When most people think about visiting the North Carolina coast, they usually think about the Outerbanks. Obviously, there are good reasons for the Outerbanks hype, however, when you head all the way out there, you are visiting solely for the beach.
If you’re looking for something with a little more variety, I suggest Wilmington, NC.
Once a bustling port city, Wilmington has a historic downtown lined with boutique shops, delicious restaurants, and exciting sightseeing opportunities (complete with a Riverwalk). Oh, and did I mention it’s just six miles from Wrightsville Beach?
Wrightsville Beach reminds me of a quaint California beach town, with low-lying buildings, surf shops, hip boutiques, and of course some great seafood. Sure, it’s a little high-end, but there are options available if you want to keep your trip on a budget.
The ability to experience a great downtown vibe and a hip little surf town in the same weekend is why I suggest doing ‘A weekend in Wilmington, NC.’
Being from Raleigh, NC it’s just a 2 hour drive, so I left the husband and the kids at home to have a weekend with an old friend for my “Weekend in Wilmington & Wrightsville Beach, NC.”
Where to Stay
Where you stay is going to be determined by whether you want your home base to be at the beach or downtown. Since both options are going to give you a ton of things to do, I’ll give you two places on my wishlist that are getting great reviews.
The Downtown Loft | In downtown Wilmington
The 2 bedroom loft sleeps 8 people and is perfect if you’re looking for something with a great downtown location and some high-end design. It’s right next to the riverfront and steps from some amazing restaurants and nightlife. You can also be confident in your stay as this place has nearly 5 stars with over 100+ reviews.
The Trendy Beach Cottage | In Wrightsville Beach
This little gem is a 2 bedroom that sleeps 4 people and sits less than a block from the ocean. And while it’s not oceanfront, it makes up for it with amazing outdoor spaces, a hot tub, and some beautiful ‘coastal modern’ interior design. And stay tuned, we’re going to have a full ‘Rental Review’ of this cottage in the near future.
Where to Eat & Drink
Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach have no shortage of great food and drinking spots, so you won’t have a hard time googling places with great reviews. However, as a North Carolinian, I’ve made this trip many times. This particular weekend, I hit up some of my old haunts.
SUNdays Coffee Shop | Wrightsville Beach
Shhhhhh! This place needs to be our little secret. Nestled above a surf shop on the south end of the island is this little hip coffee shop and cafe. I grabbed my morning coffee while chatting it up with a couple of surfers hanging at the bar. Then took a seat by the window, watched the waves, and indulged in my acai bowl made fresh and topped with coconut shavings. *mouth waters*
The Dixie Grill | Downtown Wilmington
Some of us need to start our morning with a big ole southern breakfast. If you’re in that camp then Dixie Grill is your spot. On my ‘downtown morning’ I made sure to hit up the Dixie Grill. Now look, there are nicer places if you want that swanky breakfast, but I’m not always that kinda girl. Sometimes I just want a diner, big portions, and a no-frills atmosphere to start my day. If you’re in that kind of mood, then Dixie Grill is a can’t-miss.
Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill | Wrightsville Beach
Now, it’s going to depend on how you structure your weekend,, but me, I need a beach day and when I do a beach day, I want a full day in the sun and the sand, with as few interruptions as possible. That’s why I usually hit up Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill. There’s nothing super special about it. The food is good, the atmosphere is fine, but it’s steps off the beach and the food and beer just hit better when you’ve been baking in the sun all day.
Indochine Thai & Vietnamese | Wilmington
This place is a hidden gem and completely unexpected. Hidden in the trees, Indochine has a full-on Vietnamese garden paradise in the back. It’s like you’ve left the country for a quick lunch. Inside is just as amazing, with original decor that’s all custom. Oh, and the food is SPOT ON! The only drawback is that Indochine isn’t all that walkable from the Riverwalk, but I hopped in the car and got there in about 7 minutes. Believe me, it’s worth it.
Bluewater Grill | Wrightsville Beach
Momma’s gotta treat herself every now and then you guys. Bluewater isn’t cheap, but it’s almost a sin to be down at the beach and not hit this spot. The seafood is fresh, the views of the intercoastal waterway are beautiful, and the breeze is usually just enough to keep you comfortable. We sat outside under the overhang and watched the yachts pull up. I got some blackened Mahi Mahi, some calamari, and a Blue Moon to wash it down.
Elijah’s | Downtown Wilmington
You really can’t go wrong on the Riverwalk in Downtown Wilmington. There are so many great places to eat, but I just have a soft spot in my heart for Elijah’s. It’s tucked down at the end of the Riverwalk and it’s kind of feels away from the bustle of downtown, but at the same time, it’s a really happening little spot right on the river that serves really good seafood. It’s a little pricey, but look, I’m at the beach, writing reviews for a travel site. Let me live a little bit!
What to do
Wilmington isn’t just about eating, drinking and heading down to the beach. There is a lot of history here as well, and it lends to some pretty great sightseeing. Although we didn’t have time to do any of that on this trip, I did want to point you guys to some fun things I’ve done in the past.
- Tour the USS North Carolina Battleship
- Walk through the gorgeoiius Airlie Gardens
- Tour the Bellamy Mansion Museum
- Do some beach Yoga
- Kayak or SUP in the intercoastal
- Learn how to surf
- Shop the boutiques downtown
If you are looking for a beach trip with more amenities and a hotel is more your speed, then I suggest The Holiday Inn Sunspree. It’s on the ocean, has a great pool with two hot tubs and a bar/grill area. It’s got a kids club too, so if you bring your kids you can drop them off and enjoy your day.
If you’re on the younger side or looking to let loose and hit up some bars, a few of my favorites are Lula’s (a hidden dive bar), Satellite (a hipster bar), and The Fortunate Glass (wine bar).