The small seaside town of Southport is a hidden gem of coastal North Carolina. It fosters a quaint Southern atmosphere, with no shortage of warm hospitality or sunshine. There are plenty of things to do in Southport and attractions to discover here, even though the popular local option of relaxing on a charming waterfront porch is endlessly tempting.
You’ll find an abundance of museums, galleries, parks, and shops to tailor your trip to any type of adventure you want. Get to know this scenic and secret holiday haven with these best things to do in Southport, NC.
The Best Things to Do in Southport, NC
Fort Johnston Museum
Fort Johnston was the first ever fort commissioned to be built in North Carolina in 1754. In-depth permanent and rotating exhibits explore the interesting past of this space through authentic artifacts, original documents, photographs, and handicrafts. It’s an ideal attraction for history buffs and admission is free.
The preserved storefront of Fulwood’s Grocery Store is also a cool interactive element. It’s a great way to learn a little bit more about the unique heritage of Southport.
- Address: 203 E Bay St, Southport (GPS)
- Hours: Visitor center office: Monday – Saturday: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Eat at Provision Company
The most popular and famous place to eat in Southport is Provision Company. They offer delicious seafood in a laid-back “beach bum” environment that may be one of the best things you taste in all of the Wilmington area.
Provision Company was established in 1993 and offers views of the Southport Yacht Basin, the Intracoastal Waterway and the mouth of the Cape Fear River. You won’t regret having a beer here as the sun goes down.
Go for a Paddle
There’s a myriad of methods for getting active out on the water in Southport. Paddling is a popular pick, with an abundance of inland creek and river networks to explore. Several kayaking companies can be found around town for hourly, daily, or weekly equipment rental and there are plenty of launch points to find within the scenic landscape.
Guided expeditions are available as well. Regardless of where you venture to in this wilderness, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for spotting native species.
Discover the Galleries
Art enthusiasts rejoice! There is a thriving creative scene happening in Southport. Set in a barn-style space on the edge of downtown, Artshak Studio is a cool and colorful gallery with a diverse collection of works. There are pieces of photography, sculpture, painting, and more from local and regional artists both eclectic and modern.
- Address: 211 N Howe St, Southport (GPS)
- Hours: Tuesday – Saturday: 10: 00 am – 5:00 pm, Closed: Sunday & Monday
Fort Fisher State Recreation Area
Fort Fisher State Recreation Area is a secluded six-mile stretch of shoreline and an awesome Wilmington Beach. To arrive take the Southport Ferry to the end of Pleasure Island. The ferries run regularly and cost $7 a vehicle (prices and schedules found here). Fort Fisher itself is an undeveloped slice of wilderness ideal for some outdoor wandering in coastal habitats including salt marshes and pristine beaches.
It’s a great place to enjoy some shelling, surfing, and swimming. There’s a nature trail, observation deck, and visitors center.
- Address: 1000 Loggerhead Rd, Kure Beach (GPS)
- Hours: Monday -Sunday: 8:00 am -7:00 pm
Oak Island Nature Center
Oak Island Nature Center is a tiny preserve nestled among towering pines, ancient oaks, and stunning salt marshes. The Talking Trees Walking Trail is a definite draw here. It winds through lush forest leading to breathtaking panoramas looking out over the sparkling Intracoastal Waterway of the island.
There are a lot of educational exhibits here as well, some featuring live animals and others offering a more in-depth look at the ecology of the surrounding terrain. Plus, there are a few picnic areas and a fishing pier. It’s such a picturesque place and a delightful way to enjoy the natural wonders of Southport.
- Address: 5202 E Yacht Dr, Oak Island (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Thursday: 5:30 am – 7:00 pm, Friday: 5:30 am – 6:00 pm, Saturday: 9:00 am – 2:00 pm, Sunday: Closed
Price Creek Lighthouse
Price Creek Lighthouse is the only remaining structure still standing of a system of lights that once guided many ships from the mouth of the Cape Fear River to Wilmington. Today its facade is crumbling and it’s not entirely accessible, only viewable from afar. It was built out of brick and stands 20 feet tall.
Its glory days were from the pre-Civil War era to when it would fall into disrepair in the mid-1800s. It’s best viewed from aboard the ferry, offering some scenic photo ops as well as an interesting peek into the nautical history of this coast.
- Address: Ferry Rd SE, Southport (GPS)
Old Brunswick County Jail Museum
More of a historical museum than anything else, the Old Brunswick Jail is one of the cooler things to do in Southport. There’s no admission fee to visit, but it is open seasonally, so check the schedule before you head over.
The structure was built in 1907 and was the primary prison for over 70 years here. Volunteers are on-site to give a tour and tell tales of all that happened in its hallowed halls. Original jail cells and carvings made into the walls by prisoners are still visible today. It’s an interesting but bleak look into the law enforcement practices of the 20th century.
