Get Away From it All in One Escape

Historic City & Island Beaches

In Wilmington, NC and Island Beaches, whether nature, history or coastal, everyone can find their holiday glow and all in one escape. Outdoor adventures carry on in our premier parks and gardens, beautiful beaches and with many nature-related activities to choose from, visitors find rejuvenation and relaxation wherever they go—with a coastal twist added for the holidays. Shop at waterside holiday markets and boutiques, or take a carriage ride along the festively decorated brick-lined streets of historic downtown Wilmington. Self-guided tours, enchanted gardens, door to dock holiday lights and alfresco or takeout dining make it easy to get away from it all and kick off the holiday season.

Whether it’s an old-style Christmas by the river, sunrise over the ocean or stroll along the island of lights, Wilmington and our beaches–Carolina, Kure and Wrightsville–are ready for whatever brings you cheer.

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What to Expect When Visiting

Thank you for trusting us with your care and safety as you travel to the area. We encourage you to travel and enjoy responsibly by practicing social distancing, wearing required masks and following other guidelines for your safety. With safety concerns top of mind for travelers, many lodging properties are following enhanced safety guidelines provided by corporate offices, as well as guidance from the American Hotel & Lodging Association, U.S. Travel Association, and the CDC that are designed to provide consistent cleaning safety standards. A statewide “Count on Me NC” program with the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association, Visit NC, and N.C. State University provides specific guidance and training to local restaurants, hotels, and other public-facing businesses on best practices. Find a map and list here of businesses who have completed "Count on Me NC" training. Please find on-going COVID travel updates here.

Find the Perfect Rates & Places to Stay

Whether you’re a family needing a break from in-home learning or couples and quarantine pals looking to escape cabin fever, there are plenty of spacious vacation rentals, full-service hotels and resorts, boutique inns and cozy bed & breakfasts to choose from. Soundside, beachside or riverside views and off-season deals on stays offer the perfect incentives to book your escape now. Be in the center of it all while taking in Historic Downtown Wilmington’s attractions, boutique shops and cafes lining the two-mile scenic Riverwalk. Take advantage of amenities at full-service hotels and resorts like a rooftop bar, farm-and sea-to-table restaurants or stay oceanfront and play cornhole in plush gardens. Boutique hotels and B&Bs offer a curated experience in the Historic District. Feel at home while on vacation with beach home or condo rentals at our island beaches. Our lodging options are upholding cleaning and safety standards that will help you find comfort and peace of mind, no matter where you stay. Check out lodging partner websites directly to discover off-season rates and look for weekday stays (Sunday – Thursday) for the best savings.

A New Twist on Holiday Favorites

Find holiday cheer with a unique array of historic, traditional and coastal activities, including festive home tours, decked-out holiday boat docks, colorful lakeside light displays and more. Kick-off the holiday season Thanksgiving weekend with a dine-in or to-go meal prepared by a variety of local restaurants. Lace-up the sneakers for the Wrightsville Beach Turkey Trot on Nov. 26 or Jingle Bell Run 5K on Dec. 12. Enjoy a self-guided walk through 67-acres of evening gardens with more than one million sparkling lights, holiday displays and seasonal music during Enchanted Airlie, Nov. 27 - Dec. 22 with guaranteed admission and transportation to the event through Enchanted Airlie Hotel Packages. Enjoy the tradition of Kure Beach Fantasy Christmas Show, Dec. 11 - 13. Timehop to tour the Colonial Christmas Open House at Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens on Dec. 12. Ride down the festively decorated brick-lined streets of historic downtown Wilmington while Caroling by Reindeer Drawn Carriage, Dec. 18 - 24. Take your holiday spirit to the sea to find docks decked-out with festive light displays at Wrightsville Beach during this year's North Carolina Holiday Flotilla Door to Dock Decorating Contest. Throughout the holiday season see the festive docks on display at your own pace aboard the Carolina Runner at Blockade Runner Surf to Sound Adventures. Take a walk around Carolina Beach Lake Park to see the Holiday Lights at the Lake festive light displays all season long. Enjoy the festively decorated Carolina Beach Boardwalk where seating areas and gazebos become Oceanfront Holiday Coves during Christmas by the Sea. Watch holiday-themed castles sculpted in sand at the Carolina Beach Boardwalk, Dec. 12 for the Holiday Sandcastle Competition.

