Vacationing at Oak Island, NC

Oak Island is a barrier Island about 40 minutes south of Wilmington. It’s just 12 miles long and one mile wide with the Intercoastal Waterway on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.

People come to enjoy the 10 miles of beaches, great fishing, and laid back vibe. You won’t find the abundance of stores and crowds common to Nags Head and the Outer Banks, making this one of the best small towns to hang out in North Carolina.

A row of two story houses on stilts with balconies on every floor with reed covered sand dunes in front.

Where to Stay in Oak Island

Your best bet is to rent a home or condo since there aren’t really hotels here. The island has been building up over the years with tons of homes being rented through agencies. While there are some VRBO and Airbnb, you’ll find the majority of homes are leased through Better Beach Rentals, Oak Island Rentals, and other companies.

It’s easy to find a home on the beach or a block away with plenty of parking and walking distance to one of the several beach access points.

Parking in Oak Island, NC

Parking is confusing. You’ll find spots at most beach access points and down the side streets near the entrances. It’s $5/hour or $20/day for visitors. You have to download the app and pay that way.

Just a warning that the app is not user-friendly. This is one of the worst interfaces I’ve ever seen In a parking app. Overall it works, but if you’re trying to pay for more than one vehicle, the best advice I have is to make sure you add or delete any cars before you pay the next time.

You’ll see signs for resident parking mixed with the paid parking. Here’s the deal – spots with yellow parking bumpers are for residents, spots with light yellow/beige parking bumpers are for visitors.

It’s tricky because the visitor spots look like washed out resident spots. Why they couldn’t be blue and yellow, or orange and yellow, or purple and yellow, is beyond me.

Honestly, it’s just easier to rent a house or stay at a condo on or across the street from the beach.

View of The Point at Oak Island. A Peninsula of sand juts into calm waters. A few umbrellas with people under them dot the sand.

Food on Oak Island, NC

You don’t have to worry about packing perishables or enough food for a week. There is a Food Lion and Publix grocery store on the island. Most visitors cook their meals, however there are some local restaurants.

Old Bridge Diner is a favorite for breakfast. Get there early or you may have to wait a bit for a table.  It’s worth it though.

Koko Cabana is right on the pier and a fun stop for a drink and some appetizers.

If you’re in the mood for a good old fashioned shrimp boil, head to Outer Banks Boil Company. You can either have them cater or grab a pot to go.

Kai Joe’s Tacos is a local favorite. They serve up classic taco but with a Hawaiian twist. Order at the window and then grab a seat and enjoy.


There are gas stations on the island and the prices are pretty good. All of the pumps are close to the Publix grocery store.

Shopping on Oak Island

You can pick up some basics at the beach stores. You know these –  Kings Beachwear, Bubbas’s Gift Shop, Eagles Beachwear, etc. They’re the stores at every NC beach that sell sweatshirts, T-shirts, towels, and random items like a shark tooth in a bottle.

Most shops are on East Oak Island Drive between 58th and 61st streets.

Also, in the same area are two small strip malls that have odds and ends shop.  They’re fun to kill a little time in.

Person walking down on the beach at sunset. They are both black like shadows as the sun is fading.

Things to do in Oak Island, NC

Even though you’ll probably hang out at your rental or the beach, if you want to get out and change it up, there are some fun things to do on Oak Island.

One Note: Even though other sites mention Fort Caswell, it is closed to the public. You are not allowed entry.

Play Mini Golf

Near the beach stores is Oak Island Jungle Golf. They have a mini golf course and an arcade.  

The site opens at 4 pm most days. Most people come after dinner for a family outing and some ice cream.

At $10/person, it’s a little steep. It takes about an hour to complete the course and there’s quite a bit of walking between the holes, which helps spread out the groups. Overall, it’s not bad.

Visit Southport or Wilmington, NC

Wilmington, NC is about 40 minutes from Oak Island. That’s not too far of a drive for the restaurants and nightlife offered by this college town.

A closer, slower option is Southport, NC which is a short, 15-minute drive. This small town was named “America’s Happiest Seaside Town” by Coastal Living Magazine. The NC Maritime Museum is a fun stop. The building is pretty and there is a lot to learn.

From Southport, you can hop on the ferry to Fort Fisher which has an historic site, State Recreation Area, and aquarium.

