A Weekend in Wilmington, NC (July 2020)

 

Back in mid-July, I took a weekend trip out to Wilmington, NC (about a 2 hour drive from where I'm currently located). It was fairly spontaneous and mainly driven by the proximity as well as the desire to visit a beach. We planned everything in less than a week so relied heavily on blog reviews. What I found though is that most bloggers seemed to be sponsored by the venues visited (a few of the below came up, and let's just say I have more mixed and honest opinions to share). 

Overall, while I wouldn't go out of my way to visit Wilmington, it was perfect for a 2 days and 3 nights trip (in fact, you could probably condense it further to 2 nights and not miss much). Read on for what we did and where we stayed:

Where we stayed:


The most common option recorded online was the Hilton Hotel Ballast. Pros are that it's very conveniently located to Downtown Wilmington, which is a historical area with a beach walkway and a decent selection of local restaurants. It also has mobile check-in through the Hilton HHonors app, meaning you can pick out your room ahead of time and generally skip the counter (although you still need to go to the counter to get a car pass). Cons are it was really pricey (about $200 a night when we went, although there was also a wedding that weekend) and frankly the elevator situation was not ideal. There are only 2 sets of elevators, which means it can get crowded, plus there were some guests inside that were not wearing masks and which the staff did not even try to address. There was also definitely some sketchy, smelly activity in the stairwell shafts (we were right by one) which again no one took measures to address. 

The room was basic, and honestly the water view is not worth the extra $20 per night (as it's also west facing, which means the room will be hot and drowned with sunlight in the afternoons). We took the historic view, which was still nice, and in fact if you can get the corner rooms on the North side of the building you will get a small window that also faces the water (highly recommend that). There's also really nice amenities such as the pool, although they also seemed a bit crowded. 


Food:


The Basics: The perfect brunch spot, with value-friendly (think around $10 for lots of hearty classics). Unfortunately no reservations, but the wait didn't take too long on a Saturday morning. 


I got over easy eggs with two sides, which I chose the fried green tomatoes (pictured next to the eggs) and a blueberry pancake (gigantic and so tasty). 



Above are the crabcake eggs benedict, which was honestly a bit disappointing as it doesn't come with any sort of carb (and I've never seen a benedict not at least have an English muffin or biscuit). It's essentially the crab cake, eggs, and bacon on top, which is tasty but not super filling and not worth the price.


PinPoint Restaurant

This was by far the most commonly blogged place, and frankly I think the bloggers had to have received commissions because it was quite mediocre. The interior is grim with the dark wood and smelled musty, like a mix of cleaner and damp wood. It was almost fully packed when we went on a Friday night, so certainly has the hype.


As you can see above, the dishes are also fairly egregious in price (versus other restaurants in the downtown area). Entrees are about $30 each, and apps a minimum of $16 a plate. We wanted to order the fried chicken but were told that would take 40 minutes to arrive on the table. Being as we were hungry and it was late (after a long afternoon of driving after work), we decided against this and were met with some snubbing by the waitstaff ("What were you expecting? Fried chicken always takes this long" - also frankly just not true).  


The food was better than the decor and service at least, so we were pleasantly surprised by the variety and flavor of the Assorted Pickles above (a must for any pickle eater).


The above was my order, the Low Country Bouillabaisse, which was flavorful but overly salty.


The Pasta Bolognese was really tasty, but also the portion sizes overall were quite small (certainly not enough to warrant the $30 price tags). Overall, I cannot recommend PinPoint and think you'll be much better off financially and experience-wise if you choose a less overrated restaurant.

The George

The George is the most reviewed of any restaurant in the area, mainly for its prime location with plenty of outdoor seating right by the water. We went in for brunch on Sunday, as it was one of the few locations open by 11AM. 

While the menu felt appealing, the food honestly all looked and tasted the same. We got the Shrimp and Biscuits and The Riverwalk, and as you can see from the photos, both came essentially drowned in cream and cheese with little distinguishing features.


The Riverwalk above


Shrimp and Biscuits - not great, the first few bites were tasty and the next few sickening. I saw a few tables with Chicken and Waffles, and will note the serving size is quite small considering the price.

Little Dipper Fondue


This was an absolutely wonderful spot - so highly recommend if you have the chance to go! By far the best meal we had, and one of the most budget friendly. For about $30 a person you get a three course meal, complete with a cheese fondue appetizer (with plenty of bread and veggies, above), a soup or salad course, and then a main course below featuring a broth and various protein options. It is reminiscent of hot pot, and honestly I'm more of a fan of hot pot but this was certainly more nicely presented.  


Gelarto


Gelato shops are surprisingly ubiquitous in the area. We didn't bother braving the lengthy lines at Kilwins Chocolates and instead opted for Gelarto, which has a cute car-themed shop with some open seating and plenty of flavors. The passion fruit one we selected was fresh and flavorful. 


Cafes


Bespoke: A very trendy spot, with sufficient interior seating even with the socially distanced measures. Really great decor and ambiance. My only complaint is their cold brew was very sour and not the most effective (you know that trendy type of taste). But would definitely go back.  



Plus the very cool photo op below:





24 South I'm an avid drinker of coffee, and unfortunately was not impressed with the coffee I had in Wilmington. 24 South is a small shop (no seating inside except a couple metal tables outside) in which only one employee manned the line. We waited about 15 mins in line (the place is certainly popular) and I ordered a cold brew. The cold brew was cloudy, which the employee said was just the way it should be. Well, turns out the cloudiness was due to grounds, which wasn't quite so pleasant to drink 



Wrightsville Beach


We picked probably one of the busiest weekends ever for the beach, which was packed. Parking alone took about 40 mins of circling about to find (and was quite costly at about $5 / hour). As a bit of advice, either come early in the day, park before the bridge and walk the remaining mile to the beach, or be ready to circle aggressively around for spots (most areas by the beach are privately owned and don't allow street parking, so you have to just scout around). 

The water itself was lovely, and there appear to be city-owned shaded areas that early visitors can scope out and sit under. Or bring your own umbrella as I saw many others do. 

USS North Carolina

This battleship was docked right across from the Hilton Ballast, but alas the water taxi schedule seems to be in flux (normally you can just pick a ride for $7 roundtrip to and from the battleship from the downtown pier). So instead we had to drive out across one of the two bridges.



I've actually previously visited inside the ship, which I recall was super fascinating in how small the spaces were. For now they are only allowing outdoor visits, so bring a hat or umbrella because the deck gets boiling hot with all the metal. The day we went was 96 degrees out, which meant we were downing water continuously and panting while climbing the three levels. 

Our thoughts

It was the perfect trip, but to be honest even 2 days felt a bit tough to fill with sufficient food and activities. The Downtown area is quite small, and it felt like we walked back and forth along the waterway about 10x looking for more things to do. The food options were good, but few places really stood out, and in fact Sunday morning brunch was near impossible (the few good spots had lengthy waits, and most places don't open til past noon). 

Would definitely make the beach if you are a beach fan, and maybe take a tour of the USS NC if it's a cooler day out. 

Skincare products used:

  • My sunscreen: https://amzn.to/3hr9joe
  • My lip color: https://amzn.to/2RncRxu
  • My foundation: https://amzn.to/3ipCp99

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