Coastal Holiday Shopping

Avoid the crowds and find unique gifts while Christmas shopping at waterside markets and open-air shopping centers. Browse for gifts by talented artisans displaying handcrafted finds beachside during Kure Beach Holiday Market, Nov. 21 - 28 at Ocean Front Park, and lakeside during Carolina Beach Holiday Market on Dec. 5 at Carolina Beach Lake Park. Shop over 40 vendors including the best local artisans during the Riverfront Farmers and Artisans Holiday Market every Saturday, Nov. 28 - Dec. 19. The Holiday Flea at the BAC takes over Brooklyn Arts Center, Dec. 4 - 6, where new and vintage vendors display creative gifts perfect for anyone on your list. Pop into The Cotton Exchange with its various stores located in eight historical buildings or Chandler's Wharf Warehouse Shops & Galleries filled with locally owned businesses. Deck your halls with coastal holiday home goods from one of Wilmington's antique and vintage shops. Find a one-of-a-kind item for the person who has everything at carefully curated museum gift shops or thoughtful gifts and stocking stuffers at area surf shops. Head to midtown's Mayfaire Town Center to find well-known brands or Lumina Station to browse boutique shops perfect for the fashionista on your list. Voted "Best Gift Shop" in Wilmington year after year, Blue Moon Gift Shops is a must-shop for those who enjoy gifts by local artisans.

Autumn Outdoor Adventure

Even with the holidays fast approaching, autumn and its mild temperatures remain—plus plenty of extra room without peak season crowds! Visitors can expect to experience a variety of outdoor activities and beachside fun still in season. Rent kayaks and bicycles from area outfitters. Embark on an eco-adventure at Wrightsville Beach by way of water aboard a catamaran or head to barrier islands like Masonboro Island or Zeke’s Island for a fun day of bird watching and shell collecting. Paddle calm waters through salt marshes along the Intracoastal Waterway or take a guided SUP tour through Paddle NC or Wrightsville SUP. Kure Beach is the perfect autumn retreat and was named one of 11 Secret Beaches Perfect for Social Distancing on the East Coast. Rent a Jeep from SunFun Rentals and head out on the secluded four-wheel-drive access beach at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area.

Less Crowds. More Breathing Room.

Explore the wide variety of open spaces and nature found in our many parks and gardens. Choose from nearly nine miles of trails at Carolina Beach State Park that wander along the water and through the long-leaf pines. Kure Beach’s Basin Trail at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area is the perfect short nature walk for all fitness levels, or walk or jog along the Wrightsville Beach Loop featuring scenic sound, channel and town views. Grab your binoculars and zoom lenses to spy feathered friends in our area along NC’s Birding Trail, including the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wrightsville Beach and Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington to see a variety of Plover, Ibis, Heron, Pelican and many more bird species. Explore seven acres of scenic greenery including a koi fish water garden and Japanese tranquility garden at the New Hanover County Arboretum. Stroll the many walking paths within the 67 acres of Airlie Gardens through December and look for Airlie Squirrels! the art exhibition, featuring larger-than-life squirrels decorated by local artists on display throughout the grounds. After the trail adventures, head downtown for ales on a self-guided tasting tour along the Wilmington Ale Trail or dig into fresh seasonal fare on one of our many outdoor patios. Take in a river sunset as you stroll along the Wilmington Riverwalk to end the day. We’re ready for whatever helps you discover new paths.

