1 Day Itinerary for a Raleigh to Wrightsville Beach Trip

Now that we live in Raleigh permanently, a Raleigh to Wrightsville Beach road trip is one of our favorite getaways, along with the Outer Banks.

If you’re looking for things to do in Wrightsville Beach, down below we share our tips for a one day itinerary on what to do in Wrightsville Beach plus suggestions on where to get good coffee, eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, where to park, and more!

Wrightsville Beach, NC
Crystal Pier, Wrightsville Beach

Considering we grew up in Australia by the beach and have traveled extensively around the USA, we think we know a good beach town when we see one.

So if you’re looking for a beach break, take it from us when we say Wrightsville Beach is one of the best places to visit in North Carolina, and one of our favorite beaches in America. 

What is Wrightsville Beach known for?

Wrightsville Beach, NC
Beach time at Wrightsville

Laid back coastal living, miles of pristine beach and endless water activities such as swimming, body boarding, kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, boating, and surf culture – yep, Wrightsville Beach is recognized as the birthplace of surfing in North Carolina! 

Throw in the laid back community vibe, delicious local food, stunning sunrises and sunsets, and it’s incredible location.

Wrightsville Beach is situated on a barrier island only 4-miles long and a couple of strides wide. 

Wrightsville Beach and the sound behind it
Wrightsville Beach and the sound behind it

On one side you have the Atlantic Ocean which offers you a wild, rugged experience to hit the waves.

On the other side lies the tranquility of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway – miles of open sound water and narrow channels bordered by marshes, swamps, and small islands and a perfect spot for a paddle. 

It’s not over-developed like Myrtle Beach, so If you’re looking for family-friendly beaches in North Carolina, look no further, and this place is a year-round destination.

How far is Wrightsville Beach?

Beautiful Wrightsville Beach, NC
Beautiful Wrightsville Beach

Raleigh to Wrightsville Beach is a 2-hour drive (132 miles) straight down I-40 E.

If you’re wondering what is the closest beach to Raleigh NC, this is it. And it’s one of the beaches near Wilmington NC (12-miles from downtown).

In my opinion, there’s not much to see between Raleigh and Wrightsville Beach so we like to drive straight through, stopping only for a bathroom break. 

What To Do In Wrightsville Beach

Sunrise

Sunrise at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Sunrise overlooking Johnny Mercers Pier in the distance

If you’re a real early bird, the sunrises in Wrightsville NC are spectacular. Just go anywhere along the beachfront, or even walk out on Crystal Pier and then you’re right near our fave coffee spot (see down below). 

We’ve seen plenty of sunrises here during extended overnight stays in Wrightsville (our favorite place to stay is Blockade Runner Beach Resort). 

Beautiful Wrightsville Beach
Sunrise from our room at Blockade Runner Beach Resort
blockade runner beach resort wrightsville beach nc 2 1
Watching sunrise on Wrightsville Beach

But on a day trip and leaving from Raleigh in the morning, I know it means getting up super early –  just imagine how quiet the drive would be, and how easy it is to get a parking spot.

Wrightsville is super tough for parking on weekends in the warmer months, more on that down below.

Coffee: SUNdays Cafe

SUNdays Cafe, Wrightsville Beach, NC
SUNdays Cafe

On a day trip from Raleigh, we like to leave no later than 7am which gets us there by 9am to make the most of our time, and we head straight to our favorite coffee spot in Wrightsville, SUNdays Cafe

Located above South End Surf Shop and opposite the Oceanic Restaurant at Crystal Pier, SUNdays reminds us so much of Australia.

It’s a cool laid-back cafe with surfing vibes and memorabilia, locals chatting to one another, and really good coffee, the best coffee in Wrightsville Beach we found.

This is a real community spot with comfy couches, some bar stools, and bigger communal tables. 

SUNdays Surf Cafe, Wrightsville Beach
Latte and acai bowl

They have a full espresso bar (we like their lattes), our kids love their shakes, they have smoothies, acai bowls, and muffins. And, if you come back later on they also serve draft beer and wine. 

SUNDays Cafe, Wrightsville Beach
Our kids love their shakes!

So, if you’re ok with coffee and an acai bowl for breakfast, you can get it all here, otherwise follow our breakfast advice down below!

