Looking for things to do in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina? Look no further. We enjoyed a lovely three-night stay in March, and below we share our tips on what to do, places to eat and drink, and where to stay on the beach!
At the first hint of spring, when those beautiful white and pink buds start blooming on the trees, I start dreaming of summer dresses and sand between my toes on a beach vacation!
We didn’t even wait for the weather to warm up this year; we saw those blooms in early March (just prior to the spring travel lockdown) and packed the car for a weekend getaway from Raleigh to the town of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.
The temperature was lower than usual for March in Wrightsville Beach NC, but there was still so much we could do outdoors and indoors.
We’re beach people!
Growing up in Australia we’ve seen the vast majority of the 10,000+ beaches that line Australia’s coastline. And we’ve traversed up and down the coastlines of east and west coast USA, and we’ve swam and played on many beaches in Europe, Asia and East Africa.
So we think we know what makes a good beach town!
Wrightsville Beach, located on the coast of North Carolina, is one of three beaches near the coastal city of Wilmington to visit and your optimal beach town.
It’s now at the top of our list of our favorite beaches on the East Coast. Actually, for the completeness of what it offers and its vibe, it’s probably our favorite beach in the USA.
Wrightsville Beach, NC, has everything we love about a beach and island life.
Beautiful shoreline, endless water activities, laid back vibe, surf culture, breweries, cafes, jaw-dropping sunrises and sunsets, and fresh, delicious seafood.
It’s not overdeveloped or commercialized. There is plenty to do but not too much to overwhelm or overburden the senses.
And it’s just under a two-hour drive from our home in Raleigh, North Carolina – hello Wrightsville Beach in the summer, we plan on seeing a lot of you this year!
This trip was on a paid campaign with Wilmington and Beaches CVB, but the love we feel and our words for this place is all our own!
Why is Wrightsville Beach a Standout?
What makes this region stand out and be one of the best beaches in North Carolina is its laid back, slow-paced, community surf culture lifestyle AND its stunning location.
Wrightsville Beach is situated on a barrier island only 4-miles long and a couple of strides wide. Well, maybe a block or two in some sections.
The beachside, of course, meets the Atlantic Ocean and offers you a wild, rugged experience.
On the other side lies the tranquility of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway – miles of open sound water and narrow channels bordered by marshes, swamps, and small islands.
And just a 10-minute drive away, you’ll find the Historical Downtown Wilmington District on the Cape Fear River. You can easily incorporate this into your Wrightsville Beach vacation if you are staying longer than a few days (and we recommend you do!)
For us, this was not the first time visiting the Wilmington and Beaches area, so we did not venture outside of Wrightsville Beach. And it was fantastic.
If we couldn’t bike to it or drive only 5 minutes, we weren’t going to experience it.
As mentioned in our previous post on why Wrightsville Beach is a travel must and why it’s one of the best beach towns in North Carolina, this trip was all about disconnecting to reconnect to simplicity and togetherness.
Things to Do in Wrightsville Beach NC
Let’s go. By now you may be ready for a beach getaway, and I can think of no better place for a beach vacation in North Carolina than here.
Well done. You made it through that long lockdown stretch. Break out your swimsuit, your beach chairs and your cooler full of good times.
We’ve got you covered with a two-day itinerary for Wrightsville Beach that incorporates outdoor activities, delicious food with views, and serene moments.
First: Get around on a bike
You will not regret trading in your four wheels for two. The joy of a Wrightsville Beach vacation is the ease and simplicity of pedal power.
It saves you the hassle of parking and traffic.
As one of the most popular beaches in North Carolina, Wrightsville Beach parking can be challenging during peak times. So why not join the crowds of beaming beach goers by cycling around.
We rented bikes from the Aussie Island Surf Shop, the small blue shack on the corner as you come across the bridge into the main beach street, N Lumina Ave.
Arrive in Wrightsville Beach
Make the most of your time in Wrightsville and arrive early in the morning. Give yourself time to unwind into beach time.
Leaving Raleigh at 8am, we arrived in Wrightsville Beach by 10am. We stayed at Blockade Runner Beach Resort and although check-in isn’t until 4pm, they allow you to store bags early if you like.
