In July, I enjoyed a fun weekend getaway to the beautiful historic port city of Wilmington, North Carolina with my daughter, Kerrie. She’s a newlywed with a busy career and new home, and I’m always juggling responsibilities as well, so times like these are indeed precious. We decided to take a little road trip to the coast, about a three hour drive from our homes in central NC.
The primary goal was just to relax and enjoy the time together. We also wanted to get in a full beach day and to see a few sights. So we decided a few days ahead of our trip to book a ghost tour and a riverboat cruise, to be sure we could get it before they sold out. Glad we did that!
Friday evening – downtown and ghost tour
Our first stop in Wilmington was for lunch at one of Kerrie’s favorites in the area, Flaming Amy’s Burrito Barn. Then, we checked into the rental condo Kerrie had found for us through vrbo.com. It is located downtown in the historic district, a short walk to the waterfront.
With the exception of driving over to the beach, this was very much a walking vacation. With the condo, we had to park in the downtown public parking garage which was close by. So, we were on foot throughout our time downtown.
After we settled in, we set off to explore the riverfront. She and I have both been to Wilmington before, but this was the first time just the two of us, and the first time I’d stayed in the historic district.
Soon it was time to gather for the evening walking ghost tour that I’d booked for us through Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington. I love stuff like this — it’s a great way to learn more about the history of a place. Are the stories a bit…embellished? Probably, but it’s still always interesting and informative.
Our guide was an entertaining storyteller. She led us to several sites in the historic district, and told us about each place’s former (and possibly still current?) inhabitants and what life was like in Wilmington’s early days.
Toward the end of our tour, storms were fast approaching. Lightning and thunder certainly added to the mystique of the haunted locations. But I’m not one who wants to chance Mother Nature when it comes to lightning, and was glad that our tour guide ended it a bit early due to the conditions.
We were caught in a torrential downpour as Kerrie and I RAN the sidewalks, fast as we could, back to our condo! Fortunately, we were only a few blocks away, but we got completely soaked. My umbrella was no help in that wind.
Saturday – the beach
In the morning, we got up and walked down to the riverfront again. It was a beautiful day — a PERFECT beach day. We were so grateful for that, as this day was our only opportunity to go.
There are a number of beaches within driving distance of the Wilmington area, but my favorite is Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, about 18 miles from downtown. I like it because it has a decent size free parking lot and a restroom/changing area, both located right there at the beach access. With some of the town beaches, you have to park in meters on the street and walk to the beach.
I should have known that Saturday was going to be crazy busy and gotten there a little earlier than we did. But we got lucky. We arrived at about 10 a.m. and snagged one of the last available parking spots.
Kerrie and I both love the beach, but we don’t get to go all that often. We hadn’t been in a while and just wanted to soak up every moment we could. As soon as we got our spot set up with our umbrella, we headed into the ocean — and stayed in the water a solid two hours! It was perfect and we had a blast riding the waves and getting knocked down.
Then after all that exercise, we spent the rest of the time relaxing on our blanket under the umbrella. It was heavenly. There’s something magical and soothing about the beach. We needed that break from everyday life SO much.
We had packed a cooler with lunch and lots of cold water for the beach so we could stay all day. I highly recommend bringing your meals and drinks, as there isn’t a snack bar or restaurant at or near this location. There are several charcoal grills and a picnic table area if you wish to grill, and that was a popular option that day.
Because we stayed all day, we didn’t get back to Wilmington in time to hit up the downtown restaurants early enough to get in without a long wait. We had tickets for a cruise, so we couldn’t be late for that. Downtown has always been busy on a weekend, but right now with the pandemic employee shortages a number of restaurants and shops are short-staffed or closed. I like to eat at Front Street Brewery when I’m in Wilmington — but with a 90 minute wait that wasn’t going to work. And besides, with the pandemic still a factor we didn’t really want to be in a crowd indoors.
So, on our way back we decided to stop at Whole Foods and pick up something to make a quick dinner at the condo. That was a great decision! We got salad, chicken, tofu and sides from the buffet; ready-to-bake crab cakes from the seafood counter; and fruit, cupcakes and wine for dessert. We enjoyed our feast, then headed back to the riverfront for our sunset cruise.
A few recommended items for a day of sun and fun (besides sunscreen!)
Sun hat – This is the perfect hat for the beach, walking, and parks; or for gardening and everyday use. It has an opening for a ponytail, a wide brim, and a drawstring so it won’t blow off (you NEED that at the beach). It’s also foldable so you can tuck it in your purse. Get it here
Trolley Dolly rolling tote – Kerrie brought this to pack all our beach gear in so that we’d only have to make one trip from the car to the beach. Genius!! I have this exact same tote, which I use when I’m teaching an exercise class and need to carry all my gear. I would never have thought to use it at the beach or that the wheels would work on the sand, but it was PERFECT! Get it here
Beach sun shade – I brought my traditional beach umbrella, which is adequate provided that you also have a beach umbrella sand anchor. Without one, your umbrella has an excellent chance of flying away from you (and into someone else!). My umbrella is starting to wear out so I’m thinking my next buy will be a sun shade like this one or similar.
Saturday evening – sunset riverboat cruise
A picture-perfect day turned into a delightful and beautiful evening – ideal for being on a boat! I’d booked us for a 1.5 hour sunset cruise on the boat “Henrietta” through Cape Fear Riverboats. The boat cruises up and down the Cape Fear River, as you take in the gorgeous view from the water of historic Wilmington, the Battleship North Carolina and Eagles Island.
We loved it! Definitely book a cruise if you have time.
Afterwards, we wanted to browse some stores but only one was open, the Black Cat Shoppe, a funky little gift shop that is owned by the person who operates the ghost walk tour. So we spent some time in there and then walked around town some more.
Sunday morning – walking among the homes and gardens in the historic district
Before we headed home, we wanted to walk in the neighborhoods of the historic district — in the sunlight this time. On Sunday morning we enjoyed seeing the beautiful homes and flora, then took one last stroll on the riverwalk.
All too soon, it was checkout time. We left with wonderful memories and cherished the time together.
We didn’t have time to do more on this trip, but here are some other local sites I’ve enjoyed on previous visits and recommend:
- Airlie Gardens
- Battleship North Carolina
- North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher
- Fort Fisher State Historic Site and Museum
- Carolina Beach boardwalk
- New Hanover County Arboretum
Find out more at https://www.wilmingtonandbeaches.com.
I love living in North Carolina and being a tourist in my own state. There’s so much to see and do here, from the mountains to the sea! If you’re looking for a wonderful place to visit, check out beautiful North Carolina.
Disclaimer: We paid for all of the items and services in this post and this trip was not sponsored. This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
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