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North Carolina Travel Guide
Wilmington

wilmington, north carolinaThe city of Wilmington is one of the most historically interesting, culturally diverse and fun places, not only in the state of North Carolina but in the entire eastern seaboard. Located between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean the city provides nightlife, great dining, galleries, museums, unique architecture, lovely gardens and some of the best beaches in the USA.

Wilmington's downtown riverfront district is several miles of restaurants, cafes, historic buildings, art galleries, antique shops, bars, music clubs and is one of the most pedestrian friendly environments you will find anywhere. Wilmington's Nationally Preserved Historic District is over 230 blocks long. You can walk endlessly looking at some of the finest examples of nineteenth century architecture and the well kept gardens of these beautifully preserved houses and buildings. No wonder Wilmington has been such a popular location for films that take place in the south. According to a new poll from Public Policy Polling, Wilmington is North Carolina's favorite city.

wrightsville beach, ncThe island communities of Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach are a paradise for families, sportsmen and honeymooners with miles of sandy beaches and plenty of activities. Surf fishing, pier fishing and deep-sea charter boats provide entertainment for those who don't want to lay around on a beach all day. The climate  is the mildest in North Carolina. Most of NC is zone 7 while Wilmington is zone 8. That means for some a wealth of plant-life and for others it means year-round golf. It does not mean you can swim year round though some people do, but you can certainly surf if you have a wet suit, and surfers from all over the Carolina's keep their eye on the weather forcast for storms at sea that may bring big waves to the North Carolina coast. There are more than 54 parks, gardens and lakes and over 49 public golf courses in and around Wilmington and gold is a year round sport. There are even alligators in Wilmington though attacks are pretty much unheard of.

wrightsville beach near wilmington, north carolinaFor mariners  there are public boat ramps, boat rental agents, and over 20 marinas. Greater Wilmington King Mackerel Tournament in July is one of several fishing tournaments. Other tournaments include the Cape Fear Disabled Sportsman Tournament, the American Bass Anglers American Fishing Tour, and the Cape Fear Blue Marlin Tournament. For bicyclists there is a 10 mile route that will take you from downtown Wilmington all the way to Wrightsville Beach. For bird watchers there are over 160 species of birds in the summer and almost that many during spring and fall. Wilmington has some of the best nightlife in North Carolina with lots of clubs and bars that have live music. The first thing to do when you get into town is find a copy of Encore, the Guide to Arts and Entertainment and that will tell you who is playing where, what movies are in town, where to eat, and what festival is going on. For programs like the Azelea Festival they will list all the events and times.

henrietta, wilmington ncThe Henrietta III is the largest riverboat in the Carolinas and does narrated sightseeing cruises Tuesday through Sundays and on Fridays and Saturdays does dinner and dance cruises. The boat has three decks each with a dance floor and bar. It is also available for private parties and weddings and can carry 600 people. The smaller Captain J.N. Maffitt can carry up to 40 passengers for private parties and also serves as a river taxi to the battleship North Carolina.

The Wilmington Trolly Company provides a 45 minute narrated tour of the historic downtown district daily from April through October. As seen in Southern Living magazine, a costumed driver narrates your riverfront tour past stately mansions of historic Wilmington with rescued horses. Springbrook Farms, who runs the carriages, have been in business in Wilmington for 25 years and are very proud of the fact that they have been able to save 12 percheron draft horses by using them in their business. Private tours are also available See www.horsedrawntours.com

battleship north carolina, wilmington, ncThe most popular museum in Wilmington is the restored WWII battleship North Carolina which served in every major Naval offensive on the Pacific with it's crew of 2,339. The ship is moored right across the river from downtown though it can be seen from the Wilmington side if you don't plan to go across and do the tour. The tour is recommended. It is not very ofen you get to see what it was like for over two thousand sailors to live on a ship that was not built for luxury cruises. For more info see the Battleship NORTH CAROLINA page.

The Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts is in a restored historical building that also houses City Hall. It was built in 1858 and offers a season's worth of Broadway musicals, major concerts, dance, theater and more. For more info including schedules of performances see www.thalianhall.com

wilmington, ncWilmington's Historic Downtown features some amazing architecture and an interesting collection of bars, restaurants, cafes and shops. The Cotton Exchange are restored 19th Century buildings connected by brick walkways and courtyards that now house over 30 restaurants and  shops. Coffee is a way of life in Wilmington and there is no shortage of Coffee Shops downtown and around the city. In fact their local coffee company Port City Java, has 16 locations and counting, in and around Wilmington, each with a mission to roast and serve the finest coffee and espresso in a warm and inviting atmosphere. Or check out the Barrista Cafe and the Wilmington Tea Room which serves scones and English tea sandwiches. Or the unique Holy Grounds, a Christian coffee shop whose proceeds go to support the Holy Grounds Food Pantry, which serves food to the needy.

arlie gardens, wilmington, ncArlie Gardens is 67 acres of freshwater lakes, azaleas, camelia's  the 450 year old Arlie Oak and exotic plants from all over the world on the banks of Bradley Creek just off the Intercoastal Waterway near Wrightsville Beach. The gardens are over one hundred years old and are said to be the finest on the east coast. Arlie Gardens  are not the only show in town for botanists and horticulturists. Greenfield Park is 200 acres of lakes with a 20 acre garden and a walking and bike trail through a cyprus swamp as well as canoe and paddleboat rentals.

The North Carolina Aquarium at nearby Fort Fisher is a facinating collection of saltwater tanks where you can view sharks, grouper, barracuda, alligators, sea-turtles, skates, stingrays and giant moray eel. One tank called the Cape Fear Shoals is  200,000 gallons of seawater that you can view from various levels. Don't miss this place.

wilmington, nc historical districtrctThere are hotels of all category from luxury riverfront and beachfront to your standard cheap-o highway motel variety as well as some beautiful historical houses and Inn's that have been converted to B&B's. The Wilmington Hilton Riverside has a terrific view right on the river and is the place to be during a hurricane. There are a number of hotels on Market Street though it is a hike down to the waterfront. For my money it is either the Riverside Hilton or stay on Wrightsville Beach. See Hotels in Wilmington

You can spend hours if not days wandering through the historic district looking at houses. Some have been turned into B&B's. Others are now museums. Most are just people's houses. The Bellamy Mansion Museum of History and Design Arts was the Union Headquarters at the end of the Civil War and focuses on architectural history and preservation. It  is one of North Carolina's most spectacular examples of antebellum architecture. The Latimer House Museum is a Victorian family home with gardens and also serves as the headquarters for the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society.

wilmington, nc serpentariumAmong the Wilmington museums is the Louise Wells Cameron Art Museum which features North Carolina and American art from the 18th century to the present.  The Cape Fear Museum of History and Science is the oldest history museum in North Carolina, founded in 1898. It began collecting confederate relics, and now collects images and artifacts that help people understand the history, science and cultures of the region. The Michael Jordan Discovery Gallery encourages the young and the young at heart to get their hands on the Lower Cape Fear's environment. The Wilmington Childrens Museum at 1020 Market Street is a center for exploring through inter-active play stations similar to San Francisco's Exploratorium. The Wilmington Railroad Museum exhibits the city's role as the center of railroad history in the southern United States. One of the most interesting museums is the Cape Fear Serpentarium at 20 Orange street just a half a block up from the river. It is a collection of the most scariest snakes, crocodiles and dragons from all over the world including the largest collection of Bushmasters. There are over one hundred species of snakes, some so rare they are not exhibited anywhere else. Take the time to read the descriptions of what has happened to people who have been bitten.

Nikos of Olympia Restaurant in WilmingtonA little-known fact that you won't find in the tourist brochures is a story told to me by Nikos Voulgaris, owner of the Olympia Restaurant in Wrightsville Beach. North Carolina was a primary source for pine-resin which the Greeks used for among other things Retsina. Greeks helped dredge the Cape Fear River to make it deep enough for the ships that cross the ocean. It is now the primary deep-water port in NC and the Greeks, most from the island of Ikaria, known for their long stress-free lives are still here in large number. The Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church Festival is one of the most popular Greek festivals in the USA. It is usually held mid May at 608 S. College Road.

