There is no shortage of amazing things to do in Wilmington, NC. We should know best since it is the closest thing we have to home as full-time travelers. Wilmington has something for everyone, whether you stay on land or water.
Visitors flock from all over to experience the stunning North Carolina coast here. You can be as active and ocean-ready as you want when visiting Wilmington, or you can enjoy a relaxing trip lounging on the sand just dipping your toes in the water. One thing is for certain when you visit Wilmington, you’ll be breathing in that fresh ocean air, and life will instantly feel more complete.
It’s my favorite place in North Carolina to enjoy a little saltwater on the face and get kissed by the sun. After several years of experience, I wanted to share some of the best things to do in Wilmington, NC, fit for any time of the year.
What We’ll Cover In This Post
- Where is Wilmington?
- Why Wilmington is a Must Visit?
- Things to do in Wilmington
- Best Restaurants in Wilmington
- How to Get to Wilmington
- How to Get Around Wilmington
- Wilmington, NC Weather
- Where to Stay in Wilmington?
Where is Wilmington, North Carolina?
Wilmington, North Carolina, is a port city in New Hanover County. It’s located in southeastern North Carolina, only an hour north of the border of South Carolina.
It’s a coastal city with a large population of almost 125,000 people. It’s well known as a popular beach vacation destination in the south, with great beach destinations like Fort Fisher, Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, and Kure Beach drawing in tourists.
It was well known as one of the largest American film and television production centers in the United States, behind Los Angeles and New York City.
Best Things to do in Wilmington, NC
Go to the Beach!
Well, I can’t start this Wilmington travel guide without mentioning that you need to visit the beach while here. Let’s be honest; it’s probably the main reason you travel to Wilmington!
There are three main beaches in the Wilmington area to visit.
- Wrightsville Beach: The most conveniently located beach to most of Wilmington. Located at the end of Causeway Drive and home to awesome landmarks like Johnnie Mercers Fishing Pier. Wrightsville Beach has the most “upscale” vibe to it out of any of the beaches and is where you will find some of the higher-end hotels and restaurants in the area. It’s a fabulous beach to enjoy year round.
- Carolina Beach: Carolina Beach is actually separated by Snows Cut Bridge from Wilmington and is on an “island.” Carolina Beach is about a 30-minute drive from Market Street in Wilmington, down College Road. It sits along the Cape Fear River and is home to Carolina Beach State Park. Carolina Beach feels much more of a kitschy beach town, but I honestly love the whole ambiance of it much more than Wrightsville. It has great beach bars and restaurants and is home to an amazing boardwalk.
- Kure Beach: The quietest out of all the beaches, with a little bit of an older small town beach vibe. It’s about a 10 minute drive past Carolina Beach to get to Kure Beach. Make sure to walk the Kure Beach pier and eat at Freddies when you visit!
Other beach destinations around Wilmington:
- Masonboro Island: Only accessible by boat and you must plan with the tide. There are public and private boat ramps in Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach that you can access and take your own boat there. If you want you can also kayak and camp out on the island too. Masonboro Island is pretty quiet, except on holidays. Makes for a great day out!
- Figure Eight Island: A private island where a booking is required. But if you can get a rental unit there you’re sure to have a great time.
- Topsail Beach: About 50 minutes from Wilmington. Another quiet beach community that is mostly beach rentals for families and groups of friends.
Try Your Hand at Surfing
Plenty of people travel to the Carolinas to surf, as it’s great for beginners! The beaches around Wilmington are a fantastic place to learn, thanks to a shallow and gently sloping ocean floor.
The waves are typically smaller in the summer months and there is plenty of beach to prepare for your first time! The team at Wrightsville Beach Surf Camp can get you hooked up and on the waves (good for all ages!)
Stroll Through Airlie Gardens
One of the best things to do in Wilmington, NC, is a stroll through the beautiful Airlie Gardens. Airlie Gardens is a 67-acre botanical garden you can find on the way to Wrightsville Beach. If you want an easy day outside with your loved one, this is one of the most romantic things to do in Wilmington.
The gardens are filled with oaks, outdoor art, walking paths, and seasonal flowers. This makes it the perfect place to come on a beautiful sunny day for a picnic. Several events can be enjoyed on the grounds throughout the year, including an Oyster Roast and a whole summer concert series.
