From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
Wilmington, North Carolina, is rich in history and beautiful beaches. It may be one of the smaller coastal towns in North Carolina, but it is not lacking in fun things to do! With three area beaches, a multitude of museums, and an array of award-winning restaurants, Wilmington is a great under-the-radar destination for Atlantic Coast adventurers.
Today, we're digging into al the ways you can explore Wilmington!
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
The slogan for North Carolina State Parks is “naturally wonderful” and the three state parks closest to Wilmington are exactly that. From off-roading to going off the grid, there’s something for every type of outdoor enthusiast at the state’s 41 parks, recreation areas, and nature reserves.
Lake Waccamaw State Park is a little under an hour from Wilmington by car. The park is home to the largest bay lake in North Carolina. Native Americans believe the lake is a water-filled crater created by a meteorite that fell to earth. Filled with 52 species of fish (some of which can’t be found anywhere else in the world), the Lake Waccamaw is a popular place to cast a line. A trail network takes visitors along the shoreline and through groves of bay, pine, cypress, and hickory trees. Along the way, observant hikers can find some rare plant species like Venus flytraps or green-fly orchids. The park has four primitive tent sites and a yurt site for solo or group camping.
Directly south of Wilmington is Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, a 288-acre park sandwiched between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean. The sandy shoreline is a popular place for surf fishing, sunbathing, and studying nature. An easy 2.2 mile trail begins and ends at the Visitor Center and takes hikers through the salt marshes where they can see local flora and fauna, including 16 threatened and endangered species. Fort Fisher has more than 20 picnic table with nearby grills for use, so it’s perfect for a large group gathering at the beach.
Some of North Carolina’s best fishing spots can be found at Carolina Beach State Park. Anglers can fish from the riverbank or launch their boat from one of two public boat ramps in the marina. Eighty-three family campsites, four cabins, and two group campsites makes Carolina Beach State Park the place to be whether you want water and electricity hookups or you want to “rough it” with an off-the-grid site.
Not only is Carolina Beach State Park a great place for fishing, boating, and camping, it has nine easy hiking trails, three of which are wheelchair-accessible. Specialty trails include a fitness trail with activity stations and a self-guided exploration trail for kids. The length of the trails range from .25 to 3 miles and they wind through the wetlands and forests along the Intracoastal Waterway.
The multi-use trails in the Halyburton Park Nature Preserve are open to hikers, cyclists, joggers, skaters, and dog walkers. The 1.3-mile trail that goes around the perimeter of the park is wheelchair-accessible. The trails that criss-cross the interior of the park go through the Wilmington Sandhills, a natural habitat shaded by oak and pine trees that is home to many different species of wildlife.
The Gary Shell Cross-City Trail starts in Wade Park and runs north of downtown through several other city parks before ending where Eastwood Road meets the Intracoastal Waterway. The multi-use trail is a favorite of hikers and bikers and provides access to seventeen designated points of interest along its 15-mile stretch.
Public restrooms are available along the trail in Halyburton Park and Empie Park. Parking is also available at Halyburton Park and Empie Park as well as McCrary Park between Kerr Avenue and Independence Boulevard.
This award-winning restaurant in historic downtown Wilmington uses local and regional ingredients in their contemporary American cuisine. The names of the dishes are a nod to pop culture with a cauliflower Vichyssoise cheekily named Cauli Culkin and a fresh pasta dish called Lady & the Tramp. An extensive wine selection and a curated craft cocktail list are available at the bar. Manna’s lounge, Bourgie Nights, is an intimate venue where local and traveling musicians take the stage for live performances.
Named one of the the South's Best Restaurants in 2019 by Southern Living, PinPoint serves up the freshest of seafood caught by local fishermen, oystermen, and crabbers. Their farm-to-table philosophy extends to the other items on their menu as well. Locally sourced meat and produce are used in Southern-style dishes offered during their nightly dinner service and Sunday brunch. Their menu changes regularly, but you’re always sure to find something to please your palate.
