We visited Wilmington in February 2017.
Our trek from Central VA to Wilmington, NC went through our friends’ driveway in Virginia Beach. It’s not the most direct route, but it was the ideal one for us. Bugsy rabidly enjoyed her first true beach experience and the humans were pleased to have a February beach day in shorts and tshirts. After a fantastic weekend, we pressed on to Wilmington.
The Wilmington KOA is the closest campground to downtown Wilmington; proximity to the center of the city is our usual main criterion in choosing where to stay. And, as usual, we didn’t spend much time at the campground, but it seemed nice. Our spot was shady, if a bit tight, and we enjoyed a couple meals at our picnic table.
Exploring the Wilmington Area
To get an introduction to the historic area of downtown Wilmington, we strolled the mile-long wooden Riverwalk running along the Cape Fear River, then zigzagged up and down the main commercial streets leading from the river up the hill to S 3rd. Restaurants and shops are everywhere, but the only one we popped into during this walkabout was Coastal Paws for some Bugsy treats. We got her some yogurt drops that were like doggy crack to her. Nun St had free 3-hour street parking if you want to try to avoid the meters.
We humans finished our downtown exploration with dinner at Circa 1922, on the recommendation of our buddies M&A. It somehow puts a dim, cozy experience into a large, busy old bank building. They specialize in small plates and tapas and great service; we especially enjoyed the mushroom bruschetta and scallops.
As soon as we had set up the Airstream at the campground, we headed for Wrightsville Beach, with a cooler, to relax in the sun. (Dogs are allowed on Wrightsville Beach on-leash during the off-season, October 1 through March 31.) We parked near the south end of the beach and set up our blanket near the jetty, which is apparently a popular kite surfing area. The three of us loved watching the kite surfers (Bugsy didn’t know WHAT those things were) and people-watching in general, as everyone in town seemed to be on the beach to enjoy a Spring-like day in February. Wrightsville Beach looks like a lovely place to stay for a beachy vacation–quaint rental houses with easy beach access and beachfront bars and restaurants–but the throngs of people and TERRIBLE traffic on the only north-south road were real turn-offs for us. What’s it like there in the high season?? We went home after our beach time rather than trying to eat or drink at Wrightsville.
On our final full day in Wilmington, we wanted to treat Bugsy to some quality beach time, so we splurged on a day pass (for $30 you can drive your 4×4 vehicle onto the beach and park wherever you want!) to the unbelievably dog-friendly Freeman Park at Carolina Beach. Dogs are allowed off-leash from October 1 to March 31, and Bugsy had one of her best days ever running and swimming and chasing birds and running and running and running. The beach is long and narrow and is a delightful place to stroll, or just sit and watch your nutcase of a dog completely lose her mind.
The human-only activities in Carolina Beach consisted of a giant platter of assorted seafood at Shuckin’ Shack, popular with locals and tourists even at an odd non-standard meal time; a stop at Good Hops Brewing, which I’ll write about under Drinking below; and a doughnut hunt: Britt’s Donuts, the crazy-popular doughnut shop on the boardwalk, was closed for the season, so we found Wake ‘n’ Bake Donuts in a strip mall. We ate a bunch of them, but they weren’t the most impressive doughnuts we’ve found on our travels.
We visited five breweries: Bill’s Front Porch, New Anthem Beer Project, Flytrap Brewing, Good Hops Brewing, and Wilmington Brewing Co; and one bar featuring a zillion local taps, Ogden Tap Room.
J, our resident brewery expert, wrote about the breweries here. The only thing I’ll add is that while J wasn’t crazy about his meat-burger from Bill’s Front Porch, my veggie burger was quite nice.
There’s a fantastic bar very close to the campground with a cool vibe and local beers out the wazoo: Ogden Tap Room. We would have gone there more than once if we didn’t have so many breweries on our list.
Greenfield Lake Park is close to downtown, but is a peaceful and scenic place to run. Just don’t let your dog get eaten by an alligator. (We didn’t see any!) The loop is a respectable 4.5 miles in length, with sidewalks the whole way and shade most of the way, and when we were there on a Monday morning only a few other people were on the path.
Smith Creek Park has a 1.3-mile paved path around a little lake, with grass for abs and pushups, tables for dips, and a playground for pull-ups, if you’re into those sorts of things.