If we’re talking North Carolina hidden gems, Onslow County is a true multifaceted one. The not-so-touristy beach haven has pristine sandy beaches, water expeditions, and all the southern food you can handle. If that isn’t enough, it has beautiful sunrises to boot and sunsets that will make your jaw drop. Here are 17 reasons why you need to plan a North Topsail Beach and Onslow County couples getaway right now.
Disclosure: I was graciously hosted by the fine folks at Visit Onslow County to give you the scoop on the best things to do for a couple’s getaway. All opinions are my own.
17 Perfect Onslow County NC Couples Getaway Ideas
I could seriously kick myself in the pants for not exploring North Topsail Beach and Onslow County, NC sooner. It’s a haven for happiness with jaw dropping beauty, sunrises and sunsets that brought a tear to my eye, and amazing restaurants. If you need to know logistics, it’s roughly 4 1/2 hours from Charlotte, NC, and 5 hours from Shelby, NC.
Here are 17 things that made my shortlist in the area.
Visit Lejeune Memorial Gardens
As a former military brat, I find American Military history fascinating, and learning about the history of a place I’m visiting is a must do in my eyes. So, my first stop when arriving at Onslow County was the Lejeune Memorial Gardens.
You don’t need special military permission to access the beautiful gardens and tributes, but what you’ll probably need is a few tissues because the local Marines’ histories are both beautiful and tragic.
The gardens are also a beautiful place to simply look at the gorgeous surroundings and learn how Onslow County truly supports its military heros.
Walk North Topsail Beach
During my couple’s getaway with Mr. Locke, we only had three short days to experience what we could, and in that short amount of time, I managed to fall in love with North Topsail Beach. The sand is clean and soft, and the beach itself is not overcrowded.
I also love the fact that there are federally protected sand dunes between the actual beach and the beach houses on the island.
My advice, if you’re not staying directly on the beach, is to grab a big sun umbrella, a couple of low sitting beach chairs, big floppy hat, and plenty of sunscreen as time on the beach flies by.
Take a Marsh Cruise
One of the coolest things that we did by far was to take a shelling excursion with Marsh Cruises. Our flat bottom boat was able to get into low water areas and allowed us to explore places that most boats cannot.
We spent about an hour on the desolate side of Bear Island looking for shells and never realized how much fun I’d having looking for the giant shells, and I mean giant, walking in tide pools, and just generally being in a desolate area. Our cruise lasted a couple of hours, but I truly could have spent more time on the boat because we had so much fun.
Relax at Hammocks Beach State Park
If you’re looking for a shady respite with plenty of shady areas to have a picnic or a snack, Hammocks Beach State Park is it. The shining star of the park is Bare Island, for sure. Four miles long and underdeveloped, it can be accessed via ferry, kayak, canoe, or boat.
You can spend a few hours or an entire day on Bear Island, and if you’re into primitive camping, overnight sites can be rented.
Tip: When walking around Bear Island, keep an eye out for both sea turtle and shore bird nests. Please remember to keep your distance from both so you don’t scare the animals.
Watch a Sea Turtle Release
We got very lucky one morning during our visit in the fact that there was a sea turtle release. There’s a sea turtle sanctuary (The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center) in the beach area that releases the turtles back into the ocean when they’ve recovered enough to thrive. So, keep an eye on the the news when you’re in the county – you’ll definitely want to see nature at its most precious.
Explore Downtown Swansboro
If I had to picture an adorable maritime town, Swansboro is it. About an hour from North Topsail Beach, we loved pursuing the mom and pop stores, checking out the candy store, and people watching.
The town is super quaint and we didn’t have any trouble finding parking, but my suggestion is to go when the shops open up in the morning for convenience. Also, there are some adorable one off restaurants for all three meals, more on that below.
Kayak a Marsh with Paddle NC
Paddle NC is a super cool way to get out into an Onslow County salt marsh, especially if you are new to the sport. Both guided and self-guided tours are offered, and essentially all you have to do is show up.
Tip: Don’t forget to take your iPhone with a waterproof case, or a camera on your tour- there’s a good chance you’ll see everything from bottlenose dolphins to blue heron, plus plenty of fish and water creatures.
Learn at Onslow County Environmental Education Center
This is a fun spot for a quick pitstop to learn about the region and animals that live within it. There’s a fun hands-on museum inside of the visitor’s center that’s worth a peek. Don’t forget to head outside and check out the amazing local wildlife along the boardwalk while you’re there!
Watch How Oysters Are Harvested at Ghost Fleet Oyster Co.
We see oysters constantly in grocery stores and restaurants, but have you ever actually taken the time to stop and think about how they’re grown? Ghost Fleet Oyster Co. provides tours that offer insight into how oysters are raised, measured, and, when grown, harvested.
During a boat tour, you’ll be taken out to an actual oyster farm and given a live demonstration on how the oyster bags are turned, sizes calculated, and prepared for harvest. The experience is truly one of a kind and the tour cost is worth every penny.
Sip on Moonshine at Walton’s Distillery
If you’re a spirts collector like my husband, put Walton’s Distillery on your short list. They pride themselves on making super smooth Moonshine (and I mean dangerously smooth). It offers blended flavor varieties, and taste testing in its store.
Visit Mike’s Farm
Mike’s farm is one of those places where you cannot only see adorable farm animals, but it’s a gorgeous place that the locals love to visit for special occasions.
For me personally, tell me there’s going to be baby farm animals and it’s a no-brainer for me to visit, but in case you need swayed even more Mike’s has a family style restaurant, U-pick fruit when in season, hayrides, and a variety of state made products.
Where to Eat in North Topsail Beach and Onslow County NC
You’ll never go hungry in Onslow County, NC! There are so many restaurants to choose from, but these are the ones that made our shortlist:
Surf City Line
Located on North Topsail Beach, Surf City Line made us fans of its menu on the first visit (we ate there twice it was so good). The restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating, live entertainment on many nights, and a gorgeous outdoor patio for when the weather is beautiful. Prices are super affordable, and the menu is creative.
What to eat: The restaurant offers big portions, so keep that in mind when ordering. Mr. Locke and I split the massive chicken nachos, and it was enough for both of us with plenty left over.
Yana’s Ye Olde Drug Store Restaurant
Located in Swansboro on Front St., to find the restaurant all you have to do is look for the giant Elvis statue outside. If I had to choose one restaurant for breakfast in the town, it’s this one, and if I had to choose only one thing off the menu, it’s the fritters.
Made to order, the fruit fritters come in apple, banana, strawberry, and peach, and are melt in your mouth delicious. And if you’re not into yummy tasty delicious pastries, there are traditional offerings on the menu, as well, like burgers, ham and eggs, and the like.
Boro Restaurant & Bar
Another great Swansboro restaurant, Boro is just around the corner from Yana’s. The menu is pretty heavy on seafood and fish (of course it would be because it is in a maritime town), but the restaurant offers burgers, chicken sandwiches, and flatbreads.
For me, the classic fried chicken BLT was a perfect lunch. Mr. Locke, on the other hand, wanted something a little lighter and opted for the citrus seared tuna. He found it cooked perfectly and was ideal for a light lunch.
You know you’re in for a good meal when you go to a restaurant midweek and the place is packed, that’s Riverview Café in a nutshell. Each scratch made meal is made to order, there’s both indoor and outdoor dining, and the wait staff is friendly and accommodating.
Add in the fact that their homemade pies are some of the best I’ve ever tasted (yes, I test drove two slices) and it’s well worth the wait for a table. Riverview Café doesn’t take reservations, so my advice is to get there early and sign in as quickly as possible.
What we ate: Shrimp and fries dinner- small shrimp lightly battered and fried with a side of fries and coleslaw, Mr. Locke really enjoyed them. I had the fried chicken sandwich, are you seeing a pattern here? It was thoroughly cooked and crunchy, and the fries were really good. As for the homemade pie slices, my first pick is coconut, if it’s not available go for the chocolate.
Splash by the Sea
Splash by the Sea can be either casual or dressy depending on how you’re feeling. If you enjoy seafood, you’ll have no problem finding something off its sizable menu.
And if you’re not (don’t worry I won’t judge you, I’m not a fan either) there are tasty options like chicken tacos and build your own pizzas. As for the side items, out for the mac and cheese, it’s some of the best I’ve ever eaten.
Tip: If you can score a table by the windows, do it – the pool view is beautiful.
House of Breakfast
The restaurant name says it all! Serving breakfast, lunch, and brunch everyday from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., the menu is filled with traditional breakfast plates plus some creative spins. There’s a whole section dedicated to different styles of eggs benedicts. But if you’re looking for something to satisfy your sweet tooth, peruse the waffle section. The coconut banana french toast waffle was surprisingly hearty and decadently delicious.
Make sure to save some room, because next door is a massive, old fashioned candy shop filled with old school classics and made to order boba drinks. And trust me when I tell you that the boba is delish!
Where To Stay in North Topsail Beach
There are tons of large house rentals for larger families or multi-family vacations. but if it’s just the two of you, here’s where I recommend:
Turtle Shell Bungalows
For an Onslow County couple’s getaway, staying at the Turtle Shell Bungalows is ideal. Literally only a few steps away from the beach, our king bed bungalow was just the right size for the two of us. It had a large flat screen TV, full bath, patio seating area, and an indoor dining table for two.
We had a sizable kitchen with a mini fridge, microwave, and sink, and plenty of dishes and glasses to use at our convenience. We also had our own dedicated air conditioning system which made it nice and easy to cool off the space.
There’s no way I can talk about our bungalow without mentioning all the complimentary recreational equipment provided with our stay. We had unlimited use to bikes and boogie boards to use whenever we liked- both super convenient and budget friendly as we didn’t have to rent or buy our own.