An oceanfront property on a North Carolina barrier island offers sophisticated style and sleek accommodations in a prime location.
Not 20 minutes from downtown Wilmington, North Carolina, on the barrier island of Wrightsville Beach sits the Blockade Runner Beach Resort, a family-owned property centrally located on a pristine oceanfront plot. The boutique hotel has been around since the mid-60s, but it’s received a contemporary facelift over the years, now boasting stylish accommodations, beautifully manicured gardens, and an unsullied stretch of white sand, where beach meets gentle ocean waves.
The Blockade Runner’s history begins some 120 years ago, when the Colonial-style Seashore Hotel, located at the same site, opened to the public in 1897. As with many buildings in the Wilmington area during this time period, it didn’t last long, falling victim to a fire in 1918. In 1922, the Ocean Terrace Hotel took its place, but it wasn’t long for this world either, hit hard by a hurricane in 1954 and burning down entirely the following year. In 1964, the current iteration opened, and you can see still elements of the original midcentury style in the blonde-wood ballroom, once the main dining room. Today, the resort is collectively owned by four siblings, two of whom have managed the property since 1984.
Each floor of the Blockade Runner has a unique style—my third-floor oceanfront room featured two queen-size sleigh beds with pink accents, a set of white chairs cozily arranged in front of sliding-glass doors for optimal sunrise-watching or coffee-drinking, and a gold wall treatment reminiscent of glam fish scales—but its 147 rooms and three suites all come equipped with a king or two queen beds, flat-screen TVs, Keurig coffee makers, mini fridges, free WiFi, and plush terry robes. Harborfront rooms are the least expensive; they overlook the Intracoastal Waterway’s boat slips and offer great sunset views, but in the process, they also face the parking lot. Oceanfront rooms come with or without a balcony and cost a little more, and suites are at the top end, thanks to roomy digs, soaking tubs with ocean views, and loungy balconies with gas fireplaces. Also available: A two-story cottage (formerly a boarding house), adjacent to the hotel, that sleeps up to 26 people, with 13 bedrooms, nine bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, and a dining room that seats 20.
The beach is the neighborhood. Blockade Runner is a classic resort and it lives up to its billing, with enough attractions to keep guests on the property and happy about it, but it’s also centrally located on the island, just a brief walk from beach-town style bars, restaurants, and shops and a short drive over the causeway from Wilmington proper. No visit to the shore is complete without a stop at beachwear chain Wings, where you’ll find every conceivable accessory you’d want (and quite a few that you wouldn’t), and you’ll pass one on your way to the hotel, just as you exit the bridge. After you’ve had your fill of cheap t-shirts and toys, head around the corner to Hallelu, a cute boutique peddling bohemian, beachy clothes and inexpensive jewelry, or stroll a little further down Lumina Avenue to Sweetwater Surf Shop, where you’ll find a collection of cheeky Ts, bikinis, and boards, and Wrightsville Beach Art Company, the only gallery on the island, for nautical pieces made from recycled materials.
On the property, East Oceanfront Dining serves coastal cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, either in the sleek dining room or outside on the canopied garden patio, and there’s a poolside bar that opens in late March for cocktails and seafood-forward fare. (Breakfast is only included with certain packages, and if yours isn’t one of them, the a la carte menu is a more appealing option than the buffet.) Within walking distance, try the Trolley Stop for hot dogs (varieties include all-beef, smoked pork, and vegetarian) or the deli counter at Robert’s Market for juicy, piping-hot fried chicken—but only before 3 p.m., when both local faves stop serving (on offseason weekdays, at least). The Workshop, tucked into a small space behind Wings, offers espresso drinks and premade sandwiches with a side of shark-teeth jewelry; further down Lumina, 22 North has a killer fried-alligator special that’s lovely with a glass of white wine. On Harbor Island, between Wrightsville and the mainland, try Poe’s Tavern for burgers; across the Intracoastal, grab a seat on the deck at the Fish House Grill for iced tea and fish tacos (expect a wait on sunny afternoons), or make a reservation at the Bridge Tender for a more upscale waterfront experience. And over the causeway, just a few minutes from Blockade Runner by car (my Lyft ride cost all of $4), is Ceviche’s, a Panamanian restaurant with strong tropical beverages and a menu that ranges from traditional plates like ropa vieja and arroz con pollo to the namesake selection of ceviches. Scoop up the corvina, sea bass classically prepared with lime, cilantro, and red onion, and the langoustine, marinated in citrus and coconut milk, with plantain chips and tostones, and wash it all down with a fresh-lime margarita (only $6 on Mondays!).
ALL THE REST
Blockade Runner’s ocean-facing gardens are beautifully manicured, with a pool and hot tub that open in the spring. Guests can take classes at an ASA-certified sailing school (good for beginners or intermediates) or charter a boat for an evening sail; rent a kayak and explore the sound, either on your own or with a guided tour of the salt marsh; or lounge by the pool or the ocean and let an attendant keep you in fruity umbrella drinks. In low season, you can get a great deal on accommodations, and though you might not spend much time lying on the beach, the area makes a good mid-winter escape, with average temperatures hovering around the 60s from December to February. The rates more than double during the summer, though, so if you’re looking for a peak-summer bargain, this probably isn’t it. Also, as is common with some beach locations, the tap water is sulfuric, so if you’re sensitive to that smell or taste, be sure to bring filtered water with you.
RATES & DEETS
Starting at $125.
Blockade Runner Beach Resort
275 Waynick Boulevard
Wrightsville Beach, NC