If you are visiting around the holidays, Airlie Gardens decorates the whole property with fantastic lights, though to see this, you’ll need to purchase tickets well in advance.
Many who come to the coastal town have one thing on their mind – fishing. There are many ways you can go fishing in the Wilmington area. However, before you start, ensure you have a fishing license to do so legally.
There are two exceptions to a fishing license – that is, if you’re fishing from a pier that charges a fee to fish or if you’re on a charter fishing boat (both carry special commercial licenses that cover you). There are many ways you can try your hand at fishing; some include:
- Surf Fishing from the beach.
- Fish in Snow’s Cut and from Carolina Beach State Park.
- Deep-sea fishing with a charter boat from Carolina Beach or Wrightsville Beach.
- Cast a line off of Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, or Johnny Mercer Pier.
- Hop on the Winner Gulf Stream Fishing cruise
- Take your own boat of course!
Enjoy a Live Event!
Being at the beach and having an excellent downtown area, Wilmington hosts several festivals year-round. Most of the ones we love are in the spring and summer, but there is something to do almost every weekend.
A few of our favorites are the NC Azalea Festival, the Cucalorus Film Festival, and Wilmington Beer Week. If you’re looking for a weekly event, check out the farmers market at Tidal Creek Co-op or catch a concert at Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre.
Stand Up Paddleboard at Wrightsville Beach
Stand-up paddleboarding is one of the most fun things to do in Wilmington. Wrightsville Beach was my favorite beach to go to as a college student. It has an entirely different vibe at Wrightsville Beach than at Carolina Beach and Kure Beach.
I find it a bit cleaner and less crowded than Carolina Beach – especially during the summer months (though everywhere is busy in July and August). However, Kure on the other hand, remains more secluded though it is quite far from the city of Wilmington.
Of course, you can travel to Wrightsville and lounge around, but Wrightsville SUP offers everyone the chance to try to stand up paddleboarding. Rentals start at $35, or you can take lessons. If you think you’ll be stand-up paddleboarding more than once, investing in a stand-up paddleboard might not hurt. We did, and it makes our summers that much more amazing. Take a look at the best inflatable stand-up paddleboards.
Disc Golf in Wilmington
Disc Golf is Cameron’s favorite thing to do in Wilmington when the weather is beautiful. The Wilmington area has four disc golf courses, and they’re all free to use, making it one of the best free things to do in Wilmington, NC. All you need is a disc which you can pick up for $10 at several shops around the area. Or pre-purchase your own online on Amazon.
You can find them in-store in Wilmington at Outdoor Provisions, surf shops (CB surf), and Dicks Sporting Goods.
Here are four great disc golf courses around Wilmington:
- North Regional Park, Castle Hayne: This course is on the PDGA, and it’s the best course in the area. It has 18 holes and many challenging par 4 and 5 holes. It’s prone to mud when there is fresh rain, but it’s terrific on a chilly day.
- Joe Eakes Park, Kure Beach: This is my favorite course because it’s a full 18 holes and has a few challenging holes. What makes it the best for me is it’s all in a coastal forest with sand fairways. The weather is reliable with plenty of water close by, but it also gets windy!
- Arrowhead Park: 18 hole par three disc golf course. There are plenty of hills that make for fun elevation changes and it’s in a beautiful little park.
- Good Hops Brewing, Carolina Beach: This is the most straightforward course with all of the holes at par 3. It’s also on the brewery’s property so you can legally pick up a craft beer inside and play while drinking. AWESOME!
Run “The Loop”
If you’re in the mood for a bit of exercise and like to run, there is a great running trail around the Wrightsville Beach area. The John Nesbitt Loop, or “The Loop” referred to by locals, is the perfect 2.5-mile running path around the beach. Don’t worry. It’s dog and kid-friendly and isn’t all runners! If you’re big on running, there are other great places to head in Wilmington.
Places like Long Leaf Park, Carolina Beach State Park, or the Cross City Trail are perfect. When training for a race, Cameron would take the trail from UNCW to the loop and back (that’s a half marathon all on a paved path), so even serious runners will have plenty of room to stretch their legs. Check out the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail map here!
Enjoy a Trolley Tour Downtown
With its historic building and homes, Downtown Wilmington fully deserves to be appreciated, and exploring is a definite Wilmington thing to do. I love our historic waterfront.
