20+ Things to Do in Oak Island (for Great Beach Vacations!)

Last Updated on November 30, 2022

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While many people come for the fantastic beaches, there are even more things to do in Oak Island. We’ve fallen in love with this town by the North Carolina-South Carolina border and want to share this wonderful place with you.

Inside this guide, we cover attractions from end to end (including Oak Island Lighthouse), where to stay, restaurants, and ideal places nearby.

Read More: The Best Beaches in North Carolina

Where is Oak Island?

Map of North Carolina highlighting Brunswick County
Image Credit: David Benbennick, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Oak Island is a barrier island in Brunswick County, on the southeastern corner of North Carolina.
  • Many people refer to Oak Island as “OKI” in writing, and you’ll see those three letters on car bumper stickers throughout North Carolina.
  • It sits between Southport to the west and Holden Beach to the east.
  • Oak Island is closest to Wilmington, about a 45 to 50 minute drive away. The island is a little less than 2 hours away from Fayetteville, about 2-1/2 hours from Raleigh, and about 3 hours from Durham. It’s one of our favorite weekend getaways during the off-season and also, for weeklong vacations during the summer.

Read More: The NC Tripping North Carolina Travel Map

Oak Island History and Important Facts

Oak Island NC Turtle Sanctuary
  • Oak Island is approximately 13 miles long, with an average of about 1 mile wide. It is about 19 square miles.
  • Native Americans are believed to have used the island for fishing, with no evidence of permanent settlements.
  • The first permanent inhabitants came during Fort Caswell’s construction on the east end of the island in the 1830s.
  • During the Civil War, Fort Caswell was occupied by both Union and Confederate soldiers. It changed hands four times during the war.
  • After the capture of Fort Fisher in 1865, the fort’s guns were spiked, its barracks burned, and magazines were exploded. An entire wall of the fort was destroyed as a result.
  • The rest of Oak Island’s development largely began in the 1930s.
  • Over its history, Oak Island has experienced heavy storms and hurricanes. Hurricane Hazel in 1954 directly hit Oak Island and only 5 buildings remained standing afterward.
  • In 1958, Oak Island Lighthouse was constructed. We will share more about it below.
  • Today, the barrier island holds the towns of Oak Island and Caswell Beach.
  • The Oak Island Coast Guard Station and the NC Baptist Assembly-managed Fort Caswell are also located on Oak Island.
  • More than 8,000 people live on the island year-round today, but during the summer, the population expands to between 30,000 and 50,000.
  • More than 180 of those people form the all-volunteer Oak Island Sea Turtle Protection Program. They monitor and protect sea turtles who visit and nest on the Oak Island beach strand.

Now that you know the island’s background let’s dig into the best things to do in Oak Island, starting with places to stay.

Read More: Amazing Beaches Near Wilmington

Where to Stay

Oak Island NC Airbnb Residential Home

Oak Island vacation rentals include oceanfront homes and those found on the Intracoastal Waterway side of the island. No matter where you stay, you’ll be near the beach, many times within a short walk.

A fellow North Carolina resident invited us to stay at this beautiful home, about a 5-minute walk to the beach. It was built in 2021 and offers everything you need, including a washer and dryer, plenty of space for meals, and a roomy front porch and back deck.

If you decide to stay there, we’d love to know what you think of the place.

Read More: The Coolest Airbnbs in North Carolina

Annual Events and Seasonal Things to Do

These annual events are among the best things to do in Oak Island, especially those that take place during the warmer months.

  • Ride the Tide Kayak Community Float (April): This is a 5.2-mile float following Davis Canal. It starts at the Recreation Center Kayak Launch and ends at Blue Water Point Marina.
  • Oak Island Jungle Golf (April to September or October): Have you been to the beach if you didn’t play at least a round of mini golf? Oak Island Jungle Golf takes care of that, with ice cream, and even more fun!
  • Oak Island Nature Center (April to September): Open from spring to the end of summer, the Oak Island Nature Center offers kid-friendly educational activities, Talking Trees Walking Trail, and fishing dock.
  • Oak Island Easter Egg Hunt at Bill Smith Park (April): The Easter Egg Hunt will bring your family and others together for a colorful day of fun and memories.
  • Earth Day Festival (April): Oak Island’s annual Earth Day Festival is free to attend, and will teach you (and your kids) how to better treat this planet we all inhabit.
  • Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market (May to September): Held on Mondays from May to September, the Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market is the perfect way to support local in Oak Island.
  • Summer Concert Series (End-May to September): “Bands by the Beach” return to Oak Island for a series of free outdoor concerts between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
  • 4th of July Festival (July): Being neighbors, Oak Island has shared some NC Fourth of July Festival events with Southport. Fireworks in this area are hard to top, and we think the next round will be no different!
  • Enjoy the Off-Season (October or November to March or April): While not technically an event, we think the off-season is a perfect time to visit. Some things on Oak Island stay open throughout the year but the entire island starts opening up in mid- to late-March or April and runs strong through Labor Day and beyond. We love the beach during the supposed “Off-Season,” mainly because there are hardly any waits to our favorite spots.
  • Christmas by the Sea Parade (December): Along with the 4th of July, this is one of the best events organized by the Southport-Oak Island Area Chamber of Commerce. Stop by and say “Hi!” to Santa and Mrs Claus as they follow a long procession of locally sponsored vehicles.

