Wilmington is full of unique experiences, memorable excursions and hidden gems catered to any generation and suitable for all ages, offering all the flavors and adventures for a perfect getaway. If you’re looking for a curated experience for your next fall escape, look no further than this all-ages travel guide to Wilmington!
Wilmington offers a variety of accommodation options for whatever you’re looking for. To experience peaceful Southern charm and history, opt for one of our quaint bed & breakfasts and unwind on a private, more upscale escape. Defined by history and Southern hospitality, the C.W. Worth House Bed & Breakfast is the longest continuously operating B&B in Wilmington, located downtown in the Historic District within walking distance of a variety of restaurants and activities to explore. Constructed in 1848 as a Victorian mansion, the Rosehill Inn Bed & Breakfast offers elegantly appointed accommodations, in addition to beautiful terraced gardens and a wide wrap-around porch perfect for relaxing with a piping hot cup of coffee or a refreshing glass of sweet iced tea. According to Southern Living, “This is no ordinary B&B.” For peace and privacy located in the heart of historic downtown, the Front Street Inn offers spacious ground floor options with convenient outdoor access and off-street parking.
There is no better way to start your day than by taking in beautiful views and fresh coastal air with wide-open spaces. Begin your morning with a stroll through Airlie Gardens, a 67-acre treasure trove of wildlife, lakes and gardens. Or, enjoy a walk through the enchanting grounds of the New Hanover County Arboretum, open year-round to explore. There are over a dozen different sections featuring rose, aquatic, Japanese, herb, butterfly, children’s and vegetable gardens, plus a koi pond and an ability garden with raised beds.
For those looking to kick their mornings up a notch, take to the links at one of the area’s numerous golf courses. With roving greens and beautiful scenery, your view will be almost as memorable as getting a hole-in-one. Or, if golf isn’t your game, practice your serve and get in a great workout with a quick tennis match at the Althea Gibson Tennis Complex.
Spend the day exploring rich history at a variety of historical sites in Wilmington, the first city in the country designated as a World War II Heritage City. Take a step back in time by visiting the Battleship NORTH CAROLINA, a refurbished WWII battleship moored across the river from historic downtown. Explore the main deck of this National Historic Landmark while overlooking the breathtaking view of Wilmington’s riverfront from aboard the ship. Or, discover the 230-plus-block National Register Historic District, one of the largest in the country, via a horse-drawn carriage or self-guided walking tour to discover classic architecture, brick-lined streets and period homes.
Looking to experience Wilmington by water? Continue your historical journey through Wilmington with Cape Fear Riverboats, where you’ll be welcomed aboard the oldest running cruise tour in the city. Available through October, you can enjoy sightseeing tours, sunset cruises and more on the Henrietta II Riverboat. Finish your day off with cocktails, snacks and a narrated cruise on the boat’s enclosed deck while taking in views of historic downtown and the sunset on the river.
Continue to enjoy waterfront scenery with alfresco dining well into fall in Wilmington’s River District, where you’ll find more than 40 locally-owned restaurants and pubs. Running through Oct. 18, Downtown Alive offers an outdoor pedestrian dining and shopping experience in the heart of downtown Wilmington. Participating restaurants expand into the street Thursday through Sunday each week to allow patrons to dine and shop safely – and enjoy the warm fall breeze!
You can savor a variety of fresh seafood with scenic views at The George on the Riverwalk with signature dishes like Shrimp and Grits and Bacon Encrusted Scallops best enjoyed at a table on their outdoor riverfront patio. Or, relish a fine dining experience at Circa 1922, a wine and tapas bar with a full dinner menu featuring favorites like Lamb Ragu and Crisp Duck Confit. For delicious “down-home cooking” with spectacular river views, Pilot House Restaurant is Wilmington’s oldest continuously operating restaurant and features outdoor and indoor dining. Wind down by sipping on unique wine blends at The Second Glass, where you’ll find a seasonal food menu designed to complement your beverage selection. Or, savor in style at Fortunate Glass Wine Bar, which boasts a menu of more than 350 wines by the bottle. For a different kind of view, stop by Cameron Art Museum, where you can enjoy rotating exhibitions alongside a hand-crafted lunch at the museum’s full-service café offering both indoor and outdoor dining options.
Whether you’re looking for a couples retreat or a fun-filled family weekend, Wilmington offers a selection of top-notch accommodations and entertainment to fit all of your hassle-free getaway needs. Opt for one of our full-service hotels to experience true relaxation complemented by amenities. Located along the scenic Riverwalk, the Embassy Suites Wilmington Riverfront Hotel offers spacious suites, an indoor pool and waterfront views. You can also enjoy drinks with gorgeous river views at the hotel’s rooftop bar, Cloud 9. Designed in celebration of Wilmington’s rich maritime history and culture, Hotel Ballast provides everything you need for an unforgettable escape. Recently renovated with high-end upgrades, the hotel offers unparalleled views of the historic downtown waterfront and includes two on-site restaurants, a Ruth’s Chris Steak House and the Southern-inspired Board & Barrel Coastal Kitchen. Or, for alternative accommodations, one of our vacation rentals is the perfect choice for families to experience life like a Wilmington local.
Take a day to roam the Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve, a 174-acre preserve located on the grounds of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Comprised of a hardwood forest, fields, pond habitats and more, the preserve includes numerous nature trails to enjoy while learning about the area’s coastal habitat and wildlife. Continue your day of exploring at The Cotton Exchange, a favorite destination in the historic downtown district for all things shopping and dining. Venture through local shops and restaurants and stop by the Wilmington Walk of Fame, honoring hometown celebrities like Charlie Daniels.
