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Wilmington, North Carolina and its island beaches is a year-round destination that transcends coastal visitor experiences. Take a stroll on the scenic Riverwalk or through historic downtown, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by breweries, music, unique eats, local culture and unrivaled adventures around every corner. It’s just a short drive from the award-winning riverfront to the oceanfront through Wilmington’s thriving midtown, where you’ll find parks, gardens, museums, a water park and city amenities. Carolina, Kure and Wrightsville Beaches are well known for their beloved coastlines, but there is much more to be discovered there from farm- and sea-to-table dining to nightlife to live music. Voted by readers of Southern Living magazine as one of "The South’s Best Cities" in 2019 and named one of TripAdvisor’s 2018 Travelers’ Choice “Top Destinations on the Rise,” Wilmington and Island Beaches is the perfect place to stray off course for a coastal experience like no other in the city, at the beach and beyond.

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Wilmington’s rankings as one of the South’s Best Cities (Southern Living), Top Destinations on the Rise and America’s Best Riverfront (USATODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice) keeps getting better. Renovation and expansion along Wilmington’s nearly two mile Riverwalk include Aloft Hotel (2020) and North Waterfront Park, an urban greenspace with Cape Fear River views and a large open-air music venue managed by Live Nation (2021). The area is also home to more than 200 shops, restaurants, attractions and cruises are within walking distance.

Neighborhood Discoveries

Tour Wilmington’s River District via narrated trolley, horse-drawn carriage or Segway tours, or river cruise. Themed walking tours focus on history, food/restaurants, film/TV locations, haunted sites and pubs. Nearby, as Wilmington’s River District continues to evolve and expand, other neighborhoods are being revived. The Brooklyn Arts District has two craft breweries, a bakery, ice creamery, bottle shop, and cafés. The Castle Street Arts & Antiques District boasts antique and consignment shops, a used music store, small theatre and eateries. The newest up-and-coming neighborhood is South Front District, a former industrial area with nightlife and live music at Satellite Bar, which is located next to celebrity chef Vivian Howard and husband Ben Knight’s gourmet restaurant, Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria. Other eateries include Second Glass Wine Bar.


Just minutes from Wilmington’s award-winning River District are the island beaches of Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach, each with its own coastal vibe. With the ocean to the east, the Intracoastal Waterway and Cape Fear River to the west and marshes in-between, our beaches invite surfing, boating, swimming, kayaking, fishing and standup paddleboarding. Two state parks offer nature trails and recreation. For beach story ideas, click on these links: Carolina BeachKure Beach and Wrightsville Beach.

Eco-Adventure, Parks and Gardens

Wilmington and its island beaches claim nine sites on the N.C. Birding Trail. Nature tours and cruises explore maritime eco-systems, waterways, wildlife and flora. Carolina Beach State Park and Fort Fisher State Recreation Area offer nature programs and guided hikes. Airlie Gardens showcases 67 acres of coastal botanical gardens, ponds and the venerable Airlie Oak. Greenfield Lake Park features moss-draped cypress trees, gardens, walking trails, paddle boat and canoe rentals. Oakdale Cemetery is known for funerary art, flowers, shade trees and tours.

Hidden Gems

From the river to the sea, hidden sanctuaries are bountiful. The Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden is tucked away along the Gary Shell Cross City Trail while the whimsical Minnie Evans Glass Bottle House inspires at Airlie Gardens. Just beyond the “Welcome to Wrightsville Beach” sign is Harbor Way Garden, a serene botanical gem, while Masonboro Island, an undeveloped estuarine reserve accessible only by boat, is located just off the island’s shore. The Basin Trail at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area leads to a WWII bunker where the legendary Fort Fisher Hermit once resided, while Carolina Beach State Park’s Venus Flytrap Trail is one of the only places in the world the carnivorous plant grows naturally.

