Last Updated on September 8, 2021
Last Updated on September 8, 2021
If you plan to visit Western NC, please check beforehand to see if the area is safe following the recent flooding. Officials have closed some sections of Pisgah National Forest (including Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and Blue Ridge Parkway stops) to keep visitors out of danger. Please respect signage and local guidance.
Wilmington is known not only for its incredible downtown along the Cape Fear River but also for the awesome beach towns nearby. There are so many fun things to do in Wilmington, on both the sea and shore.
While you most definitely can spend your time enjoying the beaches, we’ve listed some of the other fun attractions in Wilmington that you might want to explore! They include the area’s wonderful restaurants, its breweries, the beaches (of course), and much more.
In this article, we will detail:
- Where to Stay in Wilmington
- Restaurants in Wilmington and Everywhere Else!
- 13 Things to do in Wilmington
- 3 Things to do in Carolina Beach
- 4 Things to do in Wrightsville Beach
- 4 Things to do in Kure Beach
- Tour Masonboro Island
- More Things to Do in Wilmington (Related Posts)
This post is part of our series on all the awesome things to do in Eastern North Carolina. We’ve also included Wilmington among our favorite day trips from Raleigh. More than a few of these fun things to do in Wilmington featured in our epic NC Bucket List.
Where to Stay in Wilmington
You are definitely going to want to make it a weekend or more, so of course, we have some recommendations on where to stay in Wilmington!
Note: Special thanks to Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau for hosting us during multiple stays. All opinions within this section and the remainder of this article are our own.
If you want a beautiful hotel experience in the heart of downtown, then definitely check out Hotel Ballast. Right along the riverfront, the views of the Battleship North Carolina are stunning when the sun rises.
Another popular place to stay in Wrightsville Beach is Blockade Runner. Overlooking the channel and in a less populated area than downtown, it is easy to get to the beach and relax from one of their stunningly comfortable rooms.
If you are traveling as a family and want a more private experience, then there are plenty of charming Airbnbs in Wilmington that we can suggest!
This quiet carriage house is remote but absolutely adorable. It’s perfect for a couple or small family who are wanting to get away from it all.
There is also no shortage of beautiful oceanfront accommodations. This condo along Kure Beach is perfect for a family or even a romantic getaway. Enjoy sunrise over the ocean waves and still be close to all of the wonderful things to do in Wilmington!
Just across the street from the beach is a quaint set of houses managed by Palm Air Realty, too. These and all the other places to stay make it clear that you’ll have plenty of choices when planning your trip to Wilmington!
Restaurants in Wilmington and Everywhere Else!
Since you are on North Carolina‘s coast, you are going to want to dig into some fresh seafood! From the famous seafood chowder at Michael’s to the Calabash-style fried fish at Jack Mackerel’s (pictured above left), there are plenty of delicious restaurants in Wilmington.
If you are looking for delicious eats in downtown Wilmington, you can’t go wrong with Front Street Brewery and Wake ‘N Bake donuts. Carolina Beach has the waterside Stoked Restaurant and our go-to in Wrightsville is Poe’s Tavern.
Of course, we can’t leave out Flaming Amy’s (pictured above right), with locations in Wilmington and Carolina Beach awaiting.
If you’re parched and looking for a pint, don’t forget to check out some of our favorite Wilmington breweries! We loved the laid back vibe at Wrightsville Beach Brewery and the oh-so-delicious pints at Flying Machine.
Things to Do in Wilmington
At the heart of Wilmington is the Riverwalk, where the city meets the water. Here, you’ll find restaurants, shops, and beautiful views of the Cape Fear River.
Spanning 1.75 miles, the walking is easy, scenic, and one of the first things to do in Wilmington for visitors and residents alike!
Battleship North Carolina
Sitting across from the Riverwalk is the Battleship North Carolina, a memorial to all of the North Carolina ships and Carolinians who served during World War II. Attend the monthly Battleship 101 for an education and interactive experience or go on a self-guided tour of the ship.
Airlie Gardens is one of the best outdoor things to do in Wilmington, no matter when you visit! The 67-acres of historic gardens make for a beautiful experience all year long with the huge oak trees with romantic Spanish moss serving as stunning backdrops for your photos.
Walk the paths through the different gardens, check out the bug zoo, or attend one of their seasonal events like the Airlie Oyster Roast! And don’t forget to come back at night in December for the holiday tradition of Enchanted Airlie.
