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Fun Things to Do Near Jacksonville, NC

by PCSgrades Staff - April 14th, 2022

Fun Things to Do Near Jacksonville, NC

If you're stationed at a military base near Jacksonville, NC, including the wonderful Camp Lejeune, you already know there's a lot to love. But the weather isn't the only spectacular thing about North Carolina. There are plenty of fun activities to do and places to visit near Jacksonville, NC. Some are just down the road, others a short day trip away.

Here are our favorite day trips and things to do near Jacksonville, NC.

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Fun day trips and things to do near Jacksonville, NC

Families living on or near Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune already have access to some of the most beautiful shorelines in the country. But driving just an hour or two from Camp Lejeune and nearby Jacksonville, NC offers even more adventures for the whole family.

The listings below include activities and sights to visit in each city, as well as an estimated drive time from Jacksonville.

Raleigh/Durham, NC - 2 hours

Raleigh is home to Marbles Museum, a favorite destination for kids and parents alike. Learn-through-play exhibits include art, a pint-sized town, as well as STEM, music, and physical activities.

Another family favorite is Pullen Park, a 66-acre Raleigh green space adjacent to NC State University. Pack a picnic and let the kids run themselves silly among the many playground zones. Park admission is free, and tickets for the carousel, kiddie boats, and train are only $1.50 per rider. Paddle boats on the lake are available for rent.

Older kids and adults will appreciate the Life and Science Museum in Durham, which is home to a two-story science center, 60+ species of endangered and rescued wild animals, and a butterfly conservatory.

New Bern, NC - 45 minutes

New Bern was settled in 1710 by Swiss immigrants, initially serving as the colonial capital of North Carolina.

While in New Bern, be sure to visit Tryon Palace, North Carolina’s first gubernatorial mansion and capitol building. Visitors have several ticket options to tour the palace, galleries, and gardens. You can also experience special events, which are held throughout the year.

The New Bern Firemen’s Museum is a quaint and informative stop for enthusiasts of all ages, located in the heart of the historic district. New Bern is the birthplace of Pepsi, originally known as “Brad’s Drink." The Pepsi Store on Middle Street pays tribute to its history and founder, Caleb Bradham. Bradham’s former pharmacy, also on Middle Street, now houses The Chelsea Bar and Grill.

If you're near New Bern during the holiday season, the historic district is always beautifully adorned with period decorations.

Wilmington, NC - 1.25 hours

Wilmington is home to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. In addition to aquatic life, it houses animatronic dinosaurs and a new butterfly house. Annual membership is reciprocal with all NC Aquarium locations and the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, as well as 150 other zoos and aquariums nationwide.

While in Wilmington, stop by Airlie Gardens, a beautiful and peaceful destination for flora lovers. Multiple historic gardens, two chapels, a cemetery, and a mystery grave are among the sights to explore here.

The Cape Fear Serpentarium is the stuff dreams (or nightmares) are made of. It is home to snakes, snakes, and more snakes and some four-legged reptile friends.

Wilmington Railroad Museum

Another Wilmington fan favorite is the Wilmington Railroad Museum seeks to preserve the area’s railroading history for future generations. Enjoy model and life-sized engines and take a ride on a miniature Thomas the Tank Engine. The Museum also hosts toddler storytime during the week. Birthday parties can be booked in their red caboose.

Topsail Island - 35 minutes

Just 35 minutes down the coast from Camp Lejeune sits Topsail Island, one of the most unique things to do near Jacksonville, NC.

Make a day of the 26-mile-long island, which is home to three separate towns: North Topsail Beach, Surf City, and Topsail Beach. The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital in Surf City is open for tours on Thursday and Saturday afternoons. Surfboard and kayak rentals are available at 50 South Surf Shop for those looking to get a workout in while they play.

Surf City, NC

There are also plenty of other things to do while on Topsail Island:

Sugar Island and More

Sugar Island is an absolute must while visiting Topsail Island. This delightful cafe has the island’s best coffee and house-made sweets. Enjoy your goodies upstairs among thousands of used books for sale.

If you're looking for more substantial food options on the island, try The Beach Shop and Grill in Topsail Beach for delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Missiles and More

While you are down south, stop by the Missiles and More Museum to learn about pirates that trolled these waters. Check out Operation Bumblebee, the Navy’s secret missile program that operated on the island in the 1940s.

Also, Topsail Skating Rink opens every evening for vintage-style family fun that looks to have come right out of the resort on “Dirty Dancing.” The owner, Ms. Doris, is in her 80s and still gets out on the rink in her skates.

Carteret County - 1 to 1.5 hours

For those looking for outdoor things to do near Jacksonville, NC, and Camp Lejeune, Carteret County has plenty of opportunities for fun and relaxation.

Located less than two hours from Camp Lejeune, Fort Macon State Park will appeal to history buffs and outdoor lovers alike. Completed in 1834 to fortify coastal vulnerabilities identified during the War of 1812, it was actively manned during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War II. Swimming, fishing, picnicking, and hiking are all permitted on site.

Cape Lookout National Seashore is a collection of the southern barrier islands that make up the Outer Banks. Shackleford Banks has been home to the area’s wild horses for centuries. The horses are fabled to have survived a European shipwreck offshore, but historians are still not certain how they got to the island. The Seashore also boasts Cape Lookout Lighthouse, built in 1859. All guests over 44” tall are welcome to climb the 207 steps (12 stories) to the top.

Both Cape Lookout and Shackleford Banks are only accessible via passenger ferry or private boat.

North Carolina Aquarium - 1.25 hours

Located just west of Fort Macon State Park, the North Carolina Aquarium and Pine Knoll shores is a popular and manageable destination for parents with smaller children. Enjoy the sea life indoors and the large play area and nature trails outdoors. The aquarium also books birthday parties!

Myrtle Beach, SC - 2.5 hours

Myrtle Beach is full of high-intensity, touristy fun. The Myrtle Beach Boardwalk is home to the Sky Wheel, carnival games, thrill rides and experiences, live entertainment, food, shopping, and plenty of nightlife.

Pirate Adventures takes little mateys aboard the 35’ Sea Gypsy for the treasure hunt of a lifetime. Go Ape flies guests on zip lines through the tree tops. Wonderworks transforms learning into an amusement park. The area is home to nearly 100 golf courses. Even if the weather isn’t nice, Myrtle Beach has plenty to offer indoors. Want to see even more great ideas for fun things to do near Jacksonville, NC, and Camp Lejeune? Check out this blog post!

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PCSgrades Staff