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Plan a Phenomenal Beach Trip on a Bargain Budget in Jacksonville, NC

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This is a sponsored post. I received a trip to Jacksonville, NC in exchange for this post. All opinions and photographs are my own. 

Last year, John and I had the great fortune to visit Jacksonville, NC for a weekend getaway. Home to Camp Lejeune, Jacksonville, is a town beginning to really flourish and find its voice. From artisan, small businesses, to a growing moonshine distillery, to local roasters, there’s something exciting happening in Jacksonville.  We loved our weekend getaway last year, and were thrilled to be welcomed back to visit once again this summer.

Honestly, it’s easy to dismiss Jacksonville as just another military town…but if you do that, I promise that you’ll miss out on hidden (and not-so-hidden) gems.

You're probably thinking, "Jacksonville, NC? Really? The BEACH???" Really. Hear me out. (You'll be glad you did!) ad

And you’ll definitely miss out on an awesome beach vacation that won’t blow your savings account. John and I spent the weekend enjoying Jacksonville’s beachy vibe. And–again– it surprised us with how much fun and how fantastic our trip was.

Here’s how you can enjoy Jacksonville’s price points for a beach vacation. (And while you’re there, you’ll want to check out all of the other attractions and activities available in town, too!)

Grab a great hotel

Jacksonville is home to a number of new hotel chains that are affordable while offering lovely amenities that are particularly helpful for traveling families. This year, John and I had a chance to stay at Home2 Suites by Hilton, which has a complimentary continental breakfast, saltwater pool, and fitness center. Even during tourist season, rates range between $80-100. Last year, we stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott, which has a bar, pool, and fitness center. Rates are generally around $110-130. Of course, there are many other hotel possibilities in the area, too, and it is very easy to find rooms under $100.

Hang out at Hammocks Beach State Park

It isn’t hyperbole when I say that John and I were blown away by how lovely Hammocks Beach State Park was. A very easy 30-minute drive from Jacksonville, Hammocks Beach State Park is an absolute gem. Bear Island, a three-mile-long island, is completely undeveloped. You get there by a 15-minute ferry ride or by personal water craft, if you have your own. (There are a few outfitters in the area so if you love to SUP or kayak, there are water trails you can follow to get to Bear Island.) If you’re going off-season, make sure you check the ferry schedule as it changes and service ends depending on the season.

Without a crowded boardwalk or any cars on the island, the beach is quiet and relaxing. It’s staffed with lifeguards, has indoor bathrooms with plumbing (no gross port-a-potties!), and a snack stand with reasonable prices (seriously!) staffed by volunteers. There are shelters for picnicking out of the sun, and outdoor showers to get the sand off of you before getting back on the ferry, too.

(Yes! That’s how full the beach was on a mid-day Saturday smack-dab in the middle of summer and vacation season.)

The price? $5 for the round trip ferry ride for adults, with child fares and family passes available, too. There’s no other admission price. And there’s no fee to park your car at the ferry launch (which is also the state park visitor center). Honestly, it’s one of the most economical beaches I’ve ever been to… and the quality of it– from its natural beauty to the facilities– is absolutely astounding. (By the way, the water is clear and was comfortably warm at the end of June. We stayed far longer than we were expecting to because it was such a great beach find!)

Check out Swansboro

Swansboro is a historic beach town, just three minutes away from Hammock State Park. It’s an idyllic place with tasty restaurants, fun shops, and parks and bandshells.

Make sure that you take time to sit on the second-floor porch of Bake, Bottle, & Brew–a beer, wine, and coffee bar with an exquisite overlook of the inlets that lead to the Atlantic Ocean.

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There’s Riverside Steak & Seafood; get the scallop nachos. (Just trust me.)

Peruse small businesses like Lovely’s Boutique, The Salty Sheep Yarn Shop, and Lighthouse Boutique for household decor, jewelry, and craft items to take with you. And in the evening, take in an outdoor concert or find a pier to watch the evening come in.

Explore another beach (or three)

Using Jacksonville as your home base, it’s easy to visit other beaches in coastal North Carolina. Drive a half hour east of Jacksonville, and you’ll find and towns like Topsail and Surf City. Drive just a little north and east, and you can visit Emerald Isle. A day trip south to Wilmington and Wrightsville beach will take you about an hour or so.

Enjoy these activities

There’s a lot to do in the Jacksonville area, including delicious, eclectic restaurants, cute boutiques, and cultural and historic sites. Here are my favorite Jacksonville hangouts when John and I visit. This year, we discovered that Onslow County–and Jacksonville in particular– has an enormous collection of geocaches available, which is another fun way to explore the area on a budget.

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