Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Wilson, NC

  • Published 2022/08/12

Wilson, North Carolina, is a bustling city with rare sights and a welcoming community.

It’s the seat of Wilson County and is located east of Raleigh, the state’s capital.

While it’s known for its unique kinetic installation art park, the city still has other attractions for curious travelers.

It also once had a rich tobacco industry, reflected in the elegant buildings, museums, and the very culture of the city.

In addition, the locals have a penchant for the arts, making Wilson a hub for artists and performers here in the South.

Since the region is blessed with fertile lands, bodies of water, and other natural destinations, nature lovers and adventurers will also find many places to explore

There’s something for everyone here, so make it your top choice for your next vacation.

Here are the 15 best things to do in Wilson, NC:

Check Out the Food Scene Downtown

Downtown in Wilson

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Wilson is rich with Southern heritage, including the comfort food and familiar cuisine that many are all familiar with.

There are many establishments downtown offering these dishes, and they’re close enough to one another for one epic restaurant hopping tour.

Bill’s Grill is a favorite for its selection of American steaks, Southern dishes, and other home-style meals that taste like your grandma’s cooking.

Buildings at Downtown Wilson

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At Ruckus & Redemption, they specialize in gourmet burgers, small plates, and tasty sides perfect for the adventurous foodie.

If you want something for your sweet tooth, Wilson Doughnut Shop has Southern-style pastries that will leave you wanting more.

Shops at Downtown Wilson

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Tour the Colorful Trails of Wilson Botanical Gardens

For plant lovers and budding horticulturists, the Wilson Botanical Gardens is a must-see destination.

This scenic attraction is designed to showcase the various flora of the region and other species used in home landscaping.

Its trails are lined with flowering bushes bursting with color, towering trees, turfs of all kinds, and seasonal decor.

There’s even a Vollis Simpson whirligig on one section.

In addition, it has several water features like a fountain, a small pond, and a tiny brook gurgling with clear water.

While visiting is already a great experience in itself, you’re can also join the many programs offered by the facility.

These can help you learn more about the plants, try your hand at gardening, and even interact with seasoned gardeners.

It’s a relaxing and memorable experience for the whole family!

Immerse in History at Freeman Round House

North Carolina has a long history with slavery, and Wilson is sadly not an exception.

However, the city has its own monument that celebrates and preserves Black history and creativity: the Freeman Round House.

It’s named after Oliver Freeman, a prolific and multi-talented craftsman specializing in masonry and stonework.

During his active years, he became the community’s go-to stonemason for their homes and buildings.

The Freeman Round House is actually a stone bungalow that he constructed himself, eventually adding a garden and sculptures of his own creation throughout the years.

Today, these simple and intriguing elements attract many tourists to the destination.

The bungalow itself is repurposed into a museum that showcases not only Freeman’s life but also the contributions, lives, and culture of past African Americans in Wilson.

Ace a Hole in One at Wilson Country Club

Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, you’d have great gameplay here at Wilson Country Club.

It’s a well-known and well-designed facility that hosts many national tournaments and qualifying rounds.

The beauty of this 18-hole course makes it stand out amongst others in North Carolina, with its gorgeous rolling terrain, two large ponds fed by creeks, and leafy trees in every corner.

And even if you’re relatively inexperienced, the layout is still manageable enough not to give you any major issues.

If you’re not in the mood to golf, the facility has its own large pool that’s perfect for cooling dips during hot summer days.

There’s also a restaurant that offers savory dishes and refreshing drinks prepared by skilled chefs—the perfect stopover after a well-played match.

Marvel at the Unique Artworks of Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum

Daytime view of Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum

Beyond My Ken, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Vollis Simpson was a prolific artist who specialized in creating kinetic sculptures or “whirligigs.”

These structures are made using metal and other sturdy materials and are designed to catch the wind, making them spin, move, and whirl even at the gentlest breezes.

Because of Vollis’ experience as a farm equipment serviceman, he was able to craft whirligigs with odd and whimsical designs that captured the nation’s imagination.

Decorations of Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum

Beyond My Ken, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

He has been commissioned by art organizations and had a festival named after him, later called the North Carolina Whirligig Festival.

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum is the largest exhibit of his magnificent works, and it also serves as the venue for the aforementioned event.

Even from a far distance, you’d already see the structures glistening as blades, fans, and multicolored components move with the wind.

It’s a rare sight that gets better as you come closer, so make sure it’s one of the top spots in your itinerary.

View of Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum

Beyond My Ken, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Smell the Flowers of the Wilson Rose Garden

While the Wilson Botanical Gardens grows a wide variety of plants, The Wilson Rose Garden specializes in—you guessed it—beautiful and fragrant roses.

This public green space and events venue has perfectly manicured landscaping composed of more than 1,200 individual rose bushes.

In fact, there are 180 varieties growing in every corner of the attraction.

You’d find hybrids with two-colored petals, climbing roses, and even miniature ones flowering with teeny-tiny blooms.

To add to the gorgeous landscape, the facility has stone sculptures, tunneled walkways, and fountains adorning various sections.

It’s no wonder that the place has become a favorite wedding and photoshoot venue.

If you want to see the flowers in full bloom, the best time to visit is between May and October when temperatures are milder.

Stay Awhile at Toisnot Park

One of the favorite community parks in Wilson is Toisnot Park, a lakeside destination on the edge of the city proper.

It sits next to Toisnot Reservoir, a picturesque body of water that’s open for fishing and kayaking.

The park itself is filled with amenities that make for fun bonding moments with the whole family or friend group.

If you’re bringing kids, you can let them play on the well-equipped playground or run around the verdant grounds.

And for large gatherings, there are three shelters available for rent, with the biggest one seating up to 100 people.

You can also head over to the lakefront and feed the ducks and geese, who are always happy to see people with grains and other bird snacks.

The most prominent attraction here is the wooden path that crosses the lake, offering you a chance to head into the center and reach the dog park on the other side.

Enjoy the Outdoors at Lake Wilson

One of the lesser-crowded bodies of water in town is Lake Wilson, located on the city’s northern edge.

This attraction is a reservoir made after Toisnot Swamp—which is actually a small river—was dammed.

For nature lovers, the lake is one of the most undisturbed areas in the city, with thick forest upriver crisscrossed by a few trails.

You’re welcome to explore these routes and try spotting some of the wildlife, including birds, insects, and the rare river otters.

On the lake itself, there’s a curving wooden bridge that lets you walk all the way to the center.

It’s the best place to take in the views, especially in fall when the trees lining the banks change color.

You can also try kayaking, canoeing, and boating, as there are a few launches installed on the shores.

Learn Baseball History at NC Baseball Museum

Exhibit in NC Baseball Museum

Ecupirate99, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Wilson has a thriving sports culture evident in the many athletic facilities in town, particularly ballparks.

So it makes sense that the NC Baseball Museum is located in the city.

This attraction is housed in the historic Fleming Stadium, which has been around since 1939 and is currently the base of the Wilson Tobs.

Today, the NC Baseball Museum showcases and preserves artifacts like uniforms, bats, and balls used by North Carolinian legends like Luke Appling, Hoyt Wilheim, and Buck Leonard.

They were members of the Major League Baseball and the Negro League, honored for their feats during their active years.

You can even spot signed memorabilia like books and baseball cards, an experience that loyal baseball fans would be jealous of.

So take your time and marvel at these displays that celebrate human prowess.

See Stunning Pieces at Wilson Arts Center

Wilson Arts Center is the heart of the visual art scene in the city, a sprawling facility where the whole community gathers to create and appreciate artworks.

It’s also a favorite venue for performance art, with a few theater plays, live music concerts, and dance recitals performed on stage.

On regular days, the center is open for visitors who want to see the pieces created by talented local artists.

They have a set of galleries as well as rotating exhibits that showcase stunning paintings, sketches, sculptures, and other works.

You can even join a workshop to hone your skills or find a hidden talent for a particular medium or technique.

Whatever you choose to do, you’re still guaranteed a memorable experience amongst the best of Wilson’s art scene.

Play a Few Rounds at Willow Springs Country Club

On the former Wilson Country Club site now stands Willow Springs Country Club, an equally beautiful attraction.

It’s a more family-oriented golf course that offers amenities for all ages.

So whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, you’re welcome to play a few rounds here.

Since it sits on the edge of the Wiggins Mill reservoir, the 18-hole course offers marvelous views that add to the thrill of the game.

The rolling terrain is manageable, but you’re putting and shooting skills will be tested with the unique and tight layout of the course.

But it’s still a highly enjoyable affair with the classic ambiance and beautiful views all around.

Buy Fresh Veggies at Deans Farm Market

If you want to partake in the bountiful harvests from the lands surrounding Wilson, the best place to visit is Deans Farm Market.

It’s the premier destination for those who want to purchase fresh produce from local farmers and gardeners.

Since 1965, this market has partnered with many of Wilson’s growers to ensure a steady supply of high-quality products.

You’ll find seasonal vegetables, various fruit cultivars, as well as premium root crops harvested from nearby fields.

There are also canned goods, Southern home decor, and even apparel manufactured by local businesses.

And if you want to sample dishes made from the produce, the market has its own chefs who prepare and serve tasty meals.

So make sure to try their entrees, desserts, and dressings before you go!

Bring Your Child to the Imagination Station Science & History Museum

Exterior of Imagination Station Science & History Museum

DanTD, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Kids and the kids-at-heart will have a great time exploring all the wonders of Imagination Station Science & History Museum.

This interactive facility was established in 1989 and is located inside a building that once served as a US post office and courthouse.

In fact, one of the courtrooms has been converted into a “Science Courtroom” where experiments and historical programs are held.

The other rooms have collections that showcase many topics in science or history.

From light and shadow exhibits to a Herpeterium, from Spanish Flu learning materials to an architect studio, there are many engaging and fascinating wonders waiting for curious minds.

You’re also welcome to join one of the educational programs open for all ages, allowing you to learn more about the natural world or the history of Wilson.

Catch a Show at Kennedy Theatre

Barton College is the premier academic institution in Wilson, and it houses the gorgeous Kennedy Theatre, a favorite performance art venue in town.

Aside from being the college’s main theater, this facility serves as a performance art hub for the whole community.

It has ample seating, modern lighting and acoustics, and an easy-to-find location that makes for a great theater-going experience.

There’s a wide range of shows conducted here aside from the dramatic performances by students studying the art.

You can catch orchestra and live music concerts, opera performances, dance recitals, and even engaging lectures.

Check out their calendar and see the upcoming shows if you plan to catch one.

Cruise the Gentle Currents of Contentnea Creek

The rushing Contentnea Creek is a 91-mile long body of water that serves as a major tributary to the Neuse River.

It’s also the primary water source for the aforementioned Wiggins Mill reservoir and continues until it reaches the edge of Grifton.

Along its length, there are many forested segments perfect for kayaking and canoeing tours.

You can book a trip with one of the outfitters in Wilson so you can travel the creek with an experienced guide.

From turbulent rapids to tranquil portions, there’s a lot of variation in the scenery of the creek, so keep an eye out for hidden wonders.

There are also lots of freshwater games for fishing.

Try catching largemouth bass, blue catfish, and channel catfish swimming underneath the surface.

Join the Walking Tour of Downtown Wilson

Wilson County Courthouse at Downtown Wilson

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Downtown Wilson’s most outstanding feature is the large number of buildings that have retained their original architectural character throughout the years.

You may begin your tour of downtown Wilson at the Wilson Visitors Center.

It is not uncommon to see well-preserved examples of early 20th-century brick architecture when strolling through the neighborhood.

Buildings along Downtown Wilson

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During the tour, your guide will show you what was once the Hotel Cherry, a luxurious institution in the 1920s now repurposed as a care facility for the elderly.

You will pass by the Arts Council of Wilson, the Wilson County Courthouse, and several other architecturally significant sites.

Relax and Appreciate Art at The Edge Wilson

When visiting downtown, look at the studio and loft at The Edge Wilson Art Gallery Studio and Loft.

This lovely art studio displays Barbara White and other artists’ works.

The owner is friendly and would gladly give you a private tour of her home.

Even on the studio’s closing days, you can make an appointment to see a studio screening at your convenience.

The Edge, located above the gallery, is a peaceful nook ideal for enjoying coffee in the morning or watching the sunset.

If you want to stay the night, you may rent the loft through Airbnb, which is fully equipped and with a separate entrance.

Long and short-term rentals are also available.

Visit the Exhibits of Eyes on Main Street

With a growing photographic community, Wilson has seen several photographers acquire attention and appreciation for their efforts.

Visit Eyes on Main Street, a homegrown photography gallery, to see its latest shows.

Eyes on Main Street gallery displays a variety of art forms, including photography, on display.

Meanwhile, Eyes on Main Street’s photographic festival is the state’s most prominent photography event.

This outdoor photography event attracts visitors by exhibiting enormous photographs on the sidewalks of Wilson.

Treat Yourself to a Bottle of Beer at Casita Brewing Company

Wilson’s Casita Brewing Company is more than simply a brewery; it’s a hub for the local community, offering a wide range of events and activities.

In 2020, Casita Brewing Company opened its Wilson location, a great addition to the city’s top attractions.

Family-friendly, with an artistic, cozy, and relaxing atmosphere.

Enjoy the views of Whirligig Park from its outdoor beer garden.

Beers on tap and deck are a terrific complement to this fantastic location.

As an option, Casita Brewing Company also sells cans of their beer.

Bring Home Some Vintage Items from Boone’s Antiques

If you’re a fan of antiques, you’ll want to check out this Wilson antique shop.

In 1952, Boone’s Antiques opened its doors to residents of Wilson.

It is home to one of the state’s most extensive wholesale and retail selections of accessories and furnishings.

Its products reflect North America’s 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

There are almost 4,000 square feet of unique antiques at Boone’s Antiques, which includes Queen Anne furniture, European and Chinese ceramics, carpets and grandfather clocks of all kinds.

Final Thoughts

Wilson offers the perfect blend of natural beauty, human creativity, and modern ingenuity.

So whether you want to play golf, visit a lake, check out artworks, or smell fragrant flowers, there’s something for you in this charming city.

Reference this list so you won’t miss the top spots when making your itinerary.

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