The Coast of the Carolinas: An Abundance of Year-Round Vacation ActivitiesMarch 22, 2017 • By Caitlin Adams
If you only visit the coast of the Carolinas during the summer, you are missing out! Avoid the crowds enjoy the ample amount of the off-season activities you can do. Guest blogger and THIRDHOME member Larry Grossman highlights his trip to Bald Head Island, shares his photos of the area and provides activity guides for nearby coastal towns in this post.
Bald Head Island, North Carolina
Larry Grossman says about his THIRDHOME trip:
No cars – no problem. No bugs – I’ll take it. No crowds – I love it! It’s March on Bald Head Island and the living is easy. The coast of the Carolinas are immensely popular during the summer months, but largely deserted from October through May leaving secluded beaches, an abundance of tee times and great dining options open to us lucky visitors who have learned to take advantage of the off-season amenities. A week of touring the most northern of the lovely subtropical Carolina islands by golf cart and bicycle (no cars are allowed on the island) can relax even the most stressed out soul. We left our bathing suits and shorts at home and replaced them with jeans and sweatshirts while we traversed every island road, detouring constantly to explore a new beach, wildlife area, or unique shop by the marina.
The evenings were laid back as our crew relaxed at our THIRDHOME haven, Port Off Call by catching up on missed movies and playing board games provided by the owners at their beautiful 5-bedroom home. While our ocean vantage point was spectacular from our upstairs deck, at sunset we wandered down the hill to walk the beach and we were never disappointed. There are miles of beaches to walk, and we encountered far more birds than people. As the sun was setting and we passed our few fellow beach walkers, we smiled and did “the nod”, nonverbally saying “we’re lucky to have this gorgeous place to ourselves.”
The variety of activities available on the island year-round include tennis, golf, croquet, kayaking, climbing to the top of the iconic Old Baldy Lighthouse for a spectacular view of the island, hiking on one of the numerous nature trails or taking the Bald Head Historic Tour.
Historic Island factoids:
- Bald Head Island first appeared on maps in the 1500s.
- Bald Head was the home of a British fort and a hospital during the Revolutionary War.
- In the early 1900s, visitors came to the island to hunt wild pigs.
While the wild pigs have disappeared in the face of development, the dining options are abundant. My personal favorite restaurant was “Mojo’s on the Harbor” featuring the best grouper sandwich and key lime pie north of the Florida Keys. Mojo’s owner collects decorated dollar bills from diners that are then stapled to the bar and eventually donated to the Duke University Cancer Research Center. Several dining options are open year-round on Bald Head from pizza at the casual Pelicatessen to a 4-course dinner at The Grille Terrace located at the Bald Head Island Club. As a THIRDHOME guest, we received passes to the Bald Head Island Club allowing us to enjoy all the dining and recreational amenities during the week. Who knew croquet could be this challenging?
The locals made us aware that off-season included a number of special events including the annual “Badwater Cape Fear Ultra Marathon”, the fall “Roast and Toast on the Coast” celebration featuring live music, craft beer and an abundance of southern food and the “Bluefish Bonanza” fishing tournament. I know summer at Bald Head is probably a blast, but I guarantee an “off-season” vacation week will result in visitors returning home renewed and rejuvenated. Visit the official Bald Head Island website at baldheadisland.com to help with vacation planning.
What other areas does Larry suggest? Read below for destination and activity ideas. Start planning your trip to the coast of the Carolinas!
North Carolina’s Outer Banks
Of all off-season destinations available on the coast of the Carolinas, none offers more diverse options than the “shoulder seasons” (any month except June, July and August) on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. This is the ideal time to visit the 130-mile narrow stretch of barrier islands without the traffic, the heat and the lines. Listed below are can’t miss activity opportunities that are available year-round:
- Safari cruiser off-road adventures take you to the northern point of the Outer Banks to see the wild Spanish Mustang horses of Corolla.
- Climb Jockey’s Ridge sand dune, the tallest sand dune on the East Coast, for a great view of the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Albemarle Sound to the west.
- The Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills is the site of the first successful airplane flight in 1903. Learn their story and why they chose this site.
- Visit the village of Manteo, NC to explore the Elizabeth II replica ship and the beautiful Elizabethan Gardens.
- Take the ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island and explore the Ocracoke Lighthouse and some of the Outer Banks best beaches.