Wilmington is known as Hollywood East or Wilmywood. Since Dino DeLaurentis came here in the eighties over 400 projects have been filmed here. Screen Gems has narrated guided tours of their sound stages which you can find out about by calling 910 343-3433. The following movies have been filmed here:  A Walk To Remember, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Blue Velvet, Weekend at Bernie's, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Empire Records, Cape Fear, Black Knight, Super Mario Bros 28 Days, The Crow, Nights in Rodanthe, Firestarter, Maximum Overdrive, The Jackal, Sleeping with the Enemy, The Hudsucker Proxy, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Message in a Bottle, Domestic Disturbance, Cat's Eye, The Road to Wellville, No Mercy and Hounddog. Also these television shows: Matlock, Surface, The WB's Dawson's Creek and One Tree Hill and the HBO series Eastbound & Down (my daughters favorite show). So even if you have never been to Wilmington chances are you have seen it.

Restaurants in Wilmington

wilmington, cape fear riverWilmington has a large variety of restaurants and going out at night is a treat. There is something magical about sitting at a cafe on the river and suddenly seeing in front of you the massive shape of a tanker or freighter being guided down the river and out to sea by one of the Wilmington tugboats. It is romantic to me. There is a lot of romance in Wilmington which is why someone even took the care to save the facade of the old theater which now hides a parking lot.

Suggested restaurants include Caprice Bistro, which is Wilmington's only authentic French and Belgian style bistro, located right on Market Street by the river. The Pilot House has been in its present location on the river and has been serving seafood to locals, tourists and celebrities for over 25 years and has received great reviews from just about every food writer who has set foot in the place. Dock Street Oyster Bar wins the Best Oyster Bar in Wilmington Award just about every year as well as Best Overall Seafood Restaurant and are located on Dock Street, right by the river. The Riverboat Landing has been a Wilmington landmark dining destination for over 25 years, Located on the bank of the historic Cape Fear River in a beautiful historic building, serving Southern regional food with French, Mediterranean and Asian influences.  The George offers Southern Coastal cuisine featuring fresh local seafood, steaks, pasta, salads, desserts and the chef's daily specialties. It is also the only riverfront restaurant with a dock that you can tie up to and sit down right on the wharf for dinner, for what they call Dock and Dine in Wilmington.

Front Street Brewery is Wilmington’s only Restaurant & Brewery and one of the first micro-brews in North Carolina. Brewmaster Kevin Kozak has won the prestigous GOLD AWARD at the World Beer Cup and the restaurant has an extensive menu and a wonderful atmosphere for those who love their craft beer and the foods that go with it. They also give tours and from 3pm-5pm as Brewer Kevin Kozak and Assistant Brewer Christopher McGarvey teach the brewing process and offer samples of their flagship and seasonal microbrews. Check out their half-priced appetizers between 4-6 and after 10 and their extensive full menu which is served until midnight every night. This is as much a must-visit location as anywhere in Wilmington.

Conclusion

If you are the type of person who does not go to the beach because you are afraid you will bored and spend the holiday in front of the television watching sporting events that you could care less about then my recommendation is to come to Wilmington, North Carolina and either stay in town and visit Wrightsville and the other beaches in the day, or stay on the beach and come in town at night for the fun. Or what the heck... just come to Wilmington and don't even go to the beach. Or if you are sick and tired of freezing your ass off every winter just move here. It's like the best of Long Island without traffic, high taxes and uptight neighbors.

Helpful Information about Wilmington

Wrightsville Beach is the closest beach to Wilmington and one of the best beaches in the USA

For Hotels in the Wilmington Area with photos, reviews and on-line booking visit Booking.com's Wilmington Page.

If you want to stay on the beach and come into town for dinner and nightlife then check out Booking.com's Wrightsville Beach Page

Have a look at my Wilmington Photos which will make you want to go.

See also: Kure Beach ,Southport ,The North Carolina Outerbanks and
Ocracoke Island

Return to North Carolina Index

If you like my North Carolina site then you will love my Greece Travel Guides