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Less than an hour east of Raleigh and 10 minutes off I-95 lies the small town of Wilson in eastern North Carolina. If you’re looking for good food and a fun adventure in a friendly atmosphere, then check out the best things to do in Wilson, NC.

Chartered in 1849, the town grew as agriculture in North Carolina grew: first with cotton, then changing to tobacco as the demand grew. Like so many other towns in North Carolina that depended on tobacco farming, Wilson’s downtown was almost abandoned for a time.

Today, Wilson is home to Barton College, a small liberal arts college, which has renewed interest and brought a younger crown to Wilson. Be part of Wilson’s downtown resurgence by visiting and remembering #downtownturnaround. Here is a list of things to do in Wilson to get you started.

1. Country Doctor Museum

7089 Peele Road, Bailey – Website

Best Things to Do in Wilson NC | The Common Traveler | image: 1800s house with red tin roof - Country Doctor Museum

ECU’s Medical School manages the Country Doctor Museum outside Wilson. The building comprises two nineteenth-century houses which housed the country doctor’s office practice. Learn about historical exhibits related to pharmacy, surgery, and sick rooms. Tours are offered every hour from 10 am to 3 pm. The museum is closed on Sundays, Mondays, and holidays, so check the schedule before you venture out. The $8 plus tax fee for adults is well worth it. Expect to spend at least an hour if you take the tour.

2. Oliver Nestus Freeman Round House

1202 Hines Street SE – Website

Best Things to Do in Wilson NC | The Common Traveler | image: House Museum and building in Wilson, NC

Looking to learn about African-American history in North Carolina? This museum is housed inside the small round house on the grounds and is a perfect homage to the contributions of African Americans to the region. The center hosts a concert series on the lawn in the summer. This small museum is open from 10 am to 3 pm, Tuesday to Saturday.

3. Wilson Rose Garden

1800 Herring Avenue E – Website

Best Things to Do in Wilson NC | The Common Traveler | image: in front of white marble water feature in Wilson Rose Garden

Looking to stop and smell the roses? Wilson’s Rose Garden is the perfect destination. The rose garden blooms from May 1st to October 30th. As an accredited public garden, you won’t pay anything to admire its beauty. Over 1,200 plants of 180 varieties mean that just about every plant is unique. With winding paths and benches strategically placed throughout, enjoy the park’s serenity while enjoying the zen water feature.

4. Wilson Botanical Gardens

1806 Goldsboro Street S – Website

Best Things to Do in Wilson NC | The Common Traveler | image: sculpture like flowers in Wilson Botanical Garden

Located behind the Wilson Agricultural Center, it would be easy to miss this beautiful garden. Showcasing plants either native to North Carolina or that can be grown easily in our North Carolina climate; this garden can be different things to different people. Enjoy the serenity by strolling on the manicured paths. Learn by participating in the education programs or learning about the experiments housed throughout. Open from sunrise to sundown, these gardens are for all to enjoy. I hope to return in December when the garden is decorated with evening holiday lights.

5. North Carolina Baseball Museum

300 Stadium Street SW – Website

Best Things to Do in Wilson NC | The Common Traveler | image: cases inside NC Baseball Museum

Any fans of baseball? Housed at the Fleming Stadium, this little museum showcases all things related to baseball in North Carolina and the history of baseball. Cases upon cases display baseball and memorabilia of notable baseball players who were either born in North Carolina, attended school in North Carolina, or ended up playing in North Carolina at some point in their careers. Manned by an all-volunteer force, expect to learn everything you could have wanted to know about North Carolina’s influence on baseball. The admission fee of $3 for adults is well worth it, even for those of us who are not ardent fans. 

6. Historic Fleming Stadium

300 Stadium Street SW – Website

Best Things to Do in Wilson NC | The Common Traveler | image: stadium seats

Opening in 1936, Fleming Stadium is still in great shape and home to the Wilson Tobs of the Coastal Plains League (a collegiate league). Once upon a time, it hosted professional and minor league games, though a professional team hasn’t visited since the 1970s. While I don’t know much about baseball, considering it doesn’t host a minor league team, this field is in great shape. You’ll enjoy a great view and game no matter where you sit. 

7. Imagination Station and NC Museum of the Coastal Plain

224 Nash Street SE – Website

Best Things to Do in Wilson NC | The Common Traveler | image: post office and courthouse building in Wilson, NC

Housed inside the historic post office and courthouse building (built in 1927), you’ll find the Imagination Station Science Museum, featuring educational exhibits connecting science and history. The second floor houses a Herpetarium with reptiles from around the world. The third floor houses the N.C. Museum of the Coastal Plain where visitors learn about local history. Admission costs $5 plus tax. This may be an excellent place for educational groups, but unless you’re looking for something to keep the kids entertained, this museum has a little growing up to do.

8. Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park

301 Goldsboro Street S – Website

Best Things to Do in Wilson NC | The Common Traveler | image: sculptures that move in the wind - whirlygigs - in Wilson, NC

The Whirligig Park is perhaps Wilson’s most well-known feature. Farm machinery equipment repairman Vollis Simpson made gigantic kinetic sculptures right before he retired. He continued making them until shortly before his death at 93. In 2010, a plan was made to relocate his visitor-attracting whirligigs to a park in downtown Wilson. The Whirligig Park has been a cornerstone of the redevelopment and revitalization of Wilson’s downtown area. Hosting concerts during the summer, families, and groups can enjoy the covered picnic areas any time of year. While only a block wide, this is a not-to-be-missed North Carolina attraction.

Pick up a biscuit from Flo’s Kitchen, one of the best biscuits in North Carolina, and enjoy it here.

9. Casita Brewing Company

217 South Street S – Website

Best Things to Do in Wilson NC | The Common Traveler | image: of beers in front of whirlygigs in Wilson, NC

Across the street from the Whirligig Park, you’ll find Wilson’s only original craft brewery. Whether looking for a place to host a special event, attending a concert at the venue, or simply enjoying a craft beer while the family and guests enjoy the whirligigs, Casita Brewing Company will make you feel right at home. Beer styles, from light ales to dark stouts, are all featured on the beer menu. My favorite beer during my visit was the NE IPA – Who Will Drink Our Beer When We’re Gone? The brewery collaborates with Treat Yo’ Self Bakery, encouraging another local business for a series of beers.

Their beer garden welcomes children and food trucks frequently offer food more substantial than the snacks offered by the brewery. 

10. Beefmastor Inn

2656 US-301 – Website

Best Things to Do in Wilson NC | The Common Traveler | image: building and parking lot to Beefmastor Inn, Wilson, NC

For years, I’ve heard about the best steak in North Carolina being served at the Beefmastor Inn. With only ten tables inside (and no reservations), this is probably the most undersold attraction in Wilson. While you may not get a table inside right away, you’re encouraged to park your car in the parking lot and tailgate while you wait for one of the tables to open up. If you’re looking for a fancy menu, you won’t find it.

There’s only one thing on the menu – the ribeye. And yes, the Beefmastor serves over 700 lbs of ribeye a week, with a baked potato and Texas toast, though a salad bar is also available. Your waiter will come over with the ribeye and ask how big a piece you want (cutting it in front of you) and how you’d like it cooked. Don’t ask for substitutions – this IS the menu. Having been featured in Our State and The Travel Channel, you won’t regret waiting your turn for one of the ten tables at this little hidden gem in Wilson.

For more food options, check out all the great restaurants in Rocky Mount, just 30 minutes north of Wilson.

11. Stroll Through Historic Downtown Wilson


Best Things to Do in Wilson NC | The Common Traveler | image: Wilson Courthouse

If you’re looking for a beautiful place to explore a small town, then historic downtown Wilson if perfect. A stroll along Goldsboro St S takes visitors to the best of the best. You’ll have a great experience admiring murals, shopping, learning about history, and just enjoying the slower pace of life.

