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Wilmington, NC: Where Coastal Charm Meets Wellness Oasis

Nurture mind, body, and soul in this historic haven by the sea

Nestled along the southeastern coast of North Carolina, Wilmington stands as a beacon of charm and vitality. What sets it apart is not just its stunning natural beauty, but also its vibrant community—a melting pot of diverse cultures and backgrounds. Often dubbed a city of transplants, Wilmington boasts a population in which very few are truly from there, yet everyone finds a sense of belonging amid its welcoming embrace. This unique dynamic fosters a rich tapestry of experiences, perspectives, and traditions, making Wilmington a city unlike any other.

Wilmington is not only known for its coastal charm but also for being a hub of education and creativity. Boasting a prestigious university, it serves as a center for academic excellence and innovation. Additionally, Wilmington has carved out a niche in the film industry, earning the moniker “Hollywood East.” With its state-of-the-art studios and diverse filming locations, the city thrives as a bustling center of cinematic production, attracting filmmakers and artists from far and wide.

You may recognize Wilmington as the backdrop for several beloved television series. From serving as the fictional Cousins Beach in “The Summer I Turned Pretty” to the iconic Tree Hill in “One Tree Hill” and the nostalgic Capeside in “Dawson’s Creek,” Wilmington has captured the hearts of viewers worldwide with its picturesque charm and captivating storytelling. These iconic settings have not only put Wilmington on the map but have also immortalized its beauty in the hearts of fans around the globe.

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A highlight of Airlie Gardens is its stunning live oak trees.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Wilmington, where I discovered a treasure trove of wellness offerings nestled amid its picturesque setting. From strolling through the serene beauty of Airlie Gardens, featuring majestic live oaks and vibrant flora, to enjoying an invigorating bike ride along the island beaches, I found a rejuvenating escape, where each breath of salty sea air and each step left me feeling deeply connected to the healing power of the natural world. As I strolled along the sandy shores, I stumbled upon a unique gem: the Wrightsville Beach Mailbox. This local landmark, perched on the beach, has become a beloved destination, where locals and visitors can anonymously share their wishes, secrets, and heartfelt messages with others, adding a touch of magic to this coastal oasis.

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The Wrightsville Beach Mailbox is a popular attraction where visitors can share wishes or heartfelt sentiments.

I had the pleasure of staying at Blockade Runner Beach Resort, where I couldn’t help but feel the weight of its storied history as a beacon of beachfront hospitality. For nearly 60 years, this iconic establishment has welcomed guests to Wrightsville Beach, building upon a legacy that traces back to the late 1800s. From its origins as the Seashore Hotel to the grandeur of the Ocean Terrace Hotel in the roaring ’20s, the hotel has been welcoming families for nearly 150 years. While it’s true that the Blockade Runner has seen better days, with the passage of time evident in its aging infrastructure, there’s a sense of anticipation in the air—a promise of renewal on the horizon. In the coming year, the resort is slated for a much-needed refresh, ensuring that future guests will continue to experience the warmth and hospitality that have defined this coastal gem for generations.

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Blockade Runner features an inviting oceanfront lawn with lounge areas, lawn games, a fire pit, and more.

With its oceanfront setting, the resort offers the best prescription for wellness, allowing guests to unwind and recharge, surrounded by the soothing sounds of the sea. There is also an array of amenities designed to rejuvenate both body and mind. From in-room massages to workouts in the fitness center to relaxing in the hot tub or sauna, an abundance of self-care opportunities is available. The tranquil seaside gardens provide the perfect setting for on-site yoga sessions. For the more adventurous, the resort offers a myriad of outdoor activities, including paddleboarding, surfing, sailing, and more, ensuring that there is never a dull moment. I especially loved a birding cruise with Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours.

In Wrightsville Beach, it’s easy to dine on fresh seafood, as coastal cuisine reigns supreme. From the mouthwatering options at South Beach Grill to the beautiful views of the Intracoastal Waterway at Bluewater Grill, you’ll find a celebration of the region’s flavors. For breakfast, you don’t want to miss The Workshop, just a quick block from the hotel. There, you’ll find a variety of breakfast sandwiches and healthy smoothies. One of my favorite meals was at nearby Ceviche’s, serving up Panamanian-inspired seafood delights.

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Dreamers by DW features an inspired boho-chic design.

Upon leaving the Blockade Runner, I found myself trading the calming rhythm of the waves for the charming and quaint streets of downtown Wilmington. Settling into Dreamers by DW, a design-focused boutique hotel in a restored Victorian home, I discovered a newfound sense of enchantment. The hotel was founded by real estate entrepreneur Stephan Watts and artist Roy Delgado. Upon meeting, they discovered a mutual passion for curating distinctive designer rentals in picturesque destinations. The stunning hotel, serving a daily vegan breakfast, is adorned with captivating artwork, inviting textures, and intricate details. Nestled in the heart of historic Wilmington, Dreamers provided the ideal launching point to explore the city’s cobblestone streets, legendary landmarks, and vibrant cultural scene.

To get the lay of the land, I first headed to the riverfront for an Eagles Island Cruise with Wilmington Water Tours, where I learned about rice plantations, shipwrecks, and more. I followed that tour with the Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tour, an enlightening culinary journey involving a glimpse into the city’s rich food scene with various stops at local establishments for sips and small bites. Aside from this gastronomic adventure, I also had the opportunity to dine at DramYard, which features Southern coastal flavors, and the extraordinary Seabird, helmed by Dean Neff, a 2024 James Beard Foundation finalist for “Outstanding Chef” and his wife, award-winning pastry chef, Lydia Clopton. And my timing couldn’t have been better, as I was able to attend the first of four Feast Wilmington Craft + Cuisine Events scheduled for 2024. The festival features immersive chef tables and specialty drinks paired with live music by the riverfront at Live Oak Bank Pavilion.

Wanting to embrace more of Wilmington’s wellness offerings, I began one day with a private porch yoga session with instructor Alexis Abatte, who teaches classes at Terra Sol, a beautiful light-filled studio set in a former church. Later that same day, my partner and I indulged in a restorative couples massage at Shine on Massage Therapy, located in the historic Murchison Building.

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Downtown Wilmington is full of charm thanks to its historic houses and brick sidewalks.

Because no trip to Wilmington is complete without a deep dive into its rich history, Wilmington Walking Tours offer an immersive journey through time. As I embarked on one of these enlightening excursions, I found myself captivated by the extraordinary stories that surround this coastal city. From its humble beginnings as a colonial port city to its pivotal role in the Civil War and Civil Rights Movement, Wilmington’s evolution is a testament to its resilience and transformation. The tour provided a fascinating glimpse into the city’s architectural landmarks, cultural heritage, and notable figures who shaped its identity. With its profound historical significance and vibrant present-day culture, Wilmington emerges not only as a captivating destination for history buffs but also wellness enthusiasts seeking a harmonious blend of mind, body, and spirit amid the backdrop of its storied past, coastal cuisine, and scenic beauty.

About The Author
Heather-Mikesell-author-1

Heather, co-founder of Well Defined and the former editor-in-chief of American Spa, is an award-winning journalist and content strategist, skilled in writing, copyediting, and media relations. She is also a freelance writer and has contributed to Elite Traveler, Islands, Kiwi, Luxury Travel Advisor, Organic Spa, Porthole Cruise, Travel Agent, abcnews.com, jetsetter.com, outside.com, and wellandgood.com, in addition to various custom publications. She is frequently called upon to comment on various spa and wellness trends for various media outlets.