Travel Guide: 24 Hours in Wilmington, NC

I recently took a one-night trip to Wilmington, NC. I was there such a short period of time, but we managed to pack a lot in! If you’re going to be visiting for a short trip as well, here are all my top recommendations that would be easy to fit in a short stay:

Where to Stay

Airbnb: We stayed at the cutest Airbnb right in the heart of Wilmington! It’s a 1940s English Tudor house that has been transformed into a boho bungalow. There are four bedrooms and two kitchens (one upstairs and one down), so plenty of space for you to spread out… or invite all the girls along! The Airbnb was in the perfect location because it’s only a 5 minute drive to downtown Wilmington and a 10 minute drive to Wrightsville Beach. Plus it is pink and white HEAVEN. Seriously, y’all, this house was made for Instagram, and it’s got several selfie mirrors to prove it. (The house is not currently live on the Airbnb website, but you can send them a DM on Instagram to book.)

Okay, so you made it to Wilmington and checked into your rental, what’s next? Here’s what I would (and did) do with only 24 hours in Wilmington!

Morning

Wake up with the sunrise, cause you won’t want to miss a precious moment of this day. Start out by throwing on your swimsuit and a cute cover-up and stop by Beach Bagels to pick up coffee and bagels on your way to the beach. Chewy, soft and a little sweet, these New York style bagels won’t disappoint – there are tons of different options on the menu, they’re vegan-friendly, and they even serve up some delicious fruit smoothies. Grab a metered parking spot anywhere along Wrightsville Beach (don’t forget your coins!) and scout out the nearest public beach access to set up camp for the morning. I really love the beach at Wrightsville – the sand is super soft and the water is clearer than other North Carolina beaches.

Lunch

Once your stomach starts grumbling again (or you’re getting a little sun weary), walk back up the beach path in search of some lunch. Tower 7 is located right off the beach and has some killer fish tacos and margaritas, or meander over to the Trolly Stop for a hot dog – both are walkable from the beach. If you want to eat lunch with a view, hop in the car and make the short drive over to Dockside, located on the marina. Although the restaurant is a little more upscale, you can still wear your swimsuit and cover-up straight from the beach.

Afternoon

After a quick shower back at your Airbnb, you’ll definitely want to explore historic downtown Wilmington (only a five minute drive from the Airbnb). Stroll along nearly two miles of scenic walkway alongside the historic Cape Fear River, browse the quaint little shops, boutiques and art galleries along the waterfront, and be sure to grab an ice cream cone at Kilwin’s while you’re at it. Island Passage is a cute little boutique you’ll want to pop into if you have some money to spend!

Drinks & Dinner

Wilmington has so many great restaurants, but I personally would head back towards Wrightsville Beach for drinks and dinner. Grab a Miami Vice or another fun cocktail at Bluewater, a “happening” restaurant right on the marina. Once you’ve had your share of boat watching (and people watching), hop on over to Ceviche’s for dinner. It doesn’t offer quite the same view as Bluewater, however, the food is INCREDIBLE and not to be missed. The best way to enjoy Ceviche’s is by ordering several dishes for the entire table to share. I can personally vouch for the coconut shrimp, guacamole, and mango mahi ceviche and confidently say that it was the best meal I’ve had in a LONG time!

After Dinner

If you want a “calm” night, head back to the beach and lay down a blanket to watch the sunset. Wrightsville Beach is particularly gorgeous at golden hour. If you’d rather partake in Wilmington’s nightlife, consider heading back downtown to Tails Piano Bar. It’s beautifully decorated and they serve up incredible craft cocktails alongside a nice wine list. Plus the atmosphere is always lively, with amazing pianists who care about their craft and do not have sheet music. Be prepared… you’ll want to settle in for a few hours!

What to Pack

Wilmington is a very casual city, so don’t feel like you need to dress up (unless you want to… then go for it!). For beach days, you’ll want to pack a few swimsuits and some easy, casual coverups to throw on top. Definitely bring some sunscreen and a pair of sunglasses, since the sun can get quite harsh during the midday hours! You’ll be doing plenty of walking, so be sure to pack comfortable shoes, including a pair of tennis shoes in case you want to walk or run “The Loop” – the 2.5 mile long path that circles through the very heart of Wrightsville Beach. These sandals are my favorite comfy sandals and go with every outfit. For dinners out, a casual dress is fine. I noticed that people dress pretty casual everywhere, even for nice dinners! As for beauty and hair products, minimal makeup with glowy skin is a “look” in Wilmington, so definitely invest in a good dewy highlighter before your trip. One warning – there’s no use in spending a ton of time on your hair, cause the humidity can be pretty rough on it! I recommend wearing your hair in a ponytail, bun or cute braids instead of spending hours curling it. 🙂

If you’ve been to Wilmington and have more recommendations, let us all know in the comments! I am dying to go back and spend longer than a day this time.

