Navigate from river to the sea, past stately antebellum homes, and next to repurposed warehouses that now showcase unique shops and galleries. Spend the night in an elegant B&B, on board a luxurious boat, or in an ocean front resort.
Eat the freshest of seafood, or perhaps award-winning fusion cuisine prepared by a chef who sharpened his knives with the European masters.
Enjoy live performances at historic venues, or rocking nightclubs.
Sit, sip and embrace the sunset.
Wilmington is one picture-perfect destination for a vacation, which, for many, has led to more permanent moorings. Join us, as we share insider tips from friends, experts and regular folks who’ve found this little piece of paradise worth crowing about.
There is no shortage of romantic, or remarkable, overnight accommodations. Three B&Bs are often praised by review sites.
Camellia Cottage, is found on a brick-paved street within the historic district. Welcoming, eclectic, thoughtful and pet friendly, the gardens around the cottage is filled with azaleas, magnolias, jasmine and over 40 camellia bushes. Should this lovely cottage be your choice, you can take a virtual tour of thee rooms before making a decision. Don’t even think about going out for breakfast, because innkeeper Paul is a former pastry chef, and after enjoying coffee delivered to your door, you’ll indulge in fresh fruit, homemade pastries, perhaps an elegant quiche or frittata, and even dessert. (A day which begins with chocolate hazelnut torte is a good day, indeed.)
Another worthy choice is C.W. Worth House, a charming and historic Southern home with dual turrets, fanciful shingles, and seven guestrooms. It has a family past strewn with governor’s names, and even Daniel Webster and Benjamin Franklin. A formal Victorian parlor, comfortable library, and inviting dining room are appealing, as is the lovely garden and fishpond. Breakfasts include organic fair trade coffee, fresh fruits, homemade muffins, and entrée’s such as rosemary goat cheese bread pudding, or perhaps artichoke/mushroom quiche.
The Verandas is about two blocks from the downtown waterfront, and is 8,500 square feet of Victorian Italianate mansion. The name comes from four verandas for sitting, and the award-winning garden is delightful. With a AAA four-diamond rating, the 151-year-old mansion is the epitome of southern elegance. Gourmet breakfasts began the day perfectly, and complimentary wine at 5pm helps smooth the way to the evening’s entertainment.
For something a bit different consider Jubilee Snooze and Cruise where family and friends will enjoy the Sea Star with its comfortable accommodations and elegant dining – all with never-ending views of the Cape Fear River.
There are others, of course. There are a number of inns and B&Bs that lend themselves to hosting guests and showcasing their history and fine design. And nearby Wrightsville Beach has rental properties and resorts that put you on the ocean front.
WHERE TO EAT
There are so many great restaurants in the Wilmington area – more than 400 noteworthy ones at last count. For this road trip, we’re sharing some favorites from friends and review sites, including general locations. With so many attractions covering a wide geographic area, suggestions by geographic area will come in handy. Let’s begin with downtown.
Le Catalan is a French wine bistro on the riverwalk and affords lovely wines, light menu, and great sunset views. Good for lunch or early dinner. To look at their menu board is to be instantly transported to Catalonia, one of the most appealing areas for anyone who loves good food, wine and the French countryside.
Caprice Bistro serves French cuisine and is about a half-block from the river on Market Street. Everyone raves about their grilled romaine with shrimp, but there’s also quite a bit of buzz over their Waterzooi (think bouillabaisse). Consider a Cappuccino in the sofa lounge on the second floor.
For more casual fare, The Greeks offers good food, two-three blocks off the river. You place your order at the counter and can dine in or take out. A good lunch option if you’re in the area. Be sure to order a gyro, and take note of the very authentic market in the building.
The Basics is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s located in the historic Cotton Exchange. Try the Fried green tomato sandwich on ciabbata bread, or perhaps grilled Pimiento Cheese with tomato soup. Did we mention that this is Southern fare?
Circa 1922 www.circa1922.com is a superb tapas restaurant. Order the large platters to share with friends and let them help you choose the wine from their notable list. They also have sushi, making for an unlikely combination of flavors and styles that flow seamlessly together.
Front Street Brewery. Wilmington’s only microbrewery offers very good pub food (the BBQ sandwich is a hit with locals) and “Flights” of beer. You order a flight and get to taste several of their specialties without overindulging. A really fun destination.
Pilot House is on the river and features Lowcountry specialties such as fried green tomatoes and Lobster mac and cheese. For lunch, try a grilled vegetable Panini or perhaps a crab melt.
