By Laura Schofield, USMC Spouse
Driving into Jacksonville, North Carolina, for the first time can be, frankly, underwhelming. It’s a small, fairly average American city, sprinkled with local businesses, chain stores, and the usual establishments that crop up around a military base.
But, if you are willing to drive a bit, Camp Lejeune offers access to rich history and fun for every member of your family. Many military families create a “Bucket List” of things to do and see each time they PCS to a new location. Here are our suggestions for those stationed at Camp Lejeune.
Jacksonville NC Bucket List
If you don’t have the time for a day trip, the base itself offers some great recreation.
Finding Treasure at Onslow Beach
The beach on Camp Lejeune, Onslow Beach, is one of the most beautiful beaches in the area. It is always clean and never very crowded. During low tide, the most amazing warm tide pools are created that are the perfect place for children to play safely. In the crushed shells that wash up on shore, it is possible to find blackened shark’s teeth, sea glass, mother of pearl, and other pretty treasures. With a little careful digging, my family and I often find at a few shark’s teeth to bring home.
For a long afternoon, or a lazy weekend, there are many hidden treasures just an hour’s drive away.
Visiting Military History in Wilmington
Wilmington, NC lies about an hour south of Camp Lejeune and Jacksonville NC via an easy, albeit boring, drive along NC-17.
The USS North Carolina was the most decorated battleship of World War II. It is currently on the Cape Fear River as a memorial and museum. It is an awe-inspiring site along the riverside and a humbling place to read the stories of these who served aboard. Above and below decks are available for the public to explore. I recommend going on a cool day.
Closer to the business district of Wilmington is a hidden gem: the Cape Fear Museum. It’s not too large but packed full of local history. From the earliest settlers to the role played in Civil War blockade running, to the local area’s service during the World Wars, and more, North Carolina has a full history that is shared here. This little museum is chock-full of hands-on exhibits for children. It includes a working jukebox and a child-size beaver dam, while containing many historical artifacts that are intriguing for adults.
There are many local legends about how they got there, but a short boat ride across the inlet in Beaufort will take you to the sand bars that are home to herds of Wild Ponies at Shackleford Banks. While you cannot feed them or pet them, they will get very close to you all on their own. It is a magnificent sight to see them grazing on the wild grasses of the sand shores.
A trip to New Bern offers a fun glimpse of both early American history and more modern history.
Tryon Palace is a pre-Revolutionary War Governor’s Palace with beautiful historic grounds and buildings. There are many events throughout the year, including an All Hallow’s Eve event for children, and, most recently, it has become more popular from the series “Outlander.”
Also located in New Bern is the original shop where Pepsi-Cola was first sold. It is possible to still purchase cola there for a fun, more modern experience.
Ready to Explore Beaufort!
If you travel an hour north along the coastline, the charming town of Beaufort, NC, offers a grand day of exploration and is my personal favorite place to visit.
The North Carolina Maritime Museum is a small, donation-based museum that houses some unique treasures. Because the waters offshore of Beaufort became the resting place of the infamous pirate, Blackbeard’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, there are many artifacts from the shipwreck. A picture-based scavenger hunt is perfect for occupying children, so you have time to really take in all of the pirate history here.
For the Kiddos in Jacksonville NC
North Carolina’s state capital Raleigh is just two hours away from Camp Lejeune. It offers many unique experiences that definitely make up for the drive.
Marbles Children’s Museum is, hands-down, the best interactive children’s museum I have ever been to. And with admission only at $4 for active duty military families, it’s well worth it. There are indoor and outdoor exhibits that cover almost every interest a child could have. Special sections for small kiddos and more elaborate areas for older kids make it a fun place for the whole family. Attached is also an IMAX theater if you want to make a whole day of it.
A Museum for all Ages
The North Carolina Museum of Life and Science is located only a couple of blocks from Marbles in the city center. It is a free state museum that shares a lot of local science history as well as national information. Unlike Marbles, this museum is a great place to come even if you don’t have any kids.
Pulled Park is located in the Raleigh-Durham area and is one of the most beloved parks in the state. In addition to swing sets and playgrounds, there is a carousel, train, and boat rides during the summer along with other concessions.
Jacksonville NC Bucket List
This Jacksonville NC bucket list may look very different than some other ones you’ve seen. Not many of the hidden and exciting places to visit are immediately surrounding the base. But don’t be too disappointed. The calm home life that Camp Lejeune offers is a great place to have as your home base, and the surrounding area is full of local culture and history. You just might have to drive a bit.
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Laura Schofield is a native of the Pacific Northwest currently living in the South. She has been married to a Marine her entire adult life and is now a mother to two boys and a little girl, living this adventure of a lifetime!