The island’s first structure was the Carolina Yacht Club, built in 1853. A train track was built in 1888 from the mainland to Harbor Island to the exterior island along the beach, which brought vacationers from nearby Wilmington and spurred development. In 1902, the train was converted to electric streetcars—i.e., the beach trolley. The most significant structure on the island was the large dance floor and entertainment center, the Lumina Pavilion, which opened in 1905. In its heyday, it attracted numerous entertainers, including most of the famous Big Bands. Cars were finally allowed on the beach in 1935, hastening the demise of the beach trolley, which last ran in 1940. Lumina closed in 1973. The Wrightsville Beach Museum of History, housed in a relocated cottage built in 1907 on Salisbury Street near the entrance to the island, features the town’s history.
In addition to its sandy beaches, Wrightsville Beach is known for centrally located Johnny Mercer’s Pier, considered an excellent place for fishing. The original wooden pier there was destroyed by Hurricane Fran in 1996, but was rebuilt with heavy concrete and opened in the early 2000s. Surfing is also very popular. The four primary hotels on the beach are The Surf Suites, Shell Island Resort, Blockade Runner and Holiday Inn Sunspree. There are several restaurants, stores, a gourmet grocery store and several marinas on Wrightsville Beach, and Harbor Island.