Located on the Cape Fear River with not one but three island beaches just a short drive away, Wilmington and Beaches offers endless adventures. To truly experience all four settings in one trip, you’ll want to check out our seven-day itinerary. Read on for tips to experience all the classic coastal fun around, from watersports and walking tours to beach days and boardwalk fun.
Before diving into adventure, be sure to choose the perfect homebase for your getaway. There are plenty of full-service hotels and resorts that offer extraordinary views and a variety of amenities, as well as conveniently located hotels and motels for a low-key stay. You can embrace tradition in a bed & breakfast boasting historic charm or make your own traditions and spread out in a vacation rental. Once you’ve settled on a place to stay, you’re ready for seven fun-filled days:
Day 1: Get to Know Wilmington Your Way
Spend the first day of your week-long vacation in Wilmington exploring the city and all its rich history. First, don’t miss the historic homes in the National Register Historic District including the Bellamy Mansion, Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens and Latimer House. Springbrook Farms Inc. offers horse-drawn carriage tours, or you can take your own self-guided walking tour.
Spanning nearly two miles along the Cape Fear River, Wilmington’s Riverwalk is lined with independently owned markets, boutiques and art galleries. Take a leisurely stroll, then grab a bite to eat at one of the riverfront restaurants, like The George on the Riverwalk or Pilot House. Just across the way, explore the heroic ship from WWII, the Battleship NORTH CAROLINA, including its gallery, engine room and more. Catch a ride with Bizzy Bee Water Taxi to travel back and forth between the Riverwalk and the Battleship.
Known as “Hollywood East,” Wilmington has served as the backdrop for many blockbuster films and popular TV shows, such as Sleepy Hollow, Dawson's Creek and One Tree Hill. Take a self-guided tour, reliving favorite moments from some of your favorite flicks.
Day 2: Leave Your Worries on Dry Land
Located a quick 15-minute drive away, Wrightsville Beach is known as a premier watersports destination and an East Coast hot spot for surfing and standup paddleboarding (SUP). Jump right in with SUP lessons from Wrightsville SUP or, if you’re ready to tackle the waves, sign up for a surf lesson with Indo Jax Surf School or Sweetwater Surf School. Whether you already know your way around a board or are just beginning, qualified instructors are on-hand for all experience levels. Afterward, refuel with a nutritious acai bowl, poke bowl or avocado sourdough toast from Adapt Kitchen & Juice Bar, then stop by Harbor Way Gardens to breathe in the sweet smell of the Witherspoon Roses.
Day 3: Find Fun From Beach to Boardwalk
Visit Carolina Beach to experience the laid back, fun-loving atmosphere that makes for a perfect beach day. Reserve all the necessities ahead of time with Pleasure Island Rentals so beach chairs and other accessories are ready when you arrive. After you’ve maxed out your time on the sand, head to the Carolina Beach Boardwalk for classic seaside family fun, shops and plenty of places for grub. Sample beloved barbecue and ocean views from the outdoor patio at Carolina Smokehouse or enjoy the melt-in-your-mouth glazed donuts at Britt’s, a seasonal staple of the Boardwalk since 1939. As the sun sets on your day at the beach, take a spin on the Ferris Wheel or game the evening away at the arcade.
Day 4: Get Ready to Say, “Jibe Ho!”
Head back to Wrightsville Beach and fuel up for the day with a gourmet espresso drink from The Workshop and peruse the handmade jewelry made from fossils discovered on the owners’ own scuba adventures. Once you’re properly caffeinated, sail away with Shamrock Sailing Adventures or Wrightsville Performance Sailing for a day on the water enjoying the beautiful Wrightsville Beach coastline. Use this time to relax as you are guided through the water via your very own captain, taking in unbeatable views and even the occasional dolphin sighting! If you are ready to captain your own boat, sign up for sailing lessons with individualized instruction from the Blockade Runner Sailing School.
Day 5: Explore Uninhabited Islands
Make your first stop in Kure Beach at Happy Hippies Java Hut for your morning caffeine fix with their signature cold brew creation, the Mermaid Magic. Then, join a guided kayak tour from Kayak Carolina to be led through the calm waters of the bays and marsh creeks as you make your way to Zeke’s Island, or rent a standup paddleboard from Pleasure Island Rentals to paddle out independently. The uninhabited island, accessible only by kayak or boat, is a tranquil spot surrounded by wildlife and nature. Farther up the coast, discover the region’s largest undisturbed barrier island ecosystem, Masonboro Island Reserve, which can also only be reached by boat, kayak or canoe. Once you return to the mainland, make a stop at the Kure Beach Fishing Pier to refuel with a burger or dog from Beach House Burgers and enjoy the views.
Day 6: Revel in Marvelous Museums
Absorb the rich arts and culture scene in Wilmington by visiting some of its most engaging museums. Bring the kids along to Wilmington Railroad Museum, which showcases the history of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and is home to model trains, a Thomas the Tank Engine Train play area and a life-size 100-year-old steam locomotive. The Children’s Museum of Wilmington features hands-on exhibits in arts, science and culture that stimulate children’s’ imaginations and curiosity and offers daily educational children’s programs tailored to a variety of interests including crafts, cooking, science, marine life and more.
At Cameron Art Museum, view several rotating exhibitions as well as outdoor works, including the life-size statue Boundless, which honors the African American soldiers who fought in the Civil War as a part of the United States Colored Troops. The Cape Fear Museum of History and Science is home to a 20-foot-tall giant ground sloth replica, an interactive Space Place where you can try on an astronaut suit, the Michael Jordan Discovery Gallery and more. Just over the drawbridge in Wrightsville Beach, the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History showcases the island’s history with a scale model of the town circa 1910, exhibits featuring the early days of the beach and beautiful art – all housed in historic cottages.
Day 7: Make Fort Fisher Home Base
Spend the last day of your vacation in Fort Fisher. Located at the south end of Kure Beach, Fort Fisher was the site of the Civil War’s largest amphibious (land and water) battle. Wander the six miles of protected shoreline and 288 acres of seashore, marsh and trails at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, then discover fascinating historic remnants and indoor exhibits at Fort Fisher State Historic Site. Afterward, visit the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher just down the road – be sure to reserve your tickets in advance! Stroll through stunning exhibits and discover a variety of unique aquatic wildlife and environments. This top regional and national attraction is the perfect way to wind down your vacation in Wilmington and its surrounding island beaches.
Don’t limit yourself on vacation. Experience four unique settings in one destination with a trip to Wilmington, where no two getaways are alike. Plan seven days of fun to soak it all in, from river to sea!