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Southport is a sleepy coastal town perched along Cape Fear River, due south of Wilmington. Southport was established in 1792 and was a harbor for pirates in the early 18th century. Today, it’s a popular vacation destination for those looking for less crowded beaches along the North Carolina coast. Flanked by Oak Island to the west and Bald Head Island to the east, Southport’s rugged, marshy environment lends its commercial area a relaxed charm. There you’ll find plenty of fish shacks, dive bars, and open-air restaurants overlooking the water, many of which have attached boat docks. A popular way to explore the flora and fauna in and around Cape Fear River is by kayak and paddleboard. Several outdoor outfitters in Southport offer equipment rentals and guided tours. In Southport’s historic district, live oak trees draped with moss frame the old homes, many of which have stood tall for more than a century — and some since 1800.
Just 32 miles north of the coastal community, Wilmington International Airport (ILM) is the closest airport to Southport. If you’re flying into North Carolina from overseas, you may arrive via Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), which is 217 miles from town. Southport does have taxi and rideshare companies, though it might be in your best interest to rent a car, since many of the Carolina beaches are spread out. You may also consider renting a bike or golf cart once you’ve arrived at your vacation rental, as it will help you get to and from the water easily. You can also take a ferry from Southport to Bald Head Island.
Spring (from March to May) and fall (September to November) bring the best weather to Southport and its neighboring North Carolina beaches. Although summer can also see its fair share of pleasant weather, be prepared to deal with some crowds. When booking your stay, always be mindful of hurricane season, which for the Atlantic Ocean, can start in June and run through November, with the biggest storm months being August and September. Southport’s temperatures are often warm enough to enjoy the beach through late October. October is also a big time for annual festivals such as Riverfest in Wilmington and NC Oyster Festival in Shallotte, 25 miles away.
At just three miles long and less than a mile wide, Bald Head Island — a quick ferry ride from Southport — is bursting with wildlife. Expect to see dolphins, egrets, bald eagles, and even the occasional alligator. History buffs can check out the 90-minute island tour, which covers the island’s former status as a hunting ground for wild pigs and the British fort it housed during the Revolutionary War.
Science-based experiences are the name of the game at this Ocean Isle Beach museum, located 33 miles west of Southport. Part natural history exhibit, part dry aquarium, the Museum of Coastal Carolina educates visitors about the rich nature in this area through dioramas and interactive exhibits. The Ingram Planetarium in nearby Sunset Beach, owned by the same organization, schedules a wide array of educational programming, including a classic-rock laser show.
Guarding the entrance to Fort Caswell, the concrete Oak Island Lighthouse was built in 1958. It’s open for self-guided tours for those who want to ascend the 131 steps to the lantern gallery, which offers unobstructed views of the surrounding Brunswick Islands.