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, 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
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.
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 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.
- Embassy Suites along the Riverfront
- The Hive for a downtown home-like feel
- Hotel Ballast Wilmington for panoramic views of the river
- Courtyard Marriott Carolina Beach to get oceanfront views
- Victory Beach Vacations to rent a Wilmington beach house by the ocean
- Shell Island Resort for a gorgeous oceanfront view of the Atlantic Ocean in Wrightsville Beach
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.
WAKE N BAKE DONUTS
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
BLUEWATER WATERFRONT 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.
THE SECOND GLASS
THINGS TO DO IN Wilmington
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The Riverwalk is a two mile long boardwalk stretching along
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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.