone recommended I spend two more hours before I left. The guy behind the counter at the Ocean Isle Beach Pier told me to get dinner at Jinks Creek and dessert at Ocean Isle Creamery. The lady at the OIB Surf & Java coffee shop told me about the Museum of Coastal Carolina and suggested breakfast at Amelia’s Backstreet Grille.

Before I knew it, my two-hour planned stop in Ocean Isle Beach had become a twenty-four visit – and I couldn’t have been happier.

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No. 1

OIB Surf & Java

Start the day with a visit to the OIB Surf & Java – a surf retail store and coffee shop. Coffee beans are ground fresh for every coffee served. Tables and chairs are spread throughout the shop, intermingling with clothing racks and surf gear. Arrive early to claim one of the supremely comfortable armchairs.

6278 Beach Drive SW Suite 5, Ocean Isle Beach, NC | 910-575-6277 | www.oibsurfandjava.com

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No. 2

Ocean Isle Beach Pier

The 968-foot wooden pier on Ocean Isle Beach was built in 1957 by Odell and Virginia Williamson. It’s the only pier on the barrier island and the de facto heart of the town near Town Center Park.

Ocean Isle Beach Pier is open for fishing with an approved NC license. The bait and tackle shop has a tremendous number of supplies, from fishing rods to bait, just in case you forgot anything at home. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to fish, the pier offers a two-hour “Fishing 101” course that includes equipment, bait, and instruction.

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Sightseers can enjoy a walk along the wooden pier for just a few dollars. The pier stretches far beyond the crashing waves, leaving visitors at the end wrapped in the silence of the sea. It’s the perfect place from sunrise until sunset to enjoy scenic views of the sea, land, and wildlife.

Inside, take the kids to the arcade for an hour or two of fun. Browse the small gift shop for souvenirs. Get a snack at the grill. And it’s the perfect place to hide during one of those pesky summer thunderstorms.

1 West First Street, Ocean Isle Beach, NC | 910-579-3095 | www.oibpier.com

Pro Travel Tip The Ocean Isle Beach Pier is a great place to visit the beach. However, never get into the water within 150-feet of a fishing pier. You don’t want to get tangled in fishing lines and lures!

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No. 3

Ocean Isle Beach Nature Trail

The Ocean Isle Beach Nature Trail was the most surprising thing I discovered on the barrier island – and I found it entirely by accident.

The nature trail is a series of wooden boardwalks winding along the north edge of the island overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. It’s a peaceful escape on an already peaceful island. A perfect place to watch the sunset, enjoy a lazy afternoon, or just stretch your legs.

The trail stretches from Winston-Salem Street to Charlotte Street. There is no official parking. Although streets have been laid, dozens of empty lots shockingly still cover the island, giving people a place to park their cars along the deserted streets. But this probably won’t last forever.

Eventually, the only way to reach this beautiful nature trail will be walking from your rental property on the island.

359 East 2nd Street, Ocean Isle Beach, NC

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No. 4

Museum of Coastal Carolina

World War II veteran Stuart Ingram envisioned sharing knowledge with his community. After decades of planning, his dream became a reality in 1991 with the opening of The Museum of Coastal Carolina.

The museum features a compendium of knowledge about coastal wildlife, history, and nature. It’s the place to learn the name of a fish, see the effects of beach erosion, and learn about the local fishing villages. Dip your hands into the touch tank, browse the collections of shark teeth and jawbones, and admire the dioramas.

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The Ocean Reef Gallery is the most interesting exhibit at the museum. A footbridge crosses through a life-size diorama of the ocean floor. Blue painted walls and dim lights create a thrilling ambiance. Life-size sharks, turtles, and whales hang from the ceiling on invisible strings. You won’t have to try hard to imagine yourself swimming in the ocean in this fascinating exhibit.

In 2002, Ingram expanded his vision by opening Ingram Planetarium in nearby Sunset Beach. Take a walk through the Paul Dennis Science Hall to see current exhibits, catch a show at the planetarium theater, or return later for laser music shows.

21 East 2nd Street, Ocean Isle Beach, NC | 910-579-1016 | www.museumplanetarium.org

No. 5

River Country Mini Golf

In a county filled with award-winning golf courses, it’s nice to have a miniature golf course to putt around with the family. River Country Mini Golf is centrally located between Town Center Park and the fishing pier. Putt around water obstacles, quirky traps, and score that hole in one for bragging rights the rest of the day.

1 Causeway Drive, Ocean Isle Beach, NC | 910-579-2030 | www.facebook.com/River-Country-Mini-Golf

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No. 6

The Swamp Park

The Swamp Park is nothing like the name suggests – it’s an outdoor adventure park with zip lines, ropes courses, ATV trails, and a swamp boat eco-tour. Okay, so there is a swamp.

