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Wilmington, North Carolina's Port City

Nestled along the Cape Fear River and the pristine shores of the Atlantic Ocean, Wilmington, North Carolina, boasts a rich tapestry of history and culture that beckons visitors from far and wide. From its colonial roots to its vibrant present-day arts scene, Wilmington offers a captivating blend of the old and the new.

Kure Beach

Dating back to the early 18th Century, Wilmington's history is steeped in maritime heritage. As a bustling port city, it played a pivotal role in the region's economy and trade, shaping its character over the centuries. Visitors can delve into this maritime legacy at the USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial or explore the cobblestone streets of the historic downtown, where beautifully preserved buildings whisper stories of a bygone era.

But Wilmington's allure extends beyond its maritime past. It's a city that celebrates diversity and embraces its cultural heritage with open arms. One need only stroll through the vibrant neighborhoods to experience the eclectic blend of cuisines, music, and art that define Wilmington's cultural landscape. From soulful jazz performances to local art galleries showcasing the talents of resident artists, there's no shortage of creative energy in this dynamic city.

For history buffs, Wilmington offers a treasure trove of museums and historic sites to explore. The Bellamy Mansion Museum, with its stunning architecture and meticulously curated exhibits, offers a glimpse into the antebellum South, the Cape Fear Museum provides a comprehensive look at the region's history, from its Native American roots to its role in the Civil War and beyond while CAM (Cameron Art Museum) hosts a wide range of exhibitions featuring contemporary art, both local and international, providing a rich cultural experience.

Wilmington's crown jewels are undoubtedly its stunning beaches, each with its own unique charm. Wrightsville Beach, with its crystal-clear waters and wide stretches of soft, white sand, is a haven for water sports enthusiasts. Whether you're surfing the waves, paddleboarding along the Intracoastal Waterway, or simply soaking up the sun, Wrightsville Beach offers endless opportunities for relaxation and adventure. For those seeking a more secluded escape, Kure Beach provides the perfect retreat. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle, its unspoiled beauty and laid-back atmosphere make it an idyllic destination for beachcombers and nature lovers. Explore the serene shores, embark on a scenic nature trail, or simply unwind with a leisurely stroll along the boardwalk, where ocean breezes and breathtaking views abound.

Of course, no visit to Wilmington would be complete without sampling its renowned culinary scene. From fresh seafood caught right off the coast to inventive farm-to-table fare, the city's restaurants offer a mouth-watering array of options sure to satisfy any palate.

Whether you're drawn to its storied past, its vibrant arts scene, or its culinary delights, Wilmington, North Carolina, invites you to immerse yourself in its rich history and culture. In this article, ROUTE introduces you to some of our favorite spots to dine when out on the town in fabulous Wilmington. You may just find yourself enchanted by this city’s irresistible charm and put it on your next road trip itinerary.


One of the newer fine dining spots in town, Seabird is undeniably a venue that must be on your itinerary. James Beard Foundation semifinalist, Chef Dean Neff and his wife and business partner, Lydia Clopton, opened Seabird – aptly named after “Seabird,” a song by the Alessi Brothers, some of whose lyrics are written beneath the restaurant’s marquee - in May 2021, after vigorously restoring and renovating the 1920 historic landmark building on the corner of Front Street and Market, in downtown Wilmington.

The approximately 3,000-square-foot space was transformed into a sleek seafood restaurant and oyster bar with driftwood-toned floors, muted blues, and white accents that exude a coastal tranquility. Floor-to-ceiling windows, lustrous tiles, plush, semi-circular leather booths, vintage lighting, and a six-seat interactive Chef’s Table, set the stage for an exceptional culinary experience that has exalted Seabird’s cult status as the destination for seafood in Wilmington.

At Seabird, there is no such thing as too fresh. The menu, which displays Neff’s love for flavors of the ocean, changes regularly based on what is in season. A big emphasis is on their sustainable sea-to-fork philosophy and a commitment to partnering with local, small-scale fishermen and farmers. When you cast your anchor down at Seabird, you are guaranteed to satisfy your wildest gastronomic ocean dreams. From the complimentary cornbread, the freshly shucked oysters, to the mouth-watering small plates and entrees – not to mention the decadent desserts – each dish is a work of art beautifully presented and bursting with flavor. Saddle up with Shellem Wild Mussels or an order of Broiled Gumbo, BBQ or Rockefeller Baked Oysters, or the Serrano Pork Ribs with toasted benne seeds, apple and sorghum chili lacquer. Whichever way you choose to go, it is a celebration of textures, and hues. If you want to go big, the Seasonal Seafood Tower - loaded with pickled NC shrimp, NC osetra caviar, NC osetra caviar, clam ceviche, ribbon fish, harissa smoked tuna, stone crab and a whole lot more – is the best way to ball out.


