Jacksonville, North Carolina is a riverfront city located close to the coast. Designated as the youngest city in the US, any visit must start with a stroll through downtown Jacksonville NC, which is home to some of the city’s most beloved restaurants and cafes. An outdoor adventurer’s paradise, there’s also plenty of free stuff in Jacksonville NC, like beaches and riverfront parks.
Located next door to Swansboro, there are many outdoorsy things to do in Swansboro NC too, which is known for its historic and charming downtown district. So keep reading to discover the 10 best things to do in Jacksonville NC at night and during the day.
1. Start the day with breakfast at The Kettle Diner
The Kettle Diner has been a local favorite since it opened in 2001. The New York-style diner is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but serves breakfast all day every day. As soon as you walk in the door, you’ll be welcomed by the friendly staff. The Kettle Diner’s menu includes affordable dishes with a Southern flair, like chicken and waffles, fried catfish sandwich, and biscuits and gravy. Make sure you stop by The Kettle Diner when you visit Jacksonville NC.
2. Wander through the Lejeune Memorial Gardens
Jacksonville NC is known for being home to Cape Lejeune – the East Coast’s largest military base. One of the most important things to do in Jacksonville NC is visit the Lejeune Memorial Gardens, where you can honor those who have served or are serving our country. It’s home to the Onslow Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Montford Point Marine Memorial, the Beirut Memorial, and the 9/11 Memorial Beam from the World Trade Center.
3. Take the family to Lynnwood Park Zoo
One of the best family-friendly things to do in Jacksonville NC is visit Lynnwood Park Zoo. The zoo has more than 80 animal species inside its 10-acre park, including zebra, monkeys, reptiles like snakes and alligators, and plenty of birds. Feed is also available for purchase, so children can have an unforgettable hands-on experience. Lynnwood Park Zoo does close in winter, but if you’re looking for things to do in Jacksonville NC in spring, check it out!
4. Explore Croatan National Forest
Next door to Jacksonville NC you’ll find Croatan National Forest. The coastal pine forest is bordered by the Neuse River, Bogue Sound and White Oak River, so canoeing, boating, swimming and fishing are popular activities. Other things to do within Croatan National Forest include hiking, hunting, camping and trail biking. However, Croatan National Forest is also home to a diverse range of animals, like deer, black bears and alligators, so stay safe and be aware of your surroundings.
5. Enjoy a cruise on New River with Bayonet Enterprises Cruises
Bayonet Enterprises Cruises is a family-owned and operated business. The husband and wife team (Captain Lance and First Mate Marilyn) offer a range of cruises along the New River, including lunchtime, sunset dinner, and sunset wine and cheese cruises. For couples looking for romantic things to do in Jacksonville NC, they offer an overnight getaway as well. With rave reviews across the internet, a cruise with Bayonet Enterprises Cruises is easily one of the best things to do in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
6. Paddle along New River
Like we said, Jacksonville NC is the place to visit if you live for outdoor adventures. Another outdoorsy thing to do is hire a kayak and paddle along New River. Paddle NC is a local company that has kayaks and stand-up paddleboards available for rent from downtown Jacksonville NC. They also offer paddleboard tours, as well as eco, sunset and river kayak tours in Jacksonville. You can join a kayak tour in nearby Topsail Beach and Hammocks Beach too.
7. Have a drink at Walton’s Distillery
For an authentic Jacksonville NC experience, head to Walton’s Distillery. The locally-owned craft distillery produces small batches of whiskey and moonshine. They produce an interesting variety of moonshine flavors, including salted caramel, apple pie, pine shine colada and peach. Walton’s Distillery also has both corn and bourbon whiskey available. Stop by to go behind the scenes on a distillery tour, and check their website to see if your visit coincides with an Open House event, which includes free live music and tastings.
8. Head to the beach
There are several beaches surrounding Jacksonville NC. This includes Topsail Island – a barrier island that’s home to many beaches and a sea turtle sanctuary. It’s the perfect seaside spot to watch the sunrise or sunset. Another option is Hammocks Beach State Park, where you’ll find Bear Island. Home to a wide and serene beach, it’s only accessible via passenger ferry or by kayak. North of Jacksonville NC is also Emerald Isle, which has plenty of enticing beaches for you to visit this summer.
9. Follow the African-American Heritage Trail
One of the more historic things to do in Jacksonville NC is to follow the African-American Heritage Trail. It includes stops at places like Ocean City Beach, which was historically a popular beach destination for the African-American community. Then there’s Hammocks Beach State Park, which was home to a segregated resort until 1961. Other places of interest along the African-American Heritage Trail in Jacksonville NC include Onslow County Museum and the National Montford Point Maritime Museum.
10. Explore Swansboro NC
Known as the Friendly City by the Sea, Swansboro is a charming town located less than 30 minutes from Jacksonville. Some of the best things to do in Swansboro NC include going for a stroll through the quaint downtown district, where you’ll find historic buildings that house independent boutiques, art galleries and antique shops. Stop at a waterfront restaurant for a seafood lunch, and don’t miss seeing the sunset over the White Oak River from Riverfront Park either.