If it’s your first time, consider hopping on a trolley tour, it’s one of the best things you can do in Wilmington. That’s right – downtown Wilmington still runs modified trolleys through town. You can find the trolley route here.
Another great thing to do in Wilmington is eat amazing fondue. If you’re looking for a place to have a nice dinner heading to Historic Downtown Wilmington will provide the most options. They have several riverside dining options, which are excellent in the summertime.
One of my favorite restaurants to go to is Little Dipper Fondue. Little Dipper is a locally owned fondue restaurant with an intimate setting. They have great specials every day of the week, so make sure to check em out online first.
Bar Hop Downtown
If you’re looking for a night out on the town with your friends, you have three places around Wilmington. The Wrightsville Beach Bars, Downtown Wilmington, and Carolina Beach. I always found Wrightsville Beach bars to be where the frat guys hung out, so I didn’t bother going there often, while Carolina Beach is a bit far from Wilmington to go drinking.
I wish I knew the number of bars downtown, but trust me when I say there are enough to have a good time. Most of the bars are lined up on Front Street, but they go as far back as 3rd and some even further. There’s a bar for just about any type of crowd downtown. There are rooftop bars, clubs, dive bars, breweries, beer halls, country bars, chill bars, and more.
There even used to be a Dueling Piano Bar, but unfortunately, that’s gone now. It may seem a little “younger” downtown (especially at night), but remember that Wilmington isn’t just a vacation town but also a college town.
Our favorite bars in Downtown Wilmington, NC are:
Listen to Music at the Downtown Sundown
If you’re lucky enough to be in Wilmington on a Friday night during the summer, make sure to experience the Downtown Sundown Concerts. It’s one of the best free things to do in Wilmington in the summer.
Every Friday during the summertime, local bands and musicians perform on the riverwalk in Wilmington while the sun goes down. It’s almost always cover bands, so you know what you’re getting into ahead of time. Downtown Sundowns are free and family-friendly, but it’s possible to drink beer and wine there.
Shop at the Cotton Exchange
The Cotton Exchange is where you can find many boutique shops in Wilmington. It’s located in the historic downtown area and is best visited on the weekends when you can see the place come alive.
The vendors sell many antiques, locally made products, and art. If you like shopping for unique finds, this is one of the best things to do in Wilmington!
Grab a Craft Beer at One of the Many Breweries
Wilmington has become a craft beer and brewery mecca of the beach. I remember 10 years ago in Wilmington, one of the only breweries was Front Street Brewery on Front Street downtown. Now hit up Wilmington and type in “brewery” to Google, and there are almost too many to choose from! If you’re in search of a good beer, make sure to head to a craft brewery. Some of my favorites are:
- Wrightsville Beach Brewery
- Edward Teach Brewing
- Front Street Brewery (the OG)
- Flying Machine Brewing Company
Check Out the Cameron Art Museum
If you are looking for one of the best things to do in Wilmington when it rains is head to the Cameron Art Museum with the family. The museum frequently has interesting exhibitions, classes, workshops, and events.
Enjoy the Cape Fear River on a Riverboat
See the Cape Fear River and Downtown Wilmington from the water with Cape Fear Riverboats. The brand new Henrietta will take visitors out on a 1.5-hour sunset cruise every Saturday. Onboard is a bar and light snacks to enjoy while you relax on the beautiful river.
If you want a more educational tour, the Henrietta runs shorter daily tours for $15 in the afternoon. Sit back and eat Anne Bonny’s Bar food while learning about the importance of the Cape Fear River and see some of Wilmington’s oldest homes.
Rent a Boat or JetSki and Take to the Intracoastal
A fun thing to do in Wilmington is take to the water and rent a jet ski for a few hours. Wrightsville Beach Jet Ski Rentals in Wilmington or Carolina Beach Jet Ski Rentals will get you out on the water and enjoying that salt life in no time. Rates start at $80 per hour and go up from there.
Rent a beach Cruiser and Ride Around the Beach
There is just something iconic about riding a comfortable beach cruiser on the beach.
