By Christine Willams
When two of my college girlfriends called and invited my boyfriend and me to join them and their beaus on a weekend trip to Wrightsville Beach, I immediately said, “Yes!” Their call came at the perfect time, as summer was turning to fall, bringing milder temps and smaller crowds.
My friends and I talked about all the things we wanted to do. We’ve always had one thing in common: our vacations are never boring. We rented the perfect little bungalow on the beach that put us within walking distance of the beach, nightlife, restaurants, boutiques and surf shops.
Since us girls used to be avid yogis while rooming together at University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), it seemed fitting that we started our first morning with Yoga on the Pier. We arrived to the Crystal Pier early to watch the sunrise over the ocean. Wow! The pink and orange morning sky, accompanied by the sound of lapping waves, was the perfect setting. While we were getting centered, the guys went for a run around The Loop. It was a cool morning – just right for a jog – on the 2.5-mile fitness trail that cuts through the heart of Wrightsville Beach, then meanders through quieter wooded sections along the inlet.
Still feeling the good vibes after yoga class, the girls and I wanted to spread some of our own before meeting the guys for lunch. We walked to the north end of the beach to visit the Wrightsville Beach Mailbox. We thumbed through the tattered notebook, reading some of the messages, and left our own note, just like we had years before. Weather-beaten and perched on a post set in the dunes, this is the second mailbox located there. The first – after holding post for more than a decade – was removed and donated to the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History, along with more than 120 notebooks full of hand-scribbled notes and love letters.
For lunch, the whole group opted for the new-ish kid on the block, Shark Bar + Kitchen, just beside Johnnie Mercers Pier. We ordered a round of margaritas; I chose The Great White Marg, made with fresh lime juice and agave. When it came time to order, I was torn between the BBQ pulled pork grilled cheese and the soft shell crabs. Lucky for me, one of my girlfriends suggested we order both and share. We agreed that we’d all be regulars if we lived nearby this island gem.
The guys hit it out of the park when they booked us on a half-day charter with Epic Excursions. It was so easy for the six of us to head down to the boat ramp after lunch and hop aboard our catamaran. In a short while, we pulled up to Masonboro Island, an undeveloped barrier island accessible only by boat. It was the ideal spot for an afternoon of floating, swimming and catching waves – and the water was still plenty warm. Plus, since it wasn’t the height of summer, we almost had the whole island to ourselves!
The hardest part of the weekend was deciding where to go for dinner. We solved the “where to eat” debate by cutting the guys loose so we could enjoy some quality girl time just across the bridge at Ceviche’s, where we ordered a rum flight and, instead of entrees, opted for the tapas menu—where you’ll find most of the ceviche—and shared. The Langoustine de Coco was my favorite, with its hint of sweetness and coconut flavor. Meanwhile, the guys relaxed at the Wrightsville Beach Brewery, trying some flights of their own while chowing down on the Carnivore pizza. We ended the evening by joining them on the patio at the brewery to listen to a local band play—the perfect way to wind down a perfect day.
On Sunday, we indulged in a leisurely brunch at EAST Oceanfront Dining in the Blockade Runner Beach Resort. With its ocean-front gardens, manicured lawns and beautifully-presented Southern dishes like the North Carolina blue corn shrimp and grits, we were in heaven. The lively blues duo playing in the background added just the right ambiance to our delicious meal.
After brunch, we rented bikes from a local surf shop and took off down the River to Sea Bike Trail. Technically, we were doing it backwards, from the sea toward the river. The 11-mile trail starts at Front Street in historic downtown Wilmington and runs all the way to Johnnie Mercers Pier in Wrightsville Beach. We made our way about three miles down to Airlie Gardens. The guys lounged on the sprawling lawn under the nearly 500-year-old Airlie Oak, while the gals wandered the paths around the lagoons and along the creek. We loved seeing the butterfly house and the incredibly gorgeous, multi-hued bottle chapel, the centerpiece of the sculpture garden and a work of art itself, with trees and flowers incorporated into the design. We even spotted a Great Egret diving for fish.
Relaxing on the porch back at our beach bungalow later that afternoon, we agreed that there were so many things we still wanted to do. While we were out, we spied Motts Channel Seafood and thought about picking up some fresh oysters, scallops, shrimp and fish to grill back at our bungalow with one of their Key Lime pies for dessert, but we decided to wait until we were heading home and take a cooler to go instead. For our last dinner at Wrightsville Beach, we decided on The Oceanic.
There’s nothing better than sharing a meal with friends, and The Oceanic’s fresh selections like seasonal fish, blackened or pan-seared with lemon butter, and the always delicious Carolina Crab Cakes were the perfect entrees for our beachside dinner. Sitting outside at the ocean’s edge, sipping on cold beers and craft cocktails, was a wonderful way to wrap up our time together. But, the night was still young, and we had one last adventure.
After a short lesson at Wrightsville SUP, we were ready to commence our LED Lighted Night Paddle adventure. After a few minutes, we were all easily maneuvering through the inlets. It was thrilling and peaceful at the same time, gliding along with the LED glowing pink, blue and green against the water. We could even see fish swimming by our boards!
Afterward, we toasted to our last night – and the fact that no one fell off their paddleboard – at Jimmy’s at Red Dogs, a great, dog-friendly bar with live music every night. We danced, laughed and joked that for such a small island, there was way too much to do in Wrightsville Beach, and we would definitely be back for more adventures!