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The charming town of Wilson, NC, is located less than an hour away from Raleigh. You may even pass through it on your way to the coast.
If so, be sure to stop and check out Whirligig Park, Lake Wilson, the brewery scene, and the fantastic restaurants!
Or, plan an overnight trip from Raleigh. That’s what my husband and I did and we loved finding all the fun and unique spots in Wilson.
The following are my top picks for things to do, restaurants to eat at, and places to stay in Wilson, NC.
I hope you get a chance to visit!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Best Things To Do In Wilson, NC
1 – Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park & Museum
Whirligig Park is one of the top attractions in Wilson, NC, showcasing 30 whirligigs.
A whirligig is a giant kinetic sculpture made from recycled industrial parts.
A farm machinery repairman, Vollis Simpson, created these unique works of art on his family farm just outside of Wilson. He worked on his sculptures seven days a week until right before he died at age 94.
Things to know before you go:
- The park is free.
- Dogs are allowed.
- You can rent the park.
- There’s a Farmer’s and Artisan Market at the park on Saturdays from spring through fall.
- There are bands, beer, and food trucks on Saturday evenings at certain times of the year.
- The park is within walking distance of Casita Brewing Company, Ruckus & Redemption, Imagination Station, and Treat Yo’ Self Bakery.
2 – Wilson Botanical Gardens
This small garden is a gem in Wilson and features various beautiful flowers and interesting plants like the Venus Fly Trap and Pitcher Plant.
Children especially love the secret garden, magic tunnel, and raining roof.
Many people come just to enjoy all the delightful spots for photoshoots.
Be sure to come in December when you can enjoy the Winter Lights, or October when there are Halloween Treats.
You can also book a wedding or birthday party here.
Know before you go:
- The gardens are open 365 days a year.
- Public restrooms are only available at certain hours. (Check the website for times.)
3 – Lake Wilson Reservoir
Lake Wilson is the reason my husband and I visited Wilson. We had been told that it was a great spot to kayak or paddleboard.
It did not disappoint. It’s a beautiful lake surrounded by a lovely paved walking trail that’s about 2 miles long.
One of the prettiest things about the lake is the gorgeous bridge that crosses over the water at a spot where you can view the wildlife and wetlands.
We paddled to the back of the lake, under the bridge, around the wetlands, and then up a creek that can take you to Lake Silver if the water is high enough. (It wasn’t for us on this trip, but we’ll be back!)
Know before you go:
- This lake has restrooms, disc golf, picnic tables, a boat launch, and a playground.
4 – Downtown Wilson Walking Tour
When visiting downtown Wilson, you’ll quickly notice the interesting architecture of many of the homes and buildings.
So why not take a historic walking tour to learn more about the area?
Just pick up a map from the visitor’s center.
It includes 54 homes and buildings registered as historic landmarks like the Georgian Revival home that is now Barton College or Planters Bank, which is built in the Classical Revival style.
Know before you go:
- It’s probably too far to walk the tour at once. Try driving to different sections of the tour and walking from there.
- Drive up Nash Street from downtown Wilson and some side roads to see even more interesting homes.
5 – Imagination Station
Imagination Station is a hands-on museum that has live science demonstrations, local history, and exotic animals.
Not to be missed is the Herpetarium, where you can view the daily snake feeding.
Kids will love the rabbits, chinchillas, love birds, warthog, and other animals they’ll get to interact with.
Know before you go:
- Admission is $6.00 a person, while children under 2 are free.
- They have birthday party packages.
- You can bring your own lunch and eat in the lobby area.
6 – Wilson Rose Garden
Wilson Rose Garden is one of the largest public rose gardens in North Carolina.
It has more than 1,000 rose bushes in 60 beds, with more varieties added every year.
The garden includes a beautiful fountain, picnic areas, gazebos, and restrooms.
Know before you go:
- The best time to visit is in May, when the roses are at their peak, but they are still pretty throughout the summer and fall.
- The gardens are a great place for photoshoots, events, and picnics.
7 – The Country Doctor Museum
The Country Doctor Museum is 20 minutes outside of Wilson, but if you’re coming from the Raleigh area, chances are you’ll pass right by it. If so, it’s definitely worth the stop.
We’ve visited several times over the years and have enjoyed seeing the live leeches, old apothecary jars, and learning how doctors would make their own pills.
We love the gift shop where you can purchase old-style wooden toys and other treasures.
Know before you go:
- There is a small admission price.
- Tours are provided every hour, on the hour (and they are worth it).
- No gum, candy, food, or drinks are allowed in the buildings.
