Explore Diverse Coastal Landscapes in Wilmington and Island Beaches

Outdoor NC has partnered with local tourism organizations across the state to help promote the protection of North Carolina’s stunning and diverse outdoor spaces by practicing the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace. Here are some insider tips if you're visiting the Wilmington area.

Q&A host: Wilmington and Beaches CVB
Outdoor passion: Waterways (beaches, Intracoastal Waterway, Cape Fear River, creeks, marshes and lakes)
Where in NC: Wilmington and Island Beaches (NC’s southern coast)

Best places in the Wilmington area to spend outdoors?

Wilmington’s award-winning 1.75-mile Riverwalk, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), and the island beaches of Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach – each with its own distinctive vibe. 

Best season to spend in NC?  

While Wilmington and Beaches is a year-round destination, we are partial to warm, mild temperatures during fall and spring, which are especially ideal for outdoor recreation, alfresco dining, brilliant ocean sunrises and bedazzling river sunsets. Visitors will also find off-peak rates and more space to explore and play at a relaxed pace.    

What level of experience is needed for outdoor activities?  

From soft adventure hikes along park trails to more challenging outdoor pursuits, recreation opportunities for all levels abound. Water experiences reign supreme with surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, sailing, and paddling schools and outfitters that offer instruction. There are also challenging surf breaks, SUP routes, active dive and fishing spots. Sign up for a 5K, marathon or triathlon, or cycle one of our river-to-the-sea trails. Beaches are lifeguard protected from Memorial Day through Labor Day.  

How long should you plan on visiting Wilmington?  

Outdoor enthusiasts will find more than enough to fill a long weekend and leave wishing they had more time to actively explore. A full week affords a richer recreational experience at a more leisurely pace.   

What attracted you to North Carolina or the Wilmington area? 

When it comes to quality of place, it’s hard to top the Wilmington area with its beach and riverfront landscapes, parks and gardens, history, arts and culture, and all the amenities of city and beach communities. Add to all this a steady dose of Southern hospitality!  

What is unique about Wilmington?  

Situated on a peninsula that’s surrounded by water, Wilmington’s geography sets it apart. A variety of watersports is afforded by the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Cape Fear River to the west, and marshes and waterways that flow between. Television series such as Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill, The Summer I Turned Pretty and numerous films feature these coastal landscapes.   

How do you plan or prepare for your outdoor activities? 

We suggest our website as a comprehensive resource for planning a getaway or vacation. You’ll find relevant content for things to do, places to stay, where to dine, as well as fun blogs and a digital visitors guide

What piece of gear is your must-have?   

Sunscreen for protection, comfy shoes for exploring and a swimsuit for water activities. 

How do you practice the Leave No Trace principles? 

A portion of the room taxes collected in New Hanover County goes toward beach nourishment. We also offer designated trails (cycling, hiking, nature) and parking areas, as well as strategically placed trash and recycling bins that help guests leave no trace. Local groups protect sea turtle nests, maintain bird sanctuaries and manage nature reserves (Masonboro Island; Zeke’s Island).  

Best place for breakfast/lunch or dinner? 

Wilmington was recently ranked as a top dining destination by Yelp, so it’s hard to choose a favorite. We especially enjoy dining at farm- and sea-to-table restaurants and outdoor cafés with water views.  

Where do you like to go after outdoor fun? 

Nothing beats relaxing with a locally brewed beer or cider at one of the 20+ craft breweries on the Wilmington Ale Trail.   

Cool places to stay?  

From the river to the sea, lodging options range from one-of-a-kind B&Bs, small inns and boutique properties, to vacation homes and oceanfront resorts that partner with watersport outfitters.  

Other sites in the area to see while in Wilmington? 

In case of rain, there’s plenty to explore at the Battleship North Carolina, the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, Cape Fear Museum of History and Science, Cameron Art Museum, Bellamy Mansion, Burgwin-Wright House, Latimer House, Wilmington Railroad Museum, as well as unique shops and restaurants, performing arts centers and more. 

What is your can’t-miss experience in Wilmington?  

Wilmington’s Riverwalk and our island beaches are best explored via narrated tours and cruises with history, nature, environmental, food and sightseeing themes. 

Insider tip!

The FAQ/Know Before You Go section of Wilmington and Beaches’ website is a one-stop resource for tips on parking, where to rent beach gear and recreational rentals, bike routes, accessibility and public transportation, as well as tips for dining out and visiting attractions. 

This article was produced in partnership with Wilmington and Beaches CVB. Visit Outdoor NC for additional tips on how to connect with nature and help preserve the natural beauty of our state. 

Updated January 5, 2023
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