Coffee at SUNdays Surf Café
Sitting at the bar here with my coffee and an acai bowl with views of the ocean out the window, and the servers chatting to their local friends, reminded me so much of my home beach town in Australia, and I felt quite nostalgic for it.
I also felt joyful that we’d found our beach tribe.
We loved the surf vibe of this café with boards leaning against the wall, surf videos on the TV and slogans reminding you to embrace the moment.
Their coffee was also outstanding – the best we found in the Wrightsville Beach area.
Beach Time at Crystal Pier
You’re here. At the beach.
Walk over from the SUNdays Surf Café to Crystal Pier at The Oceanic, the old wooden pier stands tall and strong.
You can walk out for beautiful views of the beachfront and horizon. This is a great time for you to unwind on the beach. Go for a swim, collect shells, play in the sand, read a book. Whatever takes your fancy.
Find time during your Wrightsville Beach trip to return here for sundowner drinks on the pier. That’s on our list of things to do in Wrightsville Beach when we return in the summer.
Lunch: Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill
The most recommended of places to eat in Wrightsville Beach by our community and locals was Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill.
It’s named after a lifeguard tower, Tower 7, on the Pacific Coast that became a hidden local favorite surf break – much like this legendary place to eat found in Wrightsville.
Grab a frozen margarita, a serving of guacamole (delicious) and some fish tacos! The perfect complement to sunny beach days. My veggie tostada was sensational.
Walk or Bike the Wrightsville Loop
The Loop walk is another of the popular Wrightsville Beach things to do, especially for the locals.
It is a 2.5-mile walk (or ride) on Harbor Island, which is situated between the two bridges in town.
You can start anywhere on the loop.
This scenic path takes you along the Intracoastal Waterway, Banks Channel and beautiful salt marshes – perfect for a nice stroll. My favorite area on this scenic pathway was the section shaded by beautiful oak trees.
The Loop passes by The Wrightsville Beach Historic Square and The Wrightsville Beach Arboretum, a small patch of greenspace to find your Zen.
If you’re interested in exploring the local history of Wrightsville Beach and Harbor Island, the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History offers guided tours along the Loop.
Wrightsville Beach Park has outdoor basketball courts, tennis courts, beach volleyball pits and grassy open areas.
Lee’s Nature Park was built on a little peninsula in a marsh. You can hear birds chirping in the park even if you don’t turn in to enjoy the solitude.
I recommend cycling along the beach path to the bridge on W. Salisbury St, that way you can finish at the Lighthouse Beer & Wine and cycle back over the bridge into the beach area.
Wrightsville Beach Museum of History
While on the Loop Walk, veer off to the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History that sits on the side of the path. While it is temporarily closed, the museum will reopen during the summer months when museums reopen
The homes that make up the Historic Square are some of the last survivors of the Great Fire, which roared through the island in 1934.
The Wrightsville Beach Museum of History is free and won’t take a lot of time. It offers an interesting insight into the history and growth of this beach town.
A lovely volunteer greeted us upon arrival and told us more about the museum and shared with us the model of Wrightsville Beach and some of the important buildings that line the shore and how some of them have changed over the years.
It was insightful to wander through the old beach cottage from the 1900s to look at what a beach house back in the day was like.
They have definitely changed in comparison to the huge homes that now line the shore.
I enjoyed the swimsuit wall, which gave an insight into how bathing suits have changed over the years. I love looking at photos of older generations to see how similar their life was to mine now.
Next door is also the Fred and Alice Stanback Coastal Education Center, which is temporarily closed until later this summer.
During the summer months, it has a range of interactive programs to help you learn more about the diverse ecosystems that make up the Wrightsville Beach area. Every Tuesday, they have a touch tank.
Lighthouse Beer and Wine
Time for another stop on your Wrightsville Loop walk! Isn’t this a fun way to experience the local culture?
This cute little blue bottle shop shack sits on the right side of the road as you drive over the first bridge into the beach town.
What was once a shop for making surfboards has now become a place to purchase your beverages and enjoy a couple while you wait.
As soon as I walked into the Lighthouse Beer and Wine’s cute and natural beer garden with shady trees and wooden seating areas, I knew we had to return here in the peak summer season.
THIS is the local vibe I’m talking about.
Artwork adorns the walls, and strangers and friends stand around the campfires in a keg chatting.