The Cypress Canopy Zipline Tour is a 2-hour adventure along 1.25-miles of cables in the maritime forest. Adrenaline junkies will enjoy the Coastal Chaos Zipline Tour. The three-cable circuit only takes 45 minutes to complete because you’ll go fast – really fast.

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The Outdoor Challenge Course features a continuous belay system – once your harness is safely secured, you never have to unhook to face the next challenge. The course features 52 obstacles ranging in difficulty from easy to expert, making it a fun experience for any age.

If you feel like getting muddy – and you have a valid driver’s license – go for a Guided ATV Tour. The 1.5-hour tour winds through the muddy swamps of the maritime forest.

Looking for a more peaceful adventure? The one-hour Shallotte River Tour is a peaceful eco-tour on the river bordering the park’s property. The flat bottom boat has a few comfy seats and includes narration of the river’s history, nature, and wildlife.

5550 Watts Road SW, Ocean Isle Beach, NC | 910-687-6100 | www.swamppark.com

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No. 7

Fishing Charter Boats

It only takes twenty minutes for wave-pounding charter boats to pass through the Shallotte Inlet and head out to sea. Booking a fishing charter boat is a great way to spend a day because everything is included – a knowledgeable captain, a seaworthy boat, and fishing gear and supplies.

All you need to bring is the muscle to reel in the catch and a YETI cooler filled with your favorite beverage.

Book a charter with Ocean Isle Fishing Center, Salt Fever Guide Service, Speckulator Inshore Fishing Charters, or Follow Me Charters.

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No. 8

OIB Standup Paddleboarding

Have you ever wanted to learn how to paddleboard? Are you a seasoned paddleboarder looking for a guided tour? The Carolina School of Surf offers guided tours with instruction from the public boat ramp at Ocean Isle Beach. The tours hit the calm water of the Intracoastal Waterway and spend a couple of hours exploring the peaceful natural setting.

65 Causeway Drive, Ocean Isle Beach, NC | 910-713-9283 | https://carolinaschoolofsurf.com/services/paddle/

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No. 9

Brunswick County Golf Courses

Brunswick County beaches are defined by their natural beauty. But head inland, and the county’s mainland is defined by world-class golf courses.

Over thirty golf courses populate the county, making it one of the top golfing destinations on the East Coast. Most of the courses are open to the public, and a few offer all-inclusive golf packages. Designed by renowned architects, the courses can be challenging and thrilling to play.

Visit the Brunswick Islands tourism website for an updated list of public golf courses.

No. 10

Makai Brewing Company

An hour north, Wilmington is busting at the seams with local craft breweries. But only a few have opened throughout Brunswick County – and only one is an easy drive from Ocean Isle Beach.

When Lowell Puckett opened Makai Brewing Company, he wanted to create a menu of craft beers inspired by his hobby of island hopping through the Caribbean. Tropical totem poles stand guard beneath a ceiling of string lights. Mismatched tables and chairs are spread across a concrete floor. And flights of four craft beers are served on surfboard-shaped wooden paddles.

READ MORE: 17 Craft Breweries You Need to Visit in Wilmington, NC

Nearly a dozen craft beers are kept on tap at the microbrewery. The variety includes traditional IPA and stout, but you’ll also find lager and pilsner on their list. And, of course, their specialty is the Kölsch – a crisp German ale that has become a favorite among coastal breweries.

5850 Ocean Highway West Unit 1, Ocean Isle Beach, NC | 910-579-2739 | www.makaibrewing.com

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No. 11

NC Oyster Festival

In October 1978, people flocked to Ocean Isle Beach for the first annual NC Oyster Festival. Prizes were awarded for catching the biggest fish at one of the three local piers, a six-mile run was hosted on the beach, and 700 attendees consumed 150 pounds of oysters and 250 pounds of fish.

The festival has only grown from that humble beginning.

The two-day annual festival in mid-October charges a paltry $5 admission fee – they would rather attendees spend their money on food, beer, and souvenirs. Dozens of vendors set up booths filled with arts & crafts, jewelry, clothing, pottery, and home décor. Bands take the stage Friday night for a special concert and then fill the air with every kind of music throughout the weekend.

The best way to experience the NC Oyster Festival is to book lodging on the island for the weekend. Take a golf cart to the festival, avoid the traffic congestion, and eat your heart out. But if you’re staying off the island, take advantage of the free shuttle buses for easy access to the festival grounds.

https://ncoysterfestival.com

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No. 12

Summer Concert Series

The summer concert series is one thing most beach towns have in common – besides the sand, surf, and sun. Every Friday night throughout June, July, August, and September, bands take to the brand-new stage at Town Center Park and fill the cool air with music.

