Why You Should Visit Jacksonville, N.C., This Summer
Editor’s note: After publication of this article, Basefest was cancelled for 2019.
It’s not easy getting goosebumps in the coastal North Carolina summertime – unless it’s from national pride inspired by an Independence Day or patriotic summer visit to Jacksonville.
Home of U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, the city boasts an impressive number of military memorials as well as shopping, diverse dining and other attractions, many owned and operated by veterans.
Jacksonville’s Patriotic Pride
Lejeune Memorial Gardens is a poignant remembrance of the service members who made the ultimate sacrifice for national freedom. Open to the public near downtown, it includes several military memorials situated along beautifully landscaped trails.
“Strolling the beautiful gardens, especially in the late afternoon or early morning, is a great way to spend time in reflection,” says Susan Dosier, a team member with the Jacksonville Tourism Development Authority..
The gardens incorporate Beirut, Vietnam Veterans, Montford Point Marine and 9/11 memorials.
The Beirut Memorial, with the words, “They Came in Peace,” honors Marines, many of whom were based at Camp Lejeune, who died on a peacekeeping mission during the Lebanese Civil War after a truck bomb exploded at their barracks in 1983. Many consider that attack to be the opening to the war on terror.
The gardens’ Vietnam Veterans Memorial is the second largest in the nation after the one in Washington, D.C. It’s one of just a few to list all the names of the fallen, which are alphabetically etched in glass.
The Montford Point Marine Memorial commemorates the first African-American Marines who fought for the right to fight between 1942 and 1949. Although no record of names or exact numbers exists for those who served, a wall of nearly 20,000 stars represent the soldiers who were awarded – many posthumously – the Congressional Gold Medal.
The 9/11 Memorial Beam, the first taken from New York City, arrived via NYC fire engine transport and was presented in appreciation for the Lejeune-based Marines, who were the first to invade Afghanistan following the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Another memorable feature – an eagle, globe and anchor statue – marks the entryway for the future Museum of the Marine.
The Freedom Fountain stands a short walk away from the gardens to honor all troops who’ve passed through Onslow County. It includes 54 columns of water – one for each state, one for each government branch and a large, central column representing freedom. At night, it often glows with red, white and blue illumination.
Family Fun in Jacksonville
Jacksonville has a wide variety of nonmilitary, outdoor-oriented, family-friendly attractions too. Go on a guided fishing boat excursion, visit the new Zing Zumm Children’s Museum, go kayaking or paddle boarding, or feed farm animals.
The New River flows 55 to 65 miles before emptying into the Atlantic, and several expert fishing guides offer tours year round.
Zing Zumm, on New Bridge Street, focuses on interactive activities that allow kids aged toddler through 10 to learn through play, exploration and discovery, and build foundational skills.
Swansboro Paddle Boarding and Kayak Rental provides just that, as well as instruction and private lessons, eco-tours and boast-assisted tours.
With a family-style restaurant, dinner show schedule, bakery and gift shop, Mike’s Farm presents the ultimate agritourism experience, where children can see – and even feed – chickens, turkeys, sheep, goats, donkeys, peacocks and ducks. The farm is also known for its bakery, which features 25 flavors of fudge in addition to cakes, pies and other desserts.
Jacksonville also has a number of adult-favored attractions, including an escape room, soap and spa shop, and dinner cruises.
Described as video games come to life, the Cracked It! Escape Room offers a choice of themes for small groups.
A retired Marine and his wife own Bayonet Cruises, which provides clients a bit of yachting luxury at affordable prices and selections. Couples or small groups can choose from various dinner, lunch, sunset or overnight catered options.
Where to Eat in Jacksonville
With so much to see and do in Jacksonville, visitors are bound to get hungry.
At Jeff’s Burgers, Dogs & Shakes, the hand-cut fries, freshly made hamburger patties and other regional fare make the restaurant a casual favorite.
For local seafood, head to Capt. Bob Beck’s Marina Café, where kids (and likely those of all ages) will love getting to interact with its resident parrot, JoJack. As for the meal, patrons recommend the fried shrimp.
Locals recommend visitors with a taste for international flavor go to Marrakesh for Mediterranean cuisine and Tony’s Pizza, which is owned by a retired Marine. “It’s the real deal for Italian pizza – thin, tender crust, and one slice is a meal,” Dosier says.
Jacksonville also offers several options for getting caffeinated, and the unique liège waffles coated in pearl sugar at The Milk Road set it apart from other coffee shops.