So many people tell me they have driven through North Carolina, and it makes me really sad to hear! North Carolina is so beautiful. It’s well worth a stop for Americans and foreign travelers. I love sharing the lesser known locations in Gironde, France, so I want to share what is quickly becoming a busy vacation town. Located where the Cape Fear river meets the Atlantic Ocean, one hour drive from Wilmington, you find the charming old port town of Southport.
Once named Smithtown, Southport was historically known known for the fishing boats arriving and its significant location at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. There is a colorful history of pirates in the area, sure to peek anyones interest…think Blackbeard and Bonnet. Multiple television shows and movies have been filmed here, which also brought interest to the picturesque town on the water. It’s fast becoming a retiree dream land with marinas and beautiful developments popping up everywhere. I wish you could see the Southport we knew from decades ago, but I think you’ll still find that vibe in the old town and along the waterfront.
This is where I come home to when visiting the USA and my family.
BALD HEAD ISLAND, NC
While there have been people living on this island for hundreds of years, the current community was created by a millionaire a couple decades ago and once one of the best kept secrets for the North Carolinians in the know, Bald Head is a quiet, wild, car-free, beach community off the coast of Southport. You can only arrive by ferry or boat and have to use electric golf carts to navigate the maritime forest. It’s the best place to go to escape the world and tune out, so don’t expect a club and bar scene.
There is a sea turtle rescue program which you can visit and who hosts nature activities for children. The oldest lighthouse in North Carolina, ‘Old Baldy’ is well worth a visit https://www.ncpedia.org/old-baldy-lighthouse. The tour of the island, via golf cart, naturally, https://www.ncbrunswick.com/listing/bald-head-island-historical-tour/200/.
HOW TO GET TO SOUTHPORT
The closest airport is Wilmington, NC at 40 minutes drive. There are Ubers and taxi that can take you from the airport to the ferry terminal, for example, if Bald Head Island is your destination. Otherwise, rent a car in the airport and make your way. It’s a fairly direct, if not mundane drive through maritime forests and small towns / https://flyilm.com
Once you are in Southport or Bald Head Island, you can rent a golf cart to get around downtown.
WHERE TO STAY
If you come for longer than a couple of days, I would recommend a house rental. There are rentals in the town of Southport, on Bald Head Island, or on nearby Oak Island (a beach peninsula, about 20 minutes away). Staying close to the restaurants and walkable areas, or the beach, is the best. Parking downtown can be tricky and parking at the beaches incurs a fee of around 20 USD a day.
Check Airbnb, VRBO, or contact Bald Head Island realty directly / https://baldheadislandservices.com/search-results/
There are many lovely, typical, Southern bed and breakfasts in downtown Southport that are not found on Booking so you will have to search individually / La Polena is a bed and breakfast in one of the classical old Southern homes on the river / https://lapolenabnb.com / 1 River Dr, Southport, NC 28461 / +1 (910) 477-6125
Hotels, like The River Hotel, which is located on the Cape Fear River offer small kitchens, balconies, and pool access https://www.riverhotelofsouthport.com / 706 E Moore St, Southport, NC 28461 / +1 (910) 294-6070
WHERE TO EAT
There are a lot of restaurants, many serving almost the same thing, but these are my favorites. Keep an eye out for fresh shrimp, oysters, and soft shelled crab (April-May).
Southport has restaurants along the waterfront which are amazing to pull up to if you have a boat, dock, and have lunch. Fishy Fishy Cafe is probably one of the most famous and has incredible atmosphere! https://www.fishyfishycafe.com / 106 Yacht Basin Dr, Southport, NC 28461 / +1 (910) 457-1881
In Southport you can also book a table at Olivers On the Cape Fear, but book in advance to get a table outside to watch the boats pass by. Kids have multiple choices at about 10 USD for chicken fingers and fruit. There are multiple fish dishes and specials like seared tuna sandwiches / https://oliversonthecapefear.menu / 101 W Bay St, Southport, NC 28461 / +1 (910) 457-1881
On the beach in Oak Island is a really fun location with great cocktails, Koko Cabana, right next to the pier. Perfect for a day in the water! https://kokocabana.com / 705 Ocean Dr, Oak Island, NC 28465 / +1 (910) 933-6222
Bald Head has multiple dining locations, some are closed to non-members of clubs and others require advanced bookings (be sure to check when making a reservation that it’s not for members only to avoid disappointment). One of my favorites, simple and easy, is going to the central grocery and getting their pimento cheese and some chips to eat at the beach. There is also the Jailhouse Provisions with typical American fare / https://www.jailhouseprovisions.com / 251 Edward Teach Ext, Bald Head Island, NC 28461 / +1 (910) 477-9368
WHAT TO DO IN SOUTHPORT
Certainly visit the free Maritime museum https://ncmaritimemuseumsouthport.com and city museum, which offer treasure hunts for children with a free token at the end. There are multiple parks, craft fairs, and the biggest 4th of July parade in the state https://www.ncbrunswick.com/events/annual-events/4th-of-july-festival/
There are plenty of beaches, the closest to Southport being Oak Island at 20 minutes drive. Bring beach chairs and set yourself up for the day. There are no public restrooms or food on the lower end of the peninsula, so be sure to bring your own food and drinks. In the summer months you can find an Italian shaved ice vendor walking up the beach occasionally. There are no life guards however / https://www.oakislandnc.gov/residents-visitors/parking-information
Wrightsville Beach or Holden are bot 45 minutes away with some guarded beaches.
Fort Anderson is about 20 minutes away from Southport and has some very interesting history, a museum, and ruins. Well worth a visit and stroll around the early port town which was destroyed by the British during the Revolutionary War.
Go food shopping to find regional products to take home, like grits, and molasses. During the summer months, at the farmers market, find boiled peanuts and ‘dilly beans’ which are picked green beans!
Soft shelled crab can be bough in the local fish mongers, this year they are 8 USD each at Clems Seafood / 351 Long Beach Rd SE, Southport, NC 28461 / +1 (910) 457-6958
More on Anne Jordan https://aquitainetravelguide.com/about-anne-jordan-food-tours-france/