Oak Island

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fourteen-mile-long Oak Island remained undeveloped until 1939, and the isle never experienced a building boom. In 1999, Long Beach and Yaupon Beach merged to create the town of Oak Island, which abuts the island's other town, Caswell Beach. (To be honest, you can't really tell them apart.) One of its most prominent structures is the 158-foot-tall Oak Island Lighthouse, a black-and-white concrete beacon. The island has a small retail strip, a seaside suburban vibe (population 8,194) and the most public beach access in North Carolina. Mainly, Oak Island is a place to splash in the Atlantic, gaze at the sunset, then call it a night.

BEST FOR . . . minimalist, low-maintenance retirees, families and couples.

BEACH SCENE: Caswell Beach, across the street from the lighthouse, is pristine and isolated, with bumpy dunes shielding sunbathers from becoming a roadside attraction. The more popular and populated Long Beach has public facilities and more activity -- but not enough to distract you from that paperback. The beach is long and clean, with no commercial clutter.

SLEEPS AND EATS: BlueWater Point (West Beach Drive to 57th Place, Oak Island, 888-634-9005, http://www.bluewaterpointmotel.com) is a mini-resort with a marina, pool, fish house restaurant and 28 rooms costing $88 a night. Stuff the whole family into a one- or two-bedroom apartment at Island Resort and Inn (500 Ocean Dr., Oak Island, 910-278-5644), steps from the beach; rooms with king-size beds also available. Rates from $110. At the Ocean Crest Motel (1417 E. Beach Dr., Oak Island, 910-278-3333, http://www.ocean-crest-motel.com; from $90), feel the saltwater on your face from your oceanfront balcony, then rinse off in the pool.

Fiesta en Oceano (801 Ocean Blvd., Oak Island, 910-278-5183) has indoor beachfront booths and authentic Mexican eats in the $7 range. Thai by the Sea (8311 E. Oak Island Dr., Oak Island, 910-278-6420) isn't by the water, but you can take out veggie rolls ($5.95), noodle dishes ($8.99) and other Thai fare and enjoy them by the Atlantic.

DIVERSIONS: Take a tour of the Oak Island Lighthouse (Caswell Beach Road, Oak Island, http://www.oakislandlighthouse.org); climb to the second tier, or visit on a Wednesday or Saturday and go higher to the observation balcony. The free Oak Island Nature Center & Register Park (52nd Street, Oak Island, 910-278-5518) has the Talking Trees Walking Trail, a touch tank and more. Play 18 holes of safari-themed putt-putt at Oak Island Jungle Golf (6321 Oak Island Dr. E., Oak Island, 910-201-1444; from $7).

INFO: Town of Oak Island, 910-278-5011, http://www.oakislandnc.com; Town of Caswell Beach, 910-278-5471, http://www.caswellbeach.org; Southport-Oak Island Area Chamber of Commerce, 800-457-6964, http://www.southport-oakisland.com.

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