Wilson, North Carolina

Welcome to our “whirly” Wilson, North Carolina travel guide

Wilson, North Carolina is a town in the midst of a post-COVID revival. Leading the charge is a strong and supportive art community ready to rival its western sister Asheville. Wilson’s influx of art shops, restaurants, and the infamous Whirligig Park make Wilson a unique destination as part of your regional vacation. 

Gregg with a parrot on his head
Sylvan Heights Bird Park
Wilson NC
Whirligig Park
Alise with birds in Wilson, NC
Sylvan Heights Bird Park

Things To See in Wilson, North Carolina

Listen to a summer concert under the spinning folk art sculptures in Whirligig Park, or see over 2,000 birds at the world’s largest waterfowl conservation park. There are fun experiences to be had Down East, North Carolina. Remember, slow down, and create fun and joy where ever you go!

Historic Downtown – Post-COVID Wilson has struggled to recover. With a few empty stores, the ones that remain open need your tourism dollars. The thriving arts community in downtown Wilson is bringing the town back to life.

  • Whirligig Park & Museum – Located in downtown, the Whirligig Park folk art sculptures are made of metal and reflective scraps, moving with the wind. Check the events calendar for outdoor concerts and activities.
  • Mural Walk – Walk the town, peeking in alcoves and down alleyways, to discover all the unique murals and art installations. There is currently not a map of the locations of the murals, so just enjoy the discovery of these gems.
  • The Selkie – Owned by Amanda Duncan, the Selkie hopes to fill your soul with the art of local artisans. Listen to her incredible story on our podcast– scroll to her episode, you can listen or watch on your favorite app. Amanda shared her deeply personal story from financial, mental and emotional domestic abuse to creating a successful jewelry business and transforming her life.
  • 252 HQ – Khalilah Hamlett, owner of 252 HQ, supports black-owned businesses. Listen to her message of loving one another on our podcast- scroll to her episode, you can listen or watch on your favorite app. Khalilah shared her life perspective of love and compassion for all people. She also told me how she started 252 Black Wallstreet a networking opportunity for black-owned businesses.
  • Wilson Arts Center – Take a weekend art class at the Wilson Arts Center or feast your eyes on the beautiful exhibits.
  • The Barnes Corner Gallery – Watch artists create or purchase their beautiful art at The Barnes Corner Gallery. This gallery has a great vibe and lots of natural light.

Thunder Alley – Watch or take part in remote control car racing on an oval dirt track. Thunder Alley is where everyone can be a kid again!

Collin’s Produce and Flower Farm – Bring your camera to Collin’s Produce and Flower Farm and tiptoe through the spring tulips or the fall sunflower maze. Pick up produce at the Wilson farmer’s market, in historic downtown spring through early fall on Saturdays. If you have the pleasure of meeting Collin, and his lovely wife, you will feel his drive, dedication, ingenuity and passion for his agricultural endeavors. Ask him about how he got started in farming. It’s a truly inspiring story!

Rocky Mount Mills – Located in nearby Rocky Mount, parallel to the Tar River, Rocky Mount Mills, originally built as a mill in 1818 and rebuilt after several fire and closures, is a dining and brewery dream. With many restaurants, breweries, and bottle shops to choose from, brew incubators like Koi Pond Brewing Company, Tarboro Brewing Company, HopFly Brewing, and many others, thrive in this restored cotton mill campus. In cooperation with Nash Community College, brewers can lease space, equipment and receive education to jumpstart their brewing business. The exterior walls of Rocky Mount Mills are adorned with stunning photos, part of The Black Light Project, showcasing unsung community heroes.

Sylvan Heights Bird Park – Located in nearby Scotland Neck, NC, with over 2,000 birds, Sylvan Heights Bird Park is the premier waterfowl conservation program in the world. The walk-through aviaries allow you to see birds from around the world up close, and even feed parakeets and flamingos.