Home to the only preserved slave quarters in the United States, Bellamy Mansion is a required visit for your inner history enthusiast. Learn about the Bellamy family, the enslaved people at the mansion, and tour the 10,000 square-foot home and gardens built in 1861.
Cape Fear Museum of History and Science
Learn all about the region that surrounds Wilmington at the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science! In addition to local history, you’ll find exhibits on space, music, and even rare memorabilia from local celebrity Michael Jordan!
Wilmington Railroad Museum
Looking for some family-friendly things to do in Wilmington?
The Wilmington Railroad Museum is where we’d start. With a children’s play area, model railroads, and a real steam engine and caboose, this is heaven on Earth for our little one.
Wilmington Railroad Museum Fun Fact: they actually broke the Guinness World Record in 2011 for the world’s longest model train!
New Hanover County Arboretum
The New Hanover County Arboretum is one of the best free things to do in Wilmington. Seven acres of gardens make for a lovely walk all year long.
If you’re traveling with children, there is also an adorable garden with a playhouse, pipe organ, and sandbox for them.
Note: Check their website beforehand to see exactly what flowers are in bloom!
Cameron Art Museum
Looking for some indoor fun while at the beach? The Cameron Art Museum offers both indoor and outdoor exhibits to engage your mind. With visiting and permanent exhibitions, there is always something interesting to see here!
Children’s Museum of Wilmington
Head on over to the Children’s Museum of Wilmington for hours of hands-on fun! Walking in, you’ll first be greeted by the giant boat structure where children are encouraged to interact and learn about the ocean.
There are exhibits for all age groups, even toddlers. Don’t forget to check out the outdoor garden, and, if you hear some barking, it’s probably coming from the veterinarian office!
The Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden
Did you know that Venus flytraps only grow natively in Wilmington and the 60-mile radius around it? There are some pretty interesting reasons behind this, all of which you can learn at The Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden!
See their Venus flytraps, pitcher plants, and more while learning about the microclimate of Wilmington!
The park is also ADA accessible and sits on 39 acres of land protected by the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust and the landowners, the Oleander Company. The garden itself is less than an acre and visitors are encouraged to visit during the daytime.
Poplar Grove is among the last remaining peanut plantations in the United States and one of the most memorable things to do in Wilmington. Its caretakers do a wonderful job of highlighting the entire history of the plantation, including the stories of its enslaved people.
Join Poplar Grove for a tour of the Manor House to learn about life on a coastal plantation or come out for a special event, like their Paranormal Tours!
Wilmington Water Tours
Explore Wilmington on the water with daily narrated boat tours from Wilmington Water Tours! These tours push off from the Riverwalk and offer several different types of excursions from a romantic sunset cruise, an eco-history tour, to even a Full Moon sail.
This is a great way to get off the beach and enjoy the waterways of Wilmington.
Movie Location Tour
Wilmington’s second name is Wilmywood.
Film lovers can take a self-guided tour to where these shows were filmed and experience their favorite shows for themselves!
The Beach Towns near Wilmington
While we all know that Wilmington is home to some fantastic beaches, there are also so many wonderful things to do after you’ve had some fun in the sun. Below, we are going to outline all of the fun things to do in Carolina Beach, Wrightsville Beach, and Kure Beach beyond the sand!
Things to Do in Carolina Beach
Carolina Beach State Park
With nearly nine miles of trails that snake through different habitats, Carolina Beach State Park is definitely a fun thing to do while here! The trails are flat and easy and give a great representative look at the diverse ecosystems found in the Cape Fear region.
Also, Carolina Beach State Park is one of the best places for water access in Wilmington! Fish, kayak, rent a boat, or just enjoy the slapping sounds of the water from nearly anywhere.
This is definitely a unique feature that many of the state parks in North Carolina can’t claim!
Walk the Boardwalk
If you go to Carolina Beach and you don’t walk the boardwalk, were you even there? The oceanfront boardwalk is beautiful all year round and is the perfect spot to make memories.
With restaurants, shopping, and amusement rides there is plenty of fun to be had on the Boardwalk. And yes, waiting in line at Britt’s Donuts when it’s open during the busy season is a must; you won’t regret it!
Only accessible via a four-wheel-drive vehicle, Freeman Park is a more adventurous thing to do in Carolina Beach. Make sure to apply for a day pass and enjoy a more natural setting for fishing, swimming, and searching for shells!
