Oftentimes when I have mentioned Southport, NC in conversation, people immediately ask me about Nicholas Sparks. To be fair, there have been a few movies filmed there and Nicholas Sparks does fondly write about southeastern North Carolina, but I don’t think Southport should be known just for its Nicholas Sparks connections. Granted, that kind of notoriety has probably gained Southport some more visitors, but alas people should know how great Southport on its own! The town itself is about forty five minutes south of Wilmington, NC and it rests on the Cape Fear River and Intracoastal Waterway. It is near serval beaches in southeastern North Carolina, such as Oak Island, Caswell Beach, Bald Head Island, and Kure Beach. The small coastal town is home to approximately 3,500 people and it is the perfect day trip location if you are staying at a nearby beach in North Carolina. Southport, with its small town charm and lovely location, is a great place for seafood, antique shopping, and afternoon strolls.
Having spent the majority of my summers in Wilmington and later moving there, I’ll admit I never visited Southport until living in Wilmington on my own. My first trip to Southport was by ferry—which I think is the way to go if you want to have the full Southport experience—and I biked the area with some friends. After my first visit, when friends or family visited me in Wilmington, I urged them to check out Southport. On my most recent visit to Southport, my brother and I went into full tourist mode, getting the scoop on local favorites and discovering interesting things to do.
We took the ferry from Fort Fisher, which as I wrote earlier, to fully have the Southport experience, I think it is necessary to travel on the ferry. From the Fort Fisher Ferry Terminal to Southport, the ride lasts about 45 minutes. You can check out the ferry schedule and prices for one-way fares at this link here. I have gone by both bicycle and vehicle and the experience is beautiful and fun no matter your transportation preference.
On my most recent trip, my brother and I parked along the waterfront when we arrived and headed to the Waterfront Farmers Market. The Southport Farmers Market takes place every Wednesday from 8am – 1pm, May through August, and it is located on the Fort Johnston-Southport Museum Lawn (which you should also check out if you’re a history buff!). You can find fresh local produce, herbal and organic skin care products, fresh flowers, and handmade decor to name a few items, and you can also listen to live music while you shop.
The Farmers Market is also conveniently located on the front lawn of the Visitor’s Center where you can talk with their very friendly staff about what to check out in Southport. If you enjoy history and want to learn more about coastal North Carolina history, the Fort Johnston-Southport Museum is adjacent to the Visitor’s Center and the museum offers both guided and self-guided tours. I would definitely recommend the guided tour, because the volunteers are knowledgeable and very kind to work with.
Southport’s streets also home to numerous shops and restaurants. Bullfrog Corner is a great place to shop if you have kids. The store has books, candy, outdoor decorations, and other knick-knacks to help you remember your time in Southport. The Christmas House is stationed in a beautiful two-story home down the street from Bullfrog Corner and they sell—you guessed it!—Christmas decor. The store sells unique, one-of-a-kind ornaments and decorations, and entering the store makes you feel like you’re visiting the North Pole if you enter their store after strolling in the summer heat and humidity. While Bullfrog Corner and The Christmas House are only a sampling of two of Southport’s stores, the shopping scene is eclectic and coastal, offering you a glimpse of southern culture and small town charm
After you’ve strolled the streets of Southport and taken a tour of the museum, lunch is obviously next on the agenda. Food is always a priority when traveling, and you always want to know that you are getting a sample of a place’s local cuisine. More importantly, you want great food. A significant number of Southport’s restaurants rest on the Cape Fear River and Intracoastal Waterway, providing gorgeous views while dining. What gets better than that?
I can personally vouch for Oliver’s on the Cape Fear if you want a more upscale dining location. Plus the lobster roll with brie cheese is top-notch. So, so good. And, they have a nice Sunday Brunch menu. Blue Cow Grille is also a great place to grab a bite with their awesome burger and sandwich selection. Because I was aiming to be in full-tourist mode while in Southport, I wanted options and advice on my dining experience.
When I popped into the Visitor’s Center, I interrogated the staff about restaurants in the area and there is some contention about favorite local spots, which is to be expected. How can you ever decide on the best restaurant when there are so many good ones? Between conversations at the Visitor’s Center and with staff in some of the local shops, Frying Pan and Provision Company are contenders. Admittedly, I had never been to either of these restaurants, which was perfect for the occasion. The restaurants are conveniently located next to each other, allowing my brother and I time to deliberate this difficult decision. We both eventually agreed on Provision Company and neither of us regretted our experience.
Walking into Provision Company can be a little overwhelming. Let me rephrase, because you don’t actually “walk into” the restaurant. There is a process to dining at Provision Company, but rest assured, it is worth it. When you walk up to the entrance, you place your name on the waiting list; from there, you pop inside, grab a drink, and then exit the back door out on to a side deck. While you wait for a waiter to call your party’s name, you have a chance to sit on the riverfront, sipping at your drink and taking a moment to relax before your meal. Once your name is called, you provide the waiter with an item to leave at your table, and then you head back to the front door of the restaurant to place your order.
This is where things get difficult. The choices! My brother and I were so glad there was a line, because we needed time to contemplate. As you wait in line, you can peruse the menu hanging from the ceiling and deliberate on your decision. I was torn between the lunch special and the grouper salad sandwich, but I ultimately went with the grouper.
After we placed our order, we went to find our table where the waiter had placed our personal item. The inside of Provision Co. is open and breezy, allowing you a clear view of the water. Waiters and waitresses zoom back and forth, working diligently and demonstrating a clear understanding of how to make the restaurant run seamlessly. Our food arrived quickly and we were not disappointed. At all. I will say that some people were discouraged by the wait and ended up leaving—wait it out! The experience and food are so worth it!
After enjoying a great lunch, my brother and I walked alongside the river walk before returning to the ferry. If you’re full from a big meal, take a seat on one of the swings overlooking the river, or enjoy a walk on the river walk itself. Franklin Square Park is within walking distance from the waterfront, and it is a nice place to grab some shade and relax on a park bench. However, I am partial to the waterfront and its gorgeous views. The homes alone sequestering the water-facing street are adorable, and you can imagine how lovely it is to wake up to such a view every morning. If you have time to catch sunset at the riverfront, do it! Grab a swing and watch the water.
Needless to say, Southport is a must-see and it makes for a lovely getaway. Whether you are a North Carolina native or visiting the area on vacation, Southport offers a glimpse at southeastern North Carolina, providing a taste of coastal cuisine and southern culture.