8 Ways to Savor a Winter Weekend in Wilmington and Island Beaches

Wilmington and its island beaches shine in summer, when waves and warmth bring memorable visits. But North Carolina’s largest coastal city doesn’t cool off when the summer sun fades. Thanks to mild temperatures, there is plenty to do, see, eat and experience all year long.

Visitors to the Wilmington area are encouraged to travel and enjoy responsibly by practicing social distancing, wearing masks and following other safety guidelines. Visitors can find a map and list of businesses who have completed Count on Me NC safety training online, as well as COVID-19 travel updates.

Find the Perfect Place to Lay Your Head

Find the Perfect Place to Lay Your Head

Beachside or downtown, choose from a host of vacation rentals and hotels that accommodate any budget or group. Enjoy modern conveniences with a historical backdrop at ARRIVE Wilmington. Check in at the library and learn about the elephant that stayed for a day about a century ago. Rooms – from couple-sized minis to a family-sized loft – are bright, clean, and filled with small touches such as complimentary bathrobes and Apple TVs. As comfortable as those are, be sure to make your way to the landscaped courtyard to enjoy quiet time in an alcove, play a game or relax by one of the outdoor fireplaces. And it’s only a few tree-lined blocks from the 2-mile Riverwalk, which meanders along the Cape Fear River. Follow it to shops, galleries, and locally owned restaurants and night spots.

 

Order Drinks and Take in a View

photo: Wilmington and Beaches CVB

Order Drinks and Take in a View

Speaking of the Riverwalk, you’ll find plenty of refreshments there. For a great view of Cape Fear River different than the one offered downtown, adventure on down the river’s bend to Smoke on the Water. Tucked away but still right on the water, the restaurant’s deck offers outdoor tables perfect for sampling a beer or cocktail and taking in sunset views. Or if you prefer to sit indoors, grab a table by one of the floor-to-ceiling doors that open to the outside. There’s even a pier over the water that makes the perfect place to snap a photo for the Gram.

 

Visit Local Craft Breweries

photo: Wilmington and Beaches CVB

Visit Local Craft Breweries

From solar-powered brews to a ship-shaped bar and a brewery with a disc golf course, the area has a variety of unique breweries and local craft beer. TRU Colors, a local for-profit group whose tagline is “Brewing Peace Through Prosperity,” is renovating the old Century Mills complex in South Front District for a brewery and restaurant slated to open in 2021. And there’s more than just beer: End of Days Distillery, Wilmington’s first grain-to-glass craft distillery, recently opened and is offering public tours and tastings by reservation. Rebellion NC recently made Bourbon Review’s list of “America’s Best Bourbon Bars from the South” for 2020, along with Front Street Brewery – two of only three N.C. bars to make the list. In addition to some of the best bourbon around, guests can nosh on pub favorites and more at both spots.

 

Savor the Renowned Food Scene

photo: Wilmington and Beaches CVB

Savor the Renowned Food Scene

Make plans to dine at Seabird, the new restaurant from James Beard Best Chef nominee and former head chef of Wilmington’s beloved PinPoint Restaurant, Dean Neff. Slated to open in early 2021, Seabird will highlight Chef Neff’s expertise in farm-to-table cuisine with a focus on seasonal ingredients and the area’s diverse local seafood. Seabird will be located in a historic building in downtown Wilmington, near the Riverwalk. A few blocks away, order the hot roasted pork sandwich at Copper Penny, where Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives discovered what locals already knew: The beer-battered onion rings – and chicken wings – are some of the best you’ll find. Or have fun with the pharmacy-themed cocktails and “sweet prescriptions” desserts at Rx Restaurant & Bar, where dishes use ingredients from local organic farmers and fishermen and are served on tables made from wood reclaimed from an eastern North Carolina tobacco barn.

