Weekend in Brunswick Islands, N.C., one of three ways: on a budget, spending a bit more, or when the getaway calls for a splurge.
Trip tips: Six island towns on five narrow barrier islands make up the Brunswick Islands in southeastern North Carolina. There are 45 miles of south-facing beaches on Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Holden Beach, Oak Island, Caswell Beach, and Bald Head Island. The area is also known as North Carolina’s Golf Coast with 35 courses. It’s a vacation paradise for quiet retreats, reunions, fishing and secluded beaches.
Getting there: The islands are about a six-hour drive from Atlanta. Nearby airports include Wilmington, N.C. (90 minutes north), and Myrtle Beach, S.C. (90 minutes south). Delta serves both with nonstop flight service: from $290 round trip to Wilmington; from $228 to Myrtle Beach.
Sunset Beach is the southernmost North Carolina barrier island, located 10 minutes from the South Carolina state line. Known for its powdery white sand, the beach was recently named No. 4 on National Geographic’s “21 Best Beaches in the World” list. The inland side of Sunset features several golf courses. The 1,300-acre Bird Island is an undeveloped bird and animal habitat that can be accessed only from Sunset Beach. Trip planning: www.visitsunsetbeachnc.com.
Stay: Sunset Beach Hotel overlooks the marsh out toward the Intracoastal Waterway and is a five-minute walk to the beach. Each of the 14 rooms is unique in theme and decor with king beds, love seat, wet bar, refrigerator and a private screened porch with rockers. Four Grand rooms feature a whirlpool tub, robes and a larger corner porch with rockers and porch swings. From $169 per night with continental breakfast. 9 North Shore Drive E., Sunset Beach. 1-888-575-1001, www.thesunsetinn.net.
Eat: Dig into Southern comfort food at Gravy. Diners will find from-scratch meat and veggies along with fried flounder, shrimp and scallops. Most entrees range from $7-$9, including iced tea. Look for the red barn with hungry patrons waiting in line. 1165 Carlyle Place, Sunset Beach. 910-579-4733, www.gravysoutherneatery.com.
Experience: Discover the celestial events in the Carolina night sky at the 85-seat SciDome Sky Theater at the Ingram Planetarium. A high-def system projects space and astronomy programs with a live star show. Adults $9.50, $7.50 ages 3-12. 7625 High Market St., Sunset Beach. 910-575-0033, http://museumplanetarium.org.
Ocean Isle Beach offers 7 miles of family fun, kayaking on the Intracoastal Waterway, and the Museum of Coastal Carolina. The Ocean Isle Beach Pier features a large game and arcade room, a grill for pizza and cheeseburgers, and a store to buy beach supplies, fishing tackle and bait (and rental equipment), www.oibpier.com. Ocean Isle is also the home for the North Carolina Oyster Festival, Oct. 21-22. Trip planning: www.oceanislebeach.com.
Stay: The Winds Resort Beach Club on Ocean Isle Beach offers a “Wine Down Island Style” package starting at $321 for two-night stays through June 2. Included are oceanfront accommodations, a bottle of Champagne, dinner for two, tour and wine tasting at the Silver Coast Winery, chauffeured door-to-door transportation in a luxury sedan to the winery, Southern breakfast buffet, complimentary bikes to explore the island, and use of three pools (one heated indoor). On site are grills, beach volleyball and bocce and outdoor table tennis. 310 E. First St., Ocean Isle Beach. 1-800-334-3581, www.thewinds.com.
Eat: Locals love the Sugar Shack, a small family restaurant opened in 1996 specializing in Jamaican dishes. Jerk pork, Brown Stew Chicken, ribs, curried goat to fresh fish entrees, $18-$30. Reservations suggested. 1609 Hale Beach Road S.W., Ocean Isle Beach. 910-579-3844, www.sugarshackoib.com.
Experience: Get up close with nature on a 50-minute Swamp Boat tour. Learn about history in the swamp, including a landmark possibly used by George Washington back in 1791; $29.99 per person. Also available are guided two-hour zip-line adventures over more than 1.25 miles of cable; $79 per person. 5550 Watts Road, Ocean Isle Beach. 910-687-6100, www.shallotteriverswamppark.com.
Bald Head Island is home to the eight-sided lighthouse, Old Baldy. The vehicle-free island (get around on golf carts or by foot) can be reached by a 20-minute passenger ferry crossing the Cape Fear River from Southport. The 12,000-acre island has 14 miles of pristine beaches, maritime forest preserves and a wildlife haven for deer, foxes, dolphins and gators. Trip planning: www.baldheadisland.com.
Stay: Bald Head Island Properties offers one free night on three- or four-night stays through May 22 when bookings are made by March 31. Receive two free nights with the purchase of a five-night stay. Blackout dates: April 13-18. Refer to the HAVEN promotion. Accommodations range from two- to six-bedroom homes with varying rates by size and season. From $500 per night for two-bedroom/two-bath homes. www.baldheadisland.com.
Eat: Find cordon bleu to pork belly at Ports of Call, where the Mediterranean blends with Southern flavors. Tapas menu to $14.95; dinner entrees to $29.95. 116 N. Howe St., Southport (4 miles from Bald Head). 910-457-4544, www.portsofcallbistro.com.
Experience: Learn to surf with a group lesson (maximum three participants ages 6-adult) on the beach. Then hit the surf for the remainder of the 90-minute session, $75 per person or $100 for a private lesson. Surfboards provided. #96 Keelson Row/Harborside. 910-457-6844, www.thesailshop.com.
Clara Bosonetto is a retired travel consultant.