Read More: Christmas in North Carolina

Year-Round Things to Do

Those annual events indeed belong on your calendar, but here are the things to do in Oak Island, no matter when you visit.

Beaches of Oak Island

Things to Do in Oak Island

The beautiful beaches top most people’s lists of things to do in Oak Island, and we can see why. There are 65 public beach accesses and 79 shared access pathways, with parking spots available at many of them.

Bathrooms and rinse stations are not available at many of these access points, but a few offer those amenities.

Here are the places you and your family can enjoy the beaches of Oak Island (from east to west), along with those that are handicap accessible:

  • McGlamery (Rinse Station)
  • Oak Island Pier (Restroom)
  • Barbee (Rinse Station and Portable Toilet)
  • NE 15th Street or (Veterans Park)
  • SE 74th (Handicap Accessible)
  • SE 55th (Handicap Parking)
  • SE 46th (Handicap Accessible, Restrooms, and Rinse Stations)
  • SE 40th (Handicap Accessible)
  • 14th Place East (Portable Toilet)
  • 25th Pl E (Handicap Accessible)
  • 7th Pl W (Handicap Accessible)
  • 10th Pl W (Handicap Accessible)
  • 23rd Pl W (Handicap Accessible)
  • 33rd Pl W (Handicap Accessible)
  • 57th Pl W (Handicap Accessible)
  • Kings Lynn Drive (Portable Toilet and Rinse Stations)
  • The Point (Portable Toilet and Rinse Stations)

Here are two of our favorite beach access points, either for a quick look or a full day of sandy fun:

  • SE 46th: Conveniently located, with a free splash pad and playground!
  • The Point: Perfect for a day but especially amazing for the sunset.

Printable List of Oak Island Beach Access Points and Fishing Access Points

Catch a Sunset and Sunrise

Things to Do in Oak Island NC The Point Sunset
The Point.

Speaking of the Point, we highly recommend heading down there for a sunset. It’s just across the water from Holden Beach and home to copious shells.

Look to the east for a sunrise, best viewed from the beach, just like the sunset. Caswell Beach is an excellent option for sunrise on Oak Island, especially if you want to watch the sunrise over Bald Head Island and Old Baldy.

Anywhere is suitable for both sunrise and sunset, though. But, of course, that’s as long as the weather is cooperating!

Read More: 30+ Amazing NC Coastal Towns (+ Things to Do in Each One!)

Bring Your Dog

Some beaches in Brunswick County don’t allow dogs during the busy season between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but not Oak Island! Instead, leashed dogs can enjoy the beach throughout the year.

From October 15 to March 15, dogs are allowed off their leashes from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm. That is in locations marked by official beach access signs.

Other than the beach, these dog parks will top your best friend’s list of things to do in Oak Island.

  • Salty Dog Park at William “Bill” Smith Park (4410 Fish Factory Rd)
  • Templeton Park (Oak Island Dr and 41st St)

Oak Island Lighthouse

Oak Island Lighthouse from a distance

Oak Island Lighthouse is one of the unique things to do in North Carolina, thanks to its concrete exterior that never needs a new paint job. Also, the beacon here produced the brightest light in the US and the second brightest light in the whole world.

You can visit any time, but advanced reservations are required if you want to climb to the top.

Oak Island Golf Club

Oak Island Golf Club in Caswell Beach offers one of the most beautiful settings and a great round of golf! Start your day with an 18-hole adventure through the 6,720 yards of this George Cobb-designed course.

It hosts tournaments and leagues, but also families and daily use golfers.

Piers

Oak Island Pier NC
Oak Island Pier.

