Get out of the hectic holiday madness and take a relaxing getaway to Wilmington, N.C. and its Island Beaches to experience award-winning restaurants, breweries, museums, live music and holiday activities including festive seaside markets, flotilla parades, decorated homes and enchanted gardens, all with a coastal twist.
Decorated Homes and Lights
Instