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Day Trips: From the Grand Strand to Coastal North Carolina

Day Trips and Travel

Day Trips: From the Grand Strand to Coastal North Carolina

The Grand Strand has so many great attractions and places to visit that it is hard to imagine one of its visitors wanting to go elsewhere while here on vacation.  But, if you are here for an extended stay, if it is rainy weather or you are a local, we do have a few suggestions for road trips from Myrtle Beach that you might enjoy.  Below are two places with historical significance and exciting things to do within 2 hours of Myrtle Beach.

First is Southport, North Carolina:

Southport is a charming coastal town approximately 50 miles north of North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  Founded in the mid-1700s with the establishment of Fort Johnston and officially named Southport in 1792, there is centuries of history to be uncovered in this small town.  You can learn about the local legends and stories through tours—walking, bus/vehicle or boat.  Discover the local history, Hollywood movie sets, and beautiful waterfronts for which Southport is renowned.

You could also stop by some of the historic sites yourself, starting with the Fort Johnston Museum & Visitors Center which would give you insight into the fort’s 250+ year history.  While there, pick up the visitor information, and your next stop could be the Old Brunswick County Jail, built in 1904, and operating for 70 years as a jail before it turned into a fascinating museum.  If you want to find out more about the local culture, head on over to the North Carolina Maritime Museum featuring artifacts from the original Native American residents, as well as the Civil War and the American Revolution.

As a coastal town, there is an endless array of adventures on the local rivers, creeks and lakes with lots of watersports available, or you can take a tour and explore the eco systems of the Blackwater Cypress Swamp and the Cape Fear River with ample views of the local birds, amphibians and alligators.  You can also get a great view of the Cape Fear River from downtown Southport at one of the most picturesque parks in the region—Waterfront Park.  You can relax on one of the many swings or benches along the water front or head to the Southport Pier and Riverwalk, onsite, for a little fishing or birdwatching.

Southport is also a great place for shopping and antiquing.  Downtown Southport is a mecca for antique fans starting with Northup Antiques Mall with the vendors all in a single location with a range of art and furnishings, porcelain and glassware, military memorabilia, toys and games, books, marine supplies, etc.  Old Elegance Antiques and NC Plantation Antiques are two other local favorites located downtown.  After antiquing, you can enjoy one of the more than 30 unique restaurants located in the downtown area alone.

If you are a movie buff, you might want to soak up some of the Hollywood scene since “Southport is renowned as a backdrop for a number of famed movies and television shows, and visitors who explore the downtown area may find a few of the local landmarks and landscapes remarkably familiar. Several walking and vehicular tours can take visitors to the sites that made Southport famous, while sharing stories of the Hollywood legends that walked the area streets. Visitors who want to make their own expedition into the Hollywood Movie Sets can swing by the Old Brunswick Jail, where Sissy Spacek filmed scenes for the 1986 movie “Crimes of the Heart,” stop by the waterfront café where Julianne Hough worked in 2013’s “Safe Haven,” or swing by the old Southport High School baseball field and Howe Street where 2001’s “Summer Catch” was filmed. With a long list of productions that can call Southport home – including, but not limited to, “I Know What You Did Last Summer,”  “Domestic Disturbance,” “Nights in Rodanthe,” “A Walk to Remember,” (as well as TV shows like “Dawson’s Creek,” “Revenge,” and “Matlock”), Southport truly has a setting so picturesque that it’s made for the movies.”

If you are an art enthusiast, you can take a stroll along Howe Street in Southport for its fantastic array of Local Art Galleries.  “Representing both local artists and artists from all across the southeast, these galleries have a distinctive coastal flair while showcasing a wide range of mediums, including oil or watercolor paintings, sculpture, pottery, photography, and even jewelry and home goods.”

Make the most out of your Southport getaway by exploring the inland creeks, enjoying some of the best antique shopping, dining at fabulous restaurants, delving into the history or seeing the Hollywood sites.  Southport is brimming with activities that can cater to visitors or all ages, tastes, and vacationing styles.

Second is Wilmington, North Carolina:

Wilmington is a vibrant riverfront and port city in coastal southeastern North Carolina approximately 60 miles north of North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  It is well known for its three family-friendly island beaches, “Hollywood East” television and movie sights, Wilmington Historic District, Battleship North Carolina, surfing and watersports and Airlie Gardens to name a few.

A good place for you to start might be with the Battleship North Carolina, moored in quiet dignity and majesty across the river from downtown Wilmington, located at 1 Battleship Road.  Step back in time on the ship’s nine stories and imagine the crew’s daily life and fierce combat in the Pacific Theatre during World War II.  History will come alive through the stories of the crew’s oral histories, photographs and mementos as you discover the Ship and see the exhibits.

The Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens located at 224 Market Street offers you a unique opportunity to see an example of Georgian architecture and experience what life was like during pre-revolutionary Wilmington.  Built in 1770 and furnished completely with 18th and 19th century antiques showcasing hundreds of objects, it was constructed on the foundation of a former city jail built in 1744.  The house retains the outdoor and sub-basement jail cells as well as a freestanding kitchen house with a massive hearth and period cooking utensils.

