A quaint village and gateway to the beach, ferries and islands, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Southport, North Carolina.
Located in coastal NC where the river meets the sea, Southport is a quaint little place full of history and beauty. This lovely little town (population 3,828) has placed a focus on preserving history. When you visit, you’ll note the restored homes and churches that line the streets. Southport is situated within a close distance to many popular beach towns of NC, making it the perfect locale for your next relaxing family weekend.
Whether you seek time in the sunshine or a peek into the past, we’ve got some great recommendations for you! Check out the top things to do in Southport, NC below.
Things To Do In The Charming Town of Southport
The charming little town of Southport offers plenty of ways to enjoy a long weekend as a family.
Spend time outdoors along the waterfront in downtown strolling along the riverwalk or plan for some relaxation and playtime at the Waterfront Park. This 9-acre downtown park offers gorgeous views along with well-maintained lawns and tons of porch swings to enjoy the view.
Because Southport is located where the Cape Fear River and Atlantic Ocean meet, many locals and visitors enjoy watching the huge container ships coming in from the ocean on their way up the river to the Port of Wilmington. This is among the most popular free things to do in Southport NC. These enormous ships really make an impression and there are apps that will help you determine what day and times the ships will be arriving (one of the more popular apps is Marine Traffic, or you can try joining the Facebook group Cape Fear River Watchers).
If it’s a beach day you’re seeking, there are a wide array of beaches within a short distance from Southport. A quick 15-minute drive will take you to Oak Island or Caswell Beach. These beaches offer plenty of public access points and parking. These two beaches (both on Oak Island) are popular choices because Oak Island remains one of the few beaches in the area where parking is still free and parking spots are plentiful. Plus, the Oak Island beaches are unique as they are south facing – so you can enjoy the views of both sun rise and sun set!
One thing to keep in mind though as you’re planning your beach day, Oak Island beaches are not very developed. There is no boardwalk or high rise hotels. It’s mostly all vacation homes along the beach and there are no public restrooms .
When you’re looking for things to do in Southport that are more of an educational experience, or you just want to get inside on a rainy day, pay a visit to the handful of museums in town.
- Fort Johnston Southport Museum – Highlighting the history of the town and it’s beginnings as Fort Johnston, this attraction pulls back the curtain on the 250+ year history of the fort.
- NC Maritime Museum – This museum offers a look into the history of this coastal region and is housed in the officer’s quarters from the grounds of Fort Johnston.
- Old Brunswick County Jail – A 2-story museum restored from a 1904 jail that shows cells, jailer’s chambers, and historic artifacts.
Let the Southport Ferry Take you to New Adventures
The Southport Ferry is an entertaining and cost-efficient way to get from place-to-place along the Southern NC coast, and it is one of the most popular things to do in Southport. Hop aboard and take in the beautiful views as you get from point A to point B. The Southport Ferry can cost as little as $7 per carload for a roundtrip ticket to either Fort Fisher, Kure Beach, or Carolina Beach. Prices can reach $23 for various routes and times.
Be sure to check out the schedule online and take note that reservations are not allowed, so during busy seasons it’s advisable to arrive early.
Ferry to Fort Fisher
One of the most popular ferry routes is the Southport to Fort Fisher trip. The ride is a quick 35-minutes and the ocean views are gorgeous along the way.
The Fort Fisher Aquarium is a popular attraction that draws in crowds year-round. Open daily from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, it’s encouraged to book tickets in advance. Admission is $10.95 for children under the age of 13, $11.95 for military or seniors over the age of 62, and $12.95 for everyone else.
At the aquarium, your family can experience plenty of unique experiences such as viewing an albino alligator or taking in the playful sea otters. In fact, the furry little sea otters were recently introduced to a new home in the aquarium. The new digs were introduced to the cute creatures in December of 2020.
Other popular exhibits include the sea turtles, bald eagle, sharks, and stingrays. Plus, kids will delight in the touch pool with sea stars and horseshoe crabs.
Ferry to Bald Head Island
Another popular day trip is an excursion to Bald Head Island. The ferry trip to this exquisite, remote beach town is only a 20-minute journey. Round-trip tickets for adults (12+) are $23 while children’s tickets (3-12) are $12. Children under the age of 2 are free. Bald Head Island is a unique destination because no cars are allowed. To get around you’ll need to rent a bike or golf cart, so plan accordingly.
Bald Head Island offers 14 miles of stunning beaches for tanning, swimming, and sandcastle-building. Stroll around the marina, take in the boutique shops, or kayak through the creeks of Bald Head. Travel Essay Sample
No matter how you choose to spend your day on Bald Head Island, make sure you don’t miss Old Baldy. This beloved landmark is North Carolina’s oldest lighthouse. When visiting Old Baldy, you can climb up the 108 stairs to the top to take in the stunning views.
The grounds of the lighthouse are pristine and offer picnic tables where families can stop for a quick break. Guests can also enjoy the Smith Island Museum of History which is located inside the historic lighthouse keeper’s cottage. The museum offers a glimpse into the life of a lighthouse keeper and provides a history of the island. Tours of the lighthouse and museum are self-guided.
Tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for children ages 3-12, and free for those under age 3. Note that Old Baldy closes during the off-season. Be sure to check the Old Baldy Foundation site before visiting.
Enjoy the Local Cuisine at the Restaurants in Southport
Southport offers plenty of tasty food options ranging from seafood shacks to casual sandwich shops. This quaint little town is packed with restaurants that come highly recommended. In fact, in downtown alone, there are more than 30 places to stop for a bite.
A few top recommendations include:
- Fishy Fishy Cafe – A seafood joint located right on the Intracoastal waterway. Take in the views while enjoying a bowl of chowder or basket of fried fish.
- Provision Company – Another waterfront spot, Provision Co. offers tasty sandwiches and steamed seafood platters. This one has been a local favorite since 1993.
- Locals Family Diner – The perfect spot to kick-off your day with breakfast or a relaxed lunch. Locals is a laid-back, family-friendly hotspot.
- Joseph’s Italian Bistro – If you want a break from the seafood feasts, hit up Joseph’s, a popular spot with harbor views. Try the homemade lasagna or the Veal Piccata.
Southport is located about 1.5 hours north of Myrtle Beach, SC and 45 minutes south of Wilmington, NC. There’s plenty to see and enjoy in Southport. We’re confident that your family will enjoy a long-weekend trip to this beautiful little town.