One you’ve had your coffee, walk across the street and walk out on Crystal Pier for a lovely view of the beachfront and horizon. 

Other coffee shops in Wrightsville include Adapt Kitchen & Juice Bar (our pick for breakfast), The Workshop and Cafe Del Mar

Breakfast: Adapt Kitchen & Juice Bar

Adapt Kitchen and Juice Bar, Wrightsville Beach, NC
Colorful bowls at Adapt

If you’re looking for a healthy start to the day, head to Adapt Kitchen and Juice Bar who serve up the best breakfast in Wrightsville Beach for the health conscious! 

Locally owned and located inside the famous Robert’s Grocery, here you will find the tastiest, most colorful and nutritiously dense breakfast bowls ever. 

We’ve had plenty of smoothie type bowls on our travels, but these are up there with the best. 

We also highly recommend their Eh Brah!vo Smash (smashed avocado on toast with feta and sunflower seeds).

wrightsville beach restaurants

Also on the menu is Adaptogenic Superfood Smoothies, Artisan-style Toasts, Signature Poke Bowls, Organic Wellness Shots, Organic Fresh Juices, Organic Teas & Health Elixirs, Organic Coffee & Espresso Drinks, and baked goods.

It’s a small place and not really a cafe you can sit down in and eat – there’s four beach chairs and a window high top so you might get lucky. 

But the food is top notch. The coffee is good, but we still prefer SUNdays. 

Other options for breakfast include the before mentioned Workshop who serve toasts, sandwiches, smoothies and signature coffees. 

Or the popular Sweet n Savory Cafe (we haven’t been here yet).

Morning Kayak or Paddle Boarding

Kayaking in Wrightsville Beach. NC
With Jarrod from WrightsvilleSUP

One of our favorite things to do in Wrightsville Beach NC is go kayaking or stand up paddle boarding on the Intracoastal Waterway. 

The waterways are just so beautiful, calming and inviting. 

Morning time is usually the best time for this as it’s typically less windy, and you avoid the main rush at the beach and the challenging parking situation.

People tend to start leaving the beach after lunch meaning it’s easier to park, and it’s the hottest part of the day for a swim and in the afternoons we just want to relax with beach time, and our kids are usually too tired to go paddling. 

But, I’ll leave this up to you whether you go paddling or have beach time in the morning or vice versa!

Either way, don’t just visit Wrightsville to experience ocean activities, as we think the Intracoastal Waterway is magical and what makes Wrightsville extra special. 

Kayaking in Wrightsville Beach, NC

You can self kayak or paddle board the many different channels of the waterways. 

However, we recently took a guided kayaking tour through the salt marshes with Wrightsville SUP, who also do paddle boarding, and it was fantastic!

Having a knowledgeable local guide allows you to learn more about the waterways and the delicate and diverse ecosystem.

Plus a guide knows the best channels to explore and how to navigate them and took us to spots we never would have found ourselves and pointed out the abundance of oysters, osprey and other birds flying overhead.

Kayaking in Wrightsville beach, NC

It was a windy day so we decided to kayak instead of paddle board, but on our next visit we hope to go paddle boarding.

You can also rent kayaks and paddleboards from WrightsvilleSup if you want to go out on your own. And they also offer lessons and other fun things to do in Wrightsville Beach like SUP yoga, nighttime paddles, and outrigger canoes.

Tell the owner, Jarrod, that the Aussies Craig and Caroline from yTravelBlog.com sent you his way! 

You can also rent paddle boards and kayaks from Blockade Runner Beach Resort, and we paddled in the sound in front of the resort when staying there, which was fantastic.

blockade runner beach resort wrightsville beach nc 1 3
Paddle boarding on the sound side in front of Blockade Runner Resort.

Lunch: Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill

Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill

Now that you’ve had some gentle exercise, it’s time to dig into some delicious lunch before you hit the beach for the afternoon!

One of the most recommended places to eat in Wrightsville Beach by the locals and our online community is Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill. And we agree that it’s one of the best Wrightsville Beach restaurants, especially if you love Mexican!

Located just over the S Banks Channel Bridge as you come into Wrightsville, this place is named after a lifeguard tower, Tower 7, on the Pacific Coast that became a hidden local favorite surf break.