Elijah’s is also located on the river and features Lowcountry specialties among other casual fare. Try the fish and chips, or perhaps the popcorn shrimp. Dress for outside dining and enjoy one premier sunset over the water.
The George is on the riverwalk and invites boaters to “dock and dine” in a comfortable, casual atmosphere. Try the Carolina Po-boy, or perhaps fish tacos or George’s shrimp and grits – yummy!
Catch Restaurant was created in 2006 by award-winning local chef Keith Rhodes and his wife Angela. Together they have followed a philosophy of local, sustainable and fresh food -- with a modern twist -- and the results are touted all over the web. Try the redo of local shrimp and grits, with sherry gravy, shitake mushrooms, scallions & chorizo sausage.
CAM Café (for lunch) at the Cameron Art Museum. This is not your ordinary museum café food. We’re intrigued by the avocado fries, but really interested in peppers stuffed with eggplant, zucchini, kale, quinoa, goat, feta and parmesan cheeses. The dishes look so appealing it might be worth scheduling your day around a trip to the museum.
Osteria Cicchetti is an authentic Italian restaurant and pizzeria that is a locals favorite. You’ll find all of the usual suspects here, from wild mushroom risotto, to linguini and eggplant parmesan and many more. The penne alla vodka comes highly recommended as does the outdoor seating.
Aubrianas is a great choice if you want to surprise your significant other with an elegant night on the town. May we suggest the Chilled Blue Crab salad with avocado, cucumbers, green apple and Chatham County goat cheese served with a tangy preserved lemon yogurt? Or how about fresh blue lump crab and Maine lobster cake with a warm caprese salad of roasted and vine ripe tomato and fresh mozzarella cheese with crisp prosciutto served with both hollandaise and pesto sauces? We thought so.
Manna Ave. is another great out-on-the-town option. They use local, regional and American ingredients almost exclusively, and invite you to “Come see America through our eyes.” Their menu changes daily, and the fanciful names given the dishes are pure fun. What about trying “The Reel Deal” with roasted local fish, ragout of green onions, charred corn, squash, red peppers, capers, green olives, in a sauce of yellow tomato, finished with fresh mint & chives.
To hang with the locals, a good choice for breakfast on the island of Wrightsville Beach is Causeway Café. You’ll love the down home food and the friendly atmosphere.
A great option for lunch or dinner is South Beach Grill with daily specials and indoor or outdoor seating. A perennial favorite is Grouper Linda – fresh local fish with a spiced pecan crust, and pan seared with backfin crabmeat, spring onion, and cream sherry beurre blanc sauce.
Oceanic Restaurant is distinctive as the only non-hotel resort oceanfront restaurant on Wrightsville Beach. Reviewers rave about the views and especially the Sunday Brunch. It can get quite crowded in season, but dinner reservations are permitted.
Dockside is on the Intracoastal Waterway, which is always entertaining. Count on crowds at this favorite hangout. Some say Dockside has the best Bloody Marys around. Menu centers around casual seafood.
Bridge Tender is another Intracoastal Waterway restaurant. One reviewer called it “classy, a bit chic, beautiful setting with outdoor seating right out over the water, a great menu and excellent service.” Not a bad recommendation. Go for the seafood specials.
Blue Water Grill is still another waterway option. Call thirty minutes ahead to get on their wait list. Scallops stuffed with crab a great lunchtime value.
Michaels Seafood Restaurant offers many reasons to visit, but the most compelling is their seafood chowder. An international award-winner, the cream-based delight is loaded with clams, crabmeat, scallops, veggies, potatoes, herbs and spices. Eat, then take note. You can buy it hot or frozen to take home and relive the moment.
Havana’s Island Restaurant has the best seafood on the island according to Urbanspoon. Try the crab cakes and shrimp and grits and save room for Bananas Foster for dessert.
Freddie’s is an Italian crowd-pleaser. The pork chops are mentioned time and again as the go-to dish, however, Barb’s salad dressing is a winner, and available for purchase at the restaurant or online.
Jack Mackerel’s is a Kure Beach favorite. The shrimp mango quesadillas are excellent, and the Island jerk chicken delicious. For folks needing a sports-fix, the ten large-screen TVs should ease your pain. For everyone else, grab an ocean view and enjoy.
OK, folks. This is the largest list we’ve ever compiled for a Carolina Road Trip. You have choices – and lots of great ones. Now that you’ve got the scoop on where to stay and what to eat, let’s consider fun ways to entertain you and yours while visiting.
WHAT TO DO NEXT?
