Wilmington, NC and Beaches: Family Travel Guide to Wilmington’s Island Beaches

Location: United States, East Coast,
Wilmington Beach Garden

Whether it’s the summer, spring, or another time in the year, many of us are wishing we could be sitting along the beach and enjoying the sound of the waves while looking out at the ocean. It’s something we all love doing, and it’s something we often try to find at different places so we can experience different types of beaches. For those looking for the scenic beauty of the beach, look no further than Wilmington, NC. Wilmington’s three beaches are often overlooked or unknown, but they’re a hidden gem I would recommend that many people go to because you’ll immediately fall in love.

Even if you’re not someone who is looking just to head to the beach, Wilmington, NC  is a coastal town that has so much more to offer. With historical landmarks, a scenic Riverwalk, family-friendly museums, and great places to eat, Wilmington is a great place to get away no matter the time of year. In this travel guide, I’m going to share amazing places to stay, where to eat, and things to do when visiting Wilmington and any surrounding Wilmington Beach: Carolina Beach, Wrightsville Beach, and Kure Beach.

Wilmington Beaches

WILMINGTON, NC TRAVEL GUIDE

Wilmington is a beautiful city located along the Cape Fear River nicknamed “Hollywood East.” Known for its three island beaches, it’s a great location to visit throughout the year to hang by the beach, visit the museums, and learn about the history of the area. Many visitors flock to Wilmington to tour the town and find the specific locations of the backdrops of famous movies and shows such as One Tree Hill, The Conjuring, Dawson’s Creek, A Walk to Remember and so many more. Though I had been in North Carolina many times before, I had not made my way to Wilmington until recently, and I not only found that I enjoyed it, but that my family was able to enjoy it as well.

Wilmington, NC and Island Beaches

CAROLINA BEACH

At Carolina Beach, you’ll not only find the beach and all of the fun that comes along with it, you’ll also find kid-friendly activities like Carolina Beach State Park where you can go on a ranger-led tour of the state park, Carolina Beach Lake Park, and the colorful vintage Boardwalk. This family-friendly Wilmington beach is filled with bright colored beach houses and decked with a vintage boardwalk with plenty of places to stop and eat and enjoy your time out in the sun.

Wilmington Beach
Wilmington Beach Family Travel Guide
KURE BEACH

If you’re trying to get away from the crowds, Kure Beach is a quiet beach town perfect for family vacations reminiscent of those you went on as a kid. With it being home to one of the oldest fishing piers on the East Coast, you’ll find that many people come to relax at Kure Beach while also heading out for fishing, kayaking, and other water adventure activities. We visited the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher and absolutely loved it!

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH

Wrightsville Beach is a great family beach to visit as well. This island beach town is the birthplace of surfing in NC and known for its crystal blue waters. You’ll find fun activities on land and sea for the entire family and plenty of local dining options as well.

WHERE TO Stay IN WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA

There are plenty of places to stay in Wilmington, NC and it all comes down to where you want to be closest to. If you’re someone who wants to stay close to a Wilmington beach, you may prefer an oceanfront vacation rental. If you’re someone who wants to stay closer to downtown and look at the river everyday, you may prefer to stay closer to the riverfront. Below is a list of a few top places to stay in Wilmington, NC.

Wilmington Beach Pizza

PLACES TO Eat IN WILMINGTON, NC

BENNY’S BIG TIME PIZZERIA

If you’re a lover of pizza and want a pizza that will blow you away, then Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria is where you’ll want to go. The menu is complete with specialty pizzas or a make-your-own option along with great appetizers such as their southern fried chicken parm that will make you fall in love at first bite. During our visit, we opted for the Tony Pepperoni, and the pizza came out fresh, made to order and was a great size to split between two people. I loved the flavor and almost asked for another one to go. Though walk-ins are welcome, consider making a reservation ahead of time as this is a very popular restaurant and gets busy very quickly.

Wilmington Beach Lunch

BEACH BAGELS

For a quick bite before heading out for the day, I recommend Beach Bagels. Located in Downtown Wilmington, you’ll find this small bagel shop serves amazing breakfast options including bagels and breakfast burritos. They also have several other locations throughout the area’s beaches! When you’re on-the-go and ready to explore like we are, this place makes a great breakfast to-go that’s filling and gets you ready to head out for the day’s adventures.
Wilmington Beach Doughnuts

WAKE N BAKE DONUTS

Donut lovers rejoice and make sure to flock to Wake N Bake Donuts. This donut shop is a Wilmington favorite because of the fun and unique donuts that are made fresh daily. You can find various flavors of donuts including ones like the Slim Shady, which is a donut with chocolate frosting and M&Ms on top (M&Ms….Eminem…Slim Shady….get it?!). We loved heading into Wake N Bake and finding a donut to fit each person’s liking and tastes. There are two area locations: one downtown Wilmington, and one in Carolina Beach.
OCEAN GRILL AND TIKI BAR

Along the ocean in Carolina Beach, you’ll find Ocean Grill and Tiki Bar. With a tiki bar out on the pier overlooking the water, a patio area right off the beach and indoor seating, this restaurant is great for bringing the family for a meal during your beach vacation. From the patio, you’ll find access to the beach so that between ordering, you can head down to the beach to take in the sights while waiting for your meal. There are various seafood, burger, and sandwich options on the menu along with great cocktails you can enjoy in any of the dining areas. We absolutely loved having the ability to eat along the pier and look out at the water. During our visit, we even were able to see dolphins swimming by and surfers taking on the waves.