8 – Wiggins Mill Reservoir
My husband and I loved stopping here to take pictures of the dam. We hope to come back to Wiggins Mill soon to paddleboard.
They have a dock and a boat launch for non-motorized boats. And it’s also an excellent spot for fishing.
(Update: I’ve been told that even though Google Maps shows a boat launch, it is still hard to get your boat on the water. Please let me a comment if you have tried putting your boat in here.)
I’d suggest picking up lunch at nearby Parker’s BBQ and bringing it here for a picnic.
Best Places to eat In Wilson, NC
10 – La Rancherita Grill & Tequila Bar
We ate at La Rancherita Grill on the recommendation of a local and loved it.
I savored the tender, flavorful Steak Fajitas and my husband enjoyed the Mizcalita Quesadilla which came with a delicious chipotle cream drizzled on top.
To be honest, I didn’t think the beans and rice that came with my dish were flavorful enough, but the Mojito my husband ordered more than made up for that. It was amazing.
- They offer a wonderful and affordable lunch menu.
- They also have locations in Tarboro and Greenville.
11 – Bill’s Grill
Bill’s Grill is a popular place for the locals, especially the policemen and city workers.
They serve American diner fare like hamburgers, sweet potato fries, chicken salad, and hot dogs.
Breakfast is also available, and you can order biscuits, sausage, eggs, bacon, and other comfort food.
- Check their website for the daily specials. On Fridays, for instance, they offer seafood and hushpuppy plates.
- Bill’s Grill is within walking distance of Whirligig Park.
12 – Varee Asian Cafe & Bakery
After hearing several locals talk about how much they love Varee Asian Cafe, I’m dying to come back and try the Thai food here.
Some reviews even claim that it’s the best Asian Cuisine they’ve had in the world, even better than Singapore and other Asian countries.
Guests love the Panang Curry, Ramen, Cashew Chicken, Fried Spring Rolls, Tom Yum, and Pad Prik Kra Paw.
- The dinner menu is a bit pricey so if money is an issue, go at lunchtime.
13 – Crab Du Jour Seafood & Bar
At Crab Du Jour, you get to choose your seafood, seasoning, and spice level, and they cook it and serve it in a bag with corn and potatoes.
Seafood choices include lobster, crab, scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams, and more.
You can also order regular American food like hamburgers, chicken tenders, and sliders.
14 – Parker’s Barbeque
Parker’s Barbeque is another local favorite, and patrons even travel from other states to try their tasty food.
Customers love the fried chicken, boiled potatoes, Brunswick stew, coleslaw, corn sticks, and of course, the BBQ.
The prices are reasonable, and the portions are large.
They do catering, and you can even order their BBQ through the mail.
It comes frozen on dry ice in Styrofoam coolers.
15 – Ruckus & Redemption
This fabulous burger joint in Historic Downtown Wilson serves signature burgers like the Smokehouse Burger, which comes with bacon, smoked provolone, fried onions, and steak sauce on a potato roll.
Customers also love the tasty appetizer offerings like Pork Belly Brussel Sprouts, Loaded Tots, and Mini Corn Dogs.
They have a full bar and serve a superb selection of signature cocktails and craft beer.
They are open for lunch and dinner and are closed on Monday.
16 – The Beefmaster Inn
This steakhouse is one of the most unusual restaurants I’ve come across.
There’s no menu because they only offer ribeye steak with a baked potato and an all-you-can-eat salad bar. But the ribeye steak is off the charts. Apparently, they are very selective about where they source their meat from.
They bring the uncooked ribeye to your table so you can choose the kind of cut you want. Then they grill it to perfection with just a few simple spices.
Seating is limited in the restaurant, and lines can be long, so patrons often wait in the parking lot for hours to get their tantalizing dinner. Most don’t seem to mind and even tailgate like you would at a football game.
Many claim this is the best steak money can buy, and the prices reflect that.
17 – Daniel’s Casual Fine Dining
Daniel’s offers fine dining at affordable prices.
The lunch menu features casual food like hamburgers and sandwiches, and the dinner menu is fancier, offering seafood and steaks.
Word from the locals is that the Pecan Chicken and She-Crab Soup is to die for.
Daniel’s is closed on Mondays.
18 – Tig’s Courtyard
We were so sad that Tig’s was closed when we visited Wilson because it gets such great reviews.
Let me share one of the reviews with you, and I think you’ll understand why Wilson is lucky to have this place.
