Sep 14

Visiting Jacksonville with Teens

Posted on September 14, 2023 at 10:05 AM by Alexis Zamecnik

1-2023-04-05_14-22-22_946Visiting Jacksonville with Teens

By Trisha McBride Ferguson

Spring break this year offered me a welcome respite from the daily obligations of taxiing two teenagers to school and activities. It also left me with several days to fill and the challenge of keeping them occupied and away from their phones for at least a few hours each day.

Traveling with teens can be a challenge, and it feels impossible to get everyone to agree on a destination or activity. Nevertheless, we found ourselves at North Topsail Beach where we enjoyed the natural, untouched beauty unique to the North Carolina coastline. From there it was an easy drive over to Jacksonville where we spent an entire day exploring, shopping, and dining and then finished with a scenic cruise on the Intracoastal waterway. Here’s a look at some of the highlights:

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While my goal was to get my teens off their phones, I didn't mind when it came to taking photos like this one.

First stop: Lejeune Memorial Gardens 

This stop came from my list, and I was pleasantly surprised at how my kids responded to visiting the monuments. They both appreciated the significance of the memorials in their own way. The audio tours accessible by QR code signage were also a hit.


I’ll admit I was surprised when my kids stopped to read the plaques and took their own photos. It was a relief not to have to nag and cajole them, they were interested—and even moved—by what they saw. 

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We walked together for a while and then everyone went their own way to read and explore what interested them most.


Keeping these teenagers fed is a priority and burgers and shakes are always a hit.

Refueling at Jeff’s Burgers, Dogs & Shakes

As lunchtime approached, I knew the importance of refueling. For my kids, food is second only to recharging their phones. After reviewing the range of dining options in Jacksonville, we stopped at Jeff’s Burgers, Dogs & Shakes and indulged in all the specialties. The burgers were good, the fries were better, and the milkshakes were the best. It’s a no-frills place that made the perfect pitstop.

6-Antique 2 Chic_2023-04-05_15-43-29_626We found something for everyone's interest in the stalls at the Antique 2 Chic Vendor Market.

Shopping (Under Protest)

Shopping with mom is not a teen-approved activity in our family unless I’m buying something for them, which is totally different, and was not on my agenda. So, my suggestion to stop into the Antique 2 Chic Vendor Market was not received warmly. However, I was once again happy at the outcome. The individual booths inside offered just enough variety that I was able to squeeze in about 20 minutes of shopping time before the whining and eye rolling started.

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We found treasures from nearly every era of the last 75+ years at this indoor flea market.

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I bought a hand-pieced quilt and talked myself down from also purchasing an aqua-colored rotary telephone and a vintage typewriter. 

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While I love finding vintage treasures, I also appreciate fun, fresh accessories like the ones in this booth. Did I buy the bag with the word “Salty” on it? Maybe.

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From handmade soap to custom outdoor furniture, there was something for shoppers from every generation at Antique 2 Chic.

12-marsh cruises_IMG_5136The one thing we did that everyone loved was exploring the NC coastline by boat.

Sunset on the Water

After a short drive to the Swansboro marina, we ended the day motoring out toward sunset on the intracoastal waterway. 

13-marsh cruises Darryl_CroppedFor fishing, shelling or a scenic tour, you'll have a hard time finding a better captain than Darryl.

Captained by Darryl of Marsh Cruises, our scenic tour was both relaxing and educational (shh, don’t tell my kids). Extremely knowledgeable about the unique maritime ecosystems of the area, Darryl shared fun facts throughout the trip. Who knew that the same intracoastal waterway we were traveling runs all the way north to Massachusetts and south to Florida? And Darryl was extra-patient with my son’s non-stop questions about sharks, and later he even texted us a photo of a local shark catch.

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Swansboro (shown here from the back) is a quaint historic town with a waterfront downtown area filled with unique shops and restaurants. 

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The scenic view around Bear Island was a highlight of the cruise.

Our boat tour took us around Hammocks Beach State Park’s Bear Island where the landscape of untouched, natural vegetation is nothing short of spectacular. As Darryl navigated the skiff through the winding, shallow backwaters and salt marshes, we were relieved to be traveling with an expert and not stranded on a sandbar with a less-experienced captain.

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For true outdoor adventurists, Bear Island offers primitive campsites

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Only on a boat cruise around the NC intracoastal waterway can you take a magazine-worthy photo like this.

