Whether it’s a hot summer day or when cooler Autumn breezes kick in, it’s always fun to plan a beach day on Onslow County! With over 30 miles of family-friendly and uncrowded coastline to enjoy, Onslow County’s sandy beaches are the perfect playground for everything from sunbathing to fishing to water sports. Thanks to Onslow’s milder temperatures, you can enjoy flip-flops and a beach chair almost year-round. On the cooler days, just grab a jacket and head for the sand. We have four Beach Access points.
To get the perfect beach day started, pack your cooler and your favorite snacks and head out for a day of fun on one of Onslow County’s three main beaches: North Topsail Beach, Bear Island at Hammocks Beach State Park, and, if you have base access, Onslow Beach aboard Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base. As you head out, take time for a quick shopping stop in one of the beach stores before hitting the sand. Stock up on sunscreen and pick out a hat, t-shirt, and sunglasses. If you have children with you, it’s almost a must to begin your day with a walk inside the jaws of the huge shark at the entrance to Shark Attack in Sneads Ferry. There you’ll find swimsuits, sand chairs, and water shoes. If you’re headed to Bear Island, browse the local boutiques along the waterfront in historic downtown Swansboro for outdoor gear and eclectic gifts.
If you like the idea of leaving the mainland behind, cross over the wide-span bridge and the Intracoastal Waterway, where you can quickly settle into vacation mode. On North Topsail Beach, you’ll find plenty of free parking at four public beach accesses as well as lots of wide-open beaches for sunbathing and fishing. On all of Onslow County’s uncrowded family beaches, you can unwind into a leisurely day focused on the sound of the waves or chatting with your friends. For longer stays, consider a beach cottage or multi-level oceanfront rental. For a resort experience with pools and onsite restaurants, consider a stay at the St. Regis or Villa Capriani oceanfront resorts.
For an even more isolated and a feels-like-you’re-the-only-one-here experience, head over to Bear Island, which is accessible only by the Hammocks Beach State Park ferry or by private boat. As one of Travel + Leisure’s Top Ten NC beaches, you’ll find over three miles of unspoiled island beachfront, with all the salty air, wave action, and large seashells that you want. What you won’t find are cars, condominiums, and crowds. It’s truly a “back to nature” vibe. Start at the visitor center at Hammocks Beach State Park to sign up for the 25-minute ferry ride. The visitor center also has information about camping on the island’s primitive tent sites if you’re interested in an overnight stay underneath a one-of-a-kind view of the nighttime sky.
You don’t have to bring your own water toys to enjoy a day at the beach. All along Onslow’s coastline, there are vendors with water equipment like kayaks and paddleboards available for rent. Contact Paddle NC to schedule a guided kayak tour of your nearest waterway at North Topsail Beach or Hammocks Beach State Park for sessions that can last for two hours or longer. At Hammocks Beach State Park, walk a short trail down to the dock, where you’ll find kayaks and canoes that can be rented for $8 an hour. Pick up a paddling guide and take a short lesson to familiarize yourself with the trail marker system before getting started. You can also pay a fee to use a rod and reel at one of the fishing piers, where you can try your luck at catching a Spot or Croaker. On Onslow Beach aboard Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base, you can rent kayaks, canoes and pontoon boats to enjoy the Intracoastal Waterway. The beach is open to authorized DoD ID cardholders with base access. An RV campground and oceanfront rental units are also available.
For more beach recreation, Marsh Cruises offers sunset, shelling and night excursions along Bogue and Bear Inlets. Charter a day or evening sunset cruise aboard his 23-foot Bay Rider Skiff, and owner Darryl Cruise will take you to the best spots for finding sand dollar seashells. Like Marsh Cruises, Lady Swan Boat Tours also offers daily cruises from Swansboro’s historic waterfront to Hammocks Beach State Park and Jones Island.
Rainy days are fun at the beach, too, for it gives you the excuse you need to bring you off the water long enough to check out the fun things you’ve been wanting to explore. Stop by the Onslow County Environmental Education Center in Sneads Ferry for some hands-on learning and to see the natural habitat exhibits, including a 12-foot-alligator. Check out the Topsail Missiles & More Museum, where the island’s history is showcased – from run-ins with pirates to a secret guided missile testing operation conducted by the U.S. Navy just as World War II ended.
If hunger drives you off the water for a while, stop at one of the casual restaurants for a fried shrimp burger. If you want the freshest seafood, head over to the fishing village of Sneads Ferry, where you can enjoy a water view and a plate of scallops or grilled Mahi, fresh off the boat. Or, if you feel like cooking your own dinner, stop at one of Sneads Ferry’s fish markets to pick up the fixings for an evening crab boil or fish fry. After a day of boating and picking up seashells on Bear Island, wash off the sand and have dinner at one of the waterfront restaurants in Swansboro’s historic district.
As you wrap up your day, enjoy a walk on the beach as the sun begins to sink into the horizon. You may see an occasional fisherman casting a rod and reel, hoping for one last nibble from a hungry fish. If you’re looking for a busier evening, join the crowd for dinner and live entertainment on the outdoor patio of a beach restaurant. But, if you’re enjoying the quiet vibe, relax and settle onto the sand. Listen to the sound of waves crashing onto the shore while the sun disappears, just as the lights from a row of oceanfront cottages begin appearing, casting shadows on the ocean. It’s been a day well spent.