Whether you brought your reel or not, a visit to one of Oak Island’s piers is excellent. Here’s a breakdown of each one:

  • Oak Island Pier (705 Ocean Dr) is the highest pier in North Carolina, at 27 feet high and 880 feet long. Also known as the Yaupon Pier, it was rebuilt after Hurricane Matthew. Today, Oak Island Pier has 30 King fishing stations and handicap accessible sections. No admission is required to enter this pier and it’s open from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm 365 days a year. You can purchase fishing passes in the Pier House.
  • Ocean Crest Fishing Pier (1409 E Beach Dr) is the longer of Oak Island’s two piers, at 893 feet. It’s open throughout much of the year, except for January and February. Hours do vary the rest of the year, but during the busy season (April to September), it’s open 7 days a week from 6:00 am to midnight. No fishing license is required here, but there is a $2 admission to enter.

We love taking a long walk on these piers, looking back at the beautiful beaches, and keeping an eye out for dolphins!

Go Fishing

Things to Do in Oak Island NC Fishing

Speaking of the piers, fishing from them is one of the most popular things to do in Oak Island. You can fish from Oak Island Pier and Ocean Crest Pier, various docks (including Malcolm Register Park), or from the beach.

Another option is to hire a fishing charter, and the following boats and captains are ready to help you:

Paddling

Things to Do in Oak Island NC Tidalwaves Canoe Dock

We could’ve added kayak fishing to the “Fishing” section but thought to keep it together with the other types of paddlers—including kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.

Oak Island has a lot of great opportunities for paddling the Intracoastal Waterway, creeks, canals, wetlands, rivers, and estuaries. Beyond April’s Ride the Tide Kayak Community Float, you can paddle throughout the year from these free access points:

  • Oak Island Public Boat Ramps (55th St NE and 57th Pl W)
  • Public Floating Docks (SE 9th St and 19th St)
  • Tidalwaves Kayak & Canoe Launch (SE 31st St)
  • Smith Park Access (Fish Factory Rd off Long Beach Rd)
  • Wildlife State Ramp (Fish Factory Rd)

If you didn’t bring a boat, don’t worry. You can rent from the following places:

Scenic Parks

Things to Do in Oak Island NC Middleton Park

Oak Island is home to lovely parks, ranging from top-notch playgrounds to beautiful, scenic overlooks. Here are a few of them:

  • Heron Lookout is a gorgeous spot that’s popular for fishing or just relaxing next to the water.
  • Middleton Park has the biggest collection of kid-friendly things to do in Oak Island, with a splash pad, playground, basketball courts, tennis courts, and even more.
  • The Point is a popular spot for fishing, beach access, and amazing sunsets.
  • William “Bill” Smith Park has baseball and softball fields, Salty Dog Park, a disc golf course, kayak launch, walking trails, and more.
  • Tidalwaves Kayak & Canoe Launch has been mentioned already, but deserves an extra nod. This popular kayak launch is also an Environmental Overlook and scenic trail that runs along Oak Island’s saltwater marsh.

Do you have a favorite Oak Island park that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments section!

Biking

Things to Do in Oak Island NC Bike Riding

Ride your bike on Oak Island and enjoy beautiful scenes that you can’t stop your car to see.

Caswell Beach Road will take you along the eastern end of the island, Ocean Drive near Oak Island Pier is a great way to explore the center, and Beach Dr will take you to the Point.

You can even ride on the beach if you’ve got fat tires!

For anyone who didn’t bring their bike, here are places to rent from:

Where to Eat

Things to Do in Oak Island NC Kai Joes Tacos
Kai Joe’s.

Thanks to a tasty collection of restaurants, eating is one of our favorite things to do in Oak Island. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Island Way (1407 E Beach Dr): This restaurant attached to the Ocean Crest Pier offers fine dining steak and seafood. Reservations are highly recommended, even in the off-season.
  • Kai Joe’s (4722 E Oak Island Dr): You’d better get to Kai Joe’s as soon as they open because everyone knows about this Tex Mex restaurant. Whether you go with the Fonz (awesome breakfast burrito), shrimp tacos, or anything else, you won’t need to eat anything else for much of the day.
  • Koko Cabana (705 Ocean Dr): Located next to Ruby’s at the Oak Island Pier, Koko Cabana has awesome seafood dishes, as well as tacos, steaks, burgers, and more.
  • The Pepperoni Grill at the Beach (4320 E Beach Dr): This is one of two locations, with the other one in nearby Boiling Spring Lakes. Sometimes you need an alternative to all the awesome seafood that awaits on Oak Island. This place near Middleton Park is one of the best restaurants to fill that need.
  • Ruby’s Coffeehouse and Eatery (705 Ocean Dr): This is a great place to grab an early cup of joe and some breakfast before walking out onto the Oak Island Pier.
  • Shagger Jack’s (8004 E Oak Island Dr): The menu at Shagger Jack’s changes often, but I’d bet they’ll always have some yummy seafood, burgers, tacos, and flatbreads awaiting.
  • Tranquil Harbour Restaurant and Bar (5908 E Oak Island Dr): The seafood and steaks at Tranquil Harbour are worth exploring, but don’t sleep on the rest of their menu. Burgers and apps also pair nicely at this local restaurant.

