Perhaps it was the dolphins in the distance jumping in and out of the Atlantic, or the pail of sand dollars I brought home with me, but Wilmington, North Carolina counts as one of my favorite places on the planet. Its alluring blend of southern charm and quaint sophistication paired with its stunning coastline and warm tropical atmosphere is enough to make anyone feel at home, but more importantly, wonderfully far away.
Hailing from the snowy and cold Midwest, the idea of flying off to sunny North Carolina after Christmas was more than I could dream, and even with these great expectations, Wilmington proved lovelier still. It’s significantly quieter than beach towns in SoCal, less touristy than Floridian attractions, and just as pretty as the more popular Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In short: Wilmington is one of America’s hidden gems. So, without further ado, my tips and hints for a vibrant experience in The Port City:
#1: Begin your Wilmington adventure in the city’s historic downtown district. If your visit falls on a Saturday between March-December, head to Cape Fear River to explore the tasty fares and homemade goods of the Riverfront Farmer’s Market. Sample fresh fruit, the best-ever pickled veggies, jellies, wines, and much more in this eclectic market as you listen to the sounds of local musicians and feast your eyes on local crafts and art.
#2: After exploring the Farmer’s Market, head to Port City Java (300 North Front Street) for a cup of locally roasted Fair Trade coffee. If one cup of joe simply won’t do, head to one of the other fifteen cafes sprinkled downtown.
#3: Downtown Wilmington boasts two excellent local booksellers located in the Cotton Exchange shopping district: Old Books on Front and The Sisters Bookery. Featuring books new and old, readings by local writers and more, these local favorites are worth a visit.
#4: Fans of the hit TV show, One Tree Hill will get a kick out of visiting 1 Battleship Road, the set of River Court, the basketball court which frequently served as the backdrop for Lucas Scott’s (Chad Michael Murray) broody musings and the point of conflict with rival Nathan Scott (James Lafferty).
#5:While this was most certainly NOT a stop on my Wilmington experience, the Cape Fear Serpentarium is a singular attraction featuring rare and dangerous reptiles from across the world, including giant boa constrictors and giant crocodiles… can you see why I wasn’t brave enough?
#6: While I was too scared to visit the Serpentarium, I can personally attest to the fun and eerie excitement of the Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington. Recent tours boast of actual encounters with real ghosts, but beyond creepy meetings, the Ghost Tours are an excellent way to learn more about Wilmington’s lively and interesting past.
#7: Getting hungry? Head to Front Street Brewery for a great tap beer and some good ol’ American grub. The chicken nachos are fantastic; the atmosphere is laid-back and friendly, and the prices are affordable.
#8:If you have a serious sweet tooth look no further than Kilwin’s Ice Cream & Candy to satisfy your cravings. Serving up first-rate ice cream, candies, and chocolates (their milk chocolate turtles are to die for!), Kilwin’s is not to be missed.
#9: Had enough of ‘city attractions?’ Head out of doors to the beautiful Airlie Gardens. Featuring ten acres of lakes, walking trails, sculptures, and literally thousands of bright azaleas, Airlie is sure to delight even the non-nature enthusiasts among us.
#10: Visiting Wilmington without heading to one of their uncrowded, stunning beaches would be a shame. Whatever your budget, time table or interest, be sure to enjoy ocean views of Wrightsville Beach, Kure Beach, or Carolina Beach while in Wilmington. Pack a picnic lunch and a Sophie Kinsella, and soak in the warm southern rays before taking a dip in Wilmington’s refreshingly clean water.
Wilmington’s largely undiscovered charm is certainly part of its appeal, which partly explains my reticence to divulge too much about this dreamy corner of the world, but not sharing might have been a crime.
Photos courtesy of Aerodacious, Blog CDN, Kilwins, and Wilmington and Beaches