Wilmington, North Carolina is one of the state’s most buzzing beach towns. It’s a place known for its lively nightlife and some of the best surfing on the East Coast. With its beautiful beaches, quaint downtown, and appealing atmosphere, Wilmington is not only a popular filming location (host to television shows Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill, as well as movies Blue Velvet and The Longest Ride) but also a favorite coastal getaway for Southeasterners. Check out our list of fun things to do in Wilmington NC.
Historic Downtown and the River District
Like most cities, Wilmington has an array of neighborhoods and districts, each with its own distinct personality. To appreciate Wilmington’s history and evolution, spend some time in the historic downtown area. Laid out in 1737 and designated a National Historic Site in 1974, this district encompasses 320 blocks of 18th and 19th-century buildings. Immerse yourself in Queen Anne and Bungalow/American Craftsman style architecture and wander brick streets lined with moss-draped oaks.
Leave time to stroll along the Riverwalk, 1.75 miles of wooden boardwalk that USA Today calls “America’s Best Riverfront.” This stroll features clear views of the iconic World War II battleship USS North Carolina. Lined with restaurants and bars, the Riverwalk is a great place to arrive hungry. We recommend The Pilot House for its views of Cape Fear River and the sustainable seafood selection.
Brooklyn Arts District
Just east of the Riverwalk, a hodgepodge of retired industrial buildings and former churches now house the businesses and homes that make up the Brooklyn Arts District. Recently revitalized, in part through initiatives spearheaded by local gallery and community hub Acme Art Studios, the Brooklyn Arts District is Wilmington’s destination for vintage flea markets, live performances, art shows, and contemporary luxury housing.
Stop by neighborhood pub Goat and Compass for brews and live music. Or visit Bottega Art and Wine for a more upscale happy hour.
South Front District
South of Wilmington’s historic district, the South Front District is undergoing a transformation much like Charlotte’s South End neighborhood. Following the completion of a few critical housing projects in the 2000s, this district began blossoming into a foodie’s paradise. It’s now home to celebrity chef Vivan Howard’s wood-fired pizza venture called Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria. South Front also hosts the lesser-known but delicious BlockTaco, whiskey and steak lover’s haven Butcher and Barrel, and funky Satellite Bar.
Castle Street and the Cargo District
In the mood for a bit of shopping? Head to Castle Street and explore local businesses like Gravity Records and vintage boutique Jess James + Co. Explore a variety of antique stores while here. Then, keep heading east to make your way to the Cargo District, where shipping containers find new purpose as housing, office space, and business sites. It’s a completely unique experience and belongs on anyone’s list of what to do in Wilmington NC. For food and libations, check out Mess Hall, Cheesesmith, Blue Cup Roastery, and Alcove Beer Garden. For more shopping, pop into Auggie & Zo (clothing and homegoods), Crafted Outpose (local artisanal creations), and Ghosthill Press (an independent bookstore).
Of course, what’s a trip to Wilmington without time at the beach? Three of the closest beaches to Wilmington are Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Wrightsville Beach. Carolina Beach, known for its vibrant nightlife and vintage seaside boardwalk, also offers state park access with an incredible overlook of Cape Fear River. Kure Beach is ideal for families. Take the kids to the oceanfront park. Or go to the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher (named one of the best aquariums in the US by the Travel Channel). Also, plan to visit the Fort Fisher Historic Site (where the largest land/sea battle was fought).
Last but not least, Wrightsville is perhaps Wilmington’s most popular beach. This is in part due to its impressive surf spots and large SUP community. Take a break from the water and explore Wrightsville’s historic square or waterbird sanctuary. Then embrace Wrightsville’s nightlife, from oceanfront taverns and grills to live music at the marina.
For more fun things to do in Wilmington NC visit our sister site: discoverthecarolinas.com