Day Trips: Must-See Stops in Wilmington, NC for a Day

Tour a WWII era Battleship, sample craft beers at the dog-friendly Pour Taproom, and take in views of the Cape Fear River from the scenic Riverwalk on this guide to a day in Wilmington, NC.

Day Trips: Must-See Stops in Wilmington, NC for a Day

The City of Wilmington, North Carolina is a charming coastal city located in the southeastern part of the state. It has a fascinating history, including the horrific Wilmington Massacre of 1898, but has also transformed into a thriving center for the film industry and a significant shipbuilding port during World War II. The city's strong connection with the military led to its designation as one of the 29 "Coast Guard Cities" by the U.S. Congress. Wilmington has become a popular filming location, hosting movies like Iron Man 3, A Walk To Remember, and We're The Millers, as well as TV shows like Dawson's Creek, Matlock, and One Tree Hill. During my recent trip to Charleston, SC, I decided to take the 3 hour drive and explore this remarkable coastal city and also check off North Carolina and South Carolina from my list of visited states. On a day with pleasant temperatures and clear skies, I had the opportunity to visit the USS North Carolina at Battleship North Carolina, enjoy a delicious lunch with some great local beers at Pour Taproom, and take a leisurely walk along the Wilmington Riverfront.

Battleship North Carolina

This is a history museum on steroids, as this is an actual WWII battleship that served in the Pacific theater that was decommissioned and restored after WWII and now it sits near the Cape Fear River in Wilmington. This ship is massive, and you really get to see how these men lived. You can walk the entire ship (there are plenty of open areas, probably about 70% of the ship is available to be viewed), and you will still probably miss a few things. Also, as it’s a battleship, there’s a lot of tight spaces! You will need to be nimble and careful getting around.

You could easily spend a day on this ship. I started with the main deck, taking pictures of the big guns and the (airplane), then moved down to the lower decks. The lower decks consist of 5 levels, with the absolute lowest being the cold storage area. They had barber shops, a convenience store, a post office, a massive “mess hall”, etc.

This one battleship likely had 3,000+ men at any given time, it’s the size of a small town or city! It’s astounding to think there were so many of these ships at sea during the war and these ships still exist today. I kept saying “wow” as if I was a kid discovering something for the first time. A really incredible place to spend a few hours. Admission is $14 and is WELL worth it!

Pour Taproom:

I’m a huge fan of the “self serve taproom” concept. If you haven’t seen this, essentially you will walk in to the establishment, they check your ID and you also provide a credit or debit card. They will hand you a card or magnet you can use at the tap to release and pour whatever beverage you would like. Some taprooms have wine, beer and cider, but others may just specialize in wine. In any event, it gives you the freedom to choose what you want to partake in. If you want to combine beers and mix flavors, you can do that.

This was an excellent taproom. Jenna was the lovely host who worked as both the server for food, handled cleanup and checked in guests. She was personable and great to chat with. I was able to sample some good local beers, generally pouring a few ounces for each pour and I had a small glass of wine as well. Food menu was limited, as it consisted of mostly tacos and quesadillas, but even with the limited selection, the tacos were excellent!

Wilmington Riverwalk:

This is one of the other big attractions here, and at 1.75 miles, it’s not long but it can take you some time to walk up and down. I entered the portion of the walkway starting with the Blue Star Memorial. I got the sense with Wilmington that it is proud WWII and veteran city, and this particular space showed here. From stopping and taking a few quick pictures, I proceeded to enter the walkway going north. The walkway has parts that are boardwalk but also uses the existing sidewalks adjacent to the river. You’ll see the “River Walk” sign in some of these areas as well to keep you on track. As the river meanders, so does the Riverwalk.

There are seats facing the river where you can sit and have lunch or watch the ships and boats in the river. There are plenty of lights along the walk as well, and the boardwalk was wide enough to accommodate several people. I also noticed some extensive development, especially near the marina. I also noticed a security guard or two patrolling the area, and not one panhandler! In addition to the apartments and condos lining the walkway, you’ll also notice the downtown Main Street area is within walking distance. There’s plenty of great bars and restaurants and shops along this area. Wilmington is a small city but seems to embrace it very well.

Closing Thoughts

This city offers a wonderful opportunity to spend a few days or even a long weekend. However, I am uncertain if it can be considered a top-tier "destination". The city boasts a rich history and an abundance of captivating local museums to explore. One particular highlight is the awe-inspiring Battleship North Carolina, which serves as a remarkable testament to the events of World War II. Wilmington's downtown area is easily traversable on foot and offers a plethora of charming shops, bars, breweries, and restaurants. Additionally, the Riverwalk provides a serene and idyllic setting for relaxation and unwinding. While Wilmington may be a small port city and not in close proximity to other major cities in the Carolinas, it remains easily accessible via state and interstate highways (although my personal experience involved a pleasant yet lengthy three-hour road trip). The city's airport offers direct regional flights with connections to various other cities, but for those seeking more flight options, Myrtle Beach, SC, located approximately 90 minutes south, may be a more suitable choice. Although train service is unavailable, there do appear to be bus connections if necessary. Without a doubt, I would eagerly return to Wilmington in order to delve deeper into its offerings and gain a more profound experience.