Summer is essentially here! And that means travel and road trips. In fact, I just got back from a quick weekend getaway to Wilmington. At just over 3 hours from Charlotte, it’s the perfect destination for an easy weekend trip. I love trip planning and creating itineraries/sifting through things to do and prioritizing them. One thing about me is I will not get to a place with no idea what I’m planning to do. So of course I want to share my must-do’s for Wilmington North Carolina for anyone planning to visit.

I have to say this wasn’t the best trip I’ve planned (my own fault). Regardless it was still a lot of fun, and I discovered a lot of fun places to recommend. Know of something I missed? I’d love to hear it! But until then check out this list of must-do’s (and wish I dids) from my weekend in Wilmington North Carolina.

  • Where I Stayed

    I stayed at the Embassy Suites Riverfront, but in full transparency, I probably wouldn’t choose it for a future trip. The location was pretty good though it was on the outskirts of downtown it was still a manageable and safe walk into the heart of downtown. My main issue was just with the level of amenities and service. It’s been a few years since I have stayed at the chain but it seemed to me that the perks of staying there made to order breakfast and happy hour just weren’t up to the standard they once had. This could be a trend chain-wide or with this particular location. But the added cost was not in my opinion worth it the way it has been at other hotels.

  • Things I Did

  • Battleship NC

    If you’re interested in history, the military, or have kids who love boats this is a great activity to do. The whole tour takes around 1.5-2 hours and does involve significant walking/climbing up and down small stairs. It’s also not airconditioned so the best time to visit is the morning before it gets too hot!

  • Burgwin-Wright House

    I absolutely love old historic homes so tours of them are always on my to-do list. We spent Saturday afternoon at the Burgwin-Wright house which is the only colonial home left in Wilmington. The tour lasted about an hour and our guide was excellent. There are also some gorgeous gardens outside to explore as well as a cute little gift shop.

  • Airlie Gardens

    Right outside of Wrightsville Beach is Airlie Gardens. It’s right on the sound which makes for some picturesque views. The gardens and live oaks dripping with Spanish moss are gorgeous as well. And it’s a great chance to see wildlife as well. Hard to believe this area is just tucked into such a populous place.

  • The Cotton Exchage

    This area was actually our favorite part of downtown. The stores were cute, a little touristy, and it had some restaurants that looked tasty as well. I was disappointed by a lot of downtown Wilmington but this area was more along the lines of what I had expected.

  • Alcove Beer Garden

    This was the cutest little beer garden and patio, with a coffee shop in the same complex. It was a few minutes drive but I made the trip to see a good friend who was playing live music at the venue. The outdoor patio made the perfect setting to enjoy some live music!

  • Where I Ate

  • Dockside (Wrightsville Beach)

    You’ve probably seen the t-shirts for this place. They were a staple after the summer break at least when I was in high school. And the views and food live up to the hype. Whether you’re taking the boat or driving, eating a meal or just grabbing a drink on the patio it’s a must-do if you’re in the area!

  • Michael's On The Waterfront

    It’s directly across from the water but the vibe is cute, they have a small outdoor patio, and the food was delicious!

  • Seaview Crab Company

    It may not look like much from the outside but this multi-location fresh seafood wholesale also has a small restaurant. You won’t find seafood any fresher. The food was great and they even had an all-you-can-eat crawfish boil when we were there.

  • Mellow Mushroom

    This actually goes against everything I preach and it was done more out of desperation that “want”. We actually struggled with several places being closed or not serving food after around 8:00 so ended up just eating here two nights (they were open til 10). I tend to not like to eat on vacation at places I can eat at home but it filled the void and was great as always!

  • Things I Didn't Get To Do But Wanted To And Will Do Next Time

  • Gallery: A Weekend In Wilmington

  • What I Wish I Had Known

    5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Wilmington North Carolina

    • Eat Early!

      On vacation, I tend to like to go back to the room, rest up, and then go back out to dinner. On two of three nights on my trip, I tried to eat after 8 pm and dealt with several places that either didn’t serve food after 8 or closed at 8:30 so they wouldn’t serve us. In a town that I feel has a decent-sized tourist population this came as a shock to me.

    • A Lot Of Places Are Closed Sunday and Monday

      We dealt with this as far as restaurants and some tourist attraction/museum-type things we wanted to check out. Many places were closed on these days meaning we had to jam pack Saturday to get things done and missed out on some other plans due to hours of operation. So make sure you double-check the hours of operation for anything you want to experience on your trip!

    • It's Crowded (Especially The Beach)

      Again this relates to not fantastic planning on my part, but being still early in May I wasn’t expecting crowds quite like what were there. We took a drive over to Wrightsville Beach Sunday morning which in all sense of the word was an epic fail. We arrived around 11:30 and it was packed. No place to park whatsoever except one private lot that was charging $40 to park and that was almost full as well. And considering my goal was not a full-on “beach day” and more of a walk around the town and venture down to see the ocean that wasn’t worth it to me.

      If you’re going to head to the beach go early. Like super early. Otherwise just don’t even bother.

    • Make Reservations Ahead of Time

      This goes for the restaurant situation detailed above as well as for tours. I’m typically a planner but I had struggled with places not taking reservations or being full. I also dropped the ball on a tour we wanted to go on assuming a Sunday night tour wouldn’t sell out. The website also mentioned you could purchase the day of so I figured it wasn’t in danger of selling out. Wrong, it had been full for a couple of days, and asking if they could squeeze a couple more people in (it was a walking tour) was unsuccessful.

    • Historic Downtown/River Walk Isn't What I Thought It Was

      I’ve been to Topsail Island several times and the outskirts of Wilmington but since a 4th-grade field trip this was my first trip to downtown Wilmington. The research I did and what I had heard gave me a slightly different idea of what to expect than reality. I was picturing something a little more along the lines (but obviously smaller) of Charleston and Savannah. And really it wasn’t. The Riverwalk is ok, but it’s honestly just a boardwalk along the river. There aren’t shops that open up to it, and outside of a couple of blocks most of the restaurants are a few streets off as well.

      I expected the historic district to be a little more historic as well. But really outside of a few buildings here or there it was just a normal downtown.