We recommend a city tour, by land or by sea. Tours are great ways to familiarize yourself in unknown territory and identify return-to locations.
Choices are plentiful:
And on the water:
• Downtown: Henrietta III Riverboat(celebrating 25 years in 2013)
LEARN FROM THE PAST
Encompassing about 300 blocks, Wilmington features one of the largest National Register of Historic Places areas in the U.S. for a city its size. The Downtown District totals about 100 blocks, and includes charming residential areas with their beautiful old homes on shady streets lined with stately moss-draped live oaks. Nearby is the mile-long Riverwalk, with shops, parks, restaurants and attractions – fun for all.
Historic District attractions include:
• Latimer House; and
The Cape Fear Museum of History & Science is a must. It’s NC’s oldest history museum and serves as a gateway to exploring the social and natural history of the region.
SHOP ‘TIL YOU DROP
Oh, the great stuff you can buy, here. You’ll find lots of shopping/dining downtown along Front Street and Market Street, as well as at the Cotton Exchange and Chandler’s Wharf.
There are several art galleries and visitors who are here on the 4th Friday will enjoy the Fourth Friday Gallery Walk. (Find more information at www.wilmingtonandbeaches.com)
Yep! That’s Wilmington’s other name. North Carolina ranks among the top states for U.S. film production and Wilmington is at its epicenter with EUE/Screen Gems Studios, the largest production facility east of L.A.
2012 was a banner year for film production in Wilmington. New television productions include Amblin Entertainment’s CBS mini-series “Under the Dome” (based on Stephen King’s novel), Lifetime’s “Witches of East End,” and FOX’s “Sleepy Hollow.” New feature films include comedienne Melissa McCarthy’s “Tammy” with Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates and Dan Aykroyd, as well as the Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie “Christmas in Conway” starring Mary-Louise Parker.
Wilmington-made movies released in 2013 include Marvel Studios’ blockbuster “Iron Man 3”; Nicholas Sparks’ “Safe Haven”; the hit horror flick “The Conjuring”; and “We’re the Millers” starring Jennifer Aniston, among others. Prior film/TV credits include more than 400 projects, such as “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”, “A Walk to Remember,” and TV series “Dawson’s Creek,” “One Tree Hill, “Matlock,” NBC’s “Revolution”, and HBO’s “East Bound & Down.”
Visitors can experience Hollywood East via the Hollywood Location Walk, a tour of downtown TV/movie locations or Cape Fear Segway Tour’s “Hollywood.”On any given day there are film crews and star-sightings from the river to the sea.
AND ALL THE REST:
USS Battleship North Carolina Moored in quiet dignity and majesty, this immense vessel can be found across the river from downtown Wilmington. Visitors from everywhere walk her decks and envision the daily life and fierce combat her crew faced in the Pacific Theatre during World War II.
You’ll learn about the men who served there, through their oral histories, photographs, and mementos. A great attraction for the family.
Fort Fisher State Historic Site makes a great afternoon trip. Fort Fisher State Recreation Area offers four miles of undeveloped beach and free parking. It backs up to the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
At Wrightsville Beach: Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours offers nature cruises, narrated cruises, fishing, etc
Carolina Beach State Park offers 5 nature trails, including a Venus Flytrap Trail (VT only grows in the wild within a 60-100 mile radius of Wilmington) where the plant grows in a protected environment.
Greenfield Lakewas originally developed in the 1730s to aid in rice production. Today, a five-mile paved pathway offers great scenic views of cypress trees draped in Spanish moss, gorgeous azaleas in season, and local wildlife. This is an insider favorite.
New Hanover County Arboretum (free) The seven-acre Arboretum is a remarkable “horticulture laboratory” in the heart of New Hanover County where homeowners can see the variety of plants that grow in the coastal area as well as emerging trends in plant material. Very interesting, especially if you are considering more permanent roots.
Wrightsville Beach Museum of History is where to go to learn about what’s behind the beautiful beaches. The Museum is housed in the turn of the century Myers Cottage where visitors will find a scale model of Wrightsville Beach circa 1910, exhibits featuring the early days of the beach including Lumina Pavilion, hurricane history and information about the interaction between the people and our natural environment which have shaped the 100 year history of Wrightsville Beach. The Museum is designed to reflect how life was lived in a typical home on the Beach and throughout the community.
Airlie Gardens continues to amaze visitors with its breathtaking combination of formal gardens, wildlife, historic structures, walking trails, sculptures, views of Bradley Creek, 10-acres of freshwater lakes, more than 100,000 azaleas and the grandeur of the 467-year-old Airlie Oak.