“Tig’s is a cute bistro, nestled in the heart of downtown Wilson. The breakfast menu is amazing and served anytime. Their lunch sandwiches are also delicious and offer up some interesting and yummy combinations. They have great coffee and specialty drinks along with the usual sodas. If you’re looking for a a slice of home cooking with a friendly smile and a good price, Tig’s is perfect.”
Tig’s is open for breakfast and lunch.
19 – Jacks Restaurant
Jacks Restaurant gets high marks for having pescatarian, vegetarian, and gluten-free options.
Their tempting menu features many delicious dishes like Fried Shrimp Po’Boy and Buttermilk Fried Carolina Quail.
And at Jack’s, you’ll find upscale menu items for any budget. They offer small plates like Pan Seared Octopus or large plates like Barbecued Mussels and Cast Iron Seared Ribeye Cap Steak.
It’s no wonder the locals love this restaurant.
Jacks serves lunch and dinner and is closed on Sunday and Monday.
20 – Kountry Kitchen
The Kountry Kitchen offers downhome Southern cooking in a casual, friendy environment.
They serve breakfast to order and are buffet only for lunch. Items on the buffet include fried chicken, pork chops, bbq pork ribs, and banana pudding.
And seriously, don’t miss out on the banana pudding. It’s served warm with meringue on top.
21 – Pup’s Steakhouse
Only open for dinner, Pup’s Steakhouse offers steak, pork chops, seafood, soups, salads, and more. They have a separate bar menu that features their signature cocktails as well as wings, nachos, and burgers.
You can enjoy live music on the weekends in their lovely outdoor dining area.
Best Coffee Shops In Wilson, NC
22 – Larema Coffee House
We stumbled across Larema Coffee House while strolling the streets of downtown Wilson and quickly learned what a gem this place is.
The locals rave over the unique flavored lattes, like the Golden Latte with ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon, or the Swirligig Latte with hazelnut, dark chocolate, and cinnamon.
You can also order herbal teas, tea lattes, and hot chocolate.
The seating area is clean, modern, and spacious – perfect for meeting up with friends or co-workers.
23 – Cups of Joy
Cups of Joy not only offers fantastic coffee, but you can also purchase ice cream, baked goods and use the Cups of Joy Wall, where you can pay for someone else’s order ahead of time.
Specialty drinks include White Mocha Espresso, Vanilla Latte, Hot Chocolate Freeze, and organic iced teas.
Best Bars in Wilson, NC
24 – Casita Brewing Company
Casita Brewing Company is located right by Whirligig Park, which means you’ll want to stop there for a brew after visiting the park.
That’s what we did, anyway, and we loved the selections.
We also loved the outdoor seating area. It’s enormous and gives you plenty of space to relax and enjoy your beer.
25 – Brewmasters
At Brewmasters, you’ll find a great selection of beers, ciders, and delicious food.
Favorite sandwiches include The Smoke Wagon and the Wilsonian.
Beers are ever-changing, but they feature 22 craft beers and two wines in addition to hundreds of bottles of beers and wines. They can also fill a growler to-go of your favorite selection.
26 – downtown public house
This bottle shop offers weekly bingo, wine day, and Saturday night performances in their beautiful outdoor seating area.
Customers love the craft beer choices, friendly atmosphere, and live music. And you can even bring in your own food if you wish.
Pro tip: You can book Downtown Public House a your private event.
Best Desserts In Wilson, NC
27 – Treat Yo’ Self Bakery
Have a sweet tooth? You can’t go wrong with any of the treats at Treat Yo’ Self Bakery like the cinnamon buns, cupcakes, lemon pound cake, or cheesecake.
They also have fabulous coffee and tea drinks to wash it down. Favorites include the C4 Dynamite Cold Brew and the Strawberry Lemonade Boba Refresher.
28 – Wilson Doughnut Shop
The locals love this hole-in-the-wall doughnut shop. People come here for the Lemon Cream Puffs, Honeybuns, Chocolate Chip Cookies, and of course, the doughnuts.
They also serve breakfast and lunch items.
29 – Sweet Southern Scoops
This ice cream shop is known for its large portions and fantastic flavors like Salty Caramel, Peanutbutter & Brownie, Orange Pineapple, and Coffee Toffee.
They only accept cash, but prices are reasonable for the tasty treats they offer.
Best Places To Stay In Wilson, NC
30 – Hampton Inn
We enjoyed our stay at the Hampton Inn in Wilson. The rooms were clean and spacious, and they had a fitness center and an outdoor pool.
The complimentary breakfast came with many choices like oatmeal, waffles, omelets, sausage, and cereal. The late-night coffee bar is a nice touch.