The coastal communities of North Carolina provide an ideal getaway for travelers, especially since there are some towns that aren’t overrun with tourists. Onslow County is one such area, made up of Jacksonville and nearby Camp Lejeune, Topsail Island, and Swansboro. European settlers first arrived here in the 1700s. During World War II, an Army camp was established that is still a large part of the community today. The barrier islands of the county have been preserved as a part of the state park system, allowing them to welcome visitors for years to come.
Editor’s Note: This area sustained damage during Hurricane Florence in 2018, but the majority of the businesses are back open or soon to open. Call ahead to confirm before you go.
What to Do
Onslow County Museum– Learn about the history of the county from early settlement to the present. Notable exhibits include a rare dugout canoe, one on the famous venus flytraps found here, and another on the early days of the military in Onslow. 301 South Wilmington Street, Richlands
Lejeune Memorial Gardens– Located on the Marines base, this park has a number of memorials that honor the sacrifice of the members of the armed forces. There’s the Beirut Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, 9/11 Beam, and the Montford Point Marines Memorial, a group of African American soldiers in the segregated South. Montford Landing Road, Jacksonville
Walton’s Distillery– Set on a creek where illegal stills once sat, this craft distillery offers free tours and tastings at their facility. Walton’s makes corn whiskeys and flavored moonshine, including apple pie, peach, and salted caramel. 261 Ben Williams Road, Jacksonville
Hammocks Beach State Park– This state park is made up of a number of barrier islands including Bear Island, a three-mile-long nature preserve with unique ecology. They can be explored by kayak or foot. Note that Bear Island will reopen in July 2019, but private boats can access the island now. Campsites and buildings are being restored. 1572 Hammock Beach Road, Swansboro
Swansboro Paddleboarding and Kayaking– Located right on the river, this shop offers rentals and tours of the area with paddleboards and kayaks. They also sell gear, can take you to search for shells, and are owned by a retired Marine. The shop will reopen in April 2019. 108 W Corbett Avenue, Swansboro
Bayonet Cruises– Another Marine-owned business, a cruise on this yacht is the perfect way to spend the evening. Your hosts serve dinner and drinks, which can be enjoyed as the sun sets. You might even spot dolphins and other wildlife. They open for the season in March. 223 Leonard Street, Jacksonville
Where to Eat
The Milk Road– Finding a cute coffee shop in a small town can be tough, but Milk Road is not only that but is also veteran-owned. They’re known for their Liege-style Belgian waffles and specialty coffee roasted in-house daily. 4240 Gum Branch Road, Jacksonville, (910) 968-0650
Kettle Diner– This classic diner serves daily specials, hearty breakfasts, and decadent desserts as they have since opening in the 1960s. It’s a favorite of the military community. It has reopened after sustaining hurricane damage. 300 Marine Boulevard, Jacksonville, (910) 455-7739
Rick’s Restaurant and Sports Bar– This Steelers fan sports bar offers military discounts on their menu of award-winning steaks, fresh seafood, and craft beer. Whatever game you’re looking to catch, you’ll likely find it on the televisions here. 510 Petes Way, Sneads Ferry, (910) 327-2300
Icehouse Waterfront Restaurant– This restaurant is closed for renovations after the hurricane. Set on the Swansboro waterfront, the seafood-heavy menu and live music make this spot a local favorite. Try the seared tuna, shrimp and grits, and North Carolina-brewed beers. 103 Moore Street, Swansboro, (910) 325-0501
BORO Restaurant & Bar– Just next door is their sister restaurant, which also serves lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. It also has favorites like fish tacos and a full bar menu. 109 North Front Street, Swansboro, (910) 325-0502
Saltwater Grill– For more upscale waterfront dining, visit this restaurant for local seafood, steaks, and internationally-inspired dishes. They also offer live music on their downstairs patio and have a full cocktail menu. 99 West Church Street, Swansboro, (910) 326-7300
Riverside Steak & Seafood– Set in a 1915 former home, this eatery has developed a reputation for its top-notch steaks and fresh, local seafood. Among the menu favorites are the homemade lasagna, fried oysters, shrimp-stuffed filet mignon, and sweet potato muffins. 506 West Corbett Avenue, Swansboro, (910) 326-8847
Church Street Irish Pub & Deli– Specialty sandwiches using Boar’s Head meats make this deli and pub a favorite. Enjoy their Reuben, Philly, and French dip with a Guinness with a shot of espresso. 105 West Church Street, Swansboro, (910) 326-7572
Yana’s Ye Olde Drug Store Restaurant– This 50s-themed restaurant is known for its breakfasts, which include pancakes in the shape of dinosaurs that are sure to please the kids. Admire the Elvis photos on the wall and sip coffee poured by Yana herself. 119 Front Street, Swansboro, (910) 326-5501
Swannsborough Yacht Club– Every town needs a seafood dive and this one is Swansboro’s. Grab fried shrimp and a cold beer to enjoy outside as you watch boats pass. At night, it becomes a lively bar with cheap drink specials. 126 E Corbett Avenue, Swansboro, (910) 326-7272
Where to Stay
Courtyard by Marriott Jacksonville– Close to Camp Lejeune, this new mid-range hotel boasts large rooms and amenities like an onsite restaurant. Parking and WiFi are included with your stay. 5046 Henderson Drive, Jacksonville
Hampton Inn & Suites Swansboro– The large rooms are just a part of the appeal, along with free WiFi and daily breakfast. Rooms come with televisions and coffee makers. 215 Old Hammock Road, Swansboro
Church Street Inn– If you want to be in the heart of town but aren’t a light sleeper, check into one of the five rooms at the inn, each featuring unique furnishings. All feature king beds, WiFi, televisions, and a wet bar. 105 West Church Street, Swansboro
Villa Capriani– Rent one of these beachfront condos on Topsail Island, which are each different, depending on the tastes of their owners. All guests have access to the pool. 790 New River Inlet Road, North Topsail Beach
Camping– Hammocks Beach State Park has campsite facilities. Campsites reopen on June 30, 2019.
Airbnb– A number of local businesses also operate rental properties.
VRBO– There are also some great options for larger groups on this site, including Hook Wine and Sinker property.
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This post contains affiliate links. I traveled to Onslow County with Visit Onslow County and Laurie Rowe Communications.