Wrightsville Beach Bikes and Boards will get you hooked up with a cruiser for a day. Daily Rentals start at $25, and Weekly Rentals run $75, so if you stay for more than three days, it’s probably worth it to go for the week. It’s important to note these bikes are not for the sand. For that, you will need a fat bike.
If you want to rent a bike at Carolina Beach, check out Pleasure Island Rentals. They are a bit cheaper, starting at $15 per day.
Enjoy a Sea Legs Pedal Pub
You’ve likely heard of a Pedal Pub tour. A beer tour you can go on with your friends while you pedal around a city. Well, in Wilmington, they take these tours to a whole other level and get beer lovers out on the water with a Sea Legs Pedal Tour.
You pedal at your own pace while drinking, chatting, and taking in the views of Carolina Beach. Trips last 90 minutes and are captained. If you can time your visit for a Thursday night, there is a fun Fireworks Cruise that lasts 2 hours. Tours start at $36 per person, and you can bring your own booze!
Dinner and Movie Night
One of my absolute favorite things to do when I was in college (and now) was hit up dinner and a movie at Mayfaire Town Center. I know you can do this just about anywhere in the United States. Still, to me, there is just something extraordinary and nostalgic feeling about going to Mayfaire Town Center, plus it’s perfect for when the weather is crap.
Mayfaire is an upscale shopping center in Wilmington. It’s got your upper-class staple shops like Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barn, but it’s also got your everyday places to shop like Michaels. Also, they have one of the few H&Ms in the state of North Carolina. To me, it’s not about the shops; it’s about having a drink at the Fox & Hound before catching the latest movie in a lovely theatre. The cinema now features reclining chairs and couches.
Take the Kids to Jungle Rapids
Want to cool off without getting sandy at the beach? Jungle Rapids is an outdoor waterpark great for families looking for a fun time in Wilmington. They have Two Body Water Slides, a Lazy River and Wave-pool, and a few other fun rides. They also have bowling, golf, go-karts, mini-golf, and a rock-climbing wall!
Play Some Beach Volleyball
I’ve been playing volleyball since I was 11 years old, so you can bet the first thing I searched for when I moved to Wilmington was a volleyball court. There is one main establishment for organized beach volleyball in Wilmington, Capt’n Bill’s located on Market Street.
I played on teams, and even worked part-time as a referee at Capt’n Bill’s for four years in Wilmington, and I love the vibe there. Teams from all levels play in leagues, and the place can get pretty competitive on the nights with higher league play. There is also a fun bar with food in case you just want to watch.
Tour the USS North Carolina
One of the most unique things to do in Wilmington is tour a battleship! USS North Carolina (BB-55) is the lead ship of the pair of North Carolina-class battleships and docked right in Wilmington, NC. The Battleship is open every day of the year for visitors to come and visit and learn all about the ship that participated in every major naval offensive in the Pacific area of operations during WWII.
If you happen to be in town over the Halloween festivities, make sure to check out their spooky haunted ghost ship!
Listen to the Ghost Stories From a Historic Port Town
These days Wilmington is very much a vacation destination, but that wasn’t always the case. Wilmington was, and still very much is a port town. The city was settled by European Americans along the Cape Fear River back in the 16th century.
A lot of action happened in Wilmington in those years, particularly in the downtown area near the river. If you feel like stepping back in time you can get spooked on a Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington. It’s one of the best things to do in Wilmington, NC at night, and perfect for anyone willing to hear some chilling ghost stories.
Check out their haunted pub crawl if you want a little drink with your story!
Kayak Around Zeke’s Island
One of Cameron’s favorite activities in Wilmington, NC, is to kayak around Zeke’s Island. Zeke’s Island is an NC Coastal Reserve only accessible by shallow water boats.
Once there, you will be able to enjoy the peace and quiet of the coastal marshlands. It’s a great opportunity to see all the biodiversity of Wilmington. There is a boat ramp at Federal Point – adjacent to the Zeke’s Island site that it’s straightforward to launch from.
I would recommend taking a cooler and some chairs for relaxation once there. I wouldn’t recommend crossing the old civil war wall that leads out to the island. Cameron once got caught out there during high tide, and it wasn’t a good day – his sister hopped away with 26 stitches in her knee from oyster shells.
Visit the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher
One of the most fun things to do in Wilmington, NC for families is head to the aquarium. The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is where kids and adults alike can visit and learn about marine life. It’s one of our favorite things to do in Wilmington, NC.
