Discover Wilmington, NC, a Fresh Possibility for a Vacation Destination

Why the North Carolina enclave and its island beaches belong on your 2024 travel bucket list

A pontoon boat on the water

Photo: courtesy of Wilmington

A water tour cruise at Wrightsville Beach.

Planning a spring or summer getaway? In these perennially busy seasons, Wilmington shines as North Carolina’s most accessible coastal destination by interstate or a short nonstop flight. The historic riverfront city and its three island beaches just minutes away offer a refreshing mix of relaxation and recreation—in other words, vacation perfection.

Explore Wilmington’s vibrant riverfront and downtown, starting with the 230-plus-block National Register Historic District, one of the largest and most picturesque of its kind in the South. Along the Cape Fear River, the iconic Riverwalk stretches two miles as a gateway to boutique shops, galleries, nightlife, alfresco eateries, and more. Anchored across the river, the World War II–era Battleship NORTH CAROLINA honors the 11,000 North Carolinians who died in the war and is open to the public daily. Viewing the water from its observation deck, you might be inclined to add a narrated river cruise to your itinerary; Cape Fear River Boats or Wilmington Water Tours are two stellar options.

Pack your swimsuit because Wilmington comes with convenient access to three distinctive island beaches. Located directly east of the city, Wrightsville Beach has established itself as one of the South’s best beaches, offering an active island lifestyle, premier watersports, and crystal blue waters. Navigate the surrounding waterways on the Wrightsville Beach Waterloop Tour, a new guided kayak offering from Wilmington Outdoor Adventures. Or book a private charter aboard Soundside Adventures’ Bella, a fully equipped forty-four-foot catamaran on which up to six guests can explore the area’s uninhabited islands.

photo: courtesy of Wilmington
Carolina Beach.

Nearby Carolina Beach welcomes visitors with its laidback family- and dog-friendly vibe and the promise of good times along the vintage seaside boardwalk. It’s also home to Carolina Beach State Park and its vast web of wildlife-filled hiking trails, where you can spot native Venus flytraps. From the state park, set off on Wilmington Bike & Brew Tours’ new Carolina Beach Experience Tour, a guided e-bike excursion that takes you to town landmarks like the Carolina Beach Mural Project’s colorful artworks, punctuated by pit stops at local favorites like the Fat Pelican and Britt’s Donut.

photo: courtesy of Wilmington
The Flytrap Trail at Carolina Beach State Park.

Travel a bit farther south to peaceful Kure Beach, home to one of the oldest fishing piers on the Atlantic Coast. Reconnect with nature along the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area’s six miles of pristine shoreline, and hike the Basin Trail through marshland and maritime forest. Opening this summer, a new 24,000-square-foot visitors’ center at Fort Fisher State Historic Site, a museum and battlefield where the Civil War’s largest land-sea battle was fought, will showcase exhibits covering artillery, battle strategy, and the role of the U.S. Colored Troops.

If you’re hungry after your city and beach adventures, Wilmington’s diverse culinary landscape includes Southern classics, plenty of fresh seafood, and globally inspired fare from renowned chefs. Check out the recently reopened Rx Chicken & Oysters, which proudly serves non-native lionfish (spearfished by the owners!) to mitigate its impact on the local environment. Along the Riverwalk, don’t miss the new Tequila Comida & Cantina Waterfront, a two-story waterfront spot with outdoor seating and marina views, plus a premium tequila library. Or celebrate with an evening of culinary excellence from restaurants like Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria by G&G’s own Vivian Howard, Catch by chef Keith Rhodes, Olivero by chef Sunny Gerhart, and Seabird by chef Dean Neff, a 2024 James Beard Award Outstanding Chef semifinalist.

photo: courtesy of Wilmington
Dinner at Seabird.

Several charming lodging options extend the local flavor. The C.W. Worth House, an award-winning bed and breakfast, gives guests a taste of Victorian elegance in an 1893 home. Rest easy in low-key luxury by booking a stay with ARRIVE Wilmington, a boutique hotel just a block from the historic district. You can even overnight on a houseboat docked along the Riverwalk when you book with the Cove Riverwalk Villas, one of the city’s most unique accommodations. Recharge oceanfront at a beach house rental or a full-service resort like Blockade Runner Beach Resort or Lumina on Wrightsville Beach, a Holiday Inn Resort. How’s that for a vacation to remember?

Plan your Wilmington and Beaches adventure at