The Rooster & the Crow specializes in Southern favorites like tender and juicy pit-cooked brisket, fried green tomatoes, chicken and waffles, and shrimp po’boys. Be sure to order a side of collard greens or sweet potato fries, and wash it all down with a glass of sweet tea! Rooster and Crow are the nicknames of the owners, North Carolinians Zach Harmon and Allen Carpenter whose passion for great-tasting Southern dishes inspired them to open a concept restaurant on the banks of the Cape Fear River. Rooster & the Crow is open from Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner and for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.
French chef Thierry Moity and his wife, Patricia, owned a restaurant in New York City for 18 years before deciding to bring their talents to North Carolina. The menu at Caprice Bistro is made up almost exclusively of traditional French dishes like boeuf bourguignon and duck confit, but the wine selection spans the globe from California’s Sonoma Valley to the Champagne region in the north of France.
The Sweet N Savory café is known around Wilmington for its extensive menu of Southern comfort food with a modern twist. Breakfast entrées come with a side of hash browns, stone-ground grits, or fresh fruit. Eggs are cooked to order and healthy options are available for the avocado toast crowd. For lunch or dinner, try their pork belly bites with asian slaw and sweet tea glaze or a slice of meatloaf with tomato jam, lettuce, onion straws, and Wonka sauce on Texas toast.
Kids of all ages will love the Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park in Wilmington! This entertainment complex has exciting activities that include miniature golf, bowling, laser tag, a spin zone, a sky tower, go karts, an arcade, a climbing wall, and even an outdoor water park. When you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the Big Splash Cafe for drinks and snacks.
A visit to the Carolina Beach Boardwalk is a relaxing way to spend a day shopping for souvenirs, sampling the sweets, and soaking up the sun. This old-timey boardwalk was described as a family favorite in Budget Travel’s 2019 list of “20 Best Boardwalks Near You.” Activities and attractions include carnival rides and games, weekly fireworks, and the Carolina Beach Arcade. The boardwalk also has a vibrant nightlife scene with bars that overlook the beach and live music coming from the SeaWitch and Hurricane Alley’s.
This not-for-profit children’s museum promotes the arts and sciences through interactive play. Current exhibits, daily programs, and special events teach kids about the world around them. Learn how to make healthy food choices at the Publix and Publix Charities Community Market, host a tea party or ride an elephant in the Forest Friends Toddler Treehouse, or swab the deck in the Ahoy Wilmington! pirate ship exhibit. The museum is open year-round except for Mondays between Labor Day and Memorial Day.
The Dead Crow Comedy Room is Wilmington’s premier comedy club. Open Tuesday through Saturday nights, it hosts local and regional comedians as well as some of the biggest names in the business like Trevor Noah, Pauly Shore, and Michael Che. Wednesday is Improv Night featuring award-winning troupes and Thursday is Open Mic Night featuring the funniest comedians in Wilmington. Audience members must be 16 or older. A full menu of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are available.
The warm decor and comfortable furniture at Whiskey Tango Foxtrot will make you feel like you’re in a private club. You can enjoy craft cocktails and cigars until 2:00 a.m. every night of the week while listening to live music from local bands.
Haunted Wilmington’s award-winning ghost walk is a guided journey through the city’s spooky sites. During a 90-minute tour, your guide shares local ghost stories and eerie encounters, while pointing out haunted houses and taking you through sacred burial grounds.
The Battleship North Carolina is a restored battleship from World War II that serves as both memorial and museum. Visitors can tour nine levels to see where the sailors, ate, worked, and slept. The ship is open daily and guided tours are available on Saturdays and Sundays.
Take a stroll through this historic property with over 67 acres of gardens, trails, art, and architecture to explore. You’ll learn about the birds and the bees in the Pollinator Garden, see what’s in bloom in the Seasonal Garden, and stand in awe in front of the Airlie Oak, one of the largest oaks in the area. Guided tours are offered on weekdays and must be booked in advance.
