By Carla Olivo, USMC Spouse

Coastal North Carolina has abundant sea and wildlife, and some great beaches! But there is only so much that the Marine Corps Community Services can do for you. So here are some suggestions for when you have exhausted the MCCS Camp Lejeune list of things to do near Jacksonville.

#1 Lejeune Memorial Gardens

Home to the Beirut Memorial, the Onslow Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Montford Point Marine Memorial, and 9/11 Memorial Beam from the World Trade Center, Lejeune Memorial Gardens is a ‘must-see’ local attraction. Located at Montford Landing Road and Lejeune Boulevard, the site includes space for future memorials including the Corpsmen Memorial. Several trails wind through the beautiful gardens.

#2 WILMINGTON RAILROAD MUSEUM

The Wilmington Railroad Museum seeks to preserve the area’s railroading history for future generations. Enjoy model and life-sized engines and take a ride on a miniature Thomas the Tank Engine. The Museum also hosts toddler story time during the week. Birthday parties can be booked in their red caboose.

#3 FORT MACON STATE PARK

Less than 2 hours from Camp Lejeune, Fort Macon State Park will appeal to history buffs and outdoor lovers alike. Completed in 1834 to fortify coastal vulnerabilities identified during the War of 1812, it was actively manned during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War II. Additionally, swimming, fishing, picnicking, and hiking are all permitted on site.

#4 Check out the Wild Horses

Cape Lookout National Seashore is a collection of the southern barrier islands that make up the Outer Banks. Shackleford Banks has been home to the area’s wild horses for centuries. The horses are fabled to have survived a European shipwreck offshore, but historians are still not certain how they got to the island. The Seashore also boasts Cape Lookout Lighthouse built in 1859. All guests over 44” tall are welcome to climb the 207 steps (12 stories) to the top. Both Cape Lookout and Shackleford Banks are only accessible via passenger ferry or private boat.

#5 TOPSAIL ISLAND

Topsail is only 35 minutes from Jacksonville, but it feels like a world away! Make a day of the 26-mile long Topsail Island which is home to three separate towns: North Topsail Beach, Surf City, and Topsail Beach. The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital in Surf City is open for tours on Thursday and Saturday afternoons. Additionally, surfboard and kayak rentals are available at 50 South Surf Shop for those looking to get a workout in while they play.

#6 MISSILES AND MORE MUSEUM

If your kids are into pirates, this museum may be one of their favorites. Check out Operation Bumblebee, the Navy’s secret missile program that operated on Topsail Island in the 1940s. Today, this popular museum on Channel Blvd is dedicated to local heritage and military history.

#7 NORTH CAROLINA AQUARIUM

The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is not to be missed! In addition to aquatic life, it also houses animatronic dinosaurs and a new butterfly house. Annual membership is reciprocal with all NC Aquarium locations and the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro.

#8 ENJOY MORE SEA LIFE

The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is a popular and manageable destination for parents with smaller children. In addition to the sea life indoors, there is a large play area and nature trails outdoors. They also book birthday parties!

#9 Visit Freedom Fountain

This unique water feature has 54 jets: 50 for each state, three for the three branches of government, and one large one symbolizing freedom. This is an excellent place for photos. In the evening, the fountain becomes a patriotic landmark as the falling water Is lit up red, white and blue.

#10 Lynnwood Park Zoo

A unique animal park spread over 10 acres of land, the zoo features more than 80 animal exhibits, with a broad range of species – mammals, reptiles, birds, and others. Some of the most popular mammals are zebra, grey fox, wallaby, and pygmy goat.

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Carla Olivo has garnered numerous TV industry awards including the Associated Press award for Spot News Reporting, and Documentary Reporting. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, a retired USMC Lt. Colonel and their two children. Carla Olivo

Director Strategic Communications