We recently had the pleasure of traveling to Wilmington, NC for a long weekend of family-friendly activities. With the weather still a bit chilly in Ohio, we were excited to spend a few days in some warmer weather by the ocean.
The city of Wilmington may be full of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. If you’re looking for blue water, strong surf, a charming historic downtown and a place to bring the whole family, consider Wilmington and island beaches for your next coastal vacation.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Blockade Runner Beach Resort in Wrightsville Beach, and it was a gorgeous spot with easy beach access. You will either have ocean views or sound views, so either way you enjoy a water view! The full-service resort has its own pool, an incredibly spacious oceanfront garden tucked between the hotel and the ocean with plenty of hammocks and big, comfy canopy chairs to lounge in. It was some of the most beautiful landscaping I’ve seen on a property – there were so many flowers blooming, and it smelled so good everywhere you walked.
The resort also has its own gym, sauna, hot tub and restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There is a bar inside the restaurant as well as an outdoor bar and seating by the pool. I would highly suggest staying at the Blockade Runner Beach Resort if you’re looking for tons of great amenities while still being able to walk to the beach and several of the restaurants nearby. You can find other places to stay in the area here.
What to Do
I’m going to talk through each activity we did while we were here. Keep in mind everything we did was kid-friendly (our kids are almost four and two).
Island Hopper Cruise
This cruise is an hour and a half and is exactly what it sounds like! You climb aboard and are whisked away to a variety of uninhabited islands around Wrightsville Beach. The first stop is Money Island, which is home to the area’s largest sand dune. My son and I had so much fun climbing up to see the view from the top, then sliding our way back down. There are also so many unique shells and we had fun looking at all the diffferent shapes and sizes.
After this quick stop, you’ll head to Masonboro Island. This is the longest undisturbed barrier island ecosystem in North Carolina. We had about an hour here to walk around, search for more seashells and swim! After this, you’ll head back to the dock. The staff was so kind, and the captain even let my four year old “steer” the ship for a few minutes!
They also offer sunset cruises. If you’re staying in this area, it’s definitely worth it to book a cruise.
The Children’s Museum of Wilmington
In the morning we thought it would be the perfect time to head to the historic downtown Wilmington and explore the children’s museum. The museum is three buildings joined together by an atrium and a courtyard. My son’s favorite areas were the huge treehouse, the grocery store and the diner. We spent about an hour here, but you could definitely spend more time if you had multiple kids with you with different interests.
North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher
Both the kids really loved the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher in Kure Beach. You are immediately greeted by the cutest otters swimming around. There were tons of little baby otters, too! We enjoyed watching the stingrays and turtles, and the bigger fish in the huge window displays. There is also an outdoor area with food, a playground and a boardwalk with wildlife to watch throughout. The aquarium also had a resident bald eagle you could get pretty close to and watch. Tickets for the aquarium must be purchased in advance, but often you can make yours the same day.
Kure Beach Fishing Pier
We knew there was another cute area with a few restaurants and parks on the way, so we decided to stop by the Kure Beach Fishing Pier to walk around before making the short drive back to the hotel. This is also another great swimming spot, so be sure to pack some swimsuits if you want to make this part of your stop! Nearby is also the Kure Beach Ocean-front Park and Pavilion.
If you’re heading to the downtown area, you can’t miss walking the Riverwalk. It’s a gorgeous walk with plenty of boats to watch as you explore. Our favorite part was finding the Battleship North Carolina.
Where to Eat
There are plenty of food options while you’re here, so be sure to add some of these to your list.
Drift Cafe Wrightsville Beach – we loved this spot because they focus on minimally processed and nutritious foods that still pack a punch of flavor. We all devoured our breakfast here and had multiple coffee refills. Not to mention the interior décor is gorgeous, and they also offer outdoor seating.
Trolly Stop – this was walking distance from our hotel, so we knew we had to try it out. They offer five different types of hotdogs (including vegetarian), two types of hamburgers and thirteen fresh toppings. My husband and I both got the North Carolina hot dog (mine the vegetarian version), and they seriously hit the spot. An obviously great spot to stop with kids too – they enjoyed the “Old Baldy” (a plain dog) with ketchup.
South Beach Grill – we went here for dinner as it was another walkable destination from our hotel. I’d suggest coming a little early as the indoor seating is limited. However, it was well worth the wait because the food was phenomenal. I love that they source a lot of their food and ingredients from local farms. They have a huge board inside that lists where everything is from!
The Workshop – another delicious breakfast spot, and also located right by Trolly Stop and South Beach Grill. We enjoyed some smoothies and sandwiches from here. I’ve never seen my sons drink smoothies so fast before! They also offer some unique handmade fossil jewelry inside.
Lazy Pirate Island Sports Grill in Carolina Beach – hands down the most kid-friendly food spot we visited. The space is huge so you don’t have to worry about not getting a seat. They had live music while we were there which was a nice touch, and there is a giant inflatable pirate ship bouncy house. The kids spent most of their time in there, which was kind of nice so my husband and I could enjoy a meal in peace. I’m still thinking about the fish tacos I had here!
Oceanic – we ate here for our last dinner of the trip, and it was a beautiful spot. They offer tons of outdoor seating, and you are right on the water, so there really isn’t a bad seat in the place. We were a little worried about going here as it was labeled “high-end” seafood, but there were lots of other families enjoying meals here so we definitely didn’t feel out of place.
For us, a beach vacation means lots of delicious sweet treats! These were a few of the ice cream spots we enjoyed during our weekend.
- Squigley’s Ice Cream & Treats
- Celtic Creamery
- The Original Ice Cream Stand
While we only had a few days here, this is a destination you could easily spend an entire week enjoying. Our trip to Wilmington was easily one of my favorite beach vacations we’ve taken so far as a family of four!