Wilson, NC

Watch whirligigs come alive with the slightest breeze. Check. Shop for antiques by the acre. Check. Eat barbecue that will have your taste buds high-fiving. Check. Get ready to spend a couple days in Wilson seeing and doing things you can only see and do here. Get your bucket list ready.

Medium Activity

2 days | 12 stops

Day 1

STOP 1: The Wilson Doughnut Shop

They say you can’t buy happiness. But you can buy donuts and that’s kind of the same thing. That’s why we recommend you stop by the Wilson Donut Shop. This place has been a fixture in Wilson since God was a boy. They serve a full menu for breakfast and lunch. But who are we kidding? You’re here for those circular bites of heaven. Grab some chocolate iced and cream filled donuts. Or pick up some giant eclairs and blueberry poppers. Either way, your sweet tooth will find just what it’s craving.

STOP 2: Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park

Vollis Simpson created sculptures that, with the slightest breeze, would come alive --spinning, dancing. Vollis found a harmony in marrying the unexpected to form the fantastic. He called these works of folk art Whirligigs. Today, his work can be found in museums around the world. But the largest collection of his Whirligigs are right here in Wilson. Inside the park that bears his name you’ll find 31 kinetic sculptures. Some are over 50 feet in height. Stop by and look at the sky on a windy day. You’ll be amazed and inspired. You’ll never think of junk the same way again.

STOP 3: Downtown Walking Tour

It’s been said that Wilson has one of the most beautiful downtowns in the country. This walking tour will give you a chance to discover its small town charm for yourself. The tour starts at the Visitors Center and weaves you through the streets of the town. Along the way you’ll see Art Deco buildings that have been transformed into local art galleries. You’ll find a Post Office that has found new life as a Children’s Museum. There’s even a mission style fire station almost a century old. The whole tour mixes architecture with art and throws in a few gardens along the way. It’s a great way to take in the sights and get your steps in for the day.

STOP 4: Dick's Hot Dogs

Dick’s Hotdog Stand has been a family owned business in Wilson for almost a century. To that end, the restaurant is a bit of a museum in itself. Its walls are adorned with photos of celebrities, athletes, politicians and other notables who wandered in over the past decades. But make no mistake, the only true stars in this restaurant are its famous hot dogs. Each is cooked up and slapped in a fresh bun for your dining pleasure. Add some slaw, mustard and maybe some original chili. Then prepare to have your taste buds applaud. Yes, they’re that good.

STOP 5: Botanical Garden

The staff at the Wilson Botanical Gardens are quick to tell you that it’s an educational facility. They can tell you what plants grow best in warmer climates. They can tell you what plants will attract birds. They can even tell you how to compost. But what most visitors see is a whole lot of pretty. The entire facility covers over 16 acres and includes thousands of varieties of plants. There are flower gardens, hosta gardens and pondside gardens. There’s even a secret garden with raining sunflowers, a dino dig and garden tunnel for the young or young at heart. Drop by to learn more. Or just to relax and bask in the pretty.

STOP 6: G. R. Hammond Gallery

Conveniently located in Downtown Wilson, The G. R. Hammond Gallery is the perfect stop to shop handmade. It features work from over 50 in-house artists. Discover one-of-a-kind pottery pieces straight from local kilns. Find eating utensils that have been transformed into bracelets and necklaces. Pick up that creatively-bent landscape painting that reminds you of the view from your childhood window. When you buy something from The G. R. Hammond Gallery, you’re not just getting another item you could find anywhere. You’re buying art with a history, a story. That’s something that will stay with you forever.

STOP 7: The Artisan Leaf

One local store has found a new way to bring tobacco back to life and, in the process, pay respects to our local history. It’s called Artisan Leaf and you can find it in Downtown Wilson. In this gallery, tobacco leaves are not cured and smoked. They are manipulated into various works of art. They are pressed into tables. They are affixed into wall panels. They are transformed into amber-veined tabletops, mugs, plates and vases. Each piece is as unique as the leaf it was created from.

STOP 8: Parker’s BBQ

When Parker’s Barbecue in Wilson, NC opened in August 1946, a door connected two buildings, providing access to two very different dining experiences. To the left, there were oysters, which you could pair with whatever liquor you packed; to the right, barbecue and sweet tea. Today only the Barbecue remains. Each week, Parker’s smokes about 150 whole hogs — which are chopped and seasoned with a vinegar-and-red-pepper sauce — and fries about 8,000 chickens for 20,000 customers. We suggest you head over early to grab a space in line. You may also want to grab a fist full of napkins. If you’re not getting messy eating this barbecue, you’re not doing it right.

Day 2

STOP 9: Lake Wilson

Just a few minutes from downtown you’ll find Lake Wilson. This park covers over 320 acres and has some of the best hiking and biking around. Visitors will find two looping trails that circle the lake. The inner loop is about 1.33 miles and the outer loop 1.76 miles. The trails are mostly flat with the exception of one hill about halfway around. Along the paths a bridge will take you over the back of the lake and around the bottom side of the dam. The trails start and end at the parking lot. So just when you think you’re getting tired, you’re back at your car.

STOP 10: Ruckus & Redemption

When the drink menu includes a signature cocktail called Gunshot Bicycle Man, you know the meal is going to be a topic of conversation. That’s exactly what you get at Ruckus & Redemption. Located right in Downtown Wilson, this unpretentious little restaurant offers some big flavors to satisfy any appetite. The food is American with a Southern kick. Burgers are served topped in Pimento Cheese. Brussel sprouts are fried with pork belly. Cocktails go down easy. Maybe too easy. Come hungry and with a belt you can loosen a couple notches.

STOP 11: Boone's Antiques

When you can talk about your inventory in terms of acres, you’re not just a store. You’re a destination. Such is the case with Boone’s Antiques. This Wilson store holds the largest treasure trove of antiques on the East Coast, if not the entire country. Their inventory is procured from all over the world. Looking for an early 19th century French Gilt Console table? They have it. Need a Vernis Martin style grandfather clock? They have that, too. Give yourself a day or more to browse and decide what you’re taking home. Boone’s ships globally. So there’s no need to worry about how to get that antique armoire in the backseat.

STOP 12: Beefmastor Inn

Beefmastor is a small, ten table restaurant that has attracted local and national attention. It doesn’t offer combo meals. You won’t find seasonal specials or a catch of the day. In fact, this little restaurant in Wilson is known for not really having a menu at all. They serve ribeye steak, a baked potato and salad. That’s it. The owners wanted to keep things simple and concentrate on doing one thing well. Judging by the size of the crowds tailgating in the parking lot, it seems to be working out for them. So if you’re hungry for ribeye, and only ribeye, pop on over for a not-so-quick bite.