From the moment you are welcomed at the door, to the friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive care of the waitstaff throughout your meal, you will feel like a valued guest from start to finish.


Nestled in downtown Wilmington, in a building whose history dates back to 1906, when the building was completed, Manna exudes an elegant yet welcoming atmosphere. The warm lighting and chic decor complement the exposed red brick accents of the building seamlessly.

Before owner Billy Mellon turned his restaurant into the American-style destination that it is today, the location was known as the Tango du Chat, a progressive upscale restaurant where Mellon worked. When Tango du Chat closed in 2007, Mellon saw an opportunity. He partnered with the former head chef of Tango du Chat and set out to realize a vision to showcase the best of Southern cuisine – but with a modern twist. When Manna officially opened its doors in 2010, success was imminent. Manna quickly became a favorite destination for locals and visitors alike and hastily solidified its reputation as a premier dining destination with the coveted AAA’s Four-Diamond distinction.

The true star of the show at Manna is, without a doubt, the cuisine. The menu, which features fun titles such as Belinda Carlisle’s Grocery Cart or Leave the Gun, take the Cannoli, is constantly evolving, but each dish honors local, fresh ingredients and displays the expert culinary craftsmanship of Chef Carson Jewell whose combinations of flavors elevate even the simplest of ingredients. Dishes like The Reel Deal, a pan-seared striped bass served with braised lentils, grilled cabbage, tomato fennel, and olive tapenade; or Fair or Fowl Pole?, a North Carolina duck served with roasted roots, brown butter sweet taters, and rainbow chard, celebrate the rich culinary heritage of the South while incorporating innovative techniques. From the delicate seafood appetizers to the hearty Southern-inspired entrees, every bite is a revelation. Special requests are accommodated with ease, and the attention to detail is evident in every aspect of the service.

Whether you are celebrating a special occasion or simply enjoying a night out with friends, Manna's exquisite wine list and ambiance strikes the perfect balance between sophistication and comfort.


When PinPoint – christened after an unincorporated community in Chatham County, Georgia – opened its doors in May 2015, owner Jeff Duckworth and former business partner Chef Dean Neff set out to highlight the best of Southern cuisine - serving fresh, locally sourced seafood, meats, and vegetables - while incorporating global influences and seasonal ingredients. And showcase, they did. The accolades for its modern interpretations of classic coastal cuisine promptly followed and have continued under the helm of Duckworth and Executive Chef Cameron Garvey.

Housed in an 1880 renovated building in downtown Wilmington, PinPoint’s exterior facade resembles a small, antique-style store, while inside, the restaurant has preserved the historic character of the structure by incorporating tin ceilings, exposed brick walls, reclaimed wood accents, and soft lighting – creating a historic charm that instantly puts guests at ease.

From the delicate, raw oysters harvested from the nearby waters, to the heirloom vegetables grown in the fertile soil of North Carolinian farms, every dish crafted by Chef Garvey – whose resemblance to actor Jeremy Allen White of the FX/Hulu drama series The Bear is uncanny – tells a story of the region's rich culinary heritage and vibrant food culture. The menu changes regularly with recurring favorites such as the sweet potato hummus (absolutely delicious!) as well as inspired new offerings, all presented with artistic flair.

Whether you are savoring a plate of fresh seafood, enjoying a craft cocktail at the long bar, or simply soaking in the welcoming ambiance, dining at PinPoint is an experience that captures the essence of Southern hospitality in all its glory.


The historic nature of Olivero, located in the Castle and South 3rd Streets neighborhood in Wilmington, is a bit of a mystery. Although the building dates back to approximately the 1940s, the initial intent for the structure is uncertain. However, legend has it that it operated as a grocery store and/or a laundromat, among other businesses, over the years, and then fell vacant for a good long while. But there is absolutely no question that, today, the building holds a culinary hotspot in Wilmington.

In 2023, Wilmington’s newest restaurant, from celebrated Chef Sunny Gerhart, of James Beard nominated St. Roch Fine Oysters & Bar in Raleigh, opened its doors to great anticipation. Gerhart had dreamed of opening a restaurant that would honor his mother, while highlighting his family’s Italian and Spanish heritage. He named the new establishment Olivero, after his grandfather.

Exposed steel beams, original storefront windows, 12-foot ceilings, and exposed red brick walls lend an air of historic authenticity, while the marble tabletops, brilliant wallpaper, colorful Moroccan zellige tiles, and low lighting add a contemporary aura to the space. The open kitchen, where all the magic happens, features a custom-ordered Arcobaleno pasta extruder (hello, fresh handmade pasta!) and, of course, the large wood-fired grill which infuses dishes such as grilled octopus, ribeye steak, or fish, with that natural, smoky flavoring.

