This North Carolina Beach Town Might Just Be the State's Best-kept Secret

Oak Island, North Carolina, is home to the one of the longest piers on the East Coast, plus it has opportunities for golfing and fishing.

We all know about the Outer Banks of North Carolina (or at least, we’ve tuned into the fictional Netflix drama about this destination). And those familiar with this southern slice of the U.S. might also be familiar with Wilmington, another beach hot spot. However, a hop, skip, and 40 minutes away is a 12-mile strip of sand known as Oak Island. It’s separated from the mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway and offers a unique haven for avid fishermen and those seeking hidden gems over well-trodden tourist attractions.

Oak Island is located on the southeastern corner of the Tar Heel State, with a southward-facing shoreline, offering sunrise and sunset views each day. There are more than 65 free public beach access points to the Atlantic Ocean. Unlike other North Carolina beaches, Oak Island — or OKI, as locals affectionately refer to it — doesn't offer chain restaurants or hotels. Instead, think of it as a hyperlocal, no-frills beach and fishing town where you can escape and dig your toes in the sand. 

Here, your guide to visiting the idyllic beach town of Oak Island, North Carolina.

Best Things to Do in Oak Island, North Carolina

Oak Island Lighthouse in North Carolina

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Newcomers to OKI shouldn't miss the Oak Island Lighthouse. While you can visit this 169-foot concrete structure anytime, you'll need a reservation to climb its stairs to the top to see the impressive 360-degree ocean view. Operating days and availability change seasonally, and it's recommended to book six or more weeks in advance. Believe it or not, in 1958, the beacon produced the second-brightest light in the world, and the brightest light in the U.S.

Oak Island might be small in miles, but it offers plenty of activities for active travelers. Golf enthusiasts can schedule a visit to Oak Island Golf Club on Caswell Beach. The club offers day passes, family events, and the opportunity to experience the George Cobb-designed 18-hole, 6,720-yard course. Many rave about the scenic views from the lawn. Once you put up your clubs, grab a filet of freshly caught fish and a pint at Duffer’s Pub & Grille

No trip to OKI is complete without testing your fishing luck. The main attraction for professionals and hobbyists is Ocean Crest Fishing Pier — one of the most popular and longest on the East Coast. Here, you may be able to catch sea bass, fluke, tautog, cod, weakfish, bluefish, striped bass, and more. The pier has more than 2,000 feet stretching into the ocean, allowing anglers of all kinds to try different techniques, like bait casting, trolling, or surf fishing. The pier is open March through December, with various hours of operation. During the peak season (April to September), it’s open from 6 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. 

Looking over the dunes and grass at a sailboat sailing past on the ocean

Rick Lanier/Getty Images

You don’t need to book a reservation ahead of time, but whether or not you fish, a $2 admission fee is required to stroll along. If you decide to throw out a line on a whim, don’t worry — there are three bait-and-tackle shops that offer all the supplies and rentals you need — and ice-cold beer, too. For a higher-end experience, book a reservation at Island Way, the restaurant attached to the pier. Visitors here can expect fine dining featuring a heavily seafood menu paired with gorgeous views.

Not interested in the fishing scene, but still want to walk along a pier? Consider visiting Oak Island Pier — the highest pier in North Carolina, at 27 feet. You don’t have to pay admission, and it’s open 365 days a year from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. While fishermen still fish here, it’s not as crowded as Ocean Crest.

OKI's shoreline has many public access points, and the beaches are open year-round, weather permitting. Five of the access points are wheelchair accessible, and public parking is offered on the street (free in the off-season; various prices the rest of the year). Because it’s a small town, you won’t find oceanfront resorts or areas where you can rent chairs or umbrellas. It’s more a bring-your-own-supplies spot, so make sure to pack accordingly. Dogs are allowed year-round, but they must be kept on a leash from March 16 to Oct. 15.

Don’t miss out on the top-recommended restaurants and eateries in OKI — all of which are locally owned and operated. If you grow tired of seafood, consider grabbing a pie at the Pepperoni Grill at the Beach. For breakfast sandwiches and a strong cup of coffee, start your day at Ruby’s Coffeehouse & Eatery. For a diverse menu selection that includes steaks, burgers, tacos, flatbreads, and seafood, check out Shagger Jacks or Tranquil Harbour Restaurant and Bar

Where to Stay in Oak Island, North Carolina

If you want to stay in Oak Island proper, you'll need to book early since lodging is sparse in this tiny sliver of shoreline. With 22 rooms, The Beach House Motel & Suites offers the most options for travelers. There are 12 one- and two-bedroom suites and 10 double-occupancy rooms, all situated within walking distance of the beach. Most of the accommodations here offer sea views, too. While there isn’t an on-property restaurant, there is a private pool area with an outdoor shower, lounge chairs, and grills for guests to use. When booking your stay, keep in mind the pool is open from Memorial Day weekend until Oct. 1. (On the website, it says it could open and close earlier, depending on the year’s weather patterns.)

Another resource is, a booking website for apartments, condos, and homes available for rent in Oak Island. You can sort by bedroom and bathrooms, pet-friendly spaces, and other criteria to find your ideal accommodation. There are also deals for off-season monthly rentals and larger homes or event spaces for weddings or celebrations. 

A boat going down a water way on Oak Island

NC’s Brunswick Islands

Best Time to Visit Oak Island, North Carolina

Depending on your travel style, Oak Island is a worthy excursion year-round. However, for the best North Carolina weather, you’ll want to visit in early or late summer, when temperatures are more manageable. However, if you don’t mind the sticky, humid heat and 90- to 100-degree weather forecasts, June, July, and August are ideal. Unlike other surrounding beach towns, you won’t find crowds here, but you may be limited when it comes to accommodation options in Oak Island proper. Keep in mind this area of North Carolina is prone to hurricanes, so be mindful of booking in late September and early October. 

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