By Guest Blogger Kristen Bagwell

Officially, Wilmington is a port city in and is the county seat of New Hanover County. Unofficially, it’s one of the coolest day trip spots in NC. It’s also the home of UNC-Wilmington (obviously), so if you have older kids, the college campus and gear may be part of the attraction. Simply hop on I-40 and head east for about 2 hours. When you get close, instead of turning onto a beach road, stay on I-40/ US 17 into town. You’ll see historic architecture start popping up around you as you go.

I like to begin at the USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial earlier in the day because it can be a bit stuffy in the heat of the day. The Battleship was active during World War II in the Pacific Theatre, one of ten ships of her kind and considered to be the greatest sea weapon in history thus far. The ship was decommissioned in 1947 and nearly was scrapped in 1958. Citizens of NC raised funds via the Save Our Ship campaign (SOS) and USS North Carolina was returned home in 1961, where she has remained ever since.

The kids will love touring the ship and seeing all of the cool gadgets, compartments, sleeping quarters, (unarmed) weaponry and ship controls, and more. The tour is self-guided and experts recommend planning 2 hours. To get there, follow I-40 East towards Wilmington. Take exit 416A (I-140/US 17 South) towards Myrtle Beach. Take the Battleship Memorial/ Wilmington exit, at the end of the off ramp, bear right onto US 421 South to follow the Battleship Memorial signs.

After your Battleship visit, you’ll surely be ready for lunch. Retrace your steps back to US 17 and head into downtown. Wilmington is situated along the Cape Fear River, and the Riverwalk offers tons of shopping and dining options. One of my all-time favorites is Elijahs, right on the water and with outside seating. Kid-friendly, very casual, and delicious – what more could you want? Elijah’s, along with other riverfront properties, is located on Ann Street (off 3rd Street, where Market dead-ends). After lunch, stroll the Riverwalk or enjoy nearby Riverfront Park. We also love Front Street Brewery, which is not too far away. You can take a walking tour of Old Wilmington, starting at the corner of Market and Water Streets. Purchase tickets and learn more about what you’ll see here.

In this general area, at the corner of Ann and Water Streets, is Chandler’s Wharf. This is an historic building that originally housed ship chandler’s offices and later, a maritime museum, before it was converted into shops and dining in the late 1980s. Crafts, art galleries, clothing and antiques are some of the items you’ll find along these cobbled streets; there is truly something for everyone. There’s also the Cotton Exchange, a collection of buildings that were originally used for imports, exports and trade. Today it houses over 30 shops and restaurants, and is not far from Chandler’s Wharf and the Riverwalk…just a few blocks north on Front Street.

For moms only…on your way back to Market Street, send the kids to Riverfront Park on Market and hit the in-town location ofIsland Passage, one of my favorite boutiques and just up from the park. They have great clothing and accessories at very reasonable prices, and the sale areas are always outstanding. As you make your way back to I-40 from Market, keep an eye out for interesting shops and snacks along the way.

This itinerary is one of my ideal Wilmington day-long visits. If you want to stay for the weekend, check out the website below, or definitely scoot on over to Wrightsville Beach! One of the best websites about this area is – it gives info about Wilmington, as well as Wrightsville, Carolina, and Kure beaches. Check it out!