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How to spend one day in Wilmington, North Carolina

How to Spend One Day in Wilmington, North Carolina

Discover the culinary delights of Wilmington, North Carolina, a city nestled on the banks of the Cape Fear River. Renowned for its rich history, picturesque riverfront, and vibrant arts scene, Wilmington also boasts a diverse and flourishing food scene that beckons food lovers from all corners.

Even if you have just one day in Wilmington, you can follow my itinerary below to explore a few of the neighborhoods and some of the food it has to offer. 

While I highly suggest you stay in town for longer, one full day is at least enough time to grab breakfast, hit up Wrightsville Beach, and then make it to the historical downtown for dinner at one of Wilmington’s best restaurants.

Table of Contents

Start With an Early Breakfast

White Front Breakfast House

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White Front Breakfast House is one of the best spots for a local and inexpensive breakfast in Wilmington, North Carolina.
White Front Breakfast House

There’s lots of great breakfast places in Wilmington. But White Front Breakfast House is cheap, quick, and has a soft spot in my heart because it was my parent’s favorite breakfast when they were young and broke. And that was way back around the time when this breakfast and lunch only spot opened up in 1971. And some people say this place has barely changed.

This no-frills restaurant opens for breakfast at 6m, and serves basic options like omelets, pancakes, French toast, and egg platters.

I loved the country ham that my parents served at their restaurant, and so I’m quite partial to getting a side with whatever I order or on a breakfast sandwich. And of course, grits are offered as a side for almost everything, as we are in the south!

Spend the Afternoon at Wrightsville Beach

Crystal Pier

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Crystal Pier is a popular destination in Wrightsville Beach, aided by the fact that it appeared in the opening credits of the tv show Dawson's Creek.
Crystal Pier

You might recognize Crystal Pier from the opening sequence of Dawson’s Creek. This has cemented it as a place in pop culture and attracts fans to visit beneath the historic planks. In fact, this was the only place that my friend Gina had to come when we were here.

Crystal Pier is a historic wooden pier that was built in 1939 and extends 475 feet into the Atlantic Ocean. It is part attached to the Oceanic Restaurant, so you can enjoy lunch or dinner overlooking the beach. But the pier is open to the public, so you can walk to the end or even lay on the beach underneath it. If you plan your visit around the summer music series, you can even catch some live music from the bar or underneath on the beach.

Trolly Stop

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Trolly Stop has been serving hot dogs in Wrightsville Beach since 1976.
Trolly Stop

Trolly Stop has been a popular spot known for its world-famous hot dogs since its opening in 1976, it has become a staple for both locals and visitors, offering a variety of hot dogs including traditional, all beef, gluten-free, vegetarian, turkey, and sausage options. The establishment prides itself on serving delicious, quality hot dogs and is located at 94 South Lumina Avenue. Trolly Stop was initially opened by B.C. Hedgepath and is historically significant as it was situated at the first stop of the trolley line in Wrightsville Beach, earning its name “Station 1.” This location has remained a beloved spot for enjoying a classic American treat by the beach

Roberts Market

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Roberts Market is the oldest store on Wrightsville Beach and is known for its famous egg salad subs and other sandwiches.
Roberts Market

Roberts Market is a cherished local establishment with a history dating back to its founding in 1919. Positioned near the Heide Trask Memorial Bridge it is the longest-standing store on Wrightsville Beach, serving generations of beachgoers. 

Inside, customers can find a wide range of beach essentials, from fresh fruits and vegetables, to chips, and notably, Robert’s famous chicken salad sub. But if that’s not your thing, the Italian or one of their other sandwiches are great for a lunch on the beach.

Beyond groceries, the store carries vacation necessities like sunglasses, sunscreen, ice, and toothbrushes, making it a one-stop shop for anyone seeking convenience.

Sip on Afternoon Cocktails

End of Days Distillery

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End of Days Distillery gives tours and tastings, or you can enjoy cocktails made with their own spirits.
End of Days Distillery

After a few hours at the beach, it is probably time to head back into Wilmington for some cocktails. And the perfect place to go is End of Days distillery. Here at Wilmington’s first craft distillery, you can take a tour, try a tasting, or enjoy cocktails in their lounge area.

Their lineup includes vodka, rum, gin, and unique offerings like their Castaway Series of Barrel Rested Rum and Gin. But a must try is their visually striking Luna Bloom Gin, a spirit infused with Butterfly Pea Flower, giving it a blue color.

Explore Historic Downtown Wilmington

Historic Downtown Wilmington is located along the Cape Fear River and is filled with bars, restaurants, and historic buildings.
Historic Downtown Wilmington

Historical Downtown of Wilmington is a vibrant and picturesque area that serves as the cultural, economic, and social heart of the city. This historic district is renowned for its well-preserved architecture, spanning several blocks along the Cape Fear River. 

