Set in Onslow County, Jacksonville, may not be your average North Carolina vacation town but it is big on personality. It’s known for being home to the largest Marine Corps base in the Southeast. While this plays to the spirit and rich history of the region, there is so much more than meets the eye in the city, with plenty of things to do in Jacksonville.
This North Carolina city was founded in 1731, and today it’s one of the fastest growing areas in the country. It’s a warm and welcoming haven with hospitality to spare. Often referred to as the commercial center of the county offering an array of exciting sites and amenities.
Discover beautiful North Carolina beaches, winding rivers, lush parks, quaint cafes, and architectural attractions. Explore the local charm of coastal Carolina with all of these terrific things to do in Jacksonville.
The Best Things To Do in Jacksonville
Hammocks Beach State Park
When arriving at Hammocks Beach State Park, first stop into the visitors’ center for a wealth of educational information about the local ecology of the North Carolina barrier islands.
It’s easy and accessible to rent a kayak here, so get out on the cool, calm waters to explore the iconic Intracoastal Waterway. Comb the coastline for the perfect seashell and ancient shark teeth as you bask in the dramatic views of the ocean tide and seemingly endless shoreline. This seaside terrain is some of the most stunning in the state.
For an added adventure, hop on the ferry from here that takes you straight over to the sandy shores of Bear Island. It’s three miles of undeveloped, pristine wilderness. You will find ancient sand dunes alongside the Atlantic Ocean, as well as trails to traverse marshes and maritime forests.
Keep your eyes out for native wildlife such as nesting shorebirds and endangered sea turtles. There is rustic camping available if you wish to stay overnight on the remote island.
- Address: 1572 State Rd 1511, Swansboro, NC 28584 ( GPS )
- Hours: Monday -Sunday : 8:00 am – 6:00 pm
Dine at the fantastic Restaurants
Kettle Diner is an institution in the up-and-coming culinary scene of Jacksonville. It’s the best way to start your day with any of the Carolina breakfast classics that can all certainly be found on this extensive menu.
Every dish is delicious at this local watering hole, especially the Country Gentleman and Farmers’ Favorite which are down home delights to dine on. Jeff’s Burgers Dogs and Shakes is a must have meal.
The burgers are beloved, and for good reason. Make your own or order one of the unique offerings, such as the Fried Bologna Sandwich or Saloon Burger. Duck’s Grille & Bar is the first stop for all fine dining fares. Feast on fresh seafood in a lively and vibrant atmosphere.
Marrakesh is a more exotic eatery, serving up mouth-watering Mediterranean plates. Everything is fresh and made in-house, the shawarma and moussaka are just a couple of the savory standouts. Liliana’s Columbian Restaurant offers authentic homestyle cuisine chock full of traditional flavor.
Everything is baked fresh daily, try the Bunelos for a heavenly bite. For good old-fashioned barbecue, no one else does it quite like Mission. You can ask for a sampler to mix and match your meats with several sauces, or you could go with the brisket sandwich that made Mission a favorite of Jacksonville.
- Address: Marrakesh- 409 Western Blvd, Jacksonville, NC 28546 ( GPS )
- Hours: Monday – Saturday : 10:30 am -9:00 am, Sunday: 10:30 am- 4:30 am
Lejeune Memorial Gardens
This park hosts a plethora of memorials to honor veterans from wars all over the world. The representations of all who served are powerful and poignant, making it one of the most popular and patriotic things to do in Jacksonville.
The Onslow Vietnam Veterans Memorial is the second largest of its kind in the country. It lists the names of all fallen Vietnam War Veterans and a medallion for each branch of the military. It features a beautifully designed bridge, dome, and fountain.
The Beirut Memorial honors the marines, soldiers, and sailors who were killed by a truck bomb in Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983. 220 names are engraved in order to pay homage to each individual. The Montford Point Marine Memorial remembers African American soldiers who trained, served, and were horrifically segregated.
