Hop in the car for a two hour drive from Raleigh and arrive at the beautiful seaside city of Wilmington! Wilmington is known for its gorgeous beaches, but there is so much more than meets the eye. From the moss-draped live oaks to the brick-lined streets, you can feel the history that encompasses the city. There is something really unique about a destination that has so much to offer, yet has an incredibly relaxed atmosphere.
The River District and Island Beaches surround the city, each with their own unique charm and adventures. Wilmington, Kure Beach, Wrightsville Beach, and Carolina Beach are all a very short drive from one another, and we are so grateful to have experienced all of it. I took my daughters with me on our first “Girls Trip” and we created some amazing memories that have bonded us here!
Whether you are a beach bum, history buff, foodie, or a little bit of it all – there is something for everyone. Fun fact – the Venus fly trap is native to Wilmington (who knew?!).
I have compiled a list of the three A’s: Accommodations, Adventures, and Appetite! If you have any questions about Wilmington or our trip please shoot us me an email!
We stayed at Shell Island Resort in Wrightsville Beach. All of the rooms are oceanfront at this resort, and you cannot beat that view from your private balcony. Opposite side is winding marsh which you can walk through, which makes for an amazing sunset location.
Now that we have established the location is ideal, let’s talk about the resort itself. There is both an indoor and outdoor pool, with a hot tub at the outdoor pool. The beach is literally steps away and not crowded (we were there in peak season). I appreciated that there was a life guard stationed on this beach directly in front of the hotel. The staff is kind and accommodating, and the other guests felt like old friends. There is a restaurant on-site where we ate a delicious breakfast (try the French toast, yum!) with a view of the ocean.
Each room has a kitchenette (this is my favorite when traveling with kids) that includes a refrigerator, stovetop, and microwave. Our room looked recently renovated, and had beautiful decor. There were two double beds with a separate living room. The living room has a pull-out couch which is always convenient when traveling with a family.
The Shell Island Resort is a great place to come “home” to after a fun day on the beach or exploring the city.
Wilmington Railroad Museum – This is a must do if you have children! The Wilmington Railroad Museum has some neat history about railways, BUT the showstopper is more than 20 operating scale model trains. Children and adults can operate these intricate model cities and trains, and my kids never would have left if we did not need to get lunch!
Battleship North Carolina – I can sum up Battleship NORTH CAROLINA in one word: WOW. Truly, wow. I was speechless while touring, and my girls were equally entranced. There is something about being on board such a big part of history. Battleship North Carolina is the most decorated naval ship of World War II, and is a memorial to all the North Carolinians that lost their lives. You are welcome to tour all 9 levels of the ship, play with the guns on deck, and relax in the mess hall.
There are many ladders to go up and down, so watch your little ones and assist when needed. I toured alone with my 6 and 3 year old, and we had a blast. The tour below deck will take more time, so be sure no one has to use the bathroom! I was left speechless after we finished our tour – they have done an amazing job preserving history, and it really gives you so much respect for all those on board.
Riverwalk – In downtown Wilmington is the beautiful Riverwalk, sort of like a boardwalk on the Cape Fear River that overlooks a beautiful bridge and Battleship North Carolina. You can find shops and restaurants along the Riverwalk, or just enjoy the view. I highly recommend visiting at least once!
Horse Drawn Carriage Tour – If you find yourself downtown and want a relaxing and fun tour, stop by Horse Drawn Tours for a carriage ride while also supporting rescue horses. We thoroughly enjoyed our tour, and you cannot beat the sound of hooves on a brick street to bring the history alive. It was so relaxing, in fact, that my daughter fell asleep! You not only learn about Wilmington, but also about the lives of farm horses that they rescue.
Wilmington Water Tours – We took an afternoon boat ride with Wilmington Water Tours along the Cape Fear River. Our captain was very knowledgeable and kind, taking the time to answer my girls questions. There is a bathroom aboard the boat, as well as concessions where you can purchase snacks or beverages. We loved this hour long boat ride, it was a nice way to beat the heat and learn about the wildlife and history of the water.
The Children’s Museum of Wilmington – I always like to give my kids something just for them while traveling, sort of an outlet to get their wiggles out. The Children’s Museum of Wilmington is just the place! There are four floors with themed rooms for your children to explore, and I had a great time playing with them as we went. Let your kid’s imaginations run wild, and give yourself a break while they play!
Airlie Gardens – With 67 acres of walking paths, gardens, live oaks dripping with moss, sculptures, and a butterfly house – Airlie Gardens is a must see when visiting! We loved meandering slowly through these gardens, though it can get very hot in the summer so I recommend visiting in the morning. There are many picture perfect spots also – so bring your camera charged! Wear bright colors so that you will attract some butterflies to land on you, a tip from my daughter. These gardens are in pristine condition, and don’t miss the Bottle Chapel!
Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours – Thinking of a sunset cruise on your visit? Set sail on the Shamrock for a cruise around Wrightsville Beach’s Harbor Island with Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours. Captain Joseph is an amazing host that aims to make sure everyone has a great time. Mission accomplished! He gives you some fun facts, some things you will not hear about in a history book! We enjoyed the laid back music and vibe of his boat, and by the end of the trip the other passengers were good friends!
NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher – I am a big fan of North Carolina Aquariums, and the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher has outdone themselves! The animal habitats and level of knowledge their employees carry is outstanding. It is a great place to spend 1-2 hours and see some amazing sea life. I would also suggest looking up the other locations of NC Aquariums, they are all wonderful!
Pilot House Restaurant – Located off the Riverwalk in Wilmington, this restaurant has outdoor seating with a view! We enjoyed lunch here, the food was great. I recommend bringing sunscreen if you plan to sit outdoors, they do have umbrellas but you will still be in the sun a bit.
Fish House Grill – Outstanding! The food and service is top notch and you cannot beat the view of the yachts. Our waitress took the time to chat with my girls for a while, and we loved watching the boats go in and out of the harbor. Try the seared Ahi Tuna – YUM!
Wrightsville Beach Brewing – A very family friendly, laid back brewery with great food. I loved the atmosphere, the beer, and the food. Both the buffalo shrimp wrap and pizza were excellent.
The Oceanic Restaurant – This is a popular restaurant in Wrightsville Beach – so get there early! We had a wait, which was no problem because they have a pier you can walk on while waiting. We watched people catch fish and surf which helped pass the time. The food is delicious and you cannot beat the view – eat outside!
Michael’s Seafood – We loved the tropical vibe of Michael’s seafood. Everything was great, and we even got a pint of chowder frozen to bring home to my husband. I love the story behind the restaurant as well, look it up! Best coconut cake I have ever had!
Until next time…