Unlike some mega aquariums around the United States, the Fort Fisher aquarium is a real research center and not a cash cow. The N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher is a member of the 230 accredited members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
They have many exhibits and shows open every day of the year, so no matter what day you visit, you’ll be sure to have a good time. It’s here that you can also meet the rare albino alligator named Luna and a rescued bald eagle named Maverick. They also have an awesome butterfly garden in the Spring and Summer.
Head to the Beach Bars
While there are beach bars at both Carolina Beach, Wrightsville, and Kure, my absolute favorite place to enjoy the beach nightlife is at Carolina Beach. During the summer, a vivacious crowd can be found at the numerous bars around the island.
The beach bars at Carolina Beach feel much more “beachy” to me than at Wrightsville, where the college crowd hangs out. Kure Beach is also lovely, but it is much quieter than Carolina. We’re Carolina Beach regulars, so here are our favorite bars in Carolina Beach.
- Fat Pelican: This doesn’t only make our list of favorite bars in Wilmington, but the world. It’s eclectic, packed with character, and just crusty enough to make it the perfect dive bar. We love the crowd as there is no age limit here (21+ mind you) and you’ll find every walk of life.
- Crush & Grind: We love the atmosphere here as it’s all about craft beer and wine in a modern atmosphere. The owner also makes some fantastic coffee – try out the cold brew!
- Ocean Grill and Tiki Bar: On a beautiful day it’s impossible to beat sitting on the remains of a pier and enjoying a cold drink. The only negative for us is the price with $5 beer cans and $12 cocktails (We’re not in NYC!).
- Sea Witch Tiki Bar: Live weekend music and awesome tiki bar feel. They have a large open courtyard and often draw a crowd in the summer.
- The Last Resort: This little bar sits right on Carolina Beach Ave, and you can’t miss it.
- Nollies Taco Joint: There probably isn’t a better bar food than tacos.
Hunt for a Venus Flytrap at Carolina Beach State Park
One of the great Wilmington, NC Attractions is Carolina Beach State Park. Carolina Beach State Park is one of my favorite places in Wilmington to watch the sunset every day. We spent a month here in 2018 and spent almost every evening in the park. Besides sunsets, it also provides a good platform to fish from and launch your boat into the Cape Fear River.
Besides that, we like to come here and enjoy a hike through the woods beneath the fantastic trees.
They have beautiful shaded campsites here for campers and RVs. Carolina Beach is also home to the Venus flytrap! That’s right, Carolina Beach State Park is home to one of the most famous carnivorous plants in the world and one of the only places you can find it in the wild.
Practice Yoga on the Beach
Wilmington is perfect if you like to do yoga and go to the beach. You can easily bring your own mat to the beach to practice yoga with the sound of the ocean waves. Or if you prefer an instructor and a class there are plenty of those too.
Wilmington Yoga Studios and Longwave Yoga both offer yoga retreats, beach yoga, and SUP yoga. If you head to Wilmington Yoga Studios, be sure to check out Tidal Creek Coop on the floor below for healthy food. See our favorite travel yoga mats for practice before you go.
Have a Coffee at Bitty and Beau
Bitty and Beau was not around while we were in college, but it has become a well-known national sensation and for a good reason! The coffee shop was opened by a local couple who have two children (Bitty and Beau) with Down Syndrome.
To combat the high unemployment rate for individuals with IDD and other disabilities, the Wrights opened up the first Bitty and Beau in Wilmington and employed people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
They now have two locations and employ over 60 people between the two coffee shops. Oh, Amy Wright also won CNN’s Hero of the Year.
Catch a Baseball Game
While the Carolinas have no Major League Baseball team, Wilmington still has a collegiate summer baseball league. The Wilmington Sharks play at Legion Stadium during the summer. It makes for a great evening out. Thirsty Thursdays are the best time to watch as they offered $1 draft beers – no joke.
Experience Hollywood East
Did you know Wilmington was once dubbed the “Hollywood of the East” or”Wilmywood”? That’s right; little old Wilmington is home to a considerable amount of film productions over the years. It’s why I chose to get my Film Degree at UNCW. One Tree Hill, Iron Man, The Conjuring, and a ton of Nicholas Sparks’ books turned movies were filmed in Wilmington.