 

Explore Historic and Artsy Neighborhoods

photo: Wilmington and Beaches CVB

Explore Historic and Artsy Neighborhoods

A horse-drawn carriage ride is one of the best ways to see the more than 230-block National Register Historic District, one of the country’s most expansive and home to the city’s only public example of colonial-era construction: Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens. Repurposed warehouses and churches on downtown’s north side make up Brooklyn Arts District, where you can take in a concert or find your new favorite vintage item during seasonal events at Brooklyn Arts Center at St. Andrews. Choose from several restaurants in the South Front District, including PBS star chef Vivian Howard’s Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria, which made Southern Living’s “Top 13 Things to Eat” list before it even opened. In Castle Street Arts and Antique District, shop fashions that mirror its founders’ rock ‘n’ roll and surfing vibes at Half United – where your purchase helps feed children in need – or stop by Gravity Records to find a new treasured vinyl.

 

Take in History or a Museum

photo: Wilmington and Beaches CVB

Take in History or a Museum

Easily discover Wilmington’s – which was recently named the country’s first WWII Heritage City – storied past and present with a variety of notable historical and cultural attractions. Battleship North Carolina, which served in every major naval offensive in the Pacific area of operations during WWII, is a must-see when visiting the area. Today, the battleship serves as a memorial for the 11,000 North Carolinians who died in the war and offers self-guided tours through its nine levels. Continue learning at several historic house museums or at Cape Fear Museum of History and Science, our state’s first history museum, where you’ll find artifacts and remnants to help understand the history, science and cultures of the region. And the kids will love the lively learning experiences within three historic buildings at the Children’s Museum of Wilmington. If art is more your speed, celebrate more than 50 years of arts education at Cameron Art Museum, which has rotating exhibits and community programs.

 

Enjoy the Outdoors

photo: Wilmington and Beaches CVB

Enjoy the Outdoors

Blue Clay Bike Park offers something rarely seen on the coast: elevation changes. You’ll find the most along the intermediate run, where excitement builds the faster you pedal. Plus, the hard-packed beginner run and its almost 8 miles of trails are the most extensive you’ll find locally. Follow the former Historic Beach Car Line’s tracks along the 11-mile River to the Sea Bikeway, which starts at the Riverwalk and winds along quiet and busy roads. Cycle, run or walk your dog along any of the 15-mile Gary Shell Cross City Trail. It’s mostly away from traffic and links popular destinations citywide, from sweeping Intracoastal Waterway views at Heide Trask Drawbridge to UNC Wilmington to James E.L. Wade Park. And trails under picturesque Spanish moss-laden live oaks welcome you at the 250-acre Greenfield Lake Park and Gardens, where you also can fish from a dock or picnic at a shelter.

 

Choose From Three Island Beaches

photo: Wilmington and Beaches CVB

Choose From Three Island Beaches

The temperatures might be cooler, but the possibilities for fun beach activities in winter are still endless: Rent kayaks and bicycles from area outfitters. Embark on an eco-adventure at Wrightsville Beach aboard a catamaran, or head to barrier islands such as Masonboro Island or Zeke’s Island for a fun day of bird-watching and shell-collecting. Paddle calm waters through salt marshes along the Intracoastal Waterway, or take a guided stand-up paddleboard tour with Paddle NC or Wrightsville SUP. Rent a Jeep from SunFun Rentals and head out on the secluded four-wheel-drive access beach at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. Choose from nearly 9 miles of coastal trails at Carolina Beach State Park or opt for a shorter walk along Kure Beach’s Basin Trail at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. With all those options, winter just might turn into your favorite time of year to visit.

 

While you’re taking photos and videos to share on social media, take a few more just for yourself. They’ll help you remember all that’s available in Wilmington and its nearby island beaches – including watersports, museums, tours and cruises, and kid-friendly attractions – so it’ll be easy to plan your next unforgettable getaway or family vacation.

This article was produced in partnership with Wilmington and Beaches CVB.

Updated December 27, 2019
About the Author
Pete M. Anderson

Pete M. Anderson

Pete M. Anderson is a Gastonia-based writer whose work also has appeared in Business North Carolina, Carolina Sportsman and Thousand Islands Life. He enjoys exploring North Carolina, especially its diverse fishing holes, local race tracks and world-renowned barbecue joints.

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