Leave the daily grind at home and treat yourself to a grownup good time in Wilmington, NC, and its beaches this fall. Whether you’re looking forward to a solo getaway, a trip sans kids, a romantic retreat, a retirement adventure, or a friend meetup, this is an ideal destination for mixing the sun and sea with historic charm, coastal cuisine, and city sightseeing year-round — especially after Labor Day, when kids are back in school. Dive into live tunes by the water, ride the waves on scenic cruises, dig into authentic history and culture, and savor coastal eats all on one trip.

So get ready to unleash your inner explorer — with a historic riverfront city and three beaches at your doorstep, Wilmington is where it’s at this fall. Here’s why.

1. There’s no shortage of live entertainment.

Photo: Wilmington and Beaches

Fancy a night out with a concert or live music? In Wilmington and its island beaches, there’s no shortage of shows on any given night. Live Nation brings in big-name acts like Maggie Rogers and Widespread Panic at Live Oak Bank Pavilion at Riverfront Park, where picturesque river views serve as the venue’s backdrop.

If you’re not looking to commit to a full-on show, pop by one of the area’s many bars and restaurants with live music. You can’t go wrong at the Reel Café, offering oysters and rooftop river views. Bourgie Nights features talented traveling singers, songwriters, and local musicians — it’s operated by the restaurant next door manna ave. 123, whose award-winning fine dining and basement cave of wine treasures make for an elevated date night. Or try Satellite Bar and Lounge, where craft beers and bluegrass jams flow amid the salvage-decor ornamenting the 1940s grocery store building it calls home.

And if you want to laugh until you cry, grab your travel companions and head to Dead Crow Comedy Room, Eastern North Carolina’s only full-time comedy club, for nationally acclaimed acts. Bonus: The venue’s spacious and lively beer garden is perfect for a cold pint.

2. Wilmington’s food and bar scene rivals that of much larger cities.

Wilmington restaurants

Photo: Wilmington and Beaches

Feast on James Beard foodie favorites.

Wilmington has become one of the South’s most popular dining destinations, home to an abundance of notable chefs and foodie favorites. Chef Keith Rhodes (owner of Catch, James Beard Foundation semifinalist for Best Chef: Southeast, and “Top Chef” season 9 alum) is known for fresh, sustainable, and innovative seafood dishes like his grouper and shrimp and grits. Get a sense of place at Seabird, helmed by Chef Dean Neff, a James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Southeast semifinalist who turns to the local waterways for every sea-inspired creation that hits the menu. His seafood tower is an instant crowd-pleaser, often filled with local oysters and clams foraged by hand.

Pizza at the coast? Yes, please! Chef Vivian Howard, a James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Southeast semifinalist, owns Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria. Take a break from fresh seafood and gorge on the heavenly Southern fried chicken parm and a Tony pepperoni pizza. And this just in: Chef Sunny Gerhart, a James Beard Foundation semifinalist for Best Chef: Southeast who runs the acclaimed restaurant St. Roch in Raleigh, recently opened Olivero (think Spanish and Italian influences on New Orleans-style cuisine).

Dine outdoors with an Instagrammable view.

There are so many al fresco dining options with spectacular views — and fresh seafood by the water is a classic, delicious choice for any visit to the area. At Carolina Beach, get your surf (seafood) at The Ocean Grill & Tiki Bar and turf (all the burgers and barbecue) at Carolina Smokehouse, as featured on Food Network. Or dock and dine at Stoked Restaurant and enjoy oysters, peel ‘n’ eat shrimp, and a delicious island poke bowl.

In Wrightsville Beach? Head over to Bluewater Waterfront Grill for an iconic marina sunset or Oceanic Restaurant for an elevated dining experience on a pier overlooking the ocean. Also in the area, Dockside Restaurant has a relaxed ambiance along with its mouthwatering seafood, while South Beach Grill offers fresh-to-table chalkboard specials and a dog-friendly patio overlooking the soundside channel.

