Coastal getaway: 48 things to do in Wilmington, 3.5 hours from Charlotte

Coastal getaway: 48 things to do in Wilmington, 3.5 hours from Charlotte

Photo: Bri Crane/Axios

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Located along the Cape Fear River off the southern coast of North Carolina, Wilmington is a popular summertime retreat for Charlotteans.

From Wilmington’s charming riverfront downtown district to Wrightsville beach, the coastal town offers a little something for everyone. And if you really want more beach time, Carolina and Kure beaches (home of the famous Britt’s Donuts) aren’t too far either.

Here are some can’t-miss stops for your visit.



You’ll find large chain hotels, charming bed and breakfasts, oceanfront resorts and plenty of vacation rentals in the area. Where to stay depends on your vacation preference, whether you’re looking for a trendy urban boutique hotel or a beach Airbnb.

Hotel Ballast301 N. Water St. – Newly updated property on the downtown Riverwalk; starting around $200/night/

Front Street Inn215 S. Front St. – Award-winning historic bed & breakfast and boutique hotel; starting around $149/night/

Dreamers Welcome118 S. 4th St. – Boutique bed & breakfast inside a newly renovated Victorian home; starting around $200/night.

dreamers welcome wilmington exterior

dreamers welcome wilmington rom

Blockade Runner Beach Resort275 Waynick Boulevard, Wrightsville Beach – Prefer to stay on the beach? This oceanfront boutique resort that’s been operating on Wrightsville Beach for more than 50 years; starting around $300/night


Hope you’re hungry. Wilmington’s food scene is mostly casual with an emphasis on locally sourced produce and seafood. It’s also home to a growing craft cocktail culture and several breweries.


Fork n Cork122 Market Street – Food truck turned full restaurant serving gourmet pub food. It’s been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

Benny’s Big Time206 Greenfield Street – Celebrity chef Vivian Howard’s family-friendly pizzeria with delicious cocktails and a signature hot honey sauce I’d drizzle on anything.

benny big time pizza wilmington

Order the Kevin McAllister ($16) with Grayson taleggio, mozzarella and hot honey (we added pepperoni) and a classic margherita ($13).

Indochine7 Wayne Drive – Insanely popular Thai and Vietnamese restaurant with a must-see back patio featuring a lotus pond and seating inside Thai huts. No reservations. Expect a wait.

P.T.’s Olde Fashioned Grillemultiple locations – You can’t go wrong with a burger and fries from this place. It’s a fast-casual restaurant that never gets old.

Nice family dinners: If you’re looking for a less casual dinner spot, I suggest Pilot House or Elijah’s, which are right next to each other on the river. Or The Bridge Tender, a white table cloth restaurant, down on the intracoastal.

pilot house wilmington

The Pilot House has patio seating with views of the river walk. Elijah’s is right next door and there’s plenty of parking nearby.

Dinner and drinks at the beach: Dockside, Bluewater, Poe’s Tavern and Tower 7 are my favorite spots down by the beach. Head to Jimmy’s for a slushie, and if you want to drink with the locals.

Best deal: If you’re on a budget, go with $1 tacos at Island’s (with purchase of a drink). They have 5 locations throughout the city.

Savorez402 Chestnut Street – Latin American-inspired cuisine made with locally-sourced ingredients. Look for unique Southern x Latin fusions like sweet potato guacamole and BLT arepas. – top 100 brunch spots in US on yelp

PinPoint Restaurant114 Market Street – One of the most talked about restaurants in town with a focus on locally sourced produce and seafood

Dram and Morsel33 S. Front St. #3 – Popular tapas and cocktail spot downtown.

Rebellion15 S. Front St. – Casual setting and elevated bar food done well. Go with a Big A** Pretzel.

rebellion big ass pretzel wilmington

Brasserie Du Soleil 1908 Eastwood Road Suite 118 – Trendy French restaurant great for group dinners or date night.

The Original Salt Works – 6301 Oleander Drive – A Wilmington staple, you can’t go wrong with breakfast or lunch. If you go for lunch, get a cheeseburger (or a double). Bring cash.

salt works cheeseburger

The burger is less than $6.

Tarantelli’s102 S. 2nd St. – A date-night worthy Italian restaurant with family recipes.

Boombalatti’s – A local ice cream shop with multiple locations.

Wake N Bake Donuts114 Princess St. – Satiate your sweet tooth with a gourmet donut. I love the one with Fruity Pebbles.

wake n bake donuts wilmington


Social Coffee & Supply –  5317 Wrightsville Ave. – Order their iced latte flight which includes four drinks for $9.50. I like The Local with honey and cinnamon, Rosemary Vanilla and Honey Lavender.

Bespoke Coffee202 Princess Street – Hip, highly Instagrammable coffee shop right in the heart of downtown.

bespoke coffee wilmington

Bitty & Beau’s Coffee4949 New Centre Drive – Globally recognized coffee shop that employs people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Founder Amy Wright was named CNN Hero of the Year in 2017. And they’re expanding to Charlotte.

Drift 1005 International Drive – This is one of my favorite little spots for a coffee and healthy to-go brunch. They have a delicious banana bread with whipped ricotta and berries, and their grain bowls are good.

Port City Java – Multiple locations – This classic coffee spot has been around since 1995. And it’s reliably delicious.

port city java iced coffee wilmington

I was in town for less than an hour before I beelined to PCJ.

Bars + Breweries

Wilmington’s craft cocktail and brewery scene has grown quite a bit over the last few years.

Satellite120 Greenfield Street – Casual bar with a killer back patio

Blind Elephant Speakeasy21 N. Front Street – Look for it down Smith Alley between Front Street Brewery and Port City Java

The Second Glass1540 S. 2nd St. #110 – A French-inspired wine bar with Sunday brunch.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – 111 Grace St. – Popular craft cocktail bar with creative mixes.

whiskey tango foxtrot wilmington

Breweries: Wilmington has a growing brewery scene. Check out New Anthem, Flytrap Brewing (with Shuffle Puck Bowling), Wrightsville Beach Brewery, Waterline Brewing Co. or Waterman’s Brewing Company.


The coast is, of course, a major draw near Wilmington, but don’t miss your chance to explore inland activities and the Cape Fear River, too.

Stroll the downtown Riverwalk – The 1.75-mile waterside trail is a bustling pedestrian thoroughfare along the Cape Fear River.

wilmington river walk

Explore Airlie Gardens 300 Airlie Road – The 67-acre coastal garden features walking paths, birding trails, 10 acres of freshwater lakes, historic oak trees and a butterfly garden.

Wrightsville Beach – Spend a few hours with your feet in the sand, no matter the time of year. There’s tons of public parking (around $5 an hour or $25 a day). If you’re spending the day there, stock up on snacks and chicken salad (their signature item) from Roberts (32 N. Lumina Ave.).

Walk the loop – The 2.5-mile loop will take you all around the island, from the main strip to the marsh. You can park at Wrightsville Beach Park (3 Bob Sawyer Drive) or the Wrightsville Beach Museum (303 W. Salisbury St.), which are free for the first two hours.

wrightsville beach loop

Pop into shops downtown – Downtown Wilmington has a range of locally owned boutiques and quirky shops.

Rent a boat – My family has been using Entropy Boat Rentals for years. It’s owned by a couple who makes their own boats! It’s about $300 for a half day (6 hours).

entropy boat rentals wilmington

Paddle board or kayak: Wrightsville SUP has paddle boards, kayaks, canoes, bikes, etc. for rent. They also do lessons and guided tours.

wilmington beach rentals

Editor’s note: This guide was last updated on June 16, 2021. Additional reporting by Katie Levans.

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