Wilmington, the best port in North Carolina, clings to the southeastern edge of the state. With its moderate climate, Wilmington draws many inlanders to its beaches. From its main boulevard downtown that fronts on Cape Fear River to its nautical history, this seaside town offers more than just sandy beaches to tourists.
Downtown Wilmington is a busy place with shops and expensive bistros on Water Street. Chandler's Wharf has an indoor market and a five-acre outdoor area with cobblestone streets and seafood restaurants. Nearby, the Cotton Exchange offers over 30 shops and eateries in four historic brick buildings. See the downtown on a horse-drawn tour with period-costumed drivers delivering anecdotes about the city.
The beaches are still the main draw of the area. Wrightsville is the primary beach on Wilmington's coast. Carolina Beach and Kure are other sandy spots. Fort Fisher State Recreational Area presents Civil War history and shields protected lands. Fort Fisher Aquarium features local wildlife including sharks and alligators. The Fort Fisher-Southport Ferry offers a scenic half-hour boat ride.
Sights with nautical themes include Cape Fear Museum with dioramas of battles and a scale model of the waterfront. The USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial here is nine decks high and the largest museum in the state. Wilmington Railroad Museum has displays of area railroad history including a steam engine and caboose to climb into.
Brunswick Town State Historic Site on Cape Fear River marks the original English settlement in the area. Stop by antebellum Poplar Grove Plantation to see a Greek Revival manor. Try the five-mile drive-through at Airlie Gardens, on the site of a former rice plantation or see 20 acres of annuals, perennials, azaleas and camellias at Orton Plantation Gardens.
What is a beach without amusement park rides and a boardwalk? Carolina Beach Boardwalk offers ice cream shops, juice bars and boutiques. Jubilee Amusement Park offers classic carnival rides. Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park has miniature golf, a climbing wall and Go-Kart track.
Wilmington's accommodations can be downtown or on the beach, your choice. Downtown includes Graystone Inn, named one of the Top Ten Most Romantic Inns in the U.S., one of several historic inns and B & Bs here. Beach accommodations range from apartments to beach house rentals to independent motels to resorts like Blockade Runner Resort Hotel at Wrightsville Beach.
Dining begins with seafood and moves on to steak, southern cooking, burgers and all ethnic cuisines. The Oceanic has a super view and great food with many awards for seafood dishes under its belt. Nightlife includes jazz clubs, theater and dance performances. Outdoor recreation centers on surfing, naturally.
Wilmington is located roughly two hours southeast of Raleigh, NC off I-40 east.