Leave a Comment

25 Comments

  1. Kelli Kilgore

    Thank you for this blog post! I LOVE seeing your travel pictures and reading about all your adventures:) I just think this would be such a fun place to go and stay for my sister’s bachelorette party. What do you think? Would you suggest this for a relaxed, low-key girls weekend?

    6.25.20Reply
    • Yes, 100%! I think it’s the perfect place for a girls weekend. You can really make it as relaxing, or as busy, as you want!

      6.25.20Reply
  2. I was lusting after the home decor on your Insta stories. Sooooo gorgeous!!

    6.25.20Reply
  3. Katie

    Roberts grocery store on wrightsville beach has amazing chicken salad sandwiches and other pre wrapped goodies if you want to take it back to your beach towel. They sell it at grocery stores in NC but as I tell my boyfriend, its not the same without the little extra crunch of sand haha.

    6.25.20Reply
  4. Ashley Rommel

    I live in Wilmington and have been following your blog for a while. Other great suggestions…savorez downtown is a fantastic little restaurant with Panamanian flair. The food is probably some of the best in town but the restaurant is super tiny! Expect a wait. They don’t take reservations.

    If you like browsing thrift shops head to castle street. There is a fantastic restaurant their called rx with a great wine bar just down the street. Hit up the wine bar for free wine tasting on Friday then buy a bottle to take to rx. I think if you have your receipt the corkage fee is free.

    The Carolina Beach boardwalk is super cute. Walk up to Nauti dog for a gourmet hotdog or brat. They also have great vegan brats/sausages. Then, take a stroll to Latella gelato. They have regular gelato or specials for 21+. If that doesn’t fix your sweet tooth and you don’t mind a wait, join the line for Britt’s donuts. They are legendary and have made best donut shops in NC several times. You can sit on the beach for a bit after or head to CB state park for a hike with great views of the cape fear river.

    To catch great sunsets grab a glass of wine and apps at one of the riverfront restaurants on the river walk or head to smoke on the water. Great cocktails. Food is good but service is slow so don’t go too hungry.

    6.25.20Reply
  5. This place is so cute! I’ve never been to Wilmington!

    http://www.rdsobsessions.com

    6.25.20Reply
  6. This is so great post, thanks for the advices <3

    6.25.20Reply
  7. Chelsea

    Hallelu, on Wrightsville Beach, is hands down one of the cutest/best boutiques in Wilmington. I stop every time I’m in town!

    6.25.20Reply
    • Amanda Brown

      I’m in Winston too so I love a quick trip over to Wilmington. My favorite decor/gifts store is Airlie Moon in Lumina Station. They have gorgeous accessories, pillows, frames, etc. Very unique and interesting finds! The best coffee shop is Bespoke. Delicious lattes + a very cool atmosphere. They serve counter culture coffee so it’s legit 🙌

      @circa1822

      6.26.20Reply
  8. You have me dreaming of a vacation, friend! This travel guide sounds so amazing!!

    Make Life Marvelous

    6.25.20Reply
  9. Kandice

    You’ve got to hit up Savorez! It’s my boyfriend’s cousin’s restaurant so I guess I’m partial haha. Loooove Wilmington! 💕

    6.25.20Reply
  10. Megan

    The Battleship NC is a really cool place to see when you’re in Wilmington. There is shopping at Independence Mall or at Mayfaire.

    6.25.20Reply
  11. Karsyn Whitt

    I can’t go to Wilmington without making a stop at Port City Java- best coffee in town! For food, Tavern 17 is by far my fav. I also always go to Crazy Mikes for some cool T-shirts and goodies.

    Also, if you’re a One Tree Hill or Dawson’s Creek fan, you’ll fan-girl over all of the film locations scattered around the city! My mom and I went to all of the OTH locations on our first trip here and fell in love with the city.

    6.25.20Reply
  12. Brittany

    Islands has dollar tacos every night from 5pm-10pm. They are SOO GOOD and a local restaurant. Front Street Brewery and Copper Penny are great places downtown. Little Dipper has ladies fondue night every Wednesday. PT’s grille and Saltworks both have great burgers. There are so many good local places to eat here. Also it’s definitely worth the drive to Carolina Beach to get Britt’s doughnuts. There is always a line at night, but definitely worth the wait. They are only good when they are hot and fresh and they only take cash.