A canal like body of water with boat docks. Either side of the water is lined by marshy grasses.

Paddleboard or Kayak

There are several places to rent paddleboards and kayaks. We saw paddleboarders in the ocean, but if you’re not quite up to that, you can also try the Intracoastal Waterway which is easier for beginners. Another great place is The Point which is technically the beach, but it’s a gentle area.

Kayakers also love the Intracoastal waterway with its gentle current and quiet.

A long pier spanning out over the ocean with waves coming in to the shore

Visit the Pier

There are two fishing piers on Oak Island, Oak Island Pier (also known as Yaupon Beach fishing Pier), and Ocean Crest Fishing Pier.

Ocean Crest Pier is $2 per person to visit. Oak Island Pier is free. I opted for Oak Island Pier and enjoyed the 880-foot-long pier. It’s also the highest pier in North Carolina at 27 feet above water.

The Koko Cabana is at the beginning of the pier and you can stop in for a drink. It’s a fun atmosphere.

Parking is free for 2 hours at the restaurant or just across the street.

A lighthouse with a light gray stripe at the bottom, white stripe in the middle, and dark gray stripe at the top with building that has a red room next to it.

Visit the Lighthouse

The Oak Island Lighthouse is at the far eastern end of the island. There’s the lighthouse and building next to it. Across the street is a boardwalk that leads to a beach favored by surfers. The boardwalk also has great views of the lighthouse.

In front of the lighthouse are 4 parking spots, but about 100 feet up the road is a lot where several more cars can park.

Tours to the top are only offered three days a week and the season sells out by June. You can also do a tour where you don’t go all the way to the top. These do not require a reservation but are only conducted in the morning. The tours are provided by Friends of Oak Island Lighthouse, a nonprofit.  You can get more information and buy tickets on their site.

A strip of beach taken from above with people walking and under sunshades. A row of houses are behind them.

Hit the Beaches

Oak Island is one of my favorite beaches with over 10 miles of beach. You can enjoy The Point which is across from Holden Beach. It sits right where the ocean and Intracoastal Waterway meet making it gentler. If you’re not staying near this area, parking may be difficult. There are limited spots.

Along the oceanfront, you’ll find beach access points about every two to three blocks. Parking is limited, however most rental homes are within easy walking distance to an access.

The beaches are nice and, while they can get crowded, they don’t reach the level of other NC beaches. The crowd also seems more laid back.

Beach patrol will drive by frequently showing the flag for the current warning level for the beach conditions.

You’ll also be spoiled by the many Italian Ice and Ice Cream vendors that wander by.

W wooden boardwalk with a small gazebo with white roof going over a creek. There are houses in the distance past a field of green reeds.

Explore a Scenic Walkway

There’s a pretty scenic walkway located off 20th Street. You’ll find 5 parking spots down a residential street. The walkway is a wooden bridge over a small waterway passing through the middle of the island.

It’s not really a hike. The entire path is only about 200 feet. But, it’s a pretty view and a quiet place to hang out.

Play Golf

Carolina National Golf Club is near the Oak Island Lighthouse. This is a 27-hole Fred Couples signature golf course. The facility is beautiful.

While the club is semi-private, they are open to the public every day, although tee ties need to be booked in advance.

Bike Around the Island

I saw a lot of bicycles on Oak Island. Like, a lot. The main roads have bike lanes, but I wouldn’t say they were better than what you see in most NC towns. While it might be tempting to bike Beach Drive, which is the main road leading to all the beach access points, you’ll be safer hitting Dolphin Dr. which is one block back.

Dolphins Rd is a quieter street with less cars. The great news is you can get a good workout in and it’s straight, and flat.  

Go Fishing

Fishing is a favorite pastime in Oak Island. You’ll need a valid NC Fishing License before you head out.

You’ll find good company fishing from the beach, out at The Point, off the piers, and I’m sure there are nooks and crannies people hide out in.

A group of people gathered on the beach at sunset. In the background, the sky is just starting to turn pink as the tide is going out.

Wrap-Up; Oak Island, NC

I really enjoyed Oak Island. If you want to get away and just sit on a beach all day, this is the perfect spot. Beautiful sunsets and early morning walks on the beach are big bonuses. It’s perfect for families or anyone that doesn’t want to deal with the crowds at other beaches.

Oak Island, NC is the perfect place for a low-key vacation to get away from it all.

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