Wilmington Beach Where To Eat

BLUEWATER WATERFRONT GRILL

Along the docks in Wrightsville Beach, Bluewater Waterfront Grill is a great family-friendly, and elevated restaurant that is perfect for dining. I recommend heading to this restaurant for dinner and either sitting in the outside patio area or inside along the windows so you can watch the sunset as you enjoy a tasty meal to end a beautiful day in Wrightsville Beach.
Wilmington Beach Breakfast
DIXIE GRILL

A popular breakfast spot in Wilmington is Dixie Grill. Serving delicious breakfast options such as breakfast sandwiches, pancakes and waffles, omelets, and so much more, don’t be surprised to arrive and find yourself trying to get inside to get your name on the waiting list to dine at this great restaurant. With gracious waitstaff and mouthwatering breakfast, you won’t regret waking up early to be the first at the restaurant to get your seat right away.

Wilmington Beach Winery

THE SECOND GLASS

If you’re looking for great wine, some tasty bites, and a little bit of adult time, the Second Glass is a great go-to place. With an extensive wine list, the staff is well versed in wines and the food pairings offered on the menu. During our visit, we trusted our server to find a wine that fit our wants and palette, and he did not disappoint.
Wilmington Beach Belamy

THINGS TO DO IN Wilmington

BELLAMY MANSION MUSEUM OF HISTORY & DESIGN

Located in Historic Downtown Wilmington, you’ll find one of the oldest homes in Wilmington. This historic home museum is great for learning the history about the area and the Bellamy family, as well as the slaves who worked for them and lived on the grounds for so many years. With a ticket, you’ll get access to the preserved urban slave house, the main house, and the gardens, and you’ll learn about how the Bellamy family lived and how the local town restored the house to preserve the history. The 22-room mansion is a must-visit while in Wilmington. You can opt for a guided tour, if available, or take a self-guided tour and stroll through each of the various rooms of the house at your own leisure. If you love touring historic mansions, Wilmington is also home to the Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens and the Latimer House.

Wilmington Beach Aquarium
NORTH CAROLINA AQUARIUM AT FORT FISHER

If you and your family love the aquarium, you’ll want to make sure you plan a trip to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher while visiting Wilmington. Located just a short drive away in Kure Beach, you’ll find the aquarium houses various exhibits including otters, sharks, alligators, various fish, frogs, and so much more. The aquarium also has educational exhibits and employees who are filled with knowledge about the animals that call each habitat home. And if you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at an aquarium, they have Behind the Scenes Tours so you can learn even more. Tickets must be reserved online in advance to visit the aquarium and reserve Behind the Scenes Tours.

Wilmington Beach Airlie Garden
Wilmington Beach Garden
AIRLIE GARDENS

A must visit is Airlie Gardens. Upon admission, you’ll get access to walk along the 67 acres of historical gardens where you’ll see different blooms depending on the season including tulips, and azaleas, along with art, fountains, Spanish moss, and the famous Airlie Oak. Various spots around Airlie Gardens have been backdrops in movies and TV shows including Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill and Sleepy Hollow. While at the gardens, you may even find a few proposals happening because of the gorgeous backdrops. My suggestion when visiting, is to bring a book or a blanket to sit out and enjoy the sites and florals of the gardens.

Wilmington Beach Museum
CAPE FEAR MUSEUM OF HISTORY AND SCIENCE

For anyone interested in learning about the history of Wilmington, NC, the Cape Fear Museum of History & Science is a great museum to visit. Walk through various exhibits where you’ll learn about local wildlife, plant life, art, culture and history. Through each exhibit, you can discover how the area has evolved over time through the people and the natural landscape. This museum is great for taking children due to its interactive and hands-on exhibits. Children and adults get to learn about history and science through interactive, educational exhibits including an exhibit sponsored by Michael Jordan.

Carolina Beach Park Wilmington Beach
Wilmington Beach Carolina Beach Park
CAROLINA BEACH STATE PARK

When you’re ready to duck away from the beach, you can head to Carolina Beach State Park. With nine trails offering more than 8.5 miles of hiking, the park showcases the area’s natural beauty, including a scenic marina, Venus flytraps, carnivorous plants native to the local area, and more. Make sure to bring your hiking boots, and if you have any small children, prepare to carry them as many of the trails are not fit for strollers. The park does include two handicap-accessible trails.

RIVERWALK

The Riverwalk is a two mile long boardwalk stretching along the Cape Fear River. It’s a great place to take in the sites and enjoy a leisurely stroll in the heart of downtown Wilmington. Along the river, you’ll find a variety of great restaurants, stores and more. You can watch passing boats float down the river at various times or book one of the cruises available like Wilmington Water Tours or Cape Fear River Boats. The Bizzy Bee Water Taxi will also take you from the Riverwalk to Battleship NORTH CAROLINA across the river, where you’ll find the famous River Court from One Tree Hill nearby.

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This post was sponsored by Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that make LivingLesh possible.

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