Stay tuned as we continue filling our bellies with yummy food. In the meantime, what’s your favorite Oak Island restaurant?

Ready for These Things to Do in Oak Island?

Things to Do in Oak Island NC Environmental Overlooks

It’s hard to beat this one when thinking about our favorite Brunswick County beach towns. All of these wonderful things to do in Oak Island (and nearby) will keep us coming back for a long time.

If you’re familiar with this fantastic place, we’d love to know about your favorite things to do. Also, feel free to share your favorite restaurants with us.

You can do that here in the comments section, by email, and our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group.

Before you do that, here are some things to do in Oak Island’s neighbors.

Things to Do in Oak Island’s Surroundings

As we mentioned earlier, Oak Island is an easy day trip from places in Central and Eastern North Carolina. But, of course, there are plenty of things to do in Oak Island’s surroundings, throughout Brunswick County, and in nearby Wilmington.

Read More: Day Trips in North Carolina

Brunswick County Day Trips

Holden Beach North Carolina bridge
Holden Beach.

We start with Brunswick County since Oak Island is a part of it. Here are nearby places within the county, along with how many minutes away they are from Oak Island:

  • Southport (18 minutes away) is the closest of Brunswick County’s towns to Oak Island. That charming little town’s waterfront is dotted with benches and rocking chairs, perfect for a peaceful afternoon by the water. 
  • Southport is also the ferry destination for Bald Head Island, which is one of North Carolina’s most luxurious islands. Bring your bike or prepare to rent one (or a golf cart) to get around in style. Old Baldy Ligthhouse is near the Ferry Terminal, as are some other historic spots. The beautiful beaches of Bald Head Island
  • You can see Holden Beach (28 minutes away) from the Point, but you’ll need a boat or car to reach out. This awesome place is also known as North Carolina’s “Family Beach.” It’s much smaller than Oak Island and there’s an even more laid back vibe here. We love riding our bikes along Ocean Blvd and around many of the sights found on the “Olden” Holden Trail.
  • Many people will claim Ocean Isle Beach (38 minutes away) is the best beach in North Carolina. It’s hard to argue with them, thanks to an awesome beach strand, excellent parks, and those beautiful canals that greet you on the way in. Don’t forget about the Museum of Coastal Carolina, also located in Ocean Isle Beach. It’s a great natural history museum and rainy-day place to visit.
  • All the way down on the southeast corner of North Carolina is Calabash (41 minutes away). You might already know Calabash seafood, but if you don’t, head over there for a day. There, you’ll find restaurants serving a signature style of lightly breading and frying fresh seafood that every Carolinian has to experience.
  • Sunset Beach (43 minutes away) is the southernmost beach in North Carolina. You can easily spend all day (or year) relaxing on the beach, but a walk on the Sunset Beach Pier is worth getting out of your chair. The Ingram Planetarium and the Swing Bridge & Museum are two more places that make Sunset Beach stand out, too.

Read More: The NC Museum of History in Raleigh (+7 Things We Love About It!)

Wilmington

Day Trips from Fayetteville NC Wilmington

Wilmington is about 45 to 50 minutes away from Oak Island and is an excellent getaway throughout the year. Our Port City is full of things to do for all ages, especially for families.

Check out some history at Battleship North Carolina, the Wilmington Railroad Museum, and do some shopping at The Cotton Exchange.

Unique beach towns surround Wilmington, including:

  • Wrightsville Beach (50 minutes away)
  • Carolina Beach (58 minutes away)
  • Kure Beach (1 hour away)

Throughout the Wilmington area, we think you’ll enjoy all the excellent restaurants and breweries that await.

More Things to Do in Oak Island and Nearby (Travel Guides)

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