The Cameron Art Museum showcases the work of local, national, and international artists in its indoor and outdoor spaces. Exhibits from their permanent collection are displayed in modern galleries and featured in regularly scheduled educational events. The museum has family-friendly activities offered through its [email protected], Art Explorers, and Youth Studio programs.
The well-maintained piers at Wilmington’s public parks are great places to cast a line and catch catfish, bass, trout, and flounder from local lakes and rivers. Parks with fishing piers include River Road Park, Smith Creek Park, and Trails End Park.
During the Civil War, the city of Wilmington played an important role in supplying the Confederacy with food, clothing, and ammunition. The soldiers at Fort Fisher guarded the port, which served as a point of entry for smugglers bringing in these goods in exchange for cotton and tobacco. Visit this historic site to learn about how federal forces conquered Fort Fisher leading to the fall of the Confederacy.
If you’re a fan of One Tree Hill or Dawson’s Creek, you’ll love taking a self-guided walking tour of some of the series’ most famous sites. Wilmington is home to buildings that stood in for “Tree Hill High School,” “Karen’s Café,” “Icehouse,” “Leery’s Fresh Fish,” and more in these WB series.
Coastal Massage & Spa offers clients a relaxing day spa experience. They have a full range of services that includes skin care, specialty massages, body wraps, hair removal, and tinting and extensions for brows and lashes.
Whether you just need some time to relax and rejuvenate, or you’re getting ready for a special event, the team at Harbour Salon and Spa will take care of you. They offer standard salon and spa services as well as advanced aesthetic procedures like dermaplaning and microneedling.
This modern medical spa is staffed with seasoned specialists who will help you to look and feel your best from head to toe. Visit the experts at Head to Toe Med Spa for microblading, chemical peels, skin rejuvenation and resurfacing, coolsculpting, and laser hair removal.
The largest yoga center in the Southeastern United States, this full-service facility offers yoga classes, workshops, and retreats for children and adults at all levels. Pay-as-you-go pricing and monthly memberships are available.
This state-of-the-art gym and fitness center has the latest gear and equipment for individual workouts, personal training sessions, and group classes. Their amenities include relaxing saunas, full-service locker rooms stocked with fresh towels, and high-speed WiFi throughout the facility.
This midtown yoga studio has a wide range of classes on its schedule. They cover everything from beginner techniques to yoga sessions on standup paddleboards. Mindfulness and meditation are built into their vinyasa-based classes and workshops. Newcomers can take thirty consecutive days of classes for only $1 a day!
Myrtle Beach is a popular vacation destination only an hour and a half away from Wilmington by car. Known as the “Grand Strand,” this coastal resort area has more than 60 miles of wide sandy beaches, world-renowned golf courses, exciting entertainment and attractions, and some of the best seafood in the Carolinas!
For a view from above, take a spin on the Myrtle Beach Skywheel — the tallest Ferris wheel on the Atlantic Coast. The Skywheel towers over the boardwalk, a family-friendly hotspot with rides, arcades, souvenir shops, and restaurants that appeal to all ages.
A 20-minute ferry ride from historic Southport takes you across the Cape Fear River to Bald Head Island. This laidback island is a testament to North Carolina’s natural beauty. Well-preserved beaches, forests, salt marshes, and tidal creeks make up most of the island’s 12,000 acres. Boutique shops, casual cafés and restaurants, historic sites, outdoor sports facilities, and conservation programs attract the kind of visitor who wants to escape the hustle and bustle of the mainland.
Want to escape into nature? If you drive several hours northeast of Wilmington, you’ll enter the Croatan National Forest. One of four national forests in the state, Croatan is surrounded by water on three sides, making it a first-rate spot for fishing, canoeing, and boating. Trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding can be found throughout the designated recreation area. Three campgrounds with restrooms, showers, and electrical hookups are open year-round for visitors who want to spend more than a day checking out everything Croatan National Forest has to offer.
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Wilmington that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Wilmington? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.