Drawing on a diverse range of influences - flavors of Spain, Italy, and New Orleans – Gerhart, together with Co-executive Chef Lauren Krall-Ivey, create dishes that are as inventive as they are delicious. From the tasty warm dates prepared with ‘nduja, olive oil and sea salt, to the decadent Radiatori Braised Rabbit served with piquillo peppers, olives, prunes and Manchego cheese, each dish is a symphony of flavors – expertly crafted to delight the senses and satisfy the soul.

And when you are ready for the most important part of any meal, dessert, there is a Basque Cheesecake or Strawberry Tres Leches Flan – all made in-house. Olivero’s food experience, mixed with loads of positive energy, makes this venue the perfect place to indulge.


We do not like to throw around the word "timeless," but there is no better word to describe Port Land Grille, a place that has enjoyed a long-standing reputation for its outstanding cuisine and warm hospitality since opening its doors in 2000. That is a long time in the restaurant business!

Inspired by a trip to Portland, Oregon, acclaimed Chef Shawn Wellersdick, and his wife Anne Steketee desired to bring to Wilmington some of what was considered progressive back then: the farm-to-table cuisine scene that they had experienced in the Pacific Northwest. When Port Land Grille - a play on the words “sea” and “land,” as well as a nod to Wilmington’s moniker “Port City,” one of the largest port cities in the South - opened, it set the standard for haute cuisine and became a pivotal force in the city’s culinary culture, pioneering a focus on local ingredients that is now standard among fine-dining establishments.

Tucked inside Lumina Station, a shopping mall modeled after the Lumina Hotel on Wrightsville Beach, Port Land Grille’s stylish decor, with its plush furnishings, dim lighting, and understated luxury – down to the white tablecloths and crisp, white jacketed waiters – combines refined elegance with an old-fashioned southern charm. Whether you are dining in the main dining room or enjoying cocktails on the spacious outdoor patio, every corner of Port Land Grille exudes an aura of culinary excellence. The staff were perhaps the most attentive, knowledgeable, and genuinely passionate about providing an exceptional dining experience that we encountered while in the seaside town.

Any meal here should start with the restaurant’s famous “redneck” egg rolls, featuring pulled pork BBQ, southern style collard greens, and a sweet and sour peach-ginger dipping sauce. Then, take your pick of From the Sea (Chilean Sea Bass), From Land (Slow Cooked Short Ribs) or From the Wood Burning Grille (USDA Angus Beef Porterhouse Steak). Each dish, inspired by seasonal ingredients is executed to tantalize and satisfy the most discerning palate.

Sadly, Chef Shawn Wellersdick passed away in 2022 at the young age of 49, but his legacy continues with Anne now at the helm. He is remembered for shaping the Wilmington food scene and putting Wilmington on the culinary map.

Over the years, Port Land Grille has garnered both regional and national attention and recognition, cementing it as a respected Wilmington gastronomic institution.


Set along the picturesque Riverwalk in historic downtown Wilmington, The Pilot House, built in the Greek Revival-style, delivers on two things: great seafood and fabulous location. This smart but laidback restaurant with a stunning Cape River water view has a history that goes way back.

The story of The Pilot House begins with William Edward Craig, a wooden barrel maker, who constructed the original building as a residence in 1870. In 1977, the house was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Wright Jr. and moved from Wooster Street to its present location along the historic Chandler's Wharf about a mile away. In May 1978, the Wrights unveiled The Pilot House, a forward-thinking eatery that prominently featured coastal comfort food spiked with Cajun flavor and a Southern flair.

From classic regional favorites like shrimp and grits, to creative seafood dishes and mouth watering steaks, the menu celebrates the flavors of the South while incorporating fresh, locally sourced ingredients. And while the best seats are out on the expansive outdoor patio with unadulterated views of the tranquil river, it doesn't really matter where you sit as every corner of The Pilot House offers a front-row seat to the beauty of Wilmington's waterfront.

Whether you are enjoying a meal with loved ones, sipping on a cocktail while watching the sunset over the river, or simply soaking in the rich history and charm of the waterfront, dining at The Pilot House is an experience that captures the essence of Wilmington's maritime heritage and leaves a lasting impression on all who visit.

If you are in the mood for a much more laid-back vibe, Wilmington has a number of great spots that will provide you with the dining experience you desire but with a slightly less formal setting.


This hidden gem beckons diners on a tantalizing journey through vibrant and diverse tastes. From the moment you arrive, the restaurant's vibrant décor, with its colorful murals and mellow, breezy coastal feel, transports you to the bustling streets of Central America and beyond.