As the sun went down, we experienced the changing tides and maritime ecosystems with all our senses from the comfort of the 24-foot Bayrider boat. The timely appearance of two dolphins at the end of the trip established the cruise as one of our all-time best adventures. Even the teenagers agreed. 

Trisha McBride Ferguson is a Winston Salem, NC-based freelance writer who recently visited the NC coast with her teenagers and enjoyed a day exploring Jacksonville, NC. 

Sep 14

Family Fun Itinerary

Posted on September 14, 2023 at 10:03 AM by Alexis Zamecnik

Kid swimming in hotel pool

Families love to play here. Vacation starts when you pick your hotel and find your fun. Kids and adults love our hotels and restaurants where you’ll find something for every taste. Many hotels and restaurants are conveniently located along Western Boulevard. Jacksonville is only 30 minutes from the beach with family-friendly room rates and enticing amenities.  

Dogs by the dunes at North Topsail Beach

Photo: Dogs by the dunes at pet-friendly North Topsail Beach

Beach or Bust

Grab your chairs, gear, and cooler. Drive east to Hammocks Beach State Park in Swansboro, NC, or south to North Topsail Beach. 

At Hammocks Beach State Park, you’ll park for free in the visitor center lot. Check the ferry schedule before you go. The ferry runs from April to October in good weather. Be prepared to walk about half a mile from the ferry landing to one of the most pristine stretches of uninterrupted shoreline in the state. Light concessions and restrooms are available. 

At North Topsail Beach, enjoy the waves and sand just past the dunes. This coastal community with beach homes and condos is a laid-back, family beach. Onslow County Tourism will guide your parking plan

Insider Tip: Did you forget your cooler? Five Below on Western Boulevard is a great place to pick up reasonably-priced gear for last-minute beach runs.  

Family Fun at Mike's Farm

Photo Credit: NC Tripping, Family fun at Mike's Farm

Fun at Mike's Farm

Mike’s Farm in Richlands offers seasonal berry and pumpkin picking. The holidays welcome hayrides with light displays and music shows. Call ahead to get these tickets. Year-round, guests can pet and feed farm animals, or take in the view from a rocking chair on the wrap-around porch. Family-style dinners featuring fried chicken and serious mac and cheese keep kids and grownups smiling.  

Insider Tip: Be sure to visit the bakery before or after your meal. It opens up to a festive Christmas shop. Need even more of a shopping fix? Take in the large NC Products Barn right on the farm! 

Marine Family at Wilson Bay Park

Photo: Wilson Bay Park offers a mix of water views, boardwalks, and recreation space

Play at a Park

Explore more than 17 miles of trails and greenways by foot or by bicycle. We’re a BYOB (bring- your-own-bicycle) town. Here, you can throw a baseball, meander through the woods, or watch your little ones swing and climb a jungle gym. Pack a picnic lunch and spread a blanket on Jacksonville's highest hill overlooking Wilson Bay at Sturgeon City Park. Enjoy one of our playgrounds or follow the Sturgeon City boardwalk trail over the river marsh. Find frisbee golf courses, gazebos, playgrounds, and more.  

Lynnwood Park Zoo

Photo: With 50 animal habitats, the Lynwood Park Zoo will fascinate visitors. 

Meet the Animals at Lynwood Park Zoo 

Lynnwood Park Zoo is an animal and reptile sanctuary with a mission of connecting the public with wildlife through education. Animals hail from various backgrounds, including owner surrenders and rescues. Occasionally, facilities downsize or shut down and ask the facility to care for animals unfit for release into the wild. Zoo employees and volunteers take special care of the animals here. 

Insider Tip: The Lynwood Park Zoo is closed on Thursdays. 