The park’s grassy field is the perfect place to set out a blanket or pop up a couple of chairs. Bring a cooler loaded with plastic bottles – glass not allowed – of your favorite beverage. Order food to go from a local restaurant. Claim your spot on the field after 5 p.m. and wait for the music to kick off at 6:30.

11 East 2nd Street, Ocean Isle Beach, NC | https://www.oibgov.com/pview.aspx?catid=564&id=20824

Fresh catch of the day with lump crab cake and caper sauce at Ocean Isle Fish Company (top). Shrimp Cappellini – with an interesting decorative flower – at Jinks Creek Waterfront Grille (bottom).

Where to Eat

Causeway Drive is an avenue to savory foods in Ocean Isle Beach. Connecting the mainland to the beach, all the restaurants, coffee shops, and dessert shops are easy to access, with large parking lots and minimal fuss.

Your greatest dilemma will be choosing where to eat.

59 Causeway Grill is a great place to start the day with fresh coffee and bagels. The baristas prepare drip, espresso, and latte drinks with fresh ground beans. You can also choose from a variety of smoothies and teas. Bagel sandwiches are made to order with your choice of eggs, meats, and cheeses.

Amelia’s is one of the best restaurants in town for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Start the day with omelets and bagels, settle down to a burger and hand-cut fries for lunch, or stop by for a dinner of delectable entrees like fresh catch seafood and ribeye steaks. Drinks are served in Mason jars – it’s that kind of place – and you’ll enjoy the comfortable leather cushioned chairs.

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Need a jolt of caffeine to make it through the day of exploring Ocean Isle Beach? Drift Coffee Shop & Kitchen is conveniently located within walking distance of the fishing pier. The small hole-in-the-wall shop features fantastic coffee made fresh with every order and a small assortment of baked goods.

FEAST OIB is exactly the kind of restaurant you want to visit if you’re hungry for large portions. Their menu includes appetizers, entrees, catch of the day, and many options to build your own burger. The large dining space features comfortable tables and booths where you can enjoy your meal.

Jinks Creek Waterfront Grille is a casual upscale restaurant with the best sunset view on the island. Daylight floods through the enormous picture windows around the dining area, but once the sun goes down, the room is lit by intriguing chandeliers. The seafood-inspired menu features fresh catch entrees, sandwiches, and pastas – their Shrimp Cappellini is divine.

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If you enjoy pasta, calzones, stromboli, and classic Neapolitan pizza, Maria’s Pizzeria is the place to go. The local eatery makes everything from scratch and offers additional toppings to customize your pizza. Browse the extensive wine and draft beer list, but don’t overlook the interesting whiskey bar menu.

Any day that ends with a trip to the Ocean Isle Creamery is a good day. Walking distance from the fishing pier, the ice cream shop features a menu of homemade ice cream bowls, cones, milkshakes, and sundaes. Spruce it up with whatever toppings you desire for the perfect dessert to end the day.

Opened in 2002 by Rube McMullan, the Ocean Isle Fish Company features a view of the Intracoastal Waterway that is just as good as their fresh seafood meals. The seafood is moved from their fishing fleet directly to the kitchen and cooked when ordered. Appetizers, seafood entrees, and burgers will leave you wondering what to order – might I suggest the Fresh Catch OIFC style with a lump crab cake and caper sauce on top?

Sharky’s Waterfront Restaurant is one of the longest-running eateries in Ocean Isle Beach. The restaurant features a large indoor dining area and a small outdoor deck overlooking the marina. Their menu includes seafood sandwiches, tacos, baskets, and entrees cooked the way you want.

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Where to Stay

You won’t find any corporate hotels within ten miles of Ocean Isle Beach – and that’s just one of the alluring charms of the beach town. Except for two small oceanfront hotels that are more like connected condo buildings, everything in Ocean Isle Beach is short-term rentals like condos and houses.

The Ocean Isle Inn is a fantastic place to spend a few nights – or maybe longer. The oceanfront hotel features free on-site parking, a stunning outdoor swimming pool, and easy access to the beach. Choose from rooms with two queen beds or one king bed with either an island view or ocean view. Booking.com | Expedia | Hotels.com

Next door, the Islander Inn features an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, free on-site parking, and easy access to the beach. Choose from rooms with two queen beds or one king bed with either an island view or ocean view. Booking.com | Expedia | Hotels.com

After searching the listings on VRBO, you might decide to stay a bit longer with a comfortable condo or rental home. Options range from one-bedroom condos to enormous homes large enough to sleep a dozen. One of these properties would be perfect for the NC Oyster Festival or just spending all your time at the beach.