12.    Enjoy One of the Best Biscuits in NC at Flo’s Kitchen

1015 Goldsboro Street

Best Things to Do in Wilson NC | The Common Traveler | image: Flo's Kitchen biscuit

One of the best biscuit places in NC is found in Wilson. Visitors to Flo’s Kitchen should bring patience and cash. North Carolinians drive from all around the area to experience one of the best biscuits in the state. Cars line up for a while to experience this unique experience. The experienced order takers help guests make the best choices from the selections available. But bring cash since credit cards are not accepted here!

13.    Wilson’s Farmer & Artisan Market

301 Goldsboro Street South – Website

Located under The Pavillion at the Whirligig Park from April through August, every Saturday visitor should check out the local market. This is the best place to purchase local produce. Eastern North Carolina is home to so many rural markets which naturally leads to good food. 

14.    Edna Boykin Cultural Center

108 Nash Street – Website

Best Things to Do in Wilson NC | The Common Traveler | image: Edna Boykin Cultural Center

Dr. Leland Grady opened an opera house in his two-story office building in 1919. He envisioned a place that would serve as Wilson’s centerpiece for culture. After a hiatus, the newly renovated center re-opened its doors in 1998, where it now offers amazing theater options.

15.    Exhibits at Wilson Arts Center

204 Nash Street South – Website

Best Things to Do in Wilson NC | The Common Traveler | image: Wilson Arts Center

The Arts Council of Wilson offers various educational programs and encourages art in all of its forms. Whether you enjoy the visual arts, performing arts, or are looking for an opportunity to learn a new skill, the Wilson Arts Center offers something for everyone.

16. Shop Main Street Boutiques

Stroll along the streets of downtown Wilson for magnificent offers on art, consignment shops, natural products, flowers, and so much more. Don’t miss an opportunity to explore a gift shop or two to buy unique gifts for yourself or your friends.

17.    Attend the Whirligig Festival

301 Goldsboro Street South – Website

Every November, the local community gathers in Wilson for the annual Whirligig Festival, which features live music, food vendors, and amazing artists. Remember to bring the kids to this event for the whole family!

18. Relax at Lake Wilson

4621 Lake Wilson Road North – Website

Best Things to Do in Wilson NC | The Common Traveler | image: Lake Wilson

Whether looking for a great place for a two-mile walk, kayak, or even where to play an 18-hole disc golf course, Lake Wilson is for you! Check out this recreational spot right outside of downtown Wilson.

19. Fill Up at Parker’s BBQ

2514 US-301 South – Website

Best Things to Do in Wilson NC | The Common Traveler | image: Parkers Barbecue entrance

While I’m not going to get into the debate about East North Carolina barbecue and West North Carolina barbecue, visitors to Wilson just need to know that if they’re looking for an amazing Eastern Carolina barbecue, then a visit to Parker’s BBQ is a must. One of the menu items that guests can’t stop raving about is the BBQ pork sandwich, so add it to your plate!

20. Relax at Brewmasters

2117 Forest Hills Road West – Website

Best Things to Do in Wilson NC | The Common Traveler | image: Brewmasters flight

A local favorite with visitors to Goldsboro, Brewmasters has now expanded to a Wilson location. Whether you’re looking for some of the best beer in town or a fabulous brewery dinner, you’ll find it at Brewmasters!

21. Admire Public Art

Best Things to Do in Wilson NC | The Common Traveler | image: Love mural

Fans of murals and other public sculptures can admire the public art in downtown Wilson. The city sponsors an increasing number of these displays. 

Check out the Blackcattips mural, visible from Goldsboro St. between Barnes St. and Nash St. in downtown Wilson just a short walk from the Whirligig park.

If you enjoyed Wilson, check out these other posts:

Happy travels!
Annick, The Common Traveler

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10 Things to do in Wilson, NC, USA
10 Things to do in Wilson, NC, USA