- Dine in one of the many locally owned seafood restaurants featuring local fish dishes. My favorite is the Cayman Conch Fritters dish at Tortugas Lie Restaurant which is located at milepost 11.
Music lovers will enjoy a wide variety of genres and festivals in the off season from the Outer Banks Bluegrass Festival to the Duck Jazz Festival and the annual Shallowbag Bay Shag Beach Music Festival. For the more athletic visitors, off-season features the Ocracoke 5k/10k/1 Mile Family Run in April, The Outer Banks Triathlon in September and The Outer Banks Southern Fried Half Marathon in November. Finally, beer and wine connoisseurs can participate in their favorite leisure pastime with the Duck & Wine Festival in April, the Outer Banks Brewtag in October or a visit to the Outer Banks Brewing Station for a wide variety of craft beers and a party on DJ Ninja 90’s Night. Go to outerbanks.org to plan your off-season getaway.
Hilton Head, South Carolina
Everyone knows Hilton Head is a golfing and tennis playing mecca with fabulous beaches, but there is much more to do and experience in the “Low Country” during the off season. For the active traveler, there are over 60 miles of bicycle paths winding around the island resulting in Hilton Head being rated a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community by the American League of Bicyclists. Kayakers and hikers can enjoy Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge with 14 miles of trails to walk, bike or kayak. Nature lovers have an abundance of options from bird watching at the Audubon-Newhall Preserve to offshore Bottlenose Dolphin tours available through the Coastal Discovery Museum.
For those looking to relax and renew, Hilton Head features an abundance of day spas and wellness related destinations. Hot stone massages, body wraps, facials, and medical spa services are all available to those seeking to be pampered and soothed. Le Spa of Sea Pines features Spring Time specials including “Girls Night Out” events for a special escape. After a day of exercise or being spoiled in the spa, over 250 restaurants await visitors to feast on a sumptuous Lowcountry dinner. Gumbo, peel and eat shrimp, and shrimp and grits await lucky diners who take advantage of no lines at the most popular Hilton Head restaurants like the Crazy Crab located at the Harbor Town Marina.
Finally, the off-season months provide the perfect time to visit nearby Savannah, Georgia to take a walking tour of the historic downtown section or attend the fabulous Savannah Music Festival in the spring. Visit hiltonheadisland.org and savannah.com to plan a truly memorable off-season trip.
Isle of Palms, South Carolina
For travelers looking for a blend of off season beachy relaxation with proximity to night life and historic sites, Isle of Palms may be the answer to your quest. Located only 20 minutes from the bustle of downtown Charleston, Isle of Palms is a world apart with 7 miles of pristine beaches and two world-class golf courses. A relaxing week at Isle of Palms could consist of beachcombing, golf, sport fishing and an eco tour of the salt marshes and islands provided by Barrier Island Eco Tours. The Eco Tour in spring, fall and winter travels up the Intracoastal waterway to Capers Island Preserve for a bonfire and oyster bake and an opportunity to see a variety of wildlife including bald eagles and bottlenose dolphins.
Of course, being so close to Charleston it’s difficult to imagine spending an entire week in the area without taking in the historic, architectural and cultural sites of Charleston. A bonus of any Charleston excursion is the true southern hospitality visitors enjoy, especially when things slow down in the off season. Charleston received recognition from both Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler as “America’s Most Friendly City” (2011, 2013 and 2014) and in 2016 was voted “World’s Best City” by Travel + Leisure. It is the oldest city in South Carolina, and for newcomers, the Historic Walking Tour or the Old South Carriage Historic Tour is a must to appreciate the role the City played in the history of America from the Revolutionary War to the present.
Finally, Charleston features a unique variety of great restaurants, music and cultural festivals and events throughout the year that can make any vacation memorable. Check out the Palmetto Brewery Loading Dock Music Series, The Low Country Blues Happy Hour with Shrimp City Slim, the Jazz Thursdays with Gino Castillo, The Hat Ladies Annual Easter Promenade, the weekly Shaggin’ on the Cooper and The Annual Chef’s Potluck. Probably the most unique event is the annual Rundead 5K Run and Fall Festival, a “zombie race course” (don’t forget your camera for this one). Plan ahead and visit charlestoncvb.com for a listing of upcoming events.