Distance: 200 miles | Approx. driving time: 3.5 hours | Population: 117,525
Located along the Cape Fear River off the southern coast of North Carolina, Wilmington is a popular summertime beach retreat for Charlotteans.
Whether you’re looking to wine and dine or relax under the sun, Wilmington’s charming riverfront downtown district and three nearby beaches — Wrightsville, Carolina and Kure — offer a little something for everyone with a mix of urban entertainment and coastal escape.
Here are some must-see highlights for your next trip…
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, but most of the highlights in this guide are geared towards downtown.
Hotel Ballast – 301 N. Water Street – Newly updated property on the downtown Riverwalk; starting around $200/night
Front Street Inn – 215 S. Front Street – Award-winning historic bed & breakfast and boutique hotel; starting around $149/night
Blockade Runner Beach Resort – 275 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
Eat & Drink
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.
Best restaurants and bars in Wilmington
Bespoke Coffee – 202 Princess Street – Hip, highly Instagrammable coffee shop right in the heart of downtown
Bitty & Beau’s Coffee – 4949 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.
Britt’s Donuts – 11 Carolina Beach Avenue – The cash-only donut counter with a guaranteed line snaking down the boardwalk has been a Carolina Beach classic since 1939
Flaming Amy’s Burrito Barn – 4002 Oleander Drive – Casual cult favorite burrito joint known for “hot, fast, cheap, easy” food
Beer Barrio – 34 N. Front Street – Craft beer-infused modern Mexican food
Copper Penny – 109 Chestnut Street – Casual pub recently featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives
Fork n Cork – 122 Market Street – Food truck turned full restaurant serving gourmet pub food, including easily the best fried pickles I’ve ever had in my life
Indochine – 7 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.
Savorez – 402 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.
PinPoint Restaurant – 114 Market Street – One of the most talked about restaurants in town with a focus on locally sourced produce and seafood
Block Taco – 120 Greenfield Street – Casual walk-up taco window on the sidewalk next to Satellite. Just look for the string lights, astroturf and donkey standing on top of a car.
The Peppered Cupcake – 105 S. Front Street – Popular bakery known for its unique flavors (always incorporating at least one made with peppers on the daily menu) and signature cobbler-style warm cupcakes you eat with a spoon
Tails – 115 S. Front Street – Gatsby-style piano bar dripping in gold accents and crystal chandeliers; an unexpected offering in a casual riverside town
Satellite – 120 Greenfield Street – Casual bar with a killer back patio
Benny’s Big Time – 206 Greenfield Street – Celebrity chef Vivian Howard’s family-friendly pizzeria
Blind Elephant Speakeasy – 21 N. Front Street – Look for it down Smith Alley between Front Street Brewery and Port City Java
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.
Things to do in Wilmington
Stroll the downtown Riverwalk – The 1.75-mile waterside trail is a bustling pedestrian thoroughfare along the Cape Fear River.
Shop the Cotton Exchange – 321 N. Front Street – The unique multi-vendor market features 30+ shops and restaurants.
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.
Take a sunset river cruise – 212 S. Water Street – Wilmington Water Tours offers a number of Cape Fear River cruises, including a sunset trip with live acoustic music Thursday – Sunday.
Go brewery hopping – Check out New Anthem, Flytrap and Front Street, among others.
Head to the beach – Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach are all less than a 30-minute drive from downtown Wilmington. For something a little different (and more remote), take a ferry from Wrightsville to Masonboro Island, the largest undisturbed barrier island on the southern North Carolina coast only accessible by boat.