Wilmington and its three vibrant island beaches offer sunrise and sunset experiences that make for postcard-perfect memories. Take a sunup SUP tour through sparkling salt marshes, sit back and sip sunset-hued cocktails along Wilmington’s Riverwalk at sundown or witness the sun sinking into the water from Wrightsville Beach’s western shore – a remarkable and rare sight on the East Coast.
Set Your Alarm for Sunrise Adventures
There’s no temptation to hit snooze when in Wilmington and its island beaches, where dawn breaks beautifully over the Atlantic shore. Whether you choose beach yoga or boat rides, you’ll wake up to endless activities amid splendid sunrise backdrops.
Start your day with a sun salutation by the sea. On the sand of Carolina Beach, you’ll flow into island Zen with Salty Dog Yoga & Surf’s Rise and Shine session. Breathe in the coastal air during BeUnlimited Yoga’s morning BeSalty class on Wrightsville Beach’s Crystal Pier. Just north of the Kure Beach Fishing Pier, Kure Beach Yoga hosts sunrise sessions on the shore. Outdoor yoga offerings vary by season, so check studios’ websites for availability.
During a morning glide on glistening waterways, paddling pros and first timers alike can experience the area’s coastline in full color. Embark on a Morning Glory Sunrise Paddle with Wrightsville SUP, or explore the salt marsh at sunup with Cape Fear Paddleboarding. Wrightsville Beach is one of the best “SUP hubs” in the country according to Outside magazine, and the area has ample rental and guided tour options.
If a sit-down paddle is more your speed, join Kayak Carolina for a Sunrise Paddle from Kure Beach to Zeke’s Island Reserve – a secluded spot inhabited by rare shorebirds. Or, reserve a private sunrise boat charter with Epic Excursions to cruise along the Intracoastal Waterway and Atlantic. Out on the water, watch the ocean horizon as the sun emerges and paints the sky in pink and orange hues. It’s a sunrise that will stick with you long after you return home.
On dry land, runners and walkers can enjoy memorable morning miles on The Loop. This 2.5-mile paved trail offers arresting views of Wrightsville Beach’s waterways and marshes – and features fascinating pop-up signage when the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History’s Loop Through History tour occurs eight weekends annually. Visitors are welcome to join the group sunrise beach runs frequently hosted by the Wilmington Roadrunners. For those seeking a scenic morning bike ride, the 11-mile River to the Sea Bikeway begins at Wrightsville Beach’s Johnnie Mercers Pier and stretches to the Riverwalk.
Beach lovers can spectate serene ocean sunrises on all three island beaches’ shores. Pack a chair and pick up coffee en route. Some local early bird options include Wake N Bake Donuts, Malama Cafe and Crush & Grind in Carolina Beach; Happy Hippies Java Hut in Kure Beach, and Drift Cafe, SUNday’s Cafe and the Trolly Stop in Wrightsville Beach. After caffeinating, stake out your spot in the sand and get ready for a magnificent morning view.
Soak Up Sunset Sights and Experiences
When daylight dwindles, there’s no better place to be than Wilmington and its beaches.
Located along Fort Fisher State Recreation Area’s sandy strip, the coquina rock formation – a rare mossy hard rock outcrop cemented together by seashells and coral – inspires even more natural wonder when bathed in golden light. The formation is fully visible at low tide, so check the tide tables and time it right to be rewarded with a stunning coquina sunset.
At Wrightsville Beach, sit back and relax aboard an evening harbor ride with La Dee Dah Sunset Cruises or Soundside Adventures. Or, use your pedaling power in sparkling waters at sunset with Carolina Beach’s Sea Legs Pedal Pub. If you’re interested in an intimate boat excursion, consider reserving a private sunset charter with Bluewater Transport Charters or Yacht Source and experience sundown in style.
Savor sunset hues and local flavors while enjoying bites and drinks alfresco. With plenty of open outdoor seating, Oceanic Restaurant serves cocktails, coastal-style cuisine and beautiful panoramic ocean views. It’s Wrightsville Beach’s only standalone restaurant directly on the beach, with seasonal covered dining on the Crystal Pier. Dine at Dockside Restaurant along the Intercoastal Waterway at sunset and behold the views and ambiance that led this restaurant to become a popular filming location. Watch the waves and bask in sunset's glow at the Ocean Grill’s ocean-facing tiki bar at Carolina Beach. It’s the perfect place to sip a sunset-hued Mai Tai and drink in a gorgeous view.
For a singular sunset experience, head to Historic Downtown Wilmington and stroll the scenic Riverwalk. The iconic Elijah’s Restaurant, facing the water, offers local oysters, live music and top-notch waterfront views. Right off the Riverwalk, you’ll also find Anne Bonny’s Bar and Grill, a spot with Carolina-casual bites and a prime location when the sun goes down. Sauce’d serves carefully crafted cocktails along the Riverwalk in a charming townhouse with river-view outdoor seating. It’s an elegant setting for watching the sky turn cotton-candy pink over the river.
Atop Historic Downtown Wilmington’s rooftop bars, you’ll enjoy elevated Cape Fear River sunsets from another perspective. Cloud 9, open March through November, is an evening hotspot thanks to the rooftop terrace bar’s breathtaking river vistas and diverse local brews on tap. Also situated downtown, Reel Cafe’s upper-level bar (heated during the chillier months) overlooks the Cape Fear River and draws sunset-seekers no matter the season.
Witness a Special Shoreline Sunset
Given the adage, “as sure as the sun sets in the west,” an East Coast beach sunset sounds like an astronomic anomaly. However, it’s a reality at Wrightsville Beach, where the sun sinks west over the waterway. At dusk, set your sights on the island’s inland-side shore to bask in this beautiful, rare phenomenon. The colors of the Carolina coast are most vibrant at sunup and sundown, which you can observe on either side of Wrightsville Beach.
There’s no better place to take in sun-streaked skies than Wilmington and its three nearby island beaches. During your visit, watch from a different spot every morning and evening to see the beautiful North Carolina coast in a new light.