Stith-Talbert Park – Located in nearby Rocky Mount, Tom Stith Park, at Spruce St. and Albemarle Ave., is home to the longest single span wooden bridge in the US. The bridge is in great condition, but hidden away in the Nearby Martin Luther King Jr. gave his November 27, 1962 speech in a gym where he delivered the “I have a dream” refrain from his Lincoln Memorial address. Also nearby, in 1978, the Sanitation Strike held and led by African American workers and civil rights leaders.

Nash County Farmer’s Market – Located in nearby Rocky Mount, walk the aisles of farm fresh fruits, vegetables, handmade goods, and fresh seafood in a new facility.

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Wilson NC Travel Guide
Khalilah Hamlett, Owner of 252 HQ
The Selkie Gift Shop in Wilson, NC
Amanda Duncan, Owner of The Selkie

Places to Eat in Wilson, North Carolina

Down East North Carolina has unrivaled culinary creativity and diverse dishes. Find redemption in these treats and don’t wait in line when you can tailgate.

Treat Yo’ Self Bakery – Made fresh daily, Treat Yo’ Self Bakery offers gluten-free and low sugar items plus a large selection of bakery items and specialty drinks. All of their napkins, utensils, cups and lids are 100% biodegradable.

Ruckus & Redemption – Ruckus & Redemption’s redeeming quality is the Sunday Brunch, a combination of fresh fruits and American comfort staples accented with unique cocktails like the Elderflower Mimosa. Their daily menu is expertly crafted to focus on what they do best. I highly recommend the fried brussel sprouts, pimento cheese starter, and the patty melt. The signature cocktails, from the resident mixologist, are sure to make a ruckus, like the Gunshot Bicycle Man or the Do Not Disturb.

Beefmastor Inn – If you don’t get there early enough to snag one of the tables for dinner, beating the daily rush, you can plan to tailgate in the parking lot with everyone else. At Beefmastor Inn they only serve one cut of steak, and they embrace “doing one thing really well”. You won’t find a better steak in the region, but their food truck steak sandwich might impress you too.

The Prime Smokehouse – Located within Rocky Mount Mills and next to the original mill, The Prime Smokehouse is filled with barbeque dishes with the freshest and most carefully chosen ingredients. I highly recommend the seafood gumbo, smokehouse wings, potatoes au gratin, orange-ginger yams, lasagna, and peach cobbler.

Wilson NC Travel Guide
The Prime Smokehouse - Owner Ed Wiley III Signed a Menu To Us
Wilson NC Travel Guide
Treat Yo’ Self Bakery

Places to stay in Wilson, North Carolina

Find your serenity and reconnect with the scenic and expansive spaces in Down East North Carolina, near Wilson, and Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

River and Twine – Live big, sleep small at River and Twine. With 20 tiny homes to choose from, and local guest suites, you too will join the tiny home revolution. Enjoy lawn games, the fire pit, outdoor meals, and enjoy the Mill’s campus of breweries and restaurants.

Wallace Meadows Farm Guest House – Centrally located in Trenton, North Carolina, Wallace Meadows Farm Guest is one of my all-time favorite Airbnbs. Rich and Tisha are amazing and kind hosts. The property is set on 40 acres with cows, chickens, and a donkey. I spent my days feeding the donkey, petting cows, walking the 1-mile trail around the farm, sitting under the pergola, or swinging on the swing watching the sunset. The inside of the house is just as amazing as the outside. This guest house has two bedrooms, expansive views from the master bedroom and living room, comfortable furniture, a well-appointed kitchen, and is one of the cleanest Airbnbs we’ve ever stayed in. If you are ready to breathe in fresh air, feel the peace and serenity of open spaces, and settle into the quiet spaces within, the Wallace Meadows Farm Guest House will heal you, provide respite and joy. We stayed here for a month and drove throughout the east side of North Carolina.

Statue in Wilson NC
Wilson Arts Center
Mural in Wilson NC
Mural Walk

Seasonal things to see and do in Wilson, North Carolina

Year Round


Whirligig FestivalEnjoy this two-day arts festival and celebrate the infamous Wirligig Park.

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Best In Show Wilson, North Carolina

This best in show highlights an amazing legacy of passionate soulful cooking, the internationally known kinetic sculptures of a repairman who became a folk-art legend, and a tiny house community leading the way for tiny living in North Carolina.

