North Carolina boasts a rich history of pirates and colonists, abundant sea and wildlife, and relaxing beaches. Day trips from Jacksonville NC and Camp Lejeune abound along the coastline and inland.
Day Trips from Jacksonville NC
Topsail Island—35 minutes
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. Surfboard and kayak rentals are available at 50 South Surf Shop for those looking to get a workout in while they play.
Sugar Island and more
Also, be sure to visit Sugar Island for the island’s best coffee and house-made sweets. Enjoy your goodies upstairs among thousands of used books for sale. The Beach Shop and Grill in Topsail Beach also offers delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Missiles and More
While you are down south, stop by the Missiles and More Museum to learn about pirates that trolled these waters. Check out Operation Bumblebee, the Navy’s secret missile program that operated on the island in the 1940s. Also, Topsail Skating Rink opens every evening for vintage-style family fun that looks to have come right out of the resort on “Dirty Dancing.” The owner, Ms. Doris, is in her 80s and still gets out on the rink in her skates.
New Bern—45 min
New Bern was settled in 1710 by Swiss immigrants. It was the colonial capital of North Carolina. Also be sure to visit Tryon Palace, North Carolina’s first gubernatorial mansion and capitol building. Several ticket options are available to tour the palace, galleries, and gardens. Special events are held throughout the year. The New Bern Firemen’s Museum is a quaint and informative stop for enthusiasts of all ages located in the heart of the historic district. New Bern is the birthplace of Pepsi, originally known as “Brad’s Drink”. The Pepsi Store on Middle Street pays tribute to its history and founder, Caleb Bradham. Bradham’s former pharmacy, also on Middle Street, now houses The Chelsea Bar and Grill. The historic district is always beautifully adorned at Christmas with period decorations.
Wilmington is home to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. In addition to aquatic life, it houses animatronic dinosaurs and a new butterfly house. Annual membership is reciprocal with all NC Aquarium locations and the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro. Airlie Gardens is a beautiful and peaceful destination for flora lovers. Multiple historic gardens, two chapels, a cemetery, and a mystery grave are among the sights to explore here.
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. The Cape Fear Serpentarium is the stuff dreams (or nightmares) are made of. It is home to snakes, snakes, and more snakes and some four-legged reptile friends.
Raleigh is home to Marbles Museum, a favorite destination for kids and parents alike. Learn-through-play exhibits include art, a pint-sized town, STEM, music, and physical activities. Pullen Park is a 66-acre Raleigh green space adjacent to NC State University. Pack a picnic and let the kids run themselves silly among the many playground zones. Park admission is free, and tickets for the carousel, kiddie boats, and train are only $1 per rider. Paddle boats on the lake are available for rent. Older kids and adults will appreciate the Life and Science Museum in Durham, which is home to a two-story science center, 60+ species of endangered and rescued wild animals, and a butterfly conservatory.
Carteret County—1 to 1.5 hours
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. Swimming, fishing, picnicking, and hiking are all permitted on site.
The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is a popular and manageable destination for parents with smaller children. Enjoy the sea life indoors and the large play area and nature trails outdoors. They also book birthday parties! 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.
Myrtle Beach, SC—2.5 hours
Myrtle Beach is full of high-intensity, touristy fun. The Myrtle Beach Boardwalk is home to the Sky Wheel, carnival games, thrill rides and experiences, live entertainment, food, shopping, and night life. Pirate Adventures takes little mateys aboard the 35’ Sea Gypsy for the treasure hunt of a lifetime. Go Ape flies guests on zip lines through the tree tops. Wonderworks transforms learning into an amusement park. The area is home to nearly 100 golf courses. Even if the weather isn’t nice, Myrtle Beach has plenty to offer indoors.
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PCSgrades Author: Sarah Hogan has been married to her Navy corpsman-turned-chaplain husband for twenty years. She recently completed her Bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Administration after a quick, 15-year stay-at-home mom gig between her junior and senior years of college. She is currently working on her clinical hours to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.