For a couple’s morning out, reserve your spot for a Downtown Tasting Tour with Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours and experience the city’s cuisine, history, architecture and culture. Along the way, you’ll have the chance to sample bites from an eclectic assortment of local restaurants, all with updated protocols to ensure guest safety.
Children and adults alike will love visiting the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science, North Carolina’s first history museum, for an afternoon full of discovery. Here, you can meet Wilmington’s oldest resident, a 20-foot-tall giant ground sloth! Families can also enjoy educational programs throughout the year with an immersive experience in the museum’s permanent and rotating special exhibits.
For flavors for the whole family, Elijah’s Restaurant offers a menu of casual American favorites and a full oyster bar, and the restaurant features rare paintings and nautical artifacts in tribute to the location’s maritime past. Located in the historic downtown district, Floriana is the perfect spot for a dinner date, serving Northern Italian dishes with seasonal ingredients sourced from local producers. End your day with a tasty treat from One Belle Bakery, featured on TLC’s “Ultimate Bake Off,” or opt for a frozen delight at Boombalatti’s Homemade Ice Cream, where you can create the ultimate cone or sundae.
Choose one of Wilmington’s boutique hotels for a stay that is both stylish and one-of-a-kind. Stay in style at ARRIVE Wilmington, a lowkey luxury boutique hotel perfect for a private weekend getaway or mixing up your work-from-home views for a few days. For a completely curated guest experience, Dreamers Welcome offers three beautifully designed suites focused on minimalism and sustainability alongside amenities like a complimentary Vegan breakfast and private yoga or massage sessions.
Wake up with a morning cup of coffee from local favorite Bespoke Coffee & Dry Goods in downtown Wilmington. Choose from the best coffees and espressos and grab a small bite – consider the signature kombucha mimosa if you’re looking for something stronger. Or, swing by 24 South Coffee House, historic downtown’s original coffee shop, to enjoy gourmet coffee and loose teas in an inviting, dog-friendly atmosphere.
The coastal city offers numerous attractions and activities to enjoy on the water, all while immersing yourself in local history and discovering protected wildlife. With Cape Fear River Watch, an advocacy group committed to protecting and improving the area’s water quality, you can explore Greenfield Lake on a guided canoe or paddleboat tour and learn more about the group’s sustainability efforts. Or, opt for a historic or eco-tour of the Cape Fear River with Wilmington Water Tours offered mornings, afternoons and evenings year-round.
You can even visit the filming locations of your favorite television shows in Wilmington! Transport yourself to Capeside, Massachusetts – the beloved hometown of Dawson, Pacey, Joey and Jen from the hit show “Dawson’s Creek” – with a self-guided filming locations tour featuring dozens of famous spots from the popular WB series. Head back to Tree Hill as you make your way through Wilmington with a One Tree Hill Walking Tour. From Riverfront Park, the backdrop for some of the show’s iconic outdoor basketball games, to “Karen’s Café” and Brooke Davis’s house, fans of the show will love to recreate their favorite scenes during this self-guided tour.
Following your day of exploration, celebrate with a brew while overlooking gorgeous river views. Explore Wilmington’s 16 craft breweries along the self-guided Wilmington Ale Trail, including a downloadable guide to lead you along your way. Stop by Flytrap Brewing for one of their specialty American or Belgian style ales, or visit Mad Mole Brewing to discover Wilmington’s first and only solar-powered brewery. Or, relax in the casual, inviting atmosphere at Bottega Art & Wine, where you can sip on various wines while enjoying sculptures, 3D art pieces and more in the outdoor courtyard.
Opt for a highly appointed suite offering spa-like bathrooms and luxury linens at The Hive, where self-check-in is available 24/7, providing the perfect contactless start to your stay. Start your day with a delicious and nutritious breakfast at one of our local cafés. Spoonfed Kitchen & Bake Shop has an upbeat vibe and a wide array of wholesome options to fuel your day and get you ready for your next adventure. With options like the Spoonfed Seasonal Granola and the #GreatDay Breakfast, this is a go-to spot for fantastic breakfast and lunch options.
Explore Wilmington by water with a variety of activities and adventures along the Cape Fear River, Intracoastal Waterway and Atlantic Ocean. Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard at Hook, Line & Paddle, your one-stop-shop for a day on the water. They also offer guided tours and hourly lessons, ideal for novices and those more advanced alike. Or, visit Greenfield Lake Park & Gardens to rent a boat or kayak and explore the lake. For more fun on the water, venture to nearby Wrightsville Beach, where you can explore even more watersports and recreation.
Enjoy the outdoors at Ogden Park’s assortment of athletic facilities and spaces to help you get in a great workout. Practice some new tricks at the 10,000 square-foot concrete skate park or take a walk along the paved trail. Visit Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden to discover a large collection of native carnivorous plants like Venus Flytraps and Pitcher Plants. Or, try your hand at one of the hottest trends in outdoor recreation with axe throwing at Axes & Allies, where you can sip and savor a variety of drinks and snacks while you relax in the mountain cabin-inspired lounge.
Commemorate your vacation experience with the picturesque scenery found all across Wilmington. Relax in the mild fall evenings with a walk along the Riverwalk at sunset, perfect for your next selfie or Boomerang, and step into one of the many independently owned shops and boutiques. Or, pop into one of our many restaurants for an unforgettable dining experience, like Bar Local Pub & Pizzeria, where you’ll find an eclectic beer and wine menu alongside seasonal small plates and desserts served until late night. Or, savor a wide selection of gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and paleo-friendly options at Epic Food Company from burgers and wraps to seafood and more. Enjoy spectacular sunsets on the dog-friendly dining deck at Smoke on the Water, offering signature seafood and barbecue favorites as well as local brews and cocktails. To cap off the day, grab a gourmet cupcake from The Peppered Cupcake, a unique shop offering exciting, special daily flavors.