If I asked you to think of a girls’ weekend getaway destination on the East Coast that offers historic charm, good food, and is near the beach, what would you suggest? Charleston? Savannah maybe? Would Wilmington, North Carolina have crossed your mind? WelI, I was invited to explore the Wilmington Coast last month after the Travel Media Showcase Conference in Cabarrus County and I think it is the perfect place for a girlfriend getaway in the South. If you are looking for weekend getaways in NC, let me give you the scoop on this little gem.
Wilmington – My Pick for Girls Weekend Getaways in NC
Downtown Wilmington and its nearby Wrightsville, Kure, and Carolina island beaches are on the southern coast of North Carolina. You can find Wilmington a little over an hour north of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and four to five hours south of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. But don’t worry, it has its own little airport, serviced by both Delta and American Airlines.
The town of Wilmington is nestled between the Intercoastal the separates Wrightsville Beach from Wilmington, and the Cape Fear River. Historic downtown is just lovely and what you might expect from a Southern college town. There are moss-draped live oaks that line cobblestoned streets and a 230-block historic district, which is one of the largest in the U.S. Its charming homes seem right out of an issue of Southern Living and the river district offers up farm-to-table restaurants and plenty of nightlife from the family-friendly waterfront to the after-hours bars.
South of Wrightsville Beach, you will find Carolina Beach, home to one of the top 10 boardwalks in the country according to Food & Wine Magazine, as well as the not-to-be-missed Britt’s Donuts. This is also where you will find the Carolina Beach State Park, one of the only places in the world that you can find Venus flytrap plants in their native environment.
Just south of Carolina Beach is Kure Beach (pronounced Kur-ee, not cure), a charming beach community with beautiful beach homes and some amazing food options. Down at the very tip, you will come to Fort Fisher, and you can actually take a ferry from there to the mainland.
Oh, and before you go, binge watch Dawson’s Creek because many of the scenes were filmed here (e.g. Dockside in Wrightsville Beach was also known as the Icehouse on the show) and you may recognize some locations from Nicholas Sparks’ movies too.
Where to Stay in Wrightsville Beach
There are really all kinds of options, from quaint bed and breakfasts in historic Wilmington, to vacation rentals, motels, or beach resorts. We stayed at the Blockade Runner Resort in Wrightsville Beach. This resort offers access to both the sound and sea for both sunrises and sunsets, with large, luxuriously appointed guest rooms and modern amenities.
The outside from the parking lot may not look like much, but once you step inside you can see the resort’s unique style and how much has been invested into making this one of the places to stay in Wrightsville Beach.
The rooms are large and, if sea-facing, offer beautiful beach views. They offer some beach and family-friendly amenities such as a full dorm-size refrigerator for drinks and snacks and a towel rack with multiple hooks. What they are still missing is better lighting in the small, somewhat dated bathroom, and more accessible outlets for device charging.
But downstairs is really where it is at. The heated pool offers limited seating, but the whole beach awaits. You will need to pay to rent a chair or umbrella at the beach, but towels are available for free at the pool stand.
The seaside gardens and wide, expansive lawns offer areas for relaxation and play, with family-friendly lawn games like corn hole. This is where you will find seasonal activities like yoga or evening fire pits. On the sound side, you can taking sailing or stand-up paddle boarding lessons, go fishing, kayaking, or even take a eco-tour. Children ages five to twelve can enjoy a supervised “Sandcampers” program with crafts, evening activities, lawn games, beach fun, pool, and island excursions.
The Sea Escape Pool Bar serves up cocktails, lunch, and dinner and breakfast, lunch and dinner can also be found inside at EAST Oceanfront. You will not go hungry at the sumptuous breakfast buffet, but be sure to give yourself plenty of time in the morning as there may be a line to be seated.
For other meals, Executive Chef Jessica Cabo focuses on vegetarian and seafood-centric dishes with influences from California, Mexico, Asia and the Mediterranean. She is certainly looking to step up the culinary offerings to more than you would expect from a hotel restaurant. With live entertainment in the evenings on the weekend, EAST attracts both locals, hotel guests, and other visitors.
What to do in Wilmington, North Carolina on a Girls’ Trip
The Wilmington coast area has something to offer everyone on a girlfriend getaway. There is the historic downtown, arts, food, nightlife, shopping, and plenty of outdoor activities. These are just a few of the many things to do in Wilmington, NC.
1 – Take a carriage tour through historic Wilmington. This is such a fun way to explore the historic downtown. Springbrook Farms rescues Percheron draft horses from the slaughterhouse and uses them to pull carriage and evening coach tours. Your costumed driver will narrate the ride, providing some history and pointing out the most famous landmarks. Tours are offered daily year round, weather permitting.
