Visitors who love a quiet beach town, a dash of history, and a sunny location that’s close to a variety of Cape Fear attractions will fall in love with Caswell Beach. This small community that’s tucked away on the eastern edge of Oak Island has tons of charm and shoreline to go around, making it a coveted destination for family friendly vacations.
Discover this small beach town that’s almost off the map, and see why a visit to Caswell Beach is always an enticing addition to any vacation agenda – whether it’s just a day trip, or a full week by the seashore.
About Caswell Beach
Caswell Beach is located on the eastern region of Oak Island, and is bordered to the south by the Atlantic Ocean, and is separated by the mainland to the north by the Intracoastal Waterway. Bald Head Island is located to the east, (after a cruise across the Cape Fear River), while the rest of Oak Island, and Holden Beach, can be found to the west.
The town is just 4.1 square miles in area, with a population of just 400 residents or so. The eastern section the island is home to the Fort Caswell/North Carolina Baptist Assembly, which is a private site and is a popular Christian retreat.
Visitors can reach Caswell Beach by taking an eastern cruise along Oak Island Drive while on the island, or by heading south on 133 and crossing over the bridge onto County Club Drive. The town is just 15-20 minutes from Southport, (depending on the traffic), and roughly 45 minutes away from Wilmington.
History of Caswell Beach
Caswell Beach first landed on the national radar with the construction of Fort Caswell, which was named after former North Carolina governor Richard Caswell, and which was completed in 1836. The large brick and earthworks fort was equipped with 61 gun encampments and guarded the mouth of the Cape Fear River, and particularly, the busy port town of Wilmington. Along with Fort Fisher, Fort Caswell was a key stronghold for the south during the Civil War, as it helped protect the valuable port and the blockade runners who brought in desperately needed supplies.
After Fort Fisher was captured on January 15, 1865, orders arrived to the occupying Confederate soldiers destroy Fort Caswell's guns, burn the barracks, and detonate the magazines. More than 100,000 pounds of powder was ignited, setting off a massive explosion that destroyed an entire wall of the fort. Because of the self-implosion, not one solider at the fort was killed by enemy fire.
In 1890, the site became a military reservation for the US Army, and was eventually - and unsuccessfully - transformed into a summertime resort from 1937-1941. After this failed experiment, it returned to its military roots soon after, serving as a small anti-submarine base for the Navy during World War II.
In 1949, 250 acres of this former fort was sold to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina as surplus property for just $86,000, and a new summer resort destination was born. The rest of the town eventually garnered vacationer attention as well, with a new golf course constructed in the area in 1962, and the area was officially incorporated as “Caswell Beach” in 1975.
In the 1990s, the town started an extensive preservation and beach restoration effort to attract more visitors with wide shorelines, and in 2004, the town acquired the Oak Island Lighthouse from the National Park Service. Today, the town is a popular beach vacation destination, thanks to these extensive shorelines, collection of vacation rental homes and condos, and still-popular North Carolina Baptist Assembly retreat and conference center.
Attractions and Things to Do in Caswell Beach
One of the most refreshing aspects of Caswell Beach is its relatively quiet nature and peaceful landscape. As such, it’s a fine destination for visitors who want to relax with few distractions and the ocean in the background. With that being said, there are a few attractions and things to do without venturing too far away from home.
The Oak Island Lighthouse is one of the newest lighthouses in the United States, and was built and first lit in 1958. The skinny structure is unlike any other lighthouse in the region, and is notable for its straight and tower-like aesthetic, and its three color blocks of gray, off-white, and black paint. The lighthouse stands 148’ ft. tall, and is outfitted with four 2.5 million candlepower aerobeacon lenses, which when lit, produce one-second bursts of light every ten seconds. The light from the lighthouse can be seen for up to 16 miles, and the site is relatively easy to get to, thanks to a location in the heart of Caswell Beach. Lighthouse tours of the interior are available throughout the year, and tours to the top of the lighthouse, (a roughly 131 step climb), are available for visitors ages 9 and older.
Oak Island Golf Club
The Oak Island Golf Club features an 18-hole, 6,720 yard George Cobb designed golf course that’s sandwiched in between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean. Families, tournaments, leagues and daily-fee golfers are all welcome at the Oak Island Golf Club, and the club also features a popular on-site restaurant, Duffer’s Pub & Grill. Built in 1962, the golf course has been referred to as one of the “Hidden Gems” for golfers in southern North Carolina. A full practice facility complete with sand traps, putting green, and driving range is also available on-site to help golfers fine tune their game.