 Family Fishing Fun

Photo: Family fishing in Jacksonville NC with Just Got Reel Inshore Charters  

Family Fishing Trips 

Our favorite family fishing recommendation is Just Got Reel Inshore Charters. Knowledgeable and fun Captain David Fountain has never met a stranger. He loves to take families fishing on the New River. At the end of the trip, he will drop you off at the Marina Cafe where the day’s catch is cooked and eaten. Talk about fresh seafood! Captain Fountain guides beginners and experienced fishing families. Learn more about our guides and fishing.
Kids playing together at Zing Zumm Children's Museum

Photo: Children playing together at Zing Zumm Children's Museum 

Fun for Every Age and Interest  

Practice your baseball batting and golf skills at Swingin’ Things. For indoor fun, get some hands-on playtime at Zing Zumm Children’s Museum, an interactive museum popular with younger children, and Mega Play. Tweens and teens enjoy Altitude Trampoline Park, Roller City skating rink, and Glo-Mania Lazer Tag. CrackedIt! Escape Games is a clever escape room experience for friends or family outings. Perfect for teens, this experience engages your entire family’s wit and imagination to solve the mystery. For an artistic outing, visit one of Jacksonville’s art studios, Wine and Design, where your family will have fun painting and creating their newest masterpiece.   

YoBre'z Frozen Dessert Bar

Photo: Swoon over these over-the-top ice cream treats at YoBre’z Frozen Dessert Bar

Sweet Notes

Every excursion ends on a sweet note when you visit YoBre’z Frozen Dessert Bar or one of our bakeries. Check out Darel’s Bakery & Sweets, Rita’s Italian Ice, or the bakery at Liliana’s Columbian Restaurant & Bakery. The Kettle Diner handles big families with ease, and you’ll want to save room for homemade cakes for dessert.

Grandfather and granddaughter at the Eagle Globe and Anchor

Photo: Grandfather with granddaughter walking to Eagle Globe & Anchor at the Lejeune Memorial Gardens

A Mix of History and Fun

Set aside an hour to stroll the azalea-lined paths at the Lejeune Memorial Gardens where you can learn about military history. There, you’ll find the national memorial to the first black Marines, the second largest Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the country, a 9/11 beam from the Twin Towers, and the largest Eagle, Globe & Anchor statue in the USA. Reference this downloadable pdf to guide your experience. The gardens are also lit at night.

Our most popular selfie or TikTok video spot may be the Freedom Fountain, just a block away from the Lejeune Memorial Gardens. The Freedom Fountain is the gateway to downtown Jacksonville and honors all who pass through the area in service to their country.

The Waffle Lady

Photos: Meet Regina Triche, aka “The Waffle Lady” at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Jacksonville, NC. Read more about her in this blog from Charlotte Travel and Food Writer Heidi Billotto


Looking for affordable international fare? Options are as familiar as tacos and popsicles, and we offer plenty of adventure, too. Many of our International Food Trail restaurants offer kids' menus. Check them out. 

Ready for a free concert, movie, or family-friendly events? Visit our calendar. 

See where Christina Riley and Carl Hedinger of the NC Tripping blog explored when they visited Jacksonville NC with their young daughter. 

Sep 05

Blend Café Celebrates One Year Anniversary

Posted on September 5, 2023 at 4:38 PM by Alexis Zamecnik

Blend Food

Have you ever heard the phrase "everything happens for a reason"? Well, this story is proof. 

Blend originally opened in 2020 as a nutrition bar and what started as a slight misunderstanding over text between friends quickly turned into a business deal. Current owner Erica Covey never guessed she would someday transform the cafe into the modern-day, wholesome place it is now but with support from her friends and family, she has created an atmosphere that welcomes everyone. Her family all puts in effort to ensure the success of this dream by doing maintenance, mowing the grass, and helping behind the counter. 

Enjoy the view of the beautiful New River while relaxing on the outdoor deck or take in the eclectic decor indoors. While you wait for your drinks or food, browse locally crafted products that won't be found at your normal cafe. Blend offers a variety of food that caters to all tastes. From healthy protein shakes and energy drinks to a breakfast burrito or an artisan sandwich you'll find what you're looking for. 

But wait! Erica didn't stop there. In April 2023 her family opened a second business in the adjoining building serving rolled ice cream, making them the only business in a 40-mile radius that offers this specialty. This rolled ice cream is handmade in the shop with five flavors to choose from, two of which are dairy-free, and an endless amount of delicious toppings. Everyone leaves happy with this in their hands. 

We have no doubt this business will continue to grow and we can't wait to see what comes next! Stop by on Friday afternoons for Sunsets on the Patio, enjoy a military discount, or just treat yourself because - either way, you don't want to miss out on this delicious experience. 

Share your adventure with us on Instagram @visitjacksonvillenc and continue supporting Jacksonville's small businesses! 

Read more about her story from the Daily News or check out the menu and hours at