What do you get when you take one hip little port town and add three barrier-island beaches? North Carolina's upstart coastal star.

By Tracey Minkin

One of the very best things about a weekend in Wilmington, North Carolina, is that you can combine beach fun with city fun on any given day. HBO producer (and local) Dana Brancato shares her top 10 ways to get the most out of your precious getaway hours.

1. Hot Start
Greet the morning sun over the Atlantic at Wrightsville Beach with locally roasted coffee and acai bowls at SUNdays Surf Cafe (pictured below).

Latte and acai bowl at SUNdays Surf Cafe
Photo: Dana Brancato

Latte and acai bowl at SUNdays Surf Cafe; Photo: Dana Brancato

2. Power Lunch
Where do you begin at Ceviche's? Small plates of Panama-inspired seafood dishes, or a round of passion fruit–fueled cocktails? Either way, this Wrightsville Beach find is your new endless summer.

3. Guilty Pleasure
Didn't bring the kids? You can be one yourself on a Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours pirate treasure hunt with Don Juan Cortez, who boats you to secluded Masonboro Island to dig for booty.

4. Sweet Grab
Christian Nye was doing gorgeously crafted ice-cream sandwiches long before the world caught on. His Nye's Cream Sandwiches remain the ideal; find them at local markets or make a day trip out to the scoop shop on Bald Head Island.

Cooking beachside with Surf House
Photo: Lindsey A. Miller Photography

Cooking beachside with Surf House; Photo: Lindsey A. Miller Photography

5. Night at the Beach
Head to Carolina Beach for an epic doubleheader: Start with rum drinks at Ocean Grill and Tiki Bar's open-air joint on Center Pier. Then order an ample platter of righteously fresh oysters at Surf House Oyster Bar & Surf Camp.

6. Night in Town
Wilmington's downtown is building some serious culinary cred. Peak pairing? Superbly crafted cocktails at manna (the handmade bitters are a thing of beauty), followed by bravura takes on local seafood from Dean Neff at PinPoint Restaurant.

Wilmington's historic, hopping riverfront
Photo: Wilmington And Beaches CVB


Wilmington's historic, hopping riverfront; Photo: Wilmington And Beaches CVB

7. Best Souvenir
Audrey Longtin crafts minimalist jewelry with locally collected shark's teeth at The Workshop in Wrightsville Beach.

8. Smart Shop
Score sophisticated boho beach looks and bangles at Hallelu, Catherine Yearwood's laid-back but sophisticated little boutique in Wrightsville Beach.

9. Dream Dives
Fans of Eastbound & Down, the cult HBO comedy filmed in Wilmington, will make a pilgrimage to the real Shh-Booms: Blue Post Billiards. Fans of ramshackle-perfect beach bars should head to The Fat Pelican at Carolina Beach.

Related: Tour This Luxe Wilmington Apartment:

10. Beach House Hack
Treat your crew to a traditional North Carolina shrimp boil with Cape Fear Boil Company. You ice the beer, and they'll take care of the rest, from corn on the cob to shrimp, andouille sausage, and Red Bliss potatoes. And you're host of the year.

Blockade Runner Beach Resort in Wrightsville Beach
Photo: C2 Photography

CHECK IN
With beaches this beautiful, you have to begin and end your days on the sand. Do it up in retro style at the recently redone Blockade Runner Beach Resort on Wrightsville Beach. There's a lot to love: a classic swimming pool, a restaurant helmed by Hell's Kitchen finalist Jessica Cabo, and a coastal adventure program. Rates start at $125.