Wilmington, N.C.: Don’t let the winter blues get you down. Trade those winter blues for water views when you visit Wilmington, North Carolina and its island beaches. Enjoy life’s simple pleasures: ocean sunrises, river sunsets, fresh seafood and winter festivals that indulge the senses, including the Wilmington Wine & Chocolate Festival (Jan. 29-31) and the North Carolina Jazz Festival (Feb. 4-6) which are held on back-to-back weekends.
January ends on a sweet note with the Wilmington Wine and Chocolate Festival (Jan. 29-31) at the Coastline Event Center (503 Nutt Street, Wilmington). Wine and chocolate connoisseurs can sip, nibble and buy delectable delights from regional wineries, chocolatiers, specialty foods and artisans. A Friday night Grand Tasting (7:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) kicks off with live music, heavy hors d’oeuvres (by Catering Thyme) and a fine art exhibit. “El Jaye Johnson & the Port City All-Stars” will have everyone on their feet dancing to popular funk, soul, jazz, R&B, blues and reggae tunes while wine and chocolate purveyors tantalize with tastings. Next door at the Riverview Room and Terrace, the comedy, beer & cigar bar will feature returning comedian “Basile” (8:00 p.m.). Wilmington’s own Broomtail Craft Brewery and Atomic Cigars will provide craft beer and hand-rolled cigars. On Saturday (11:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.) and Sunday (12:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.), the European-style wine and chocolate marketplace features more than 50 fine vintners, chocolatiers, bakers, specialty food purveyors, artists and musicians. Marketplace diversions include food demonstrations by Chef Sam Lawler of Catering Thyme, GAMMS and more. There’s also a Funtime Kids’ Korner with inflatables, art and planting activities. Saturday’s musical lineup includes Benny Hill (saxophone), Susan Savia (guitar/vocals), LaCi (variety duo) and El Jaye Johnson (one-man band). Sunday’s entertainment includes Darryl Donnell Murrill (saxophone) and Rebekah Todd (folk/blues singer/songwriter). All this adds up to a decadent weekend along Wilmington’s award-winning riverfront. The admission charge benefits the New Hanover County Senior Center’s programs. Grand Tasting tickets are based on availability. Saturday and Sunday marketplace tickets are good for one day only. Discounts for children (ages 6-12)/seniors (60+)/military. Group rates available. For details, schedule, advance tickets and partner hotels, call 910-742-0120 or www.wilmingtonwineandchocolatefestival.com.
February starts on a jazzy note with the 36th Annual North Carolina Jazz Festival, a winter tradition since 1980 that brings world-class artists to Wilmington, North Carolina. On February 4th through 6th, fourteen traditional and swing jazz musicians will take the stage for three days in an intimate setting at the Hilton Wilmington Riverside’s ballroom. Cabaret-style seating and All-Star musicians distinguish this as one of the largest traditional jazz festivals in the Southeast. The 2016 North Carolina Jazz Festival kicks off on Thursday night with a 3 ½-hour “Styles of Jazz” concert featuring Galen & Friends (gypsy jazz), Professor Cunningham’s Old School Tribute (big band), jazz master pianist Hod O’Brien and vocalist Stephanie Nakasian with a Tribute to Ladies of Jazz. The evening will come to a rousing close with a traditional jazz jam of Thursday evening’s All-Stars. Friday and Saturday evening features an All-Star musician lineup in a traditional presentation of seven sets with different leaders. This year’s artists include: Kevin Bales and Rossano Sportiello (piano); Jim Fryer and Dion Tucker (trombone); Herman Burney and Nicki Parrott (bass); Jonathan Russell (violin); Nate Najar (guitar); Randy Reinhart and Bria Skonberg (trumpet); Chuck Redd (vibes); Adrian Cunningham and Ken Peplowski (reeds); Quentin Baxter and Chuck Redd (drums); Adrian Cunningham, Vincent Gardner, Nicki Parrott and Bria Skonberg (vocals). Other highlights include workshops, master classes and a Patron’s brunch and jam with the All-Stars. Events take place at the Hilton Wilmington Riverside (301 N. Water Street, Wilmington). Admission charge. For N.C. Jazz Festival tickets and details, call 910-793-1111 or visit www.ncjazzfestival.com. Tickets are available online via the festival website and for purchase at Audio Lab, 5732 Oleander Dr., Wilmington. For hotel reservations and festival rates, contact Hilton Wilmington Riverside: 910-763-5900; www.wilmingtonhilton.com.
City + Beaches: Between sips and sets, visitors can enjoy Wilmington’s 1.75-mile Riverwalk with more than 200 shops, restaurants, and attractions, all within easy walking distance. Prefer an ocean view? The island beaches of Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach are just a few minutes’ drive from the historic river district. For a free 2016 Official Visitors Guide, call 1-866-266-969 or download a copy. For seasonal highlights and special offers, visit www.wilmingtonandbeaches.com/season/2016-winter-highlights.