Many movies are shot on location, but EUE Screen Gems Studios also plays a massive role in film production in Wilmington. Movie making in North Carolina was much larger while we lived in Wilmington. However, the state legislature voted to end film incentive tax credits after 2014 film production in North Carolina has almost come to a standstill. With nearly all movies and TV shows heading to Atlanta these days.
Guided tours don’t run here as much as they used to, but you can do a self-guided tour around filming locations for true fans.
Pick Delicious Strawberries
Lewis Nursery and Farms is a family-run business growing all the good stuff on their land – strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries! They allow visitors to pick their own strawberries during the spring season, which is a fun day out. Don’t worry; if you’re feeling a little lazy, you can still buy the pre-picked fresh berries.
Get Out to Masonboro Island
Masonboro Island is state-protected land, and the entire island is undeveloped. It’s a lovely area and one of the last places you can truly experience an untouched coast.
Believe it or not, but the mouth of the Cape Fear River and Wilmington is one of the most biodiverse spots in the continental United States – and the highest on the East Coast.
Try Britts Donut
Everyone, and I mean everyone who lives in Wilmington raves about Britts Donuts in Carolina Beach. Now I’ve never really been much of a donut fanatic, but I can confirm that Britt’s Donuts are delicious.
They’ve perfected the glazed donut, and besides coffee and milk, it is the only thing they sell. Come in the summertime and you’ll likely be waiting in line to try one. Don’t expect to pay with a credit card here if you feel like mixing it up; head to Wake N’ Bake donuts for some other amazing original creations.
Jump Around at the Trampoline Park
If you’re wondering what to do in Wilmington, NC when it rains hit up Defy Gravity Trampoline Park. The “park” is a 23,000-square-foot facility with wall-to-wall steel-frame trampolines, slacklines, foam pits, and a dodgeball arena.
If you have a group and looking to bounce around Defy Gravity is your place. This is one of the great things to do in Wilmington for kids, especially on a rainy day.
Day Trip to Southport
Southport is a charming small town in Southeastern North Carolina located right where the Cape Fear River meets the Atlantic. This seaside town was once deemed “America’s Happiest Seaside Town” and is full of cute restaurants and boutique shopping opportunities.
It’s also where plenty of movies have been filmed when they are trying to depict that “small-town southern life” (think I Know What You Did Last Summer and A Walk to Remember). Make sure to stop at Provision Company for lunch as they serve up some of the best seafood in the area!
It’s a fun spot to head when you are looking for something a little different out of your beach vacation. You can drive here, but the ferry from Fort Fisher is the best way to access Southport. Check NCDOT for ferry schedules and ticket prices.
Wilmington Railroad Museum
Wilmington is known for its rich history, and this quaint Railroad Museum is a great place to learn more about the city’s past. It’s actually set inside of an old train station for a fully immersive experience.
This museum houses a collection of artifacts that tell the exciting tale of the evolution of locomotion. Visitors can see firsthand how the railroads shaped the city today. You can even climb aboard a real caboose and check out a hundred-year-old steam engine. There’s a special hall with interactive exhibits for the little ones.
Historic House Museums
There’s something special about visiting a historic home. Maybe it’s the feeling of stepping back in time, or the sense of connection to the past. Whatever the reason, Wilmington’s historic homes offer a unique and enriching experience.
The Bellamy Mansion boasts a variety of architectural styles including Greek Revival, Neoclassical, and Italianate. There’s an on-site museum and regular tours of the ancient facade from top to bottom. The Burgwin-Wright House was constructed in 1770 and is currently the city’s only colonial structure that’s open to the public. There are gorgeous gardens to wander on this expansive estate as well.
New Hanover County Arboretum
The New Hanover County Arboretum is a great place to wander through Wilmington’s natural history. With more than seven acres of gardens and woodlands, the Arboretum is home to a variety of enchanting flora and fauna. The gardens feature a wide range of native plants, and the woodlands are home to a diverse array of bird species and other cute critters.
They also host many educational programs and events to partake in. These idyllic grounds are one of our favorite places to escape the city crowds and spend a tranquil day in Wilmington.