    6.26.20Reply
  13. Lauren Tomlin

    I used to have a weekend house in Wilmington for years (lost it in a divorce 😢). And I spent about every other weekend there for 4 years and you did an awesome Job with your review! Spot on!

    6.26.20Reply
  14. Megan

    Hey! I live in Wilmington, and there is so much! Fort fisher has the aquarium, we have a ferry to take to southport also located at for fisher. For food, pizza – slice of life (4 locations) and local, tower 7 is local, and it is owned by the same as the k38 and Kbueno locations, Boombalatti’s is a local ice cream shop located close to wrightsville beach, cast iron kitchen is AMAZING and local which is in Ogden. Our town is so small that everything is close to each other, except fort fisher, but still only 30 minutes with traffic. Tons of local breweries that are great and spread throughout town and tons of paddle boarding and kayaking renting around too, which if you go around WB it is about 6 miles and mostly a no wake zone!

    6.26.20Reply
  15. Anon Reader

    Looks like a very cute town! I would love to do a local-ish weekend getaway soon, although this is probably too far us to drive.

    Did you take any COVID-related precautions? It’s a little surprising to see a travel post recommending hitting up bars, etc. with no acknowledgement of the pandemic, tbh…would be helpful to understand what measures you took to stay safe. Thanks!

    6.26.20Reply
    • Hey! This travel guide is definitely not one that I would follow right now – most of the restaurants in Wilmington are actually closed (I should have put that disclaimer on the post!). We had most of our meals delivered and didn’t go to any bars while we were there last week… but these are great recommendations if you’re headed there later this summer or next year!

      6.26.20Reply
  16. Amanda Brown

    I’m in Winston too so I love a quick trip over to Wilmington. My favorite decor/gifts store is Airlie Moon in Lumina Station. They have gorgeous accessories, pillows, frames, etc. Very unique and interesting finds! The best coffee shop is Bespoke. Delicious lattes + a very cool atmosphere. They serve counter culture coffee so it’s legit 🙌

    @circa1822

    6.26.20Reply
  17. Alei Strickler

    My family and I go to Wilmington every summer, we just got back a couple weeks ago..It is absolutely a beautiful place to visit. The battleship is a great place to visit for history buffs we took my grandpa one year and since he used to be in the army he was able to tell us every part of the ship and it’s history. We didn’t get to go this year since it was closed due to COVID. Krazy Mikez is my all time favorite boutique down there I always get my OTH apparel from there. They have a bunch of Wilmington/North Carolina goodies too. I love walking down the Riverwalk so cute and you can see the battleship across the way. If you’re a One Tree Hill fanatic you definitely have to check out all the filming locations, Krazy Mikez has locations with addresses available at the register. The Gelato shop ( I cant remember the name) we went in there for the first time this year and I died and went to heaven. THE BEST gelato everrrr. Downtown Wilmington is so cute and historic I think that’s my favorite part of Wilmington I love the brick road and all the shops and restaurants you definitely need more than a day down there to see it all!! I would love to live down there.

    6.26.20Reply
  18. Love this! I can’t wait to travel again.

    Demi | https://demibang.com/

    6.27.20Reply
  19. Jean Shirley

    I know this was a girly beachy getaway but you missed my favorite Wilmington stop. It’s Indochine-simply the most beautiful and tasty Asian styled restaurant for miles around. We often stay overnight just to have a meal there. You are right! This is a lovely and sometimes overlooked east coast stop! Only outdoor seating and carry out at the Restaurant for the moment though it seems! J

    6.27.20Reply
  20. This place is adorable! I’m in love with the boho decor and pretty details! I’d definitely love to check out this airbnb sometime, since Wilmington isn’t too far from me. Thanks for sharing! <3

    xx
    Key
    https://storiesbysuddreth.com/

    6.29.20Reply
  21. Morgan Perkerson

    I live in Wilmington and can definitely vouch for the WB sunsets, Tower 7 and Ceviches! My all time fav coffee shop is Casa Blanca. Super instagram worthy coffee house with the best coffee, roasted in house! Marissa, the owner, most definitely knows what’s she’s doing and is super passionate about her work. My favorite boutique is ZIA Boutique in The Forum. The best selection of clothing in town – no lie. The owner, Zelle, is also a fellow blogger at @southernstyleblog. We also love Front Street Brewery’s pulled chicken nachos, cocktails and tapas at Dram + Morsel, and the filet mignon bruschetta at Tarantelli’s downtown is to dieeeee for. Also love Adapt Kitchen in WB – just a few steps away from Tower 7. Wilmington has so much to offer. I’m so glad you enjoyed your short time here!

    8.30.20Reply