They have rotating draft beers, wine by the glass, a good selection of NC single beers or six packs from the fridge, and live music.
Check-In: The Blockade Runner Beach Resort
Looking for Wrightsville Beach oceanfront hotels? We couldn’t ask for a more perfect beach resort than this.
The Blockade Runner Beach Resort’s location is prime real estate right in the middle of Wrightsville Beach on the narrowest part of the island.
That means you are a few steps to the ocean and a few steps to the sound. You can get a room with a view of either side.
If you are traveling in a group, why not have one group rent the sound side, and the other the ocean side? That way you can have drinks with views for sunset AND sunrise.
The Blockade Runner is a 50-year-old boutique hotel that has survived several hurricanes and is owned by a North Carolinian family.
Its outside retro look belies the beauty that you’ll find on the inside. The Blockade Runner is welcoming guests with a commitment to enhanced safety protocols.
A fun, light tropical décor graces the lobby and rooms, all leading to the views that entice you to cross the gardens and expansive lawn with swinging hammocks and fire pits to step onto the pristine beach.
It’s a beautiful space that also has an outdoor pool and bar.
It’s perfectly suited to the Wrightsville Beach vibe that says go slow and play – what North Carolina beach vacations are meant to be!
If you’re looking for family beaches in North Carolina to vacation at, we love that our kids are excited to return and swim in the pool, sit around the fire pits, and laze on the hammocks.
The more expensive rooms have true balconies you can sit on. Others have false balconies, but you can slide the balcony doors open and still have the glorious views but without a sitting area.
Two wicker chairs tastefully sat at the windows for us to sit and savor the view.
The award winning East Oceanfront Restaurant – al fresco in warmer months – has fresh local seafood, lobster, wine tastings, comfort food, and the popular Sunday Brunch.
Watch Sunset at the South End
Ride your bikes or drive the short distance down to the very south end of Wrightsville Beach. Be prepared for magic.
Bring a cooler and snacks if you wish to make it an extra special event. There’s not much else to say, except let the photos inspire you until you arrive for the real thing.
You will be surprised when you walk in the door to the little yellow bungalow that is Panamanian-inspired local favorite Ceviche’s.
The small bar area opens up to another dining area, which opens up to another small dining area and an outside covered patio. The popularity of this restaurant has seen its slow expansion into its adjacent buildings.
If you’re looking for the best restaurants in Wrightsville Beach, go here.
It was the most recommended of things to do in Wrightsville Beach by the locals, and we fell in love with the first sip of my rum cocktail and bite of my calamari.
Hello Panama, I now want to visit.
What transpired over the remainder of the evening was an explosion of fresh, spicy and flavorful dishes.
My pick was the calamari and the brussel sprouts. And as a long-time calamari fan, I was thrilled to see it coated in gluten-free flour, making it available for me to eat.
The restaurant uses taro flour for their meals, a Panamanian favorite that gives battered food an extra crunch
Both Craig and I ordered the fish specials of the evening, which were a celebration! I loved the Latin American décor and vibe of this restaurant, and the service was outstanding.
Oh, of course, the girls want me to mention their Spanish beignets were their favorite, and Craig and I enjoyed our Ancho Chocolate Pot De Crème dessert.
Yep. This is the Wrightsville dining experience you most want to splurge on. You deserve it.
Sunrise on Wrightsville Beach
Pick a spot, any spot on an endless white stretch of sand.
You can even watch the sunrise from the balcony, or bed, of your Blockade Runner hotel room, just like we did, check this out…
Pier and photography lovers may wish to head to either Crystal Pier at the southern end or Johnnie Mercers Pier at the northern for their sunrise pier shots.
Why not enjoy a lingering walk while you watch it rise?
Start at least 30-minutes before the sun pops its head up. You’ll watch the sky slowly change from deep orange to light pink. It’s spectacular.
Breakfast: Adapt Kitchen & Juice Bar
Health lovers rejoice!
Adapt Kitchen & Juice Bar is where you’ll find the prettiest, tastiest and most diversely nutritious smoothie bowls in the country.
I thought I knew all smoothie ingredients until we arrived here and discovered the nutritional blue and creamy tacos.
Just like SUNdays, I loved sitting on the rocking chairs as locals came in to order and were greeted by name and caught up on conversations.
