What Makes Oak Island, NC, Special?

What Makes Oak Island, NC, Special?

Oak Island is one of around 18 barrier islands on the coastal plain of North Carolina. It’s both a tourist area and retirement destination for area home buyers, who are attracted to its laid-back lifestyle. While the 13-mile-long island is one of many along the coast, it’s not to be overlooked. Here’s what makes Oak Island special.

It has Amazing Sunrises and Sunsets Over the Ocean

Because Oak Island faces south, residents are privy to gorgeous sunrises and sunsets over the Atlantic Ocean. Many other barrier island beach communities in North Carolina face east, so sunsets happen over land or the ICWW. That usually means competing with buildings for a great view. But when the light display happens over the ocean, more people can enjoy the beauty of it.

The Waterfront is Basically Unrestricted

At the beach, you won’t find many high-rise hotels or apartment buildings. Some Carolina beaches have so many buildings it feels like a wall separates the sand from the rest of the land. While the island does have some condo buildings, properties here are primarily cottage style single-family homes, so the waterfront remains open and welcoming to residents and visitors. Just make sure you use one of the public accesses, if you don’t have a waterfront property.

Beach Handicap Accessibility is Not an Issue

Out of 65 public beach accesses, 20 are handicap accessible. This is quite a lot compared to other beach areas in Southeastern North Carolina. Visitors can also reserve beach wheelchairs for free at the Oak Island Recreation Center. These wheelchairs have large, rounded wheels to make them easier to push across sand. Some also float to allow the user to enter the water with assistance. The town works hard to maintain these accesses, but tides due take a toll on the beach, so make sure you verify the conditions of an access prior to use.

Happy woman leaving flower shop.

Happy woman leaving flower shop.

“Mom and Pop” Businesses are Everywhere

Beaches in North Carolina are vacation hot spots and many coastal towns have been targeted by corporate chains that can see the monetary benefits; however, Oak Island has been resistant. The island has two municipalities – the Town of Oak Island and Town of Caswell Beach. There’s around 9,000 permanent residents in Oak Island and 500 permanent residents in Caswell Beach, and there is a significant amount of pride in the fact the island is mainly home to small local businesses, rather than corporate chains. If you want the latter, you must head off-island.

Two Grocery Stores are Located on the Island

Other barrier island towns in Southeastern North Carolina have found it difficult to provide grocery shopping options that don’t require a drive off-island. Many have convenience stores with some produce and pantry options but not a full store that visitors would expect. Thankfully, Oak Island has two grocery stores. And, in case you are wondering, there are more options on the mainland.


Fruits – Image by Thorsten Blank from Pixabay

The Permanent Residents are a Close Community

Because the island population is so small, permanent residents get to know each other. They show up to support one another, especially during times of hardship. You’ll also find long-term residents have long-term memories, and the stories they share can be quite entertaining. It’s nice to have that connection with others, especially when the population can balloon to 40,000 people during the summer.

Two Bridges Provide Access

Oak Island has two bridges leading on and off the island. Only a few barrier islands in Southeastern North Carolina have this ease of accessibility, which is very convenient during the height of summer visitors and hurricane season. You will find them at N. Middleton Ave/906/E.F. Middleton Blvd and Country Club Dr/133/Long Beach Rd SE.

Homes have Sewer and Underground Power Lines

More benefits that put Oak Island at the top of many home buyers’ lists are sewer and underground power lines. Both help to maintain the beautiful aesthetic of the island and buried power lines improves the island’s chances of maintaining electricity during storms. Many barrier islands don’t have those benefits.

There’s a Surplus of Vegetation

Oak Island has a tree ordinance that requires landowners, including builders, to have a certain number of trees on a lot (with leniency for the beachfront/second row properties, of course). This encourages a lush vegetative landscape on the island, as well as helps prevent excessive flooding during storms. The Town of Oak Island encourages enjoyment of this outdoor trove with nature trails, gardens, parks, fossil exhibits, picnic areas, and more.

Brown dog on beach at sunset

Brown dog on beach at sunset

Oak Island is Dog-Friendly

Some of the smaller and busier beaches in North Carolina, like Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach, don’t allow dogs on the sand or have daily time restrictions for certain months. Oak Island allows dogs year-round. From October 15 – March 15, dogs can be off their leash. For the rest of the year, they must be properly leashed i.e. kept close and not disturbing other visitors. Please remember you are legally required to clean up after your animal, so bring some baggies.

Oak Island is People-Friendly Too

There’s a lot to do on Oak Island. Fishing on the pier, playing at the splash pad or skate park, listening to free outdoor concerts, or enjoying one of the many parks and nature areas – you are sure to form lasting memories. Of course, you can’t beat spending the day at the beach. It’s good for the mind and body.

Sea Turtles Nest Here

From May through October, Oak Island becomes a nesting ground for sea turtles. Loggerheads are the most common to nest in North Carolina, but Kemp’s Ridley and Green sea turtles have also been seen. Throughout the nesting season, volunteers walk the beaches recording and protecting nests. They also assist in the recovery of injured and cold-stunned turtles throughout the year.

Residents of the island take steps to make the beaches hospitable for nesting turtles, including limiting bright lights on the sand and maintaining dunes and grasses. The island had 80 nests in 2021! If you see a nest, report it to one of the local volunteer groups and refrain from touching it. Also, make sure to always stay off the dunes. The dunes not only are nesting grounds for sea turtles, but they also protect the homes during storms.

Dolphins and Whales Can Be Seen from Shore

Oak Island is a relatively quiet area, which makes it great for seeing dolphins and whales. Dolphins may be seen year-round, but they are more likely to be spotted in the fall and early winter as they follow the migration of their food supply. Humpback whales, right whales, and other whale species are most frequently seen in early winter and early spring, as they make their migration to warmer waters. These beautiful creatures are always a joy to spot.

As you can see, Oak Island, NC, is a special place. If you’re looking for a true small town beach community, make sure you add it to your destination list.


About the Author
Meghan Henderson
Meghan is the Marketing Specialist for The Cameron Team and a published author of two young adult books. She also creates digital and printable planners and trackers, as well as coloring pages for Larkspur & Tea.