This North Carolina beach town might be the state’s best-kept secret

Oak Island, North Carolina is home to one of the longest piers on the East Coast and offers golfing and fishing.

<p>Rick Lanier/Getty Images</p>
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We all know North Carolina’s Outer Banks (or at least we tuned into the fictional Netflix drama about that destination). And those familiar with this southern part of the US might also be familiar with Wilmington, another beach hotspot. A stone’s throw and 40 minutes away, however, is a 12-mile strip of sand known as Oak Island. Separated from the mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway, it offers a unique getaway for keen fishermen and those seeking hidden gems off the beaten tourist spots.

Oak Island is located on the southeast corner of the state of Tar Heel, with a south-facing shoreline that offers sunrise and sunset views every day. There are more than 65 free public access points to the Atlantic. Unlike other North Carolina beaches, Oak Island—or OKI, as the locals affectionately call it—doesn’t offer chain restaurants or hotels. Instead, think of it as a hyper-local, no-frills beach and fishing village where you can escape and dig your toes in the sand.

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

The best things to do in Oak Island, North Carolina

<p>Jill Lang/Getty Images</p>
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Newcomers to OKI shouldn’t miss the Oak Island Lighthouse. While you can visit this 50-meter-tall concrete structure at any time, you’ll need a reservation to climb the stairs and enjoy the impressive 360-degree sea views. Days of operation and availability change seasonally and booking at least six weeks in advance is recommended. Believe it or not, in 1958 the beacon produced the second brightest light in the world and the brightest light in the United States

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

No trip to OKI is complete without trying your fishing luck. The main attraction for professionals and hobbyists is the 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 extends more than 2,000 feet into the ocean and allows anglers of all kinds to try different techniques such as bait casting, trolling or surf fishing. The pier is open at different times from March to December. During high season (April to September) it is open seven days a week from 6am to midnight.

<p>Rick Lanier/Getty Images</p>
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You don’t need to reserve in advance, but whether you’re fishing or not, there’s a $2 entrance fee to stroll along. If you do decide to cast a line on a whim, don’t worry — there are three bait-and-tackle shops offering all the supplies and rental gear you’ll need — and ice-cold beer, too. For a more upscale experience, book a reservation at Island Way, the restaurant on the pier. Visitors can expect fine dining here with a seafood-heavy menu and gorgeous views.

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

There are many public access points along the OKI coast and the beaches are open all 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; different rates the rest of the year). Because it’s a small town, you won’t find any seaside resorts or areas where you can rent chairs or umbrellas. It’s more of a bring-your-own-supplies spot, so make sure you pack accordingly. Dogs are allowed all year round but must be kept on a leash from March 16th to October 15th.

Don’t miss the top recommended restaurants and eateries in OKI – all locally owned and operated. If you’re fed up with seafood, treat yourself to a pie at Pepperoni Grill at the Beach. Start your day with breakfast sandwiches and a strong cup of coffee at Ruby’s Coffeehouse & Eatery. For a varied menu selection that includes steaks, burgers, tacos, flatbreads and seafood, visit Shagger Jacks or Tranquil Harbor Restaurant and Bar.

Where to stay in Oak Island, North Carolina

If you want to stay in Oak Island, you’ll need to book early, as accommodation is sparse on this tiny stretch of shore. 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 rooms, all within walking distance to the beach. Most accommodations here also offer sea views. While there’s no on-site restaurant, guests do have a private pool area with an outdoor shower, lounge chairs, and grills. When booking your stay, remember that the pool is open Memorial Day weekend through October 1st. (The website says it might open and close earlier depending on the weather of the year.)

Another resource is, a booking website for apartments, condos, and homes for rent in Oak Island. You can sort by bedrooms, bathrooms, pet-friendly rooms, and more to find your ideal place to stay. There are also deals on off-season monthly rentals and larger homes or event spaces for weddings or celebrations.

<p>Brunswick Islands in NC</p>
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Best time to go to Oak Island, North Carolina

Depending on your travel style, Oak Island is a worthwhile excursion year-round. For the best North Carolina weather, however, visit in early or late summer when temperatures are more manageable. However, if you don’t mind the stifling, 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 Oak Island lodging options. Keep in mind that this area of ​​North Carolina is prone to hurricanes, so consider booking in late September and early October.

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