On downtown’s vibrant Riverwalk, meanwhile, you can grab a table with friends (or for a date night) at Elijah’s Restaurant, The George, or Pilot House. Located on the north end of the Riverwalk at Port City Marina, Marina Grill is excellent for Sunday brunch (the crab cake Benedict and Davie County burger are not to be missed). And don’t forget Floriana, situated across from the Riverwalk with balcony seating, where you’ll be transported to Northern Italy as you nosh on gnocchi, ravioli, and tortellini made with seasonal ingredients.

Toast to the coast.

Wilmington restaurants

Photo: Wilmington and Beaches

Wilmington also has an amazing craft cocktail scene. Check out a happening rooftop (such as Cloud 9, with sweeping views of the Cape Fear River and historic downtown), or perhaps Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, a whiskey-forward bar, is calling your name (don’t fret, there are libations sans whiskey for any in your party whose tastes differ). You can also step back in time at The Blind Elephant, a 1920s-themed Prohibition speakeasy hidden in an alleyway.

Sips, suds, and sun!

Beer enthusiasts will enjoy the self-guided Wilmington Ale Trail, stocked with sips from Bowstring to Edward Teach and everywhere in between. If the trail isn’t your speed, there are more than 20 breweries to seek out at your own pace. Here are a few recommendations:

You can even work off those brews with a physical activity while enjoying an ale or two, like Wilmington Bike & Brew Tours or BrewBoat Wilmington. And if you’re in the area in October, Voracious Rare Beer & Wine Festival is a favorite among beer fans.

3. Get to know the area by foot or on the water.

Photo: Wilmington and Beaches

Hoof it…

After all the eating (and drinking), you’ll need to get moving. Historic downtown’s Riverwalk will keep you stepping with its 2-mile stretch of access to boutiques, riverside eats, and the allure of the Cape Fear River, including the not-to-miss Battleship NORTH CAROLINA anchoring the opposite bank. Historic charm unfolds in Wilmington’s National Register Historic District, home to Bellamy Mansion, Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens, and Latimer House museums. In October, Riverfest, a celebration of downtown’s history, is a favorite among both locals and travelers.

Journey on foot into nature via Carolina Beach State Park’s Sugarloaf Trail or Fort Fisher State Recreation Area’s Basin Trail in Kure Beach. The striking beauty of Wilmington’s Airlie Gardens captivates with its carefully manicured grounds and trails, wildlife, and ancient Airlie Oak. Or stroll to a spot like Harbor Way Gardens in Wrightsville Beach and savor a curated picnic by Seaside Charcuterie.

…or cruise it.

To really get a taste of local culture, hit Wrightsville Beach’s crystal blue waters with Soundside Adventures for an island-hopping cruise to a barrier island like Masonboro Island Reserve. If you brought a whole crew of friends, Soundside’s new 44-foot catamaran accommodates larger groups. Epic Excursions offers island excursions for everyone in your party, including customizable private half- and full-day boat charters. Expect sporty activities like SUP-ing or even a culinary adventure to a private catered seafood-boil dinner on Masonboro Island.

4. Then rest your head at a B&B or oceanfront hotel.

Photo: Wilmington and Beaches

Wilmington has lodging options for every type of traveler and trip. ARRIVE Wilmington caters to the chic, mid-century modern hotel seeker (its beautiful Gazebo Bar is a real hotspot). Indulge at The Hive, a newer boutique hotel with all the charm, or get cozy at C.W. Worth House Bed & Breakfast, an award-winning Victorian B&B. DREAMERS by DW, meanwhile, delivers unique vibes with on-site yoga lessons and a mouthwatering vegan breakfast.

For water views, Blockade Runner Beach Resort, sitting oceanfront on Wrightsville Beach, offers surf-to-sound amenities. Then there’s the Courtyard Marriott Carolina Beach Oceanfront, just steps from both the sea and the vintage Carolina Beach Boardwalk. If traveling with the squad, The Cottage at Blockade Runner accommodates up to 26 guests, or check out Lumina, a Holiday Inn Resort and some of the area’s gorgeous oceanfront vacation rentals.

With a genuine beach atmosphere and historic city to explore, Wilmington and its three island beaches have so much going on that no two trips are ever the same. This fall, come find your own ideal getaway and explore Wilmington’s unique take on Carolina charm.