Things to DoWhirligig Park & Museum – Located in downtown on a two-acre public park, and internationally known, the Whirligig Park draws tourists from around the world to see the kinetic folk-art sculptures. The sculptures are the creation of Vollis Simpson, a farm machinery repairman who created the sculptures out of metal and reflective scraps. Originally the whirligigs were on his private land, 11 miles outside of Wilson, NC but in 2010 Whirligig Park was created in downtown Wilson, to preserve this international treasure. Though Vollis never thought himself to be an artist, the whirligigs are recognized by the art community including a permanent display at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, the American Folk Art Museum in Manhattan, New York, and even claiming coveted recognition as a window installation in New York’s Bergdorf Goodman’s department store.

Check the events calendar for outdoor concerts and activities and the annual Whirligig Festival. Be sure to hop across the street to the museum/store for more information or even commission your own Whirligig.

Food The Prime Smokehouse – Located within Rocky Mount Mills and adjacent to the original mill, The Prime Smokehouse is filled with barbeque dishes of the freshest and carefully chosen ingredients. The food is exquisite, meats are fall-off-the-bone-tender, the dishes are soulful, and even the desserts sing with flavor. Part owner, Ed Wiley III pays tribute to his father with photos and a mural of the late Ed Wiley Jr, soulful American saxophone musician, creating the essence of a jazz club.  The value is superior, the service is outstanding, and Ed Wiley’s legacy lives on in the passion for cooking and music in his son’s heart.

Accommodations River and Twine – Located in nearby Rocky Mount, River and Twine joins the tiny house revolution with 20 tiny homes to choose from, and local guest suites. The tiny homes are all unique, designed to optimize the interior space, and exude the essence of fun with “curated album collections, board games and book, and even an Eno hammock”. Expand your living space to the outside, where you can enjoy lawn games, the fire pit, outdoor meals, and meet your other “tiny” neighbors.

Wilson NC Travel Guide
Duke Lemur Center
Alise in Wilson
Wallace Meadows Farm Guest House
Wilson NC Travel Guide
Duke Lemur Center

Alise’s Favorites and Suggestions

Duke Lemur Center – I’ve been drawn to Lemurs for decades, and it was a dream come true to enter their enclosure, stand 3 feet from them in awe, as they lived their lemur lives. The center, located in Durham, NC as part of the Duke University campus, houses 14 species and over 200 lemurs, the largest population of lemurs in the world, outside of Madagascar. Lemurs are the most endangered mammal in the world. The impressive outdoor areas, sectioned from over 50 acres of forest, allow the lemurs to play, run, and sun. I know it’s a bit of a drive from the other locations, but it was really life changing for me. They offer tours in the warmer months for the lemur’s safety. I highly recommend this activity.

Day Trips

Beaufort and the Crystal Coast, NC The Crystal Coast is over 80 miles of beach towns that encompass some of the most beautiful beaches in North Carolina and small beach town gems like Beaufort, Emerald Isle, Surf City and Oriental. The shimmering water will call to you, invite you to walk, rest, and rejoice. Delicious food and sun await your next vacation to the Crystal Coast.
New Bern, NC Settled in 1710 by Swiss immigrants, New Bern, the second-oldest colonial town in North Carolina, was named after Bern, the capital of Switzerland. New Bern, surround on three sides by the water of the Neuse River, connected to the Pamlico Sound, is a coastal town integrated with nearby noteworthy mainland cities, perfect for a weekend getaway. Sail in and stay a while, or dock for the day at one of the marinas in town.

Cycling in Wilson, North Carolina

Down East North Carolina, including Wilson and Rocky Mount North Carolina, are road cycle friendly. Check out the weekly rides, including a ladies’ ride, rides out of Goldsboro, or local cycle races. Make sure to review state laws, stay alert to changing bike lane conditions, and bike accessible roads.

Flamingos in Key West Butterfly Conservatory
Sylvan Heights Bird Park
Wilson NC
Collin’s Produce and Flower Farm

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