Best Places to Go in Wrightsville Beach, NC, on a Family Vacation
If you crave the salt life, summer is undoubtedly your favorite season. The ocean is one of God's most majestic and powerful creations. One day, its waves gently lap against the shore and the next, its current generates a dangerous undertow, causing beach goers to shy away from its fierce, frothy waters. Standing along the shore, one looks like a tiny speck on the face of creation. The ocean is one of the many ways God shows us who's in charge.
America's Best Beaches
Favorite beach destinations in the USA include Myrtle Beach, the Outer Banks, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Santa Monica, South Beach, and bits of paradise snuggled around Hawaii.
Are you seeking adventure? Surfing? Touring? A crazy party? A romantic getaway? Identifying the goal for your escape from the daily grind is the first step in choosing the right beach to visit.
If an ordinary family vacation is your objective, then Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina has plenty to offer.
Commercialized beaches are over-crowded tourist traps with congested traffic. Wrightsville Beach, especially in early June before summer officially arrives, is the perfect, low-key destination for families.
Where to Stay at Wrightsville Beach
There are three "resorts" to choose from that allow you ocean front views with instant access to the beach without a drive or reliance on public admission points: Blockade Runner, Shell Island, and Holiday Inn. Shell Island does not rate well on cleanliness, and the Holiday Inn's lack of updates warps you back to the 1970's. The Blockade Runner is the best choice of the three, with many of its rooms being recently renovated in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. It's also the resort recommended by locals.
The Blockade Runner features manicured grounds, a well-maintained boardwalk, sparkling pool and comfy chairs, outdoor cabana, outdoor dining and bar, and a clean and secluded beach area. Inside is a different story.
When we visited in 2019, the Blockade Runner's rooms left little to be desired thanks to a negligent housekeeping staff. There had been a coat of dirt, hair, and grime everywhere, low shower pressure, a malfunctioning A/C, and a dilapidated bathroom. Housekeeping also failed to keep our Kleenex, toilet paper, and towels supplied.
We complained to management and received a free upgrade to return, so we gave them another shot in 2021. Due to stringent cleaning measures required following COVID, we saw a marked improvement. The only issue was we couldn't sit on our balcony furniture unless we covered it with a beach towel first, since the dirt couldn't be wiped off of it due to the weave, and the wicker-like furniture reeked of body odor from past guests. Still, location is everything, and the trade-off is worth it.
The Blockade Runner does not offer an ice machine so you either have to call guest services to have small bags of it delivered (which can take an hour or longer to receive), or you can visit the East Oceanfront Dining room to pick it up yourself. Luggage carts only come with a valet, so be sure to have tip money handy. If you decide to leave early without a 48-hours-notice, there is a $100 penalty.
Fellow traveler, no matter where you lodge, don't wait until your stay is over to voice your dissatisfaction. It will make all the difference in your experience.
The beach access from the Blockade Runner is fabulous. Umbrellas and chairs are a must for your day at the beach. Umbrellas are $10, and each chair is $15. Consider tipping the employee who sets up your spot. Only take a blanket if it's a mildly breezy day or you won't be able to keep it stationed on the sand.
At this location, the sand is bright, and the ocean ripples in blue and green hues. Sea shells abound if you want a collection.
Best Places to Eat at Wrightsville Beach
The Blockade Runner is situated within walking distance of several eateries and an expansive souvenir shop, Wings, where you can find clothing, toys, beach gear, mugs, and all the expected trinkets to remind you of your trip. In fact, the souvenirs at Wings are better quality and cheaper than any of the others. Our favorite restaurant in this area is South Beach Grill. It's pricey, but it's worth treating yourself to at least one night of ocean fare. Including the tip, it cost our family of four $103. South Beach Grill is best known for its locally fresh caught grouper and flounder, and their spicy seafood mac-n-cheese is very unique. Even if you just want a sandwich, the Shrimp Po' Boy is excellent and boasts a delectable tartar sauce. Their french fries are also well-seasoned and delicious.
If you're on a tight budget, try Trolley Dogs for lunch. Each themed dog is $3, but pack your own sides because nothing but hot dogs are on the menu. Need an ice cream to cool you down? Try Kohl's Custard for a sweet treat.
Lumina Station is just a short drive across the bridge into Wilmington where you will find a Harris Teeter grocery store to stock up on supplies and more places to dine for lunch or dinner. Walmart and other local grocers are also nearby.