Here are some key attractions that make Historic Downtown Wilmington a must-visit destination

Architecture: The area boasts a diverse array of architectural styles, including Victorian, Antebellum, and Georgian, among others. These historic buildings house a variety of shops, restaurants, and businesses, creating a charming and inviting atmosphere.

Riverwalk: One of the most iconic features of Downtown Wilmington is its Riverwalk. This scenic boardwalk along the Cape Fear River offers stunning views, access to waterfront dining, and a pathway to explore the heart of the city. It’s a popular spot for both locals and visitors to stroll, dine, and enjoy the area’s natural beauty.

The USS North Carolina Battleship: Moored across the river from Downtown Wilmington, this WWII-era battleship is a national historic landmark. Tours of the ship provide a glimpse into the life of sailors during the war and offer educational opportunities for all ages.

Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts: One of the oldest theaters in the United States, Thalian Hall has been in continuous use since it opened in 1858. It hosts performances ranging from plays and concerts to films and other cultural events.

Historic Homes: The district is home to several historic homes and buildings, including the Bellamy Mansion Museum of History and Design Arts and the Latimer House. These homes offer tours that showcase the rich history and lifestyle of Wilmington’s past residents.

Arts and Culture: Downtown Wilmington is a hub for artists and creatives, featuring galleries, studios, and the unique Castle Street Arts and Antique District. The area hosts numerous art walks and cultural events throughout the year.

Dining and Nightlife: The historic district offers an eclectic mix of dining options, from fine dining to casual eateries, many of which emphasize local seafood and Southern cuisine. The nightlife is vibrant, with a variety of bars, breweries, and live music venues to explore.

Ghost Tours: Given its rich history, it’s no surprise that Wilmington has its share of ghost stories and legends. Various ghost tours are available, offering a spooky and entertaining way to learn about the city’s past.

Dinner at One of Wilmington's Best Restaurants

Try Calabash Style Seafood

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Calabash style seafood refers to a unique way of preparing and frying seafood that originated in the small fishing town of Calabash
Calabash Fried Shrimp

Calabash style seafood refers to a unique way of preparing and frying seafood that originated in the small fishing town of Calabash, not too far southwest of Wilmington. This style is characterized by lightly breaded and quickly fried seafood, which results in a delicate, crispy texture. The seafood used can include shrimp, fish, clams, and oysters, among others. 

The key to Calabash style is the seafood’s freshness, the lightness of the breading (often a mixture of flour and cornmeal), and the quick frying in hot oil, which ensures that the seafood is cooked through but remains tender and moist inside.

Calabash style seafood has become so popular that it has inspired numerous seafood restaurants in the Carolinas and beyond, with many advertising their fare as “Calabash style” to denote the light, crispy fried seafood that customers can expect. This cooking method not only highlights the natural flavors of the seafood but also provides a distinctive eating experience that has become synonymous with the coastal Carolinas’ culinary tradition.

You can typically find some Calabash style platters at many Wilmington area restaurants. Try Anne Bonny’s floating bar & restaurant along the Riverwalk or Sawmill Restaurant south of downtown.


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Manna is a distinguished American restaurant located in historic downtown Wilmington. Specializing in seasonal New American cuisine, Manna is celebrated for its sophisticated atmosphere and commitment to using locally sourced ingredients. The restaurant features a posh space with a full-service bar offering craft cocktails and a wide selection of wines. 

Manna is known for its house-made dishes and emphasizes quality and creativity in its menu, making it a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Open for dinner daily, Manna provides a culinary experience that merges the rugged and wild aspects of American cooking with elegance, offering a diverse menu that caters to various tastes, including vegetarian and vegan options.

Manna makes a pretty good case for the best restaurant in Wilmington.

PinPoint Restaurant

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PinPoint is one of the best restaurants in Wilmington, North Carolina.
PinPoint Restaurant

PinPoint Restaurant is celebrated for its focus on local and seasonal ingredients, showcasing the best of what the Wilmington area’s farmers, fishermen, oystermen, and crabbers have to offer. The restaurant prides itself on a menu deeply rooted in Southern tradition, offering a farm-to-table dining experience that changes daily based on the availability of fresh and local ingredients.

The restaurnat has earned accolades for its dedication to quality and has been featured in notable publications like Southern Living for its exceptional cuisine. With an elegantly casual atmosphere, PinPoint provides guests with a culinary journey that highlights the rich foodways of the South, making it a must-visit destination for those seeking an authentic taste of Wilmington’s culinary scene