Downtown Dining

Catch the energy of our downtown main streets while enjoying comfort food and unique grilled cheese flavors from Crust Kitchen and Cocktails or savor tapas from Circa 1922. Enjoy outdoor dining at PinPoint Restaurant where the menu features local seasonal offerings from Wilmington’s farmers, fishermen, oystermen, and crabbers. If waterside dining is more your style, venture to the Riverwalk to enjoy the spectacular river views and fresh seafood at Steam Restaurant & Bar, The George on the Riverwalk, Elijah's Restaurant or Pilot House Restaurant. Check out new restaurants like Quanto Basta featuring a private outdoor courtyard and carefully curated Italian menu and experience the true Italian meaning of quanto basta—“as much as you like; as much as you need,” or head to the riverfront to Floriana for balcony dining serving coastal dishes in a historic building.

Flavors to Savor

Wilmington and our beaches’ dining scene has evolved with a focus on safety, featuring new no-contact ordering options and unique curbside pickup. Head to Midtown to indulge in award-winning coastal creations to-go from "Top Chef" contestant Keith Rhodes at Catch. Savor fresh flavors of the sea with marina-side meals-to-go from Dockside Restaurant and Bluewater Waterfront Grill in Wrightsville Beach or Stoked Restaurant in Carolina Beach. Jack Mackerel's Island Grill in Kure Beach features Calabash platters and local softshell crab sandwiches packaged to go. Order a customizable seafood steam pot to-go from Topsail Steamer or Cape Fear Boil Company. These ready-to-boil meals are perfect for family dining at the vacation rental. 

Museums and Attractions and Arts

Many of the area's attractions and museums are open again after a summer hiatus. Indoor and outdoor spaces filled with art, history and seasonal blooms make experiencing the culture of the city and island beaches delightful in fall. Museum homes take you on a journey through Wilmington's storied history. Explore the Georgian architecture of the circa 1770 residence graced by Colonial style gardens at the Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens, see the Victorian-era Latimer House Museum featuring over 600 historic objects including furniture and jewelry, then experience one of North Carolina’s most spectacular Victorian examples of architecture in the restored 10,000-square-foot house and re-created grounds at Bellamy Mansion Museum of History and Design. Embark on a self-guided tour of Wilmington's African American Heritage and discover critical religious, educational, social and cultural sites. Download the map and brochure to begin your tour of more than 35 historically important locations. Download the Wilmington History Tours mobile app and explore downtown’s National Register Historic District with 230-plus blocks of historic homes and buildings. The app includes five different tours, so choose your adventure and explore at your own pace.

Celebrate visual arts at the Cameron Art Museum (CAM) with three brand new exhibitions, explore the outdoor park and works including a historic Civil War Site. Now through January, experience Art of Illumination, inspired by the traditional lantern festivals, the exhibition features lanterns with illumination in unusual ways. Enjoy locally sourced and inspired North Carolina fare during lunch at the CAM cafe.

Wilmington became the first city in the country to be designated as a ‘‘World War II Heritage City’’ to commemorate 75 years since the war ended. One of the city’s most iconic WWII relics, the Battleship NORTH CAROLINA is moored across the river from downtown Wilmington. Exhibits at the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science explore the area's African American History and interpret Wilmington’s role during World War II. Other popular exhibits include the Michael Jordan Discovery Gallery and Space Place. The Wilmington Railroad Museum also interprets Wilmington’s role during World War II and is a can’t-miss attraction for rail enthusiasts and history lovers alike with scale models and rail exhibits both indoors and outdoors. Nearby, visitors can walk the grounds of Fort Fisher State Historic Site and Museum, where WWII soldiers were trained, and see the remains of the South’s largest earthen fort surrounded by live oaks with peaceful ocean and river views.

Experience a beach cottage and island life as it was in the 1930s at Wrightsville Beach Museum of History, then walk the outdoor Loop Through History to learn more about the island through seasonal signage posted along the 2.5-mile fitness trail. Enjoy an under-the-sea experience at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher, then get outside to explore the aquarium's gardens, pond and birding deck.