- Address: 318 E Nash St, Southport (GPS)
Shop at the Farmers’ Market
The summer markets are such a popular activity to partake in Southport. Dozens of vendors congregate each week to offer all the freshest local produce, flowers, and herbs grown on farms in the area, as well as handcrafted wares and home-baked treats. It’s located in Franklin Square Park on the main drag of Howe Street downtown.
It’s one of the best ways to support local and independent purveyors, as well as learn a bit about eating seasonally and sustainably.
Southport Pier and Riverwalk
Wandering along the Southport Pier and Riverwalk is one of the best ways to soak up the enchanting scenery here. Begin at the Waterfront Park downtown, which offers all kinds of entertainment including an ideal Instagram photo moment with a set of adorable swings just at the water’s edge.
From there the walk extends into the heart of the Cape Fear River, providing spectacular views stretching miles in every direction. There are many opportunities along this route for birdwatching and fishing as well. Enjoy ample seating if you get tired of strolling to simply bask in the breathtaking panoramas, especially during sunset.
- Address: 178 E Bay St, Southport (GPS)
Southport happens to be a dream destination for any and all antiquers. A mosey down Moore Street will quickly reveal this to be true. Timeless Treasures is an aptly named popular haunt for scoring a truly enviable vintage haul. You’ll find rows and stacks of furnishings and collectibles to scour, including books, glassware, jewelry, tools, gadgets, artwork, and more.
The cozy and eclectic atmosphere makes it extra enticing as well. The Hoarders is actually set nearby on Oak Island and boasts new and recycled home goods galore. Hidden gems are plentiful here, and it’s hard to walk away without just one special piece coming home with you.
- Address: 122 E Moore St, Southport (GPS)
- Hours: Monday -Saturday 10: 00 am- 4:00 pm, Closed: Sunday
The renowned Silvercoast Winery has a Tasting and Taproom right in the heart of downtown Southport, and is a fantastic NC winery to try. They have an impressive selection of their award-winning wines on-site to try, as well as local craft beers on draft and by bottle, in case you’re more of a hop head than a tannin buff. The varietals are aged in oak barrels dry to semi-dry in more traditional European styles.
The space is comfortable and intimate and even has a small gift shop and art gallery connected. There’s a cute outdoor patio as well where they will often host live music.
- Address: 105 S Howe St, Southport (GPS)
- Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm, Monday: Closed
Hire a Fishing Charter
Treat yourself to a lovely little excursion out on the Southport waters by hiring a boat charter. Reelin Pelican Fishing Charters is just one of many trusted outfits in town. They have three different vessels to offer for both inshore and offshore angler adventures.
Everything needed is included and you can even bring your own bites and beverages aboard. For a boat tour agency that offers more themed cruise packages, try Southport by Seaside.
- Address: 4909 Fish Factory Rd SE Southport (GPS)
North Carolina Aquarium Fort Fisher
The iconic North Carolina Aquarium has a location right nearby Southport at Fort Fisher. It’s such a fun way to explore the underwater world of the North Carolina coast and one of the best things to do near Southport.
You can touch the top of a swimming stingray, feel overwhelmed by the cuteness of baby sea turtles and otters, spot an albino crocodile, and marvel at sharks and eels navigating their habitat. It’s educational, exciting, immersive, and most importantly, an engaging way to support the area’s conservation efforts.
- Address: 900 Loggerhead Rd, Kure Beach (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
The Swamp Park Eco Adventure Zipline Park
In the neighboring borough of Ocean Isle Beach lies the ultimate adventure park. This place has got it all for any daring souls seeking a thrill. There are guided zip line tours that send you soaring high above the swamp of ancient cypress trees for a birds-eye view of the spectacular landscape. There’s an ATV experience for hours of going full speed through pristine forest on mud-filled paths.
The Aerial Adventure Park is just as exciting as it sounds. It has over 50 challenge obstacles including rope courses and wobble bridges. The Swamp Boat tour takes you down the Shallotte River to learn about the intricate ecosystem. Before heading out be sure to see the famous Alligator family at their on-site reptile sanctuary as well.
- Address: 5550 Watts Rd SW, Ocean Isle Beach (GPS)
- Hours: Friday – Sunday: 9:00 am – 5: 00 pm, Closed: Monday – Thursday
Museum of Coastal Carolina
The Museum of Coastal Carolina is the only natural history museum in North Carolina set on a barrier island is close by right in Ocean Isle. It was created to inspire curiosity about the coastal environment here and is such a fun way to get to know the natural world around you through a wide range of interactive exhibits like the wave and tide machines, the augmented reality sandbox, draw alive, and the touch tank.
