After spending months at home, many people are itching for a safe getaway to escape their cabin fever. Thanks to easy access via numerous interstates, Wilmington—and its three island beaches—is the perfect quick-trip destination for road trippers from both North Carolina and nearby states. According to a recent study conducted by Hotwire.com, 86% of Americans are looking to dip their toes back into travel with short trips to save money, avoid stress and stay safe.
Check out our guide for finding fun, free and affordable ideas for your next quickie trip to Wilmington.
When in Wilmington, there’s no shortage of perfect places to stay. With off-season rates, mild temperatures and many of your favorite summer activities available well into fall, now is the best time to book a getaway at one of our river or oceanfront hotels or motels. The Best Western Plus Coastline Inn is situated right on the Riverwalk with views from every room and is within walking distance of all the unique shopping, dining and more the Historic District has to offer! Located between Historic Downtown Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach, the Courtyard by Marriott Wilmington/Wrightsville Beach offers many amenities close to the area’s top attractions.
Be sure to check out lodging partner websites directly to snag the best deals, and look to book a weeknight (Sunday to Thursday) stay for extra savings. Or, for an affordable escape for the whole family, check out our wide variety of vacation rentals tailored to every size group and budget.
For a quick and inexpensive breakfast, stop by Beach Bagels, named Best Bagel and Best Breakfast in Wilmington by Encore Magazine. Grab a New York-style bagel with your favorite spread complemented with a specialty espresso drink to start the day off right – you can even order ahead online to beat the lines. Try the sandwich of the day at Detour Deli & Café, like the Charles Haskle Jr. Smoked Turkey Club or Raoul Kildare Turkey & Chorizo Torta. You can also enjoy casual to-go options like salads, hoagies, clubs and more. Or, stop by Flaming Amy’s Bowl. This Mongolian grill offers fully customizable, fresh food bowls with add-ins like beef, shrimp, noodles, veggies and more!
If you’re looking to splurge, enjoy alfresco dining at Smoke on the Water where you can overlook the beautiful Cape Fear River while savoring seafood, signature BBQ, local brews and more. For the perfect sweet treat to top off your day, visit Lazy Jack’s Ice Cream Shack on the Riverwalk for locally made ice cream, milkshakes and more, including their signature Ice Cream Nachos. Or, indulge in one of the 26 flavors of ice cream from Boombalatti’s Homemade Ice Cream. Can’t choose just one? Try the four flavor mini-scoop sampler!
Open for Exploration
In search of adventure? There are plenty of free and affordable outdoor attractions to visit at your own pace. For a small admission fee, you can spend all day exploring more than 67 acres of manicured gardens, spectacular seasonal blooms, towering live oaks and dozens of pieces of art at Airlie Gardens. Don’t miss out on this year’s unique art exhibit, Squirrels!, which features larger-than-life squirrel statues imaginatively adorned with decorations by local artists. Or, visit the New Hanover County Arboretum to stroll along paved pathways through seven acres of beautiful gardens and discover a water garden with hundreds of colorful Koi. Pack a picnic lunch with the famous chicken salad from Robert’s Grocery, located just over the drawbridge in Wrightsville Beach, to continue soaking in the beautiful scenery all day!
Over the years, Wilmington has been home to the sets of some of your favorite TV shows and movies like “Iron Man 3,” “The Conjuring” and more. Relive some of your favorite television moments with a self-guided tour of Capeside, Massachusetts, the charming fictional hometown of Dawson and Pacey in “Dawson’s Creek.” Or, take a walking tour of famous filming locations from “One Tree Hill,” like “Karen’s Café” or “Tree Hill High School.” When in town, keep your eyes peeled for a ghostly glimpse of Scream 5, a feature film being shot in Wilmington this fall.
Wilmington was the first city in the country to be designated as a World War II Heritage City by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. Walk along the SECU Memorial Walkway, a half-mile boardwalk honoring WWII veterans from all branches of the military, for up-close views of the WWII Battleship NORTH CAROLINA. Purchase tickets to take a self-guided tour of the ship’s nine levels of living space, mess decks, gun turrets and more. Or, download the Wilmington Tours app for a small fee to take a walking tour of the city’s numerous historic sites.
A Halloween Getaway to Die For
With Halloween upon us, there is no better time (or place!) to find spooky sites than one of the most actively haunted cities in the South. For a small fee, children and adults can listen to lively ghost stories while passing by historic homes in downtown Wilmington on the Halloween Ghost Trolley. When you hop aboard on one of four dates offered throughout October, kids will even receive free Halloween treats!
For something a bit more haunting, take a Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington tour to embark on a 90-minute adventure through the city’s most actively haunted homes and burial grounds. This nationally acclaimed, award-winning tour has been featured on MTV, the Discovery Channel and more, and was named “One of America’s Top 5 Tours” by USA Today. Guests can also download free ghost hunter apps to partake in the fun.
Head to the Museum of the Bizarre to discover a curated collection of curious oddities on display for a small admission fee, including Alexander Hamilton’s hair, Houdini’s Ouija board and famous movie props like the Crystal Skull of Knowledge. Enter if you dare!
No matter what activities you’re seeking for your next getaway, Wilmington offers wide-open outdoor spaces, beaches, mild fall weather and plenty of activities from river to sea for the perfect socially distanced quick trip.