Live Music and Nightlife

Spring, summer, winter or fall, live music is at the forefront of a welcoming social scene. From country legends like Willie Nelson to indie rock groups and symphonic tributes, the variety of musical acts and venues in the area is impressive. You’ll find outdoor venues, concert halls, pubs with local acts and more, with music festivals to suit every taste held throughout the year. Nightlife includes funky beach bars, dance clubs, cocktail and cigar lounges, rooftop and tiki bars, outdoor piers, riverfront and boardwalk stages and intimate listening rooms.

Experiences on the Water

From the Atlantic Ocean to the Intracoastal Waterway and the Cape Fear River – with lakes, creeks, marshes and sounds in between – there are many ways to experience the area’s waterways. Anglers cast their lines from the surf, piers, fishing charters and head boats. River cruises and island boat excursions, kayak and canoe tours, sailing and fishing opportunities abound. Surf schools provide surfing and standup paddleboard lessons, and outfitters offer paddling and sailing instruction.

Brews & Spirits

What sets Wilmington’s coastal craft cocktail scene apart is its lack of big-city pretension, strong focus on creativity and unique locations, including killer waterfront views. Embark on a tasting tour along the Wilmington Ale Trail featuring 15 local breweries or get a guided tour aboard the Port City Brew Bus. Sip on unique takes of classic cocktails at The Blind Elephant, a 1920’s Prohibition speakeasy tucked away in a hidden alley. Indulge in award-winning drinks by mixologists, food and ambiance at manna ave. 123 or soak up the sun and waterfront views at Ocean Grill and Tiki Bar and Oceanic Restaurant at two of Wilmington’s nearby beaches.


Wilmington and its island beaches are in the midst of a dining renaissance with new and unique eateries from river to sea. Make reservations at one of the plethora of farm-to-table restaurants that offer unique Southern fare while putting fresh ingredients first including Rx and PinPoint in Wilmington, Surf House at Carolina Beach or EAST Oceanfront and Shark Bar & Kitchen at Wrightsville Beach. In Wilmington, celebrity chefs Keith Rhodes of Bravo’s “Top Chef” and Vivian Howard of PBS’ “A Chef’s Life” opened their doors on the coast with Catch and Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria while Jessica Cabo of Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen” fame is the executive chef of EAST Oceanfront Dining in Wrightsville Beach.


It’s easy to remain active with a jog along Wilmington’s Riverwalk, around Greenfield Lake, through two state parks or on our white sandy beaches. The Gary Shell Cross City Trail is a 15-mile, offroad multi-use trail that runs from Wilmington to the Intracoastal Waterway. Throughout the year there are 5k, 10k, marathon and triathlon races. Day spas, yoga studios, salt caves, health clubs, golf courses, outfitters, skate parks, disc golf, tennis courts and hiking trails provide a variety of fitness options across the area. You’ll find surf and standup paddleboard (SUP) schools, sailing, kayaking, parasailing and world tour-qualifying watersport competitions at the nearby beaches.

Arts, Culture and Heritage

Visitors to Wilmington and its island beaches can enjoy an array of festivals, museums, art galleries, craft fairs, performing arts events and historic sites. Wilmington’s Fourth Friday Gallery Nights is held monthly at local galleries. Nearby stages include historic theatres such as Thalian Hall, university auditoriums, outdoor amphitheaters, renovated churches and The Wilson Center, a 1,500-seat performing arts center. From its timeless Victorian, historic architecture to the influential Cape Fear Riverport, Wilmington has deep, historic roots. The destination is known for its Historic District, beauty, charm, Southern hospitality and nautical legacy. Witness a history lesson by land when exploring one of the largest National Register Historic Districts in the Southeast, or by sea at the Battleship NORTH CAROLINA and Fort Fisher State Historic Site.

Twist on Holiday Traditions

‘Tis the season, and what better way to get into the spirit than by taking part in both classic and holiday traditions only found at the coast? Get out of the hectic holiday madness and take a relaxing getaway to Wilmington, N.C. and its island beaches to experience award-winning restaurants, breweries, museums, live music and holiday activities including festive seaside markets, flotilla parades, decorated homes and enchanted gardens, all with a coastal twist.