“Of the five colonial sites left in historic Wilmington, only the Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens is open to the public. Occupying an acre, the property is a dual-site; a 1744 colonial jail consisting of three ballast and brick buildings and an urban townhouse, circa 1770, built out of long-leaf heart-pine.” (  It sits among colonial style gardens which consist of seven distinct areas which include an orchard with fig and pomegranate trees, a rose garden and a kitchen garden.  Guided tours are available to highlight unique architectural features and tell the stories of the people who lived and worked on the property.

Another great way to explore and discover Wilmington’s hidden history is to join a History Walking Tour by Tour Old Wilmington NC as they take you back in time to the Victorian Era (1837 – 1901) to learn about Wilmington’s rich and colorful history.  You will find out what life was like during the Civil War as well as their customs and traditions, sea legends, and folklore.  You will also hear about three of the most historic homes in Wilmington, the history of Wilmington’s downtown development, and learn about the Cape Fear River and its importance to the area.

Next, you might want to stop by the Cape Fear Museum, North Carolina’s oldest museum, located at 814 Market Street.  In March of 1898, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) first opened the Museum in one room on the second floor of the Wilmington Light Infantry’s (WLI) building. (  Featuring a collection of more than 35,000 artifacts, the museum showcases the history, science and culture of the state’s southern coast.

If you really enjoy a moderated exploration of sites, you might enjoy Sightseeing by Carriage or Boat.  You could start your day with a Carriage and Horse Drawn Trolley Tour narrated by a costumed driver or enjoy an afternoon or evening Sightseeing Cruise.  You can take a one-hour narrated historic daytime sightseeing cruise and learn all about the Cape Fear River and downtown Wilmington or enjoy an evening sunset cruise and a murder mystery show on Tuesday evenings.  If you are really into conserving our ecosystem, you could take a four-hour cruise to the Black River which is narrated by coastal ecologist and author Andy Woods.

The Cameron Art Museum, located at 3201 South 17th Street, is a 42,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility featuring North Carolina and American art from the 19th century to present day.  The 9.6-acre campus also features a historic Civil War site, changing exhibitions, a museum shop and a café.

If you enjoy the thrill and excitement of a blood-curdling ghost story or two, try the Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington which was named one of the “Top 5 Ghost Walks in America” by USA Today “Best of the Road” by Rand McNally and “Best Tour” by Encore Magazine.  You will “journey into the depths of old Wilmington on a 90-minute ghost walk tour to the city’s most actively haunted homes and burial grounds.  Hear eerie tales of ghostly occurrences, including actual encounters during recent tours.  Wilmington’s #1 haunted attraction.” (

There is also the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, located at 900 Loggerhead Road, Kure Beach, North Carolina, where you can walk through the half-acre glass-covered conservatory with alligators, catfish, sea turtles and sting rays.  You will be dismayed by the 250,000-gallon marine exhibit with views of sharks, eels and barracudas. You will also have the opportunity to feel the smooth skin of a gliding stingray and climb along Adventure Reef.  Visitors vote the Aquarium a top regional and national attraction each year.

Located at 1610 Ft. Fisher Blvd. South, Kure Beach, North Carolina is the Fort Fisher State Historic Site which was the largest and most important earthwork fort in the South.  Only a few of the mounds remain today since much of the fort has been eroded by the ocean.

Fort Fisher kept North Carolina’s port of Wilmington open enabling blockade runners to supply the Confederate armies with needed supplies until the last few months of the Civil War.  It was the last remaining supply route to fall during a Federal amphibious assault on January 15, 1865, sealing the fate of the Confederacy.

You can “tour the remains of the fort’s land face featuring an impressive reconstruction of a 32-pounder seacoast gun at Shepherd’s Battery.  Shaded by gnarled live oaks, a scenic trail leads tourists from the visitor center past the gigantic earthworks and around to the rear of the fort.  Guided tours and wayside exhibits provide historical orientation.  Other exhibits include items recovered from sunken blockade runners.” (

Carolina Beach State Park, located at 1010 State Park Road, Carolina Beach, North Carolina, is another great adventure you might enjoy with its marina that gives you access to some of North Carolina’s best fishing spots and a secluded camping area.  There are also miles of hiking trails where you can see one of the world’s most unique carnivorous plants—the Venus Flytrap.  The park includes a visitor’s center with exhibits depicting the wonders of its environment.

If you are interested in trains, you could stop by the Wilmington Railroad Museum, located at 505 Nutt Street in Wilmington, where an eclectic collection of displays tell the history of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and the history of railroading in the Southeastern United States.  There is a Children’s Hall the kids will enjoy “with a life-size caboose and the model train display holding the Guinness World Record for Longest Model Train”. (  The train museum is both fun and educational with a Thomas the Tank Train play area, more than 20 operating scale model trains and spectacular model layouts.

The last place, we are going to suggest is Airlie Gardens, a historic area encompassing 67 acres of beautiful Gilded Age gardens with 10 acres of freshwater lakes, azaleas and an Airlie Oak that is more than 400 years old.  Located at 300 Airlie Road, Airlie Gardens is a premiere garden of the coastal South with walking paths, formal gardens, seasonal blooms, mighty live oaks, historic structures, and contemporary sculpture.

We hope you will find the above information useful if you are planning to take a day trip from the Myrtle Beach area.  There are also some interesting bus tours from Myrtle Beach you can investigate through  Stay tuned for more information on day trips to cities 1 hour away from Myrtle Beach.  Safe travels!

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