What to do and see during a vacation to Bald Head Island

A retreat frequented by famed pirate Blackbeard and home to wild boar, loggerhead turtles and hundreds of species of birds, Bald Head Island is a 5.8-square-mile oasis.

Bald Head Island
Photo courtesy of Bald Head Island Limited

At some point in life, we all want to get away to a secluded island and shuck off life’s responsibilities. Bald Head Island is most likely the closest we Northern Virginians will get.

On this barrier island where residents live as one with nature, only a ferry gets you to the island—instead of cars, golf carts are used for transportation around the 5.8-square-mile (3.9 of it being land) island made up of beaches and dunes, maritime forest, freshwater lagoons and salt marshes.

Home to just 158 residents (according to the 2010 census), the island is also home to wild boar and 260 species of birds, is a nesting ground for loggerhead turtles and in the past was a home to Native Americans (used as a seasonal retreat), pirates (Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, and Stede Bonnet, known as the gentleman pirate) and bootleggers.
Today the island takes it up a notch with modern cottages, marinas, golf clubs and small shopping districts that hold restaurants, markets and shops.

Bald Head Island
Smith Island Museum / Photo courtesy of Bald Head Island Limited

What to Do

Smith Island Museum
At the same spot as Old Baldy sits the Smith Island Museum, designed to replicate an 1850s lighthouse keeper’s cottage. Learn about the island’s maritime past and browse the small gift shop for books on pirates, history and island knickknacks.

Bald Head Island
Old Baldy Lighthouse / Photo courtesy of Bald Head Island Limited

Old Baldy Lighthouse
Officially called Bald Head Lighthouse, this is the oldest still-standing lighthouse in North Carolina. Climb to the top of this structure, which was built in 1817, and look out over the marshes, ocean and island. It used to guide ships past the shoals at the mouth of Cape Fear River.

Bald Head Island
The Bald Head Island Club Course / Photo courtesy of Bald Head Island Limited

The Bald Head Island Club Course
Rated the second best course renovation in the country by Links magazine, The Bald Head Island Club Course winds through all that makes Bald Head Island beautiful: dunes, lagoons, the ocean and maritime forests. Originally designed by George Cobb, the course was renovated by Tim Cate and has a slope rating of 143 and a course rating of 73.7.

The Sail Shop Tours
Rent a kayak and go on a tour around the island, either guided or unguided. Take in the wildlife along Bald Head Creek or Fishing Creek. Guided tours will take you off the beaten path and help identify all the natural surroundings during a 1 ½- to two-hour tour.

Bald Head Island
Photo courtesy of Bald Head Island Limited

Kent Mitchell Nature Trail
The best way to take in this barrier island and all of its natural inhabitants is to walk the many trails on the island. The Kent Mitchell trail is suitable for all ages and abilities and takes you through the forests and over waterways via a boardwalk. The walk is 15 minutes and introduces you to the animals and plants that are native to the island.

Culture, Shopping & Dining

Riverside Adventure Company
Take part in the Passport to Paradise program and don’t miss a thing Bald Head Island has to offer. Participate in ghost walks revisiting 400 years of history, treasure hunts for kids and sunset celebrations with a DJ, face-painting, hula-hoop contests and more right on the beach. You can also rent bikes, kayaks and surfboards for your own adventures.

Island Retreat Spa and Salon
The spot for pampering while on Bald Head Island, this spa and salon offers treatments in a forested canopy of the island. After you’re finished with your pedicure, facial or massage, sip mimosas on the porch.

Bald Head Island Conservancy
An educational jaunt is a great way to explore a space, and Bald Head Island Conservancy has many opportunities to do so. Learn about the barrier island’s ecology, and get up close with Touch Tank Time, Reptile Round-Up and hands-on dissection. Day trips are available for family members of all ages. There are even bald eagle, birding, painted bunting and island nature tours. They also have an on-site gift shop that carries any and all things turtle.

All About Art
Curating oil paintings, watercolors, photography and sculptures, All About Art represents local, regional and national artists and jewelry-makers. They also have a studio that offers classes and workshops if you are so inspired.

Bald Head Blues
Get your wardrobe up to par for island relaxing at Bald Head Blues. They carry casual hoodies, T-shirts, polos, shorts and anything else anyone in the family may need.

Coastal Urge Bike Shop, Board Room and Retail Shop
Carrying popular brands for your athletic adventures (Patagonia, Mountain Hardwear, The North Face, Toms) and casual lifestyle brands (Lilly Pulitzer, Southern Tide and Vineyard Vines), Coastal Urge also sells the transportation to start your adventure through its sister stores, Costal Urge Bike Shop and Coastal Urge Board Shop.

Island Passage
The brands that have cornered the market on seaside comfort are all located at Island Passage. Roxy, Reef, Quicksilver, Hurley, Billabong, Volcom and O’Neill stock the shelves along with Free People, Velvet, Tart, Blank NYC Jeans and Show Me Your Mumu. No need to pack—just buy a whole new wardrobe.

Room Service
Getting new home decor for your space on the island is not a problem thanks to Room Service. With finds for any room of the house, Room Service blends modern designs with a nod to coastal living. They’ve even got products to outfit your boat.

Silver Peddler
Looking for little trinkets to remind yourself of your stay or to keep the memories close? Silver Peddler offers keepsakes, jewelry, handbags and home items. The mother-and-daughter duo put their good taste to work to curate all they sell.

Delphina Cantina
Though you are in North Carolina, Delphina Cantina brings you to Latin America with dishes like carnitas al horno (braised pork in adobo sauce), quesadillas, Baja chicken and grilled corn on the cob.

Maritime Market Café
Inside the Maritime Market, this cafe serves up breakfast and lunch that focuses on homestyle cooking (pancakes, biscuits, eggs and bacon) and dishes inspired by the sea (seafood omelet, grilled shrimp). But the offerings don’t stop there. For those with a sweet tooth, there are fresh pastries and an ice cream window to order up cones and sundaes.

Mojo’s on the Harbor
When on an island, eat seafood. Mojo’s on the Harbor not only gives the atmosphere for such dining—it is the only waterfront restaurant on the island—it also serves up dishes fresh from the sea like seafood sandwiches and platters, island-inspired cocktails and, for land-lovers, a host of carnivorous entrees.

Sandpiper Coffee and Ice Cream
Grab a cup of coffee, an ice cream made from a creamery in nearby Wilmington, North Carolina, or some local Coastal Cupcakes at this small shop near the harbor. It opens early (7:30 a.m.) so you can enjoy a coffee or espresso drink as you watch the sun move over the river that is just out front of the shop.

Will O’ the Wisp
Unwind at this wine bar that offers snacking options along with a list of wine and beer. It is a perfect place to relax or be entertained with the different events hosted at the spot such as trivia, family bingo and Friday night concerts.

Annual Events

Badwater Cape Fear Ultra Marathon

Easter Howl at the Moon
Easter Weekend Celebration
Side Porch Oyster Roast

Memorial Day Weekend Celebration

Fourth of July Celebration

National Lighthouse Day Celebration

Labor Day Cookout

Roast & Toast on the Coast: Southern Living Style
Bluefish Bonanza

(June 2017)