Caswell Beach is home to four miles of stunning shorelines that were widened and restored in the late 1990s / early 2000s. Two beach accesses are found within the town for the convenience of beach-goers, which includes the Caswell Beach Drive access with a parking area and restrooms, and the Oak Island Lighthouse and Beach Access with a parking area. In addition, the majority of vacation rental homes and condos have oceanfront or oceanside locations, making it easy for vacationers to reach the shore at any time.
The wide beaches and gently sloping shorelines makes Caswell Beach an attractive destination for beachcombers. With optimal conditions after a tide or summer storm / hurricane, beachcombers can expect to find a nice array of treasures including, but certainly not limited to, sand dollars, olive shells, calico and bay scallops, coquina clams, and even occasional whelks.
Surf fishing is allowed and celebrated in Caswell Beach, thanks to the region’s four miles of oceanfront. Visitors will want to pick up a North Carolina Saltwater Fishing License ahead of time, (from a local tackle store or online), and can cast out for a range of saltwater species - depending on the time of year - including drum, mackerel, trout, mullet, bluefish, flounder, cobia, and more.
Swimming / Surfing
Caswell Beach has generally gentle waves and a shallow shoreline that makes it perfect for ocean swimming and surfing, although visitors should note that there are currently no lifeguarded beaches in the region.
The “soundside” of Caswell Beach, (or the northern region facing the Intracoastal Waterway), has a network of canals and marshes that are influenced by the tides, and which are prime stomping grounds for adventurous paddlers. Exceptional for kayak fishing, birdwatching, and self-guided eco-tours, visitors can reach these waters by booking and staying at a waterfront vacation rental home. Many of these homes also have docks and / or launching areas to make it an easy venture to reach the water.
Shopping and Dining
There are a couple shops and restaurants close to the main route that leads to the island – Country Club Drive – but otherwise, the area is nicely devoid of large distractions. For more options, visitors can head west to Oak Island, where a myriad of oceanfront and inland restaurants and shops can be found just a mile or so away from the Caswell Beach borders.
Where to Stay in Caswell Beach
With the exception of the Fort Caswell/North Carolina Baptist Assembly, (which does accept reservations for vacationers), the majority of accommodation options in Caswell Beach are vacation rental homes and condos. These properties can range from 1 bedroom getaways to 6 or more bedroom sandcastles, and are generally stationed within walking distance of the local beaches or golf course. The homes are primarily represented by area property management companies, (or vacation rental companies), and can be booked well in advance online for a sunny week-long vacation.
Tips and Tricks for Visiting Caswell Beach
- Visitors will want to book their vacation rental as far in advance as possible. There are just 100 or so homes and condos available at Caswell Beach, which tend to fill up quickly - especially in the warm and popular summer months.
- Want to save money on accommodations while enjoying a quieter beach scene? Then plan a trip to Caswell Beach in the fall! The local ocean waters generally stay warm until early October, and the rental rates for area homes are typically seasonal, which means they are cheaper in the spring and fall off-seasons.
- Don’t forget to plan a daytrip or two to Southport. Located just 15 miles away, historic Southport is a must-see attraction for Caswell Beach visitors. In addition, the town is home to a myriad of restaurants, shops, and attractions for an afternoon or evening out.
- Want more activity? Check out western Oak Island. While Caswell Beach is nicely quiet, the western region of Oak Island has an assortment of shops and restaurants to provide additional entertainment options.
- Watch out for hurricane season, which is from July 1 until the end of November. While hurricanes are rare, trip insurance may be a good bet for visitors during this timeframe to protect their vacation investment. (In addition, trip insurance covers the cost of a vacation for emergency cancellations, like a personal illness.)
- Be sure and look for amenities at individual homes! Many vacation rentals and / or communities may offer enticing extras like outdoor pools and hot tubs, boat docks, beach gear, wireless internet access, and more. Check a property’s individual description, or contact an area vacation rental company, to find out more.
Caswell Beach is a fun destination for beach lovers of all tastes, and especially those who appreciate a quieter and more relaxed beach scene. With a scattering of beach homes, a few top attractions, and miles of shoreline to go around, this “hidden gem” of a vacation destination is slowly gaining recognition as one of the sunniest vacation spots in the southern Cape Fear / Brunswick Beach region.