Thanks to unique settings and a myriad of things to see and do from river to sea, Wilmington attracts all types of travelers. Whether you’re a beach lover, shopaholic, foodie or history enthusiast, you’ll find plenty to fill your vacation itinerary in Wilmington and its three nearby island beaches.
Read on to discover trip ideas tailored to your individual interests for a perfectly personalized escape:
The Beach Lover
There’s no shortage of sandy shores, warm water and aquatic adventures for beach lovers with Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach all just a short drive away from Wilmington. For an extra easy beach day, rent chairs and umbrellas from RentABeachChair in Carolina Beach, and they will have your equipment set up and waiting for you when you arrive. Or, guests of the Blockade Runner Beach Resort and Shell Island Resort can rent beach chairs and umbrellas on-site and head straight for the shore.
Spend a day at one of the island beaches to enjoy endless watersports, including lessons for all skill levels and guided tours from experienced experts. Learn to surf with Odysea Surf School or take a stand-up paddleboard lesson from Cape Fear Paddleboarding. Take a guided kayak or canoe tour to learn about the area, or rent equipment from Paddle NC if you’d prefer to set out on your own. With Soundside Adventures at Wrightsville Beach, one of the only ASA Certified Surf Schools in the state, you can learn to surf from experienced instructors, or relax during a Masonboro Adventure Sail or Sunset Cruise aboard the newest addition to the Blockade Runner’s fleet, the “Zoe.”
From trendy new spots to tried-and-true classics, Wilmington has plenty of spots for foodies to savor. Thanks to its coastal locale, the destination has fresh seafood in spades. Try the seasonal fresh catch at award-winning eatery, Catch, paired with hand-picked produce from local growers. Or, visit family-friendly grill and oyster bar Elijah’s, situated right on the Riverwalk, for river views and seafood or land dishes. Seabird pairs locally sourced, in-season seafood with creative vegetable dishes made from the freshest local produce to create a menu defined by community and sustainability.
Savor the authentic flavors of Italy at Tarantelli’s Ristorante Italiano, serving up original family recipes originating in the Abruzzo region. Indulge in a gourmet dish like Spaghetti al Formaggio Parmigiana, served tableside from an authentic Italian cheese wheel. Choose from authentic French offerings and an extensive wine list at Brasserie du Soleil and enjoy the luxurious yet comfortable atmosphere indoors or on their patio overlooking the pond. At Indochine, an acclaimed Thai and Vietnamese restaurant, visit the lotus pond, dine outside in one of the Thai huts or enjoy your meal in the exquisitely decorated indoor dining room.
Take in the vista of the Cape Fear River as you sample savory starters, charcuterie plates, salads, sliders and more from aView Rooftop Bistro, located on the seventh floor of the new Aloft Wilmington at Coastline Center. Or, enjoy hand-cut steaks, burgers, the extensive whiskey and bourbon selection and more at the new True Blue Butcher & Barrel in the South Front District. Featured in the Cooking Channel’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate,” the Cargo District’s CheeseSmith offers a rotating menu of fresh and innovative grilled cheese sandwich variations and delicious sides.
The History Buff
Historic charm and rich Southern culture abound in Wilmington. Discover the coastal city of days past during a horse-drawn carriage tour of the 230-plus-block National Register Historic District with Springbrook Farms. Or, embark on a walking tour with Tour Old Wilmington to explore all the historic landmarks that make downtown notable. Download the Wilmington History Tours mobile app to choose from a variety of unique tours tailored to your interests.
Take a step back in time with an up-close look at three of Wilmington’s historic house museums. Victorian architecture is on display at Bellamy Mansion Museum of History & Design, a home originally built in 1861 as a prominent family’s residence. Discover Georgian architecture and four-level terrace gardens at the Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens, or get a glimpse into upper-class life in Victorian Wilmington at the Latimer House Museum.
The first city in the country to be designated an official “American World War II Heritage City,” Wilmington offers plenty of opportunities to explore military history. Take a self-guided tour of the Battleship NORTH CAROLINA, a refurbished WWII battleship moored on the Cape Fear River which now serves as a memorial for the 11,000 North Carolinians who died during the war. Or, download the WWII Heritage Guide Map to find dozens of notable locations that contributed to Wilmington’s status as “The Defense Capital of the State” during the war.
Bring home unique pieces you won’t find anywhere else with Wilmington’s eclectic array of shops. Check out Lumina Station, the shopping village by the beach, to discover a charming collection of locally owned boutiques, distinctive restaurants and unique cafes. Lumina Station’s award-winning contextual design is a treat to explore, including beautiful landscaping, whimsical sculptures and storybook bridges.
Peruse artisan finds and pieces that have a story at Airlie Moon, a boutique known for offering fine linens, hand-crafted jewelry and fresh scented candles and soaps. At Candles Etc., home of the Wilmington Candle Company, candles are made on-site of 100% pure soy with no additives. Discover a vast array of thoughtful gifts, coastal home furnishings and exquisite finds at Crabby Chic.
Fashion fiends will want to make a stop at Edge of Urge, offering handmade and independent designer clothing, shoes, jewelry, gifts and accessories to add to your collection. Made right here in North Carolina, Holly Aiken offers a large selection of handmade bags and accessories primarily constructed from colorful vinyl, accented by stripes and intriguing geometric shapes that are hand-cut in their workshop.