To this day no record of their roster can be found. The 9/11 Memorial Beam serves in memory for all those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center attack. It was delivered as a gift of appreciation to the Marines, the first of many eventually awarded from the NYC Police and Firefighters for rapid response.
- Address: 109 Montford Landing Rd, Jacksonville, NC 28540 ( GPS )
- Hours: 24 Hours
African American Heritage Trail
The African American Heritage Trail consists of historical markers throughout Onslow County to help highlight the African American heritage of the region. It serves to celebrate the contributions of local black leaders in the community. This history was often hidden in previous times, and the unsung heroes of Onslow deserve to be on show today and for the rest of time.
With over a dozen stops in total, some specific sites along the trail in Jacksonville are the Linda Richardson Memorial, Georgetown High School, Sandy Run, Belgrade, Verona Loop National Cemetery, St. Julia Church, Montford Point Marine Museum, African American USO, Kellumtown, Lillian Parker Willingham, and the Voting Rights Task Force.
Together, these memorials work to preserve the art and culture of those who fought and struggled for their own freedom, peace, and opportunity.
Not exactly one of the best things to do in Jacksonville, but rather something for those that don’t mind a day trip! Take a short drive to New Bern to explore the Tryon Palace. This was the first state capitol in North Carolina. It’s an impressive Georgian mansion built by the then governor, William Tryon in 1770. Inside, you will find the North Carolina History Center, a popular museum to learn about the local culture and heritage.
There are rotating exhibitions alongside displays of many rare artifacts dating back to the very formation of the city itself. Take a tour of the imposing facade and the three other historic homes on-site.
Informative guides are always available, and in period costume, to help you explore this historical era in an immersive way. Enjoy interactive demonstrations, such as blacksmithing, cooking, and spinning.
The mansion is set on 16 acres of lush landscape. Perfectly manicured gardens abound, walk the expansive grounds to step back into a bygone piece of the past. There’s a diverse range of native plants carefully arranged in the traditional colonial style of the time.
- Address: 529 S Front St, New Bern, NC 28562 ( GPS )
- Hours: Monday -Saturday : 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
- Cost of Admission: Adults: $20, Youth: Ages 6-14; $10
Check Out Walton’s Distillery
Walton’s Distillery is a family-owned operation that has been around for many years. The time-honored tradition of making moonshine is an integral part of Carolina culture. Everything is handmade in small batches using the finest and freshest local ingredients.
Honoring the bootleggers that came before, it’s set on the site where many others once made their own illegal hooch. The owner names every spirit after a family member, keeping his own special ancestry alive.
Take a free tour and tasting to try both the classic and creative flavors being created here. Get a behind-the-scenes peek at their process which entails distilling each spirit multiple times to ensure the purest and cleanest taste possible. They make corn whiskey and moonshine, aged to perfection.
The Pine Shine Colada and the Salted Caramel Whisky have become some of the crowd favorites. In our expert opinion, it’s best to sample as many as possible!
- Address: 261 Ben Williams Rd, Jacksonville, NC 28540 ( GPS )
- Tours and Tastings Hours : Monday – Saturday 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
- Cost of Admission: Free tours and wine tasting
Mike’s Farm is a locally owned legend in the Tarheel State, and an experience unlike any other. An agritourism triumph, it’s a tried-and-true testament to the heritage of this Onslow haven. What began as a tobacco farm in the 1890s has grown into an all-encompassing enclave featuring animals, baked goods, Carolina made creations, and delicious home cooked dishes.
They have many special seasonal events, such as the Ho Ho Christmas Show, the Festival of Lights Hayride, or the Fall Variety Dinner Show.
As you explore the impressive grounds, be sure to feed the goats. The restaurant cooks up the Southern eats that dreams are made of, a meal here is not to be missed. Order the fried chicken with all the fixings. The front porch is full of rocking chairs to sit and relax, taking in the vast view of the farmland.
The Bakery and Country Store offers gifts galore with something for everyone, plus fresh pastries and fudge too good to pass up. In the NC Barn, you’ll find products from each and every one of the 100 counties in North Carolina, offering a range of goods from wines to jams to coffees.