Museum of the Bizarre
The Museum of the Bizarre is an ideal hidden gem for anyone hoping to travel a bit off the beaten path. This museum houses an abundance of oddities and curiosities, ranging from shrunken heads to two-headed animals. There’s also a cool collection of interactive exhibits, such as the Laser Vault and Mirror Maze or Houdini’s Possessed Ouija Board.
If you’re interested in learning about the world’s strangest customs, you love spooky stuff, or you simply want to see something new, the Museum of the Bizarre is sure to offer a mesmerizing and memorable experience.
Pachinko World is another secret stop that adds a bit of wonder to any Wilmington itinerary. This unique attraction is all about the famous traditional Japanese game called pachinko. It offers a wide range of fun challenges all with an overwhelming offbeat charm.
The vibrant and colorful setting is perfect for the whole family. With over 200 machines to choose from, Pachinko World is probably the weirdest place to test your skills and try your luck. Also, if you’re looking for something a little different, the on-site cafe offers a delicious selection of Japanese cuisine as well. It’s the only parlor of its kind in all of North America.
Poplar Grove Plantation
Poplar Grove Plantation is a beautifully preserved example of a traditional southern plantation in Wilmington. The current manor was originally constructed back in 1850. You can tour the plantation house, learn about the area’s history at the on-site museum, or even go for a horseback ride through the property.
Once a sweet potato and peanut farm, today it serves as a harrowing reminder of the country’s oppressive past. It’s an important stop that seeks to shed light on the pre-Revolutionary War era of North Carolina.
With over 250 acres, Greenfield Lake is a great place to take a stroll, picnic, or enjoy some scenery in Wilmington. True to its name, there are miles of waterfront trails surrounded by lush trees and flowers. There’s also a charming playground, gazebo, sports court, skate park, boat rental service, and amphitheater to enjoy.
If you’re lucky, you might even see a turtle or two! The lake is also a popular destination for fishing in the city and there’s plenty to be caught here. It’s also known as one of the best places to go with a furry companion since it’s super dog friendly.
Have a Spa Day
If you’re looking to relax and rejuvenate while in Wilmington, there’s no better way than spending a day at one of the city’s many state of the art spas. Drift and Dream is a particularly popular spot, known for its serene setting, excellent service, and infrared saunas.
In addition to traditional spa services like massages and facials, there are a wide range of Wilmington spas offering more unique treatments like salt scrubs and mud wraps. To treat yourself to total luxury try Coastal Massage and Spa or for a certified green spot head over to Sage Salon and Spa.
Fort Fisher State Historic Site
Fort Fisher is an amazing attraction for both history buffs and nature lovers. Home to the biggest amphibious battle in the country, this beautiful location was once a confederate fort during the American Civil War. It was built to protect the vital trading ports of the city.
Today, the site includes the remains of the once iconic structure as well as a museum packed with relevant memorabilia. The protected and legendary grounds alternate between miles of pristine beachfront and trails through wild salt marsh.
Cape Fear Museum of History and Science
The Cape Fear Museum is both a fun and educational activity in Wilmington. This expansive museum has something for everyone, exhibiting everything from local history to natural science.
Younger visitors are sure to love the hands-on elements, which includes interactive exhibits like Space Place. Additionally, older learners will appreciate the chance to explore Wilmington’s rich history through detailed displays such as the dramatic Fire! Gallery or the enlightening Cape Fear Stories exposition.
The Best Restaurants in Wilmington
This is all our opinion, but these are the best places to eat and drink in Wilmington!
- Indochine: Whenever there’s a special occasion, we head to Indochine. Indochine is a Thai infusion restaurant, and it’s downright amazing and reasonably priced. I’ve never been to Indochine, no matter the day or time of year when there isn’t a line. So be prepared for that – but you won’t regret waiting. It is an institution in Wilmington, and a must-try.
- Satellite: An impressive bar that often hosts events, live music on the weekend, and draws a hip crowd.
- Hibachi Bistro: My favorite “cheap eats” spot in Wilmington. Hibachi Bistro serves up cheap and quick hibachi meals, and on Wednesday they typically have half-priced sushi.
- Dock Street Oyster Bar: If you’re a shellfish fan then this is the place to head. They offer steamed and raw oysters in a relaxed bar atmosphere.
- Flaming Amys: This colorful restaurant is another Wilmington institution known for its awesome burritos.