2 – Take a sunset cruise in Wrightsville Beach. Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours offers a number of eco-tours, including a one and a half-hour sunset cruise through Bradley Creek on a 27-foot, motorized catamaran. They also offer nature tours, kids cruises, and even a moonlight cruise.
3 – Learn to surf, paddle, or sail. Blockade Runner Adventures in Wrightsville Beach offers surfing, paddle boarding, and sailing lessons. There are also many other options in the area for surfing, jet skiing, sailing, kayaking, and scuba.
4 – Visit Airlie Gardens. Airlie Gardens in Wilmington is the perfect spot for a relaxing morning exploring its 67 gorgeous acres. It takes seven full-time gardeners to maintain the beautiful grounds, which border Bradley Creek on one side. Summer will bring new sculptures to the grounds and in the winter, it transforms to a Southern holiday wonderland with over one million lights. Airlie Gardens is also a popular wedding spot, but if no ceremonies are taking place, be sure to check out the scenic bridal walk and pergola near the lakes for some of the prettiest scenic views.
5 – Take a food tour with Tasting History. Food tours are a fun way to explore a city, but unexpected in beach towns like Carolina Beach. Available on Tuesdays in the summer and weekends in the fall, Tasting History makes five or six stops, most of them seated. You will sample everything from homemade fudge to creative farm-to-table cuisine. One thing you won’t do is go home hungry!
6 – Take a hike. Carolina State Park in Carolina Beach offers seven miles of trails through diverse environments. On the weekends, you can take a public guided hike with a park ranger to discover the Park’s unusual carnivorous plants like the Venus flytrap and pitcher plants.
7 – Enjoy the beach! Don’t forget to leave time to just relax on one of the beautiful beaches. The water is warm, the waves are fun for body surfing, and the beach stretches for miles. If you are ambitious, you may even catch a sunrise. That is, unless you are out late enjoying the nightlife.
Where to Eat on the Wilmington Coast
One of the major criteria for me to fall in love with a destination is a good food scene and I found just that on the Wilmington Coast. Yes, there were your typical waterfront dining options like Dockside in Wrightsville Beach and classic boardwalk food like Britt’s Donuts, but there were also some real stand outs. Here are my favorites:
1 – PinPoint Restaurant – located in downtown Wilmington, PinPoint’s cuisine and decor is spot on. The food is rooted in Southern tradition and the menu changes daily with local, seasonal offerings from nearby farmers, fishermen, oystermen, and crabbers. The restaurant is fairly small, with exposed brick walls and the left side dominated by the bar.
When the food came out, it was easy to taste why PinPoint was named among the best new restaurants in the South by Southern Living Magazine and voted Best Fine Dining Restaurant by Wilmington Magazine readers in 2016. It was hard not to fill up on the homemade bread, but I saved room to start with fresh local oysters and a taste of the NC blue crab fritters with fried green tomatoes. The entrees all looked stunningly delicious, but I could not get enough of my salad with hydroponic greens, North Carolina peaches, candied pecans, Robiola cheese, and champagne vinaigrette.
114 Market Street, Wilmington, NC 28401, (910) 769 2972
2 – Surf House – Surf House in Carolina Beach was one of the stops on our food tour with Tasting History, but just that small taste was enough to convince me this is spot must be added to your girls’ trip itinerary. This oyster house and surf camp (it started as a shop and cafe) serves brunch and dinner. Space is limited so make your reservations early! The decor is clean and fresh, with a natural mix of reclaimed wood, white, and beachy blue. If I lived nearby, I would need to claim one of those barstools every weekend.
The cuisine focuses on local ingredients and seafood with a fresh take. We stopped in for a glass of Cava and the modern version of a “redneck picnic.” We sampled a selection of cheeses and charcuterie, deviled eggs, and pickled vegetables.
604 N. Lake Park Blvd., Carolina Beach, NC 28428, (910) 707-0422
3 – Pembroke’s – Pembroke’s in Wrightsville Beach focuses on locally and seasonally inspired Southern cuisine. As soon as you walk in, you get a whiff of the smoked pork. We went for brunch and I ate enough food to fill me up for the day. They started us off with a basket of biscuits. I couldn’t resist the crispy pork belly and sunny side up egg over cheesy grits. The side of duck fat fries may be why none of my jeans are fitting this fall.
1125 Military Cutoff Road, Wilmington, NC 28405, (910) 239-9153
So who wants to join me on my next girls’ trip? Hit me with your recommendations in the comments below.
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Note: My trip was part of a media tour hosted by the Wilmington and Beaches CVB. This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I may earn a small commission to offset my costs. All opinions are my own.