Wilmington’s got accolades to spare. And although it’s a hopping family destination in the summer, Trip Advisor suggests that it’s also among its “Affordable Winter Hidden Gems.”
CNNTravel.com ranks Wilmington among its “15 charming cities in the American South you may have overlooked.” MiniTime, a family travel website, includes Wilmington in its list of “Most Festive US Cities to Celebrate the Holidays with Kids!” With more than 150 restaurants and taverns, a good time is practically a sure thing.
For those whose tastes lean more towards the bright lights, Wilmington is also a movie town. Those familiar with Wilmington may recognize favorite landmarks when they watch Sleeping with the Enemy, Crimes of the Heart, and Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, among others. With the largest film production studio east of Hollywood, more than 500 film-related projects have been produced on Cape Fear locations.
The new, state-of-the-art Wilson Center joins historic Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 1858, as the River District’s centerpieces for downtown plays, musicals, concerts, dance, art films, children’s movies and more.
Wilmington is one of the state’s most delightful vacation destinations. Through diligent preservation efforts, buildings have been restored and maintained, creating one of the largest historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places, encompassing 230 blocks. Some of these elegant old structures are now B&Bs, where you can enjoy these gems from the past as their owners did two centuries ago. Across the river from the waterfront, Battleship North Carolina, a decorated WWII battleship considered the high-tech marvel of its time, is permanently moored as a memorial and museum. The SECU Memorial Walkway is a half-mile long, 10-foot wide timber walkway surrounding the battleship that is above the water line but below the main deck of the ship, enabling visitors to see the ship’s entire hull for the first time.
The North Carolina Aquarium at Ft. Fisher allows visitors to journey from freshwater rivers and swamps to reefs and the open ocean. A 235,000-gallon tank, with sharks and loggerhead turtles, offers amazing up-close adventures with sea life.
The Ft. Fisher State Historic Site is a Civil War battlefield and museum, showcasing artifacts and featuring an interactive battle map, as well as swords and sabers. The 42,000 sq. ft. Cameron Art Museum features North Carolinian and American art from the 18th Century to the present – a fantastic visual experience.
More restful attractions include the beaches of Wrightsville, Kure and Carolina, with 31 miles of beautiful sandy shoreline, all only minutes from downtown Wilmington. At Topsail Island, a quiet family beach just 30 miles north, visitors are welcome at the turtle hospital where endangered loggerheads are nursed back to good health. The affluent come to stay and play at Figure Eight and Bald Head Islands. The area is a fisherman’s dream with 20 marinas, 60 fishing boat charters, deep-sea, pier, surf and bottom fishing, and 12 annual fishing tournaments.
There are 54 parks and gardens, and many arts and cultural attractions to enjoy. This is a virtual paradise for the festival lover, with more than 100 annual festivals. The North Carolina Jazz Festival is held in February, Riverfest in October, and in April, the queen bee of them all – the North Carolina Azalea Festival, at more than 70 years and still going strong.
Retirees enjoy the activities at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute provides classes focused on adults aged 50 and older.
Pam and Gary Roth both worked for General Mills and as a result, lived from coast to coast, ending up in California for 25 years. When it was time to retire, they knew they wanted to move back East and spent five years prior to retirement traveling and looking. They initially chose Raleigh, but were unable to find the new house they both desired. And then they discovered master-planned communities. Soon, Brunswick Forest caught their attention.
“We bought the homesite and worked with a builder to create what we wanted,” explained Mr. Roth. He loves golf and pronounces Cape Fear National Golf Club “as good as any private club where I have played.” He’s in a men’s golf association, and they play together every week and go on road trips.
Each year they travel to Pinehurst. When home, however, there are plenty of fitness activities to help stay active, including a good fitness center, pools (indoor and outdoor), tennis and racquetball.
Mrs. Roth is in a quilting guild and takes lifelong learning at nearby Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. They use bicycle and walking paths. “We’ve made great friends who are empty nesters and looking for the same thing,” Mr. Roth explained. “We’re all mostly in our late fifties and early sixties, and plan to hang out and grow old together.” They love the activities they find in Wilmington.
WHAT TO DO & WHAT TO SEE
Of interest nearby: Fort Fisher State Historic Site and Civil War Museum and N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher (Kure Beach); Wrightsville Beach Museum of History (Wrightsville Beach).
SPEND THE NIGHT
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
was named one of the best new restaurants in the south in 2016 by Southern Living and with good reason. You’ll find local delicacies here as well as some surprises. Try the crisp-smoked NC Carolina catfish.
114 Market Street • 910.769.2972
is a great option on Carolina Beach. Their menus rely on small, local farm involvement and sustainable regional seafood. The scallops are amazing.
604 N. Lake Park Blvd. Carolina Beach 910.707.0422
Jack Mackerel’s Island Grill
113 K Ave., Kure Beach • 910.458.7668
Also worth a look. . .
Circa 1922 and Henry’s.
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