Two miles off the coast and accessible only by a 20-minute ($25.00!) passenger-ferry ride from Southport, Bald Head Island is pretty much a whole 'nother world. It's the southernmost of the state's barrier islands, (I’ve always been told that Sunset is the southernmost—BHI is right off Wilmington, so there’s a lot of coast till you get to South Carolina… I think) just where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Cape Fear River, and less than an hour (including drive and ferry ride) from Wilmington.
Bald Head is certainly remote. No cars are allowed, only golf carts and bicycles; the speed limit's 18 mph - perhaps a nod to the island's George Cobb-designed championship golf course. No high-rise hotels here - a whole lot of lush foliage and a whole lot of deer; you'll see sea turtles and alligators along sea marshes, tidal basins and 14 miles of gorgeous beachfront. The fishing is quite fine: king and Spanish mackerel, blues, drum and flounder. The crabbing and clamming is good too. And the folks wh.o come live and vacation on BHI are very protective of their loggerhead turtles, hosting Turtle Trot run/walk fundraisers to expand nature education on the island
The maritime forest throughout the island is some of the best preserved in the state—canopies of live oaks, yaupons, palmettos and interdune swamps. Bird-watching is incredible—and mosquito swatting can be a non-stop competition, too. There’s a 180 acre reserve of maritime forest in the middle of the island, threaded with boardwalks and trails. Take your binoculars, so you can see all those birds up close—and stare down the snout of an alligator or two.
Bald Head is an escape - but with plenty of amenities. The Shoals Club is the be-all and end-all of socializing on the island—a country club sort of elegance with a beach-y informality. The clubhouse restaurant has a limited but excellent menu; the starters are the really interesting course—crab profiteroles and Caribbean bruschetta. The Sandbar Grille is the seasonal wing of the Club with lighter, (slightly) less expensive fare like crab salad, spinach salad and the not-so-light fried mac and cheese. A new wine bar, Latitudes, has opened as part of the Shoals Club, and they are offering a wide array of wines by the glass as well as craft beers.
For slightly more casual eats, MoJo’s on the Harbor (formerly Ebb and Flo’s) has a great island bustle—near enough to the marina that you can watch the ferries coming and going while you dig into grilled fish, hush puppies and fried pickles—and the specialty—a variety of steam pots.
New to the island is Delfina, a showcase for Latin American comfort cuisine. Just remember, the options are really limited for dining out, so during the high season, expect to wait for a table no matter where you go. There’s an island grocery store with a well-stocked deli, wine and beer selection and plenty of gourmet treats. If you can haul a few coolers onto the ferry, however, that’s the way to make sure you aren’t held hostage to long lines for restaurant tables—or inflated prices for island groceries.
(and there are several choices for casual eats with a nice view of the marina, and a coffee shop, of course, as well. There's also a grocery store and deli if you'd prefer to eat in.)
Bald head is not cheap, and doesn't pretend to be. In fact, you may wonder how you could possibly be spending so much money every time you turn around. But there are some reasonably priced weekly rentals to be had, starting at $2,000 or so, which, if you're bringing a few folks with you is worth what you get. You can choose from beachfront homes, marsh homes, town homes overlooking the golf course and “bungalows” in cul-de-sacs inside the maritime forest. Or you can book a room at the beautiful Marsh Harbour Inn, a well-run and conveniently located bed and breakfast.
Quiet is, most notably, what you get - quiet and quite a panorama.