Craig and I could not resist sharing a serving of the smashed avo toast with feta and sunflower seeds. We suggest you indulge in the same way.
Kayaking the Salt Marshes
One of our favorite things to do in Wrightsville Beach is kayaking through the salt marshes. Don’t just limit yourself to the ocean activities, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway is a magical place to explore.
You can kayak or paddle board the many different channels of the waterways. But we recommend taking a guided tour with Wrightsville SUP – a great way to learn more about the delicate and diverse ecosystem.
Owner, and our guide for the day, Jarrod took us on a meandering path through the channels.
We never would have found our way on our own, nor would we have noticed the abundance of oysters, periwinkle snails, osprey and other birds flying overhead that he pointed out.
Out here, you’re far from the busy open sound where boats love to cruise past. The waters of the marsh are too shallow for them to enter.
We had a windy day, so we decided to kayak instead of stand-up paddle board. When we next visit Wrightsville Beach, we will definitely jump on the paddle boards to enjoy one of our favorite family activities.
You can also rent the paddle boards and kayaks from here if you want to go out on your own.
Wrightsville SUP also offers fun things like SUP yoga and nighttime paddles. See more information here.
On our kayaking trip through the salt marshes, Jarrod shared with us the importance of the oysters for filtering the water – we could even see this in action as we paddled by and watched them spitting out the water.
We know how much humans love eating oysters. We definitely do not want to see this delicate creature that keeps this ecosystem so healthy disappear.
So, for this Wrightsville Beach campaign, we decided to adopt some local oysters as a way of giving back to the communities we travel through.
This cool local initiative is helping to restore 50 million North Carolina native oysters (Crassostrea virginica) by the end of 2020. You can also sponsor some oysters here.
Lunch: Shark Bar and Kitchen
A converted dive bar, Shark Bar and Kitchen is now a beautifully renovated two-story restaurant and bar that’s ready for your Instagram updates.
It offers a casual dining experience highlighting locally and sustainably sourced seafood, meats and produce.
You can find plenty of seafood, from raw bar options to fish tacos, a daily fresh catch and fried seafood baskets, as well as burgers, sandwiches and salads.
Our black bean burgers with smashed avo and pico de gallo were simple yet flavorful. And those tater tots – may I have another?
Beach Time at Johnny Mercers Pier
About 10 pedals from the Shark Bar is Johnnie Mercers Pier, a popular place on the beach for people to play.
Johnnie Mercer’s Pier (Wrightsville Beach pier) is the only concrete fishing pier in the state of North Carolina and extends more than 1200 feet into the Atlantic Ocean.
It costs $2 per adult and $1 for kids to walk out onto the pier if you want to experience the views of the long stretch of Wrightsville Beach.
Here you can have more beach time. Relax. Soak it up. This is what you’ve worked hard for.
This is one of the best beaches in North Carolina for families, so if you have young kids like us don’t forget all your beach toys!
Dinner: South Beach Grill
South Beach Grill is situated in what was once the first and only bank in Wrightsville Beach. The small bar as you walk in was where the drive through ATM and bank vault used to be.
They recently had extensive renovations after the most recent hurricane blew through here and left its damage mark.
Here you’ll find Southern-inspired, coastal North Carolina dishes that are locally sourced from both land and sea. It’s a local hotspot that is perfect for lunch or dinner and offers sunset views of Banks Channel – soak it up with dinner on the outside covered patio.
Craig enjoyed grilled shrimp tacos, and my meal – the fresh catch of the day over the Bless Your Heart Salad was fresh, light and flavorful.
There are plenty of choices for the kids also.
Wrightsville Beach Bars (or close to the beach)
If you’re looking to extend your night, here are a few local bars recommended to us by locals and other travelers:
We hope this helped you narrow down your list of Wrightsville Beach things to do!
Next time we visit, we might go on one of the boat tours or a fishing charter, or just do nothing at all and enjoy beach life.
One thing we do know, it’s our favorite of North Carolina beach towns, and one of our favorite places to visit in North Carolina period.
Oh, and one last note:
We visited in early March just before the spring lockdown. Restaurants are reopening now with capacity limits, so you’ll need to make reservations in advance or call ahead for takeout.
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