It’s an amazing science-based space full of fun for the young and the young at heart and it’s easy to spend hours here playing and learning at the same time.
- Address: 21 E 2nd St, Ocean Isle Beach (GPS)
- Hours: Thursday-Saturday: 10:00 am-3:00 pm, Closed: Monday-Wednesday
Ingram Planetarium is always hosting new and exciting events to enjoy. Their programs offer visually stunning shows about the complexity of the cosmos that can captivate anyone. Accidental Astronauts, The Sky Tonight, The Sun Our Living Star, and Seven Wonders will all blow you away.
There’s a science hall here as well that has many hands-on exhibits like a coding station, interactive nanotechnology, and news from NASA in real time! Get to know the magic of the solar system just a little bit better, or opt for a fun laser light and music show instead, either way, it’s worth a visit while in Southport.
- Address: 7625 High Market St, Sunset Beach (GPS)
- Hours: Thursday- Saturday: 10:30 am – 4:00 pm, Closed: Sunday- Wednesday
Go on a Movie Tour
One of the coolest little-known facts about Southport is that it’s actually served as the set for a lot of films and TV shows! Tour companies around town offer guided walking excursions through the streets here to point out the specific sights you may recognize from famous cinematic scenes.
Over 40 productions have been created in this charming town including A Walk to Remember, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Safe Haven, The Secret Life of Bees, and more.
Visit the Oak Island Lighthouse
The most iconic fixture of Oak Island just off the shore from Southport is the Oak Island Lighthouse. It was actually the last lighthouse to be built in North Carolina in 1958. The towering structure is marked with various shades of striated grays and is located right on the mouth of the Cape Fear River.
Tours of the top are offered seasonally on certain days, and the sweeping panoramas from here are some of the most picturesque around. A charming wooden boardwalk takes you right up to the impressive facade and the inside is open year-round for anyone to explore.
- Address: 300a Caswell Beach Rd, Oak Island (GPS)
- Hours: Wednesday, Saturday:10:00 am -2:00 pm, Thursday: 24 hours, Closed: Monday, Tuesday, Friday & Sunday
Caswell Beach is easily one of the most idyllic ways to spend a day while in Southport. It feels like a hidden gem of the Carolina shore, with soft sands, calm warm waters, and plenty of space for soaking up some sunshine.
It’s super clean as the local community makes sure to keep it litter free. Pack a picnic, bring a book, or go for a refreshing dip in the salty sea, regardless it’s a relaxing way to spend a day basking in the beauty of the coast.
Beachin Day Spa
What’s a vacation without a little pampering, and one of the best things to do in Southport is get pampered. We highly recommend indulging in some rejuvenating treatments at the Beachin Day Spa to recover from the stress of everyday life and leave feeling refreshed and relaxed.
There are a variety of state-of-the-art options to enjoy, including cupping therapy, raindrop therapy, hot stone massage, deep tissue massage, bamboo massage, customized facials, signature peel, and LED light therapy all from talented professionals.
You can get a package to mix and match a few different indulgences and there’s even a hair salon on-site if you want to round it all off with a new do.
- Address: 5200 E Oak Island Dr, Oak Island (GPS)
- Hours: Tuesday – Saturday: 9:00 am -5:00 pm, Closed: Sunday & Monday
Awesome Things to Do in Southport, NC Map
Where to Eat in Southport?
- Provision Company: Easy seafood dishes in a laid-back environment. Eating here is must for lunch or dinner.
- Fishy Fishy Cafe: Casual dockside seafood stop accessible by boat, with live music on weekends.
- Oliver’s on the Cape Fear: Elegant Southport restaurant serving delicious New American cuisine.
Where to Stay in Southport?
After you are done doing all these fun things to do in Southport, it’s time to rest your head. There aren’t many places to stay in Southport, so you may opt for a nearby Wilmington hotel.
EXPLORE THE AREA
We hope this guide to the best things to do in Southport helps you decide what to do! For more travel in the area, see below:
- 21 Beautiful South Carolina Islands to Visit
- 12 Best Coffee Shops in Wilmington, NC
- 11 Best Carolina Beach Restaurants to Try
- 10 Best Oak Island Restaurants (NC)
- 16 Best Things To Do In Pawleys Island, SC
Plan For Your Trip to the South!
- We like to use VRBO when searching for vacation apartment rentals and Booking.com when searching for hotels.
- See our favorite cooler for the road!
- Get Around: We suggest renting a car for traveling the Carolinas. Check Prices on RentalCars.com
- Our Favorite Travel Shoes: Our answer to this question is always Allbirds.
- Check out our favorite North Carolina Souvenir!
- Fly For Free: Turn your spending into airline miles and points with travel credit cards (that’s what we do!). See our favorite travel credit cards.