Drawing inspiration from his upbringing in Panama spent fishing with his father, owner and Executive Chef Hunter Tiblier honors his childhood and home by bringing the bold flavors and colors of Panama cuisine to Wilmington. The menu boasts an array of traditional Panamanian dishes, each bursting with piquancy and made with the freshest ingredients. Whether you are indulging in a classic El Quatro Ceviche, savoring the succulent flavors of a Chorizo with Goat Cheese Empanada, or delighting in the spice-infused aromas of a Blackened Mahi Mahi Taco, every bite is a celebration of Latin culinary heritage.

Seasoned aficionado of Latin cuisine or simply looking to expand your culinary horizons? A visit to Ceviche is recommended.


Perched a short distance from the banks of the Cape Fear River, Michael's on the Waterfront offers a relaxed atmosphere that invites you to unwind and savor the moment. The best seats, of course, are on the streetside patio where the natural beauty of the waterway is in view and where you can watch the historic ambiance of Wilmington's cobbled streets unfold, horse drawn carriages and all.

Michael Lavigna, a restaurateur from New York, opened Michael’s on the Waterfront in 2020 in a building that has a story to tell. The space dates back to at least 1830, and legend has it that it has served various purposes, including as a slave warehouse pre–Civil War, as storage for many businesses and, in the 2000s, it served as home to several restaurants.

If a delightful meal and relaxed drink is what you are in the mood for, Michael’s on the Waterfront offers a variety of craft beers on tap from both Wilmington and all across North Carolina. Truly wonderful stuff.


A shared love of craft beer and a dream of creating a community gathering place led Jud Watkins, a third-generation fisherman and longtime home brewer, and his wife Amber, to open Wrightsville Beach Brewery, a 20-barrel brewing facility, in 2017. A fierce vision of growing the culture of local beer and pushing the boundaries of brewing innovation – coupled with a passion for building community – has set Wrightsville Beach Brewery as a shining example of what a craft brewery should be: a place where quality, community, and creativity come together to create an unforgettable experience.

From the moment you step inside you are greeted by the inviting aroma of hops, barley, and the sound of laughter and conversation. The brewery's spacious taproom, with its rustic-chic décor and welcoming atmosphere, invites you to relax and unwind as you savor a pint of handcrafted beer made with care and precision. Whether you prefer hoppy IPAs, rich stouts, or crisp lagers, there is something on tap to satisfy every palate. And not only is the beer a specialty, but their menu features an array of savory entrees like Fish Tacos and a vast selection of Pizzas. Enjoy a low-key dining experience while sitting indoors or at a picnic table outdoors.

One remarkable aspect of Wrightsville Beach Brewery is its strong sense of community, where the brewery donates 11% of proceeds from their revolving “Beer of the Month” to one of the 11 local non-profit organizations that they have partnered with on a rotating basis. Whether you are a beer aficionado or a casual drinker, a visit to Wrightsville Beach Brewery is sure to leave you with a smile on your face and a newfound appreciation for the art of brewing.


The Cameron Art Museum traces its roots back to the early 1960s when a group of dedicated artists and community leaders envisioned a space where the rich artistic heritage of North Carolina could be celebrated and preserved for future generations. Set within the museum's picturesque nine-acre campus is the CAM Cafe.

The museum’s sleek, modern architecture with its clean lines and minimalist design, and a vibrant art collection, serves as the perfect backdrop for this culinary gem. Whether you are seated indoors amidst the striking artwork, or enjoying al fresco dining on the patio surrounded by lush greenery, CAM Cafe offers a truly peaceful dining experience.

The menu showcases a fusion of culinary delights, all inspired by local ingredients. From inventive small plates and hearty salads to decadent entrees – the Shrimp and Crab Roll and CAM Classic Chicken Salad Croissant are a must-try – and delectable desserts, each dish is tasty and satisfying.

Whether you are a museum patron looking for a post-gallery bite or a food enthusiast seeking a unique culinary adventure, time spent here is sure to leave you inspired with plenty of good vibes.

From its historic downtown, which boasts of beautifully preserved architecture; its stunning beaches, including Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, and Kure Beach; its fascinating historic sites such as the USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial, Bellamy Mansion Museum, and Airlie Gardens; to its family-friendly attractions such as the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, Wilmington, North Carolina, offers a diverse range of attractions and experiences that make it a fantastic destination to visit as a couple or a family.

Above all, Wilmington is known for its warm Southern hospitality and friendly locals. Whether you are exploring historic sites, dining at a terrific local restaurant, or enjoying the variety of outdoor activities available, you will be welcomed with open arms and treated like family.

USS Battleship North Carolina
Downtown Wilmington, Riverfront
Downtown Wilmington, Corner of Front & Princess Street
Wilmington Riverwalk
United States Colored Troops Sculpture at CAM
North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher
Wrightsville Beach
Wilmington Riverwalk
Scenic Carolina Beach
Cape Fear Shoals Exhibit at NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher


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