Freeman Park is also an excellent place to camp at Carolina Beach, so come with your tent and smores!
Things to Do in Wrightsville Beach
Walk the John Nesbit Loop
The 2.5-mile John Nesbit Loop (known as “The Loop”) is one of the most popular things to do in Wrightsville Beach for locals and tourists alike! This paved path circles the Intracoastal Waterway and even passes by Wrightsville Beach Park.
If you are a runner or just looking to stay active on vacation, this is the perfect spot for you!
Johnnie Mercer’s Pier
Johnnie Mercer’s is North Carolina’s only concrete fishing pier. It’s also one of the longest fishing piers in the Cape Fear region.
First constructed in the 1930s, Johnnie Mercer’s has been rebuilt several times due to the devastating hurricanes that have hit the area. Today, the pier is filled with plenty of anglers and is open for the public to walk and enjoy.
Admission to the pier costs $2/adult and $1/child.
Wrightsville Beach Museum of History
Really want to dive deep into the history of the area? The Wrightsville Beach Museum of History details the 100-year history of Wrightsville, including hurricanes and the rise of tourism in the 1920s and 30s, as well as detailed history and artifacts on the area’s surfing scene.
North Wrightsville & Shell Island
Looking for a more isolated beach experience? Lean in a little closer and we’ll tell you a secret.
On the northern end of Wrightsville Beach are Shell Island and a stretch of undisturbed shoreline. You can find this remote scenic space stretching from Shell Island Resort to the northern Wrightsville Inlet.
You may also have heard of the Wrightsville Beach Mailbox, where you can drop off a love letter!
Things to Do in Kure Beach
Staying in Kure Beach is one of our favorite things to do in Wilmington. This place is home to one of the best beaches in North Carolina, surrounded by some really fun attractions.
Fort Fisher Historic Site
The largest amphibious assault of the Civil War took place at Fort Fisher, which is a big reason why everyone should visit this historic site. The Visitor’s Center has incredible exhibits detailing the two Civil War battles that happened here.
It’s also a great starting point to learn about Wilmington’s place in history beyond the war.
Fort Fisher also serves as a wonderful outdoor recreational spot! There are six miles of beaches and walking trails that attract many divers who wish to explore many of the shipwrecks just off the coast.
A popular locale for birders and wildlife lovers as well, there are so many ways to explore Fort Fisher, and we rank it as one of our top things to do in Wilmington!
North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher
One of the best things to do in Wilmington with kids is the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher! This location highlights the ecosystem of North Carolina, has a fun touch tank with horseshoe crabs and starfish, and a giant shark tank.
Our little one loves exploring both the indoor and outdoor activities at the NC Aquarium and asks to go every time we are in Wilmington.
Kure Beach Oceanfront Park
Home to Kure Beach’s largest public green space, the Kure Beach Oceanfront Park is a great place to enjoy the ocean away from the beach! Located next to the Kure Beach Fishing Pier, there is an open-air pavilion that sets the stage for concerts and events, a walking path, and even a play space for children!
Kure Beach Fishing Pier
Speaking of the 711-foot pier, it is definitely one of the best attractions in Kure Beach! Whether you are looking to fish all day, charter a fishing excursion, or just check out what the catch of the day is, it’s a fun experience for all.
Just make sure you have a North Carolina fishing license before casting your reel!
Tour Masonboro Island
Taking a boat tour to Masonboro Island Coastal Estuarine Reserve should definitely be at the top of your list of things to do in Wilmington! Completely undeveloped with more than 5,600 acres of beach, salt marsh, and tidal flats, the wildlife viewing opportunities here are absolutely incredible.
Go shelling, search for dolphins and ghost crabs, or just enjoy the 8.4 miles of empty shoreline. This isolated beach is the perfect way to reconnect with the outdoors and how North Carolina must have looked like at one time in history.
Take the Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours Masonboro Shuttle to reach the island. Captain Joe will provide you with some history and interesting tidbits that you won’t find anywhere else!
WBST also has a ton of other options, including some fantastic educational tours for kids!
Ready to Explore these Things to Do in Wilmington?
You might first think of Wilmington as the gateway to beautiful beaches and delicious restaurants. While it definitely is both, we think you’ll find that there is also a lot of other stuff to do!
Whether you are looking to learn more about history, spend time outdoors, fish, or find kid-friendly attractions, Wilmington is the perfect vacation spot all year long!