We recommend a serving of guacamole (delicious), some fish tacos, and a frozen margarita! Our veggie tostada was delicious too.

Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill

They have a large menu of options to choose from including all the traditional dishes such as Burritos, Fajitas, Ensaladas, Quesadillas, Enchiladas and Tacos. 

Plus a family style menu and great kids menu!

Tower 7 makes for the perfect complement to sunny beach days in Wrightsville. Oh, and if you need any last minute beach gear before you hit the sand, pop over the street to Wings Beachwear.

Here’s a few lunch alternatives…

Shark Bar and Kitchen

Shark Bar and Kitchen, Wrightsville Beach, NC

We also enjoyed eating lunch at Shark Bar and Kitchen, a converted dive bar that’s now a nicely renovated two-story restaurant and bar.

This is a casual dining experience and they serve up locally and sustainably sourced seafood, meats and produce, as well as burgers, sandwiches and salads.

And you’re located right near Johnny Mercer’s Pier (see below), but no beach views!

Poe’s Tavern

Poe's Tavern, Wrightsville Beach
Burger at Poe’s

Named after celebrated author Edgar Allan Poe, Poe’s Tavern is well known for its excellent craft brew selection and a menu full of burgers, tacos and salad options.

Located just east of the Intracoastal Waterway on south Harbor Island. 

Beach Time at Crystal Pier or Johnnie Mercers Fishing Pier

Things to do in Wrightsville Beach, NC
Crystal Pier at the south end

Ok, the main reason you’re probably doing a Raleigh to Wrightsville Beach drive is for some actual beach time! Now it’s time to spend the whole afternoon on the beach!

Two miles of beautiful beachfront separates Crystal Pier at the South End and Johnnie Mercers Fishing Pier at the northern end of the beach.

Johnny Mercers Fishing Pier
Johnnie Mercers Fishing Pier

We’ve hung out at both ends, but let me give you a quick rundown about each option. If carting all your stuff onto the beach and finding parking wasn’t so challenging, you could split your time. 

But with limited time I’d say choose one end or the other, or somewhere in the middle.

Crystal Pier

Crystal Pier, Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Crystal Pier

Stretching 475 feet into the Atlantic Ocean, Crystal Pier is a free walking or fishing pier (no cost to walk on like Johnny Mercers).

It’s the only wooden pier in Wrightsville Beach, originally built in 1939 and restored in 2013.

Oceanic Restaurant on the pier is known for its spectacular ocean views and one of the few restaurants in Wrightsville Beach situated on the Atlantic Ocean.

Crystal Pier, Wrightsville Beach
View from Crystal Pier
Crystal Pier, Wrightsville Beach
View from Crystal Pier

It offers dining and a large section of covered outdoor dining (popular for semi-casual lunches with a heavy focus on seafood), and live music (6-9 p.m. every Wednesday and 7-10 p.m. every Friday April-October).

HOT TIP: 

We haven’t eaten at Oceanic yet, but apparently you’ll get seated more quickly if you arrive at noon for an early lunch or before 6 p.m. for an early dinner. On Sundays their brunch starts at 10 a.m., be an early bird.

And there’s the Pier Bar about half way out on the pier – a great place for evening sunset drinks!

Bar on Crystal Pier - nice spot for sunset drinks
Bar on Crystal Pier – nice spot for sunset drinks

As mentioned, Crystal Pier is across the road from our fave coffee spot, and it’s a great family area to hangout and enjoy the sun and beach, watch the surfers, and enjoy the community surrounding it.

Wrightsville Beach, NC
Relaxing under our Sun Ninja tent

We just returned from a Raleigh to Wrightsville Beach day trip on Sunday (August 2020) and loved our time on the beach here under our new SUN NINJA Pop Up Beach Tent whilst our kids rode their body boards.

Wrightsville beach, NC
Our kids body boarding

Johnnie Mercers Fishing Pier

Johnny Mercers Fishing Pier
View from Johnny Mercers Fishing Pier

This is the first concrete fishing pier in the state of North Carolina, and the main Wrightsville Beach fishing pier.

It’s located in the heart of Wrightsville Beach, and you’re  a 1-minute walk from Shark Bark and Kitchen and closer to the downtown Wrightsville Beach area.