Sweet n Savory Cafe is a nearby 4-star restaurant, but even with its vast menu, we find them to be a culinary Jack-of-all-trades but master of none. A better choice for seafood, aside from South Beach Grill, is Bluewater Grill. We sampled their Calabash platter, which includes shrimp, oysters, and flounder with a side of coleslaw and fries. Yum!
One of our favorite discoveries is Poe's Tavern, venerating Edgar Allen Poe. Pictures of Poe and his works adorn the walls, and the chandeliers and furniture are reminiscent of Poe's time period. Readings of Poe's works are even piped into the restrooms. Best known for their burgers, though their fish tacos are a surprising delight.
Who knew that donut shops could serve yummy sandwiches for lunch too? The Donut Inn is a quaint stop where we enjoyed deluxe BLT's, an Italian chicken wrap, and a turkey club. First time customers ordering donuts also score one extra for free, and the Donut Inn earns a top 3 ranking of our all-time favorite donut shops. Just a word of caution, it's easy to forget your credit card at The Donut Inn. Unlike other credit card machines that are positioned on a lower counter, this one is located in a higher spot. By the time you get your receipt, it's easy to forget to remove your credit card, which is why the staff had to rifle through over 50 credit cards to find ours!
For lighter and cheaper fare, PT's Old-Fashioned Grille, Islands, and Moe's Original Barbeque let you step up to the counter, place your order, and carry it to your seat. Their food is good, and you support local small businesses by patronizing them, but don't expect the same high quality you would find at more upscale eateries.
Historic downtown Wilmington is lined with unique restaurants. A plethora of restaurants also dot their famous, scenic boardwalk. Although downtown Wilmington is a prime location for movie film crews, their shops leave little to be desired. Street parking is free after 6:30pm, or else it's $1.50 an hour at the meter. Other parking lots are available, but they charge as much as $5.00 per hour. Many rave about the shops found in town and within the Cotton Exchange, but in our opinion, the stores are garbage.
If you are a creature of habit and prefer restaurant chains, Carrabas, the Olive Garden, Texas Roadhouse, and the usual haunts are easily found.
Places to Go at Wrightsville Beach
Wrighstville Beach and adjacent Wilmington are expansive areas that offer all you could ever need without making you feel lost in a big city. Both areas are very easy to navigate.
Redix is another key souvenir shop, though it comes in second next to Wings.
Independence Mall is within 15 minutes of the beach. It's nothing spectacular and not very large, but if you like shopping at a mall, you can find the basics here. A more upscale shopping experience can be found at Mayfaire Town Center.
One super fun destination that's a must if you have kids is Jungle Rapids. With a ball pit, arcade, laser tag, go carts, mini golf, mini bowling, rock climbing and a small outdoor water park, you could easily spend the better part of one day enjoying all these activities conveniently accessible in one location.
For history buffs, don't miss a tour of the WWII Battleship, USS North Carolina, moored along the Cape Fear River. The tour is self-guided and takes an average of two hours to complete. For those who prefer to linger, you can download apps to hear more about selected locations within the battleship. There are several decks to explore here to take you back in time. Visit the souvenir shop at the end of your tour to pick up a memento or purchase a picture of your family in front of the battleship via green screen technology.
Airlie Botanical Gardens is a stone's throw from the Blockade Runner, offering beautiful grounds to explore for a small fee. You will also find a charming butterfly house here, along with a cemetery, chapel, bottle chapel, and small replica of the original mansion.
If the whole point of your vacation is to relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of the beach, don't miss a walk to Crystal Pier or relax with a bottle of wine from Noni Bacca Winery.
If your younger kids grow bored with the beach or need a break from the sun, take them to Long Leaf Park to burn off energy, or visit the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
Wrightstville Beach Is Fun for the Whole Family
Whether you like solitude, family time, or a crazy party on your vacation, Wrightsville Beach is a one-size-fits-all destination. Like most beach spots, the atmosphere and the people are relaxed, allowing you to engage or disconnect at whim.
Southern Hospitality is a real thing. If you're unsure what to do next, ask one of the locals. They are quick to share their favorite places to eat, shop, and play and can point you to hidden gems off the beaten path.
What are you waiting for? It's "high tide" you plan your beach vacation for some memorable fun in the sun.
Enjoy Wrightsville Beach Virtually
New Spots or Old Favorites?
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© 2019 Vivian Coblentz