- The Copper Penny: Awesome cheap eats and bar food downtown.
- Little Dipper: As mentioned before, Little Dipper, is great for a date night or Ladies’ night.
- Taqueria Los Portales: For authentic, no frills, not “American” Mexican, this place is fantastic.
- Front Street Brewery: Front Street Brewery is…well…A brewery located right on Front Street. They have tasty beers and good food which you can enjoy inside or on the patio when the weather is good. Prices are very reasonable. You’ll probably end up waiting in a line if you come during a nice summer weekend day.
- Cape Fear Seafood Company: It doesn’t look like much on the outside, and it’s not ocean front, but Cape Fear Seafood Company serves fresh local reliable seafood.
- Slice of Life: Hands down the best pizza in Wilmington.
- Crush & Grind: This is our favorite coffee shop in Wilmington, although really it is in Carolina Beach. They serve great coffee and then the place turns into a wine bar at night. I also love that they use eco-friendly products and paper straws keeping the oceans clean here!
Things to do in Wilmington, NC Map
How to Get to Wilmington, North Carolina
If you are flying to North Carolina, you will be pleased to know that Wilmington has its own airport/ The Wilmington International Airport (ILM) is a small airport near Wrightsboro that services multiple flights a day.
Most flights from around the country are connected via Charlotte Douglas, but there are some from Atlanta and Dallas.
ILM is probably the easiest airport to navigate through as it is small and quiet. If you can get a flight here, then do it. Often it doesn’t cost much more than flying into Charlotte or Raleigh.
If you are driving to North Carolina, you’ll likely find yourself on Interstate 40, which starts (or ends) in Wilmington. Wilmington is about two hours away from Raleigh, 3.5 hours from Charleston, 4 hours from Charlotte, and 1.5 hours to Myrtle Beach.
Transportation in Wilmington, NC
There is not much in terms of public transport in Wilmington, as with the rest of the United States. The best way to get around Wilmington is with your own rental car. Rental cars can easily be picked up at ILM. If you have never rented a car before make sure to check out our rental car tips to save time and money.
Wilmington, NC Weather
Wondering what the Wilmington weather will be like? You might expect me to say that the best time to visit Wilmington is during the summer months, but not exactly. The summer months between Memorial Day and Labor Day are by far the busiest in Wilmington, but that doesn’t make them the best. During these months the temperatures are often over 90°F with high humidity. It’s actually my least favorite time to be in Wilmington.
In my opinion, the best time to visit Wilmington is during the shoulder season when it’s sunny and warm enough to enjoy the beach, but not humid and hot enough that all you want to do is sit in front of the air conditioner.
Those months are April, May, September, and October. Traveling during the shoulder months will also be cheaper than traveling during the high season and will have a much more local feel.
If you can come during any of those shoulder months and still wondering when the Wilmington weather might be best, then bet on September and October. The temperatures will be super comfortable and the ocean will be much warmer than in the springtime. The only downside to planning a trip during September? Hurricane season, which is always a bit of a threat to the Wilmington coast. A hurricane is expected to hit Coastal North Carolina every 3-4 years. The last major hurricane was Hurricane Florence in 2018.
Where To Stay in Wilmington
We Love Wilmington, NC
I made a move from Michigan to Wilmington, NC, when I was 19 years old. In search of a different lifestyle in the South and a college degree. Wilmington became my home while I attended the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
People often asked me why I moved to Wilmington, and the truth is I was searching for an “out” of the harsh Michigan winters. I Googled “Universities on the beach,” and the rest was history. It took me one day in Wilmington to realize I picked an excellent school and home and that I was living where other people vacation.
I think the decision to move to North Carolina completely changed the path of my life as well. While in college, I got involved in some great programs, used my school’s study abroad program to venture out to Australia, fell in love with travel, and now I run a travel blog for a living and have traveled to over 85 countries.
Cameron and I also met in Wilmington and now travel back here every year when we want to slow down for a bit since Cameron’s family has a home here. We both very much consider ourselves locals, and that’s why it pains me to see vacationers here doing the same few things day after day when there is so much more. (Oh, and Cameron has even been on the local news… We get this place.)
So hopefully, these unique things to do in Wilmington, NC will help you discover something new and convince you what to do in Wilmington, NC on your trip.
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