The pier extends 1200 feet into the Atlantic Ocean, and walking out on it is something you must do at least once when you visit Wrightsville Beach ($2 per adult, $1 for kids). 

Here you’ll also find a tackle shop, seasonal snack bar, and full bathrooms. 

Johnny Mercers Fishing Pier

As for the beach, spend your time either swimming, body boarding, surfing, collecting shells with your kids, or reading a book.

Just relax, unwind, and soak it all up. This is what you’ve worked hard all week for!

Wrightsville is one of the best beaches in North Carolina for families, so if you have young kids don’t forget all your beach toys!

Can You Take Dogs on Wrightsville Beach?

Dogs are allowed on a leash on the beach from Oct 1st — March 31st. No pets are allowed on the beach strand from April 1 through September 30.

Your pet must always be on a leash, you are required to clean up after your pet and dispose of pet waste in available trash cans. Read more here

Dinner: Ceviche’s

Hello, the taste of Panama, I now want to visit.

Ceviche’s is our favorite of the restaurants in Wrightsville Beach, and the most recommended of things to do in Wrightsville Beach by the locals.

From the first sip of our rum cocktail and bite of our calamari, we fell in love with this restaurant. 

Ceviche’s

Here you can enjoy the tastes of Panama at this cozy Latin-American restaurant with a bar made of reclaimed wood straight from Panama.

Located just over the drawbridge as you drive into the town of Wrightsville, it doesn’t look like much from the outside, but when you walk in the door the small bar area opens up to another dining area, which opens up to another small dining area and an outside covered patio. 

After our appetizers of calamari and the brussel sprouts, we enjoyed an explosion of fresh, spicy and flavorful dishes.

As long-time calamari fans from growing up by the ocean in Australia, we were thrilled to see it coated in gluten-free flour, making it available to us to eat.

Ceviche’s uses taro flour for their meals, a Panamanian favorite that gives battered food an extra crunch.

Ceviche’s

For mains we both had the fish specials.

We loved the Latin American décor and vibe of this restaurant, and the service was attentive and friendly. 

As for our kids, their Spanish beignets were their favorite (memories of beignets from New Orleans) and we enjoyed our Ancho Chocolate Pot De Crème dessert.

Ceviche’s

Dinner alternative…

South Beach Grill

South Beach Grill

South Beach Grill is located near the heart of Wrightsville Beach inside what was once the first and only bank in Wrightsville Beach. 

Notice the small bar as you walk in, it was where the drive through ATM and bank vault used to be.

Here you can eat Southern-inspired, coastal North Carolina dishes that are locally sourced from both land and sea. 

It’s a local hotspot and offers sunset views of Banks Channel – soak it up with dinner on the outside covered patio.

Plenty of choices for the kids too!

Sunset

Sunset, Wrightsville Beach, NC

I know, it’s been a long day and you have to drive home, but if you’re willing to hang around for sunset it can be worth it. 

Head down to the very South End of Wrightsville Beach. Bring a cooler and snacks if you wish to make it an extra special event.

Video Highlights of Wrightsville Beach

Parking at Wrightsville Beach

The Wrightsville Beach parking situation is very challenging!

For example, we made the mistake of visiting Wrightsville on a Sunday in the middle of the peak summer season, and attempting to park at the beach around 10am.

75-minutes later I was still doing laps up and down trying to find a park – it was a stressful start to the day that was supposed to be relaxing. 

So if you plan to hit up the beach before lunch time, don’t do what we did and go chill out at SUNdays Cafe for an hour or two before securing a parking spot near the beach – get your beach parking spot first then walk to SUNdays!

On a summer’s weekend, I would suggest getting to the Wrightsville Beach area no later than 9am. 

The town of Wrightsville Beach has over 1,600 metered spaces available for public parking that are enforced every day from March 1 to October 31 from 9am to 7pm. 

They also use pay stations and a pay-by-phone app for your convenience at some public parking locations. 

For more information about parking locations, payment options, rates and other parking information go here

Wrightsville Beach, NC
View from Crystal Pier

I hope this Raleigh to Wrightsville Beach North Carolina post helps you plan a road trip to one of the best places in North Carolina. 

All you need to do now is packed your beach bag, and your car, and just go! 

Let us know in the comments if you have any questions? Or, let us know what your favorite thing to do there is.

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