- Address: 1600 Haw Branch Rd, Beulaville, NC 28518 ( GPS )
- Hours: Giftshops and Bakery : Monday-Saturday: 10:00 am – 9:00 pm, Sunday: 2:00 pm – 9:00 pm
This historical house is one for the architecture aficionados. The Pelletier House was built in 1850 and is a classic example of Greek revival style. The owner and constructor Rufus Ferrand Pelletier was a merchant using the space as both his home and office. It is the oldest and only remaining antebellum abode in Jacksonville.
The house went on to have quite a life as Rufus became the postmaster general for the town, using the dwelling as the actual post office. Later, he performed weddings in the parlor as he stepped into the role of magistrate. It’s open for guided tours upon request, and its idyllic location along the banks of the New River make for a stunning way to spend the day in Jacksonville.
- Address: 100 Old Bridge St, Jacksonville, NC 28540 ( GPS )
The Old Train Depot
Located along the scenic Riverwalk Crossing Park, this depot was once a bustling hub used to bring Marines into the base by the bunch. Today, the bright orange train car stays stationary next to the quaint brick facade that once served as a transportation center for the town.
It’s set in the historic district of Jacksonville and is often home to many of the seasonal festivals that are held in Onslow, such as Oktoberfest or National Night Out.
Sitting at the corner of Court St and New Bridge St, you’ll also discover red bricked paths surrounded by flower filled shrubbery and park benches shaded under majestic trees. It’s a spectacular setting for a stroll or bike ride by the water while gazing out at the sweeping views. It’s a perfect spot for that Insta-worthy photo op and a nice way to soak in the sights of the city.
Paddle on the New River
The flowing New River meanders through Jacksonville and is a fundamental fixture of the town. As such, Jacksonville is home to some of the best paddling in the state. You can take out a single or a tandem kayak or canoe from any of the access points in the city, such as Jacksonville Landing or Riverwalk Marina.
Feel free to search out the scenery on your own or take a guided eco-tour to learn more about the local wilderness. The current is slow so it’s a relaxing adventure for any skill level. Paddle NC will have all the equipment you need.
If you prefer to relax and enjoy the ride, there are plenty of cruises available down the sparkling waterway as well. Trade that kayak for a charter yacht with Just Got Reel Inshore Charters and set out in style.
There is a package for any preference, from a sunset cruise complete with wine and cheese to a champagne brunch. While the well known Bayonet Cruises typically takes guests out for the most beautiful boat adventures around, they are taking the 2022 season off. Lady Swan Tours and Marsh Cruises out of Swansboro will still happily take guests out on the water!
The Freedom Fountain monument is a massive memorial honoring all who have served or are currently serving in any branch of the country’s military. There are 50 jets spraying water majestically into the sky to represent each state. The three-flagged fountain jets signify the local, state, and federal governments.
Stop by in the evenings to get a real show, as the cascading waters are lit up in red, white, and blue. It’s become the main symbol of the city and is an impressive cultural landmark. It was built in response to the first Gulf War. Be sure to read the black marble kiosks surrounding the patriotic fountain which tell the story of the structure in its entirety.
- Address: 895 New Bridge St, Jacksonville, NC 28540 ( GPS )
Slow Down at the Cafes
Jacksonville is known for its above average javas, and it’s certainly a town that runs on caffeine. Brewed Downtown is a certified green establishment. We love a cup of joe with a side of eco-friendly ethos. The atmosphere is homey and cozy, always encouraging you to stay awhile longer, and they offer a full breakfast and lunch menu.
Jitterz Coffee is an iconic food truck slinging the best beans around. Keep your eyes out for it to grab a pick me up as you venture around town.
The Milk Road is beloved among locals and visitors alike. They pour single origin coffees roasted in small batches on-site to ensure ultimate freshness. They serve up liege waffles as their renowned specialty. Local art adorns the walls, and it actually got its start serving up hot cups of coffee to the barracks of Camp Lejeune.
They strive to create a space for community connection for all who come through Jacksonville.