With Memorial Day approaching and the school year coming to a close, I feel the urge to jumpstart our summer with a perfect little weekend jaunt—to get away (but not too far away) to somewhere with an attractive mix of kid-friendly activities and oceanfront relaxation. I unearth our bathing suits and unexpired sunscreen and pack the car with two rambunctious girls, one willing husband and loads of beach toys still caked with last year's sand and shells. We’re all equally exited to head to Wrightsville Beach to explore a new shore and kick off the season with a North Carolina excursion geared to beach-loving families.
We arrive at the Sandpeddler Inn & Suites happy to discover that our one bedroom, one bath, condominium-style suite allows plenty of room to stretch and spread out after our road trip. I have just enough time to appreciate the amenities of our unit—including a kitchen with full-sized fridge, stove and oven and a private balcony with a view of the ocean—before feeling the tug of two bathing beauties more than ready to take a dip in the outdoor swimming pool. After ample jumps and splashing galore, we dry off in order to do a bit of sightseeing before dinner.
We work up an appetite with some playtime at Wrightsville Beach Park, home to a playground, two outdoor basketball courts, four tennis courts, three sand volleyball pits, one softball field, an open area for soccer/flag football and a 2.5-mile walking path. Though the path looks lovely, we opt for a stroll on Johnnie Mercer's Pier, the only concrete pier in North Carolina that extends more than 1,200 feet into the Atlantic.
The expansive ocean view leaves us craving dinner at South Beach Grill, which overlooks the Banks Channel and highlights fresh, Carolina seafood. My husband and I share every last bite of the local, char-grilled grouper special and Atlantic flounder with Anson Mills cheddar cheese grits. The atmosphere here is trendy but also comfortable enough for my picky girls, who happily order off a specialized menu of kid-friendly fare.
Back at the Sandpeddler, my husband and I settle into our separate bedroom while the kids drift off on the enhanced sleeper sofa, leaving us all comfortable and ready for a jam-packed agenda the following day.
Waking well-rested and welcomed by glorious weather, we opt for a quick in-suite breakfast before heading straight to Aussie Island Surf Shop for bike rentals. The friendly owners recommend two with kid seats so we can do some family touring of the island on two wheels before meeting Captain Joe of Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours for a boat ride to Masonboro Island. After securing the little ones with life jackets, we head out to experience my highlight of the weekend—two hours alone on this 8.4-mile marine sanctuary island, renowned for its plant and wildlife diversity. I adore hunting shells and watching my daughters chase waves in quiet tranquility, but if you desire more action, consider the company's Eco Scavenger Hunt or Pirate Island Treasure Hunt tours that are ideal for adventurous kids.
Lunch brings more relaxation at Bluewater Waterfront Grill, where we dine outdoors on fresh seafood with a Caribbean flair while taking in views of the Intracoastal Waterway.
After biking and boating, the afternoon calls for a bit more leisure, which we find by perusing Lumina Station, a shopping village with whimsical sculptures and storybook bridges, and Airlie Gardens, 67 acres of Gilded Age gardens and lakes with azaleas, camellias, a 450-year-old Airlie Oak and butterfly house.
Dinner at Dockside Restaurant and Bar is notably kid-friendly, with a laid-back and rustic atmosphere, water's-edge dining and scrumptious desserts. Parental perks: delicious and affordable cocktails and live music.
The next morning, we face a forecast of approaching storms, providing the perfect opportunity to take a beach break in favor of a day trip to Wilmington, a darling port city just 15 minutes from Wrightsville. After stops at the charming Children's Museum of Wilmington, where the girls pretend to be both scientists and pirates, and the Wilmington Railroad Museum, where we discover more than 20 model trains in action, we use the afternoon to learn more about Wilmington's culture and history with a horse-drawn carriage tour of downtown.
We next walk to the river district for dinner at Elijah's and enjoy a waterfront meal with a panoramic view of the sunset before heading back to Wrightsville to take advantage of the now-clear skies and one last evening on the beach. My girls brave the cool water while my husband and I plant our feet in the sand and listen to the live band playing at the Oceanic Restaurant on the Crystal Pier.
All our summer senses are awakened this weekend in Wrightsville, a completely satisfying way to begin a few months of warm-weather family fun.
More kid-friendly options on the North Carolina Coast:
-The Blockade Runner Beach Resort at Wrightsville Beach hosts an adventure-based kids’ summer program called Sandcampers featuring daily themes and activities including scavenger hunts as a pirate, sandcastle competitions, relay races, arts and crafts and more.
–The Holiday Inn Resort, which was recently featured by Parents Magazine as one of the best beach resorts, also offers a KidsClub where kids enjoy special programs like learning to surf, mixed martial arts and dance-offs.
–Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park in Wilmington is a complete entertainment center featuring Jungle Lagoon golf, laser tag arena, Grand Prix Go-Karts, “The Rock” Climbing wall, arcade games and more.
-The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, including daily dive shows and aquatic wildlife encounters, in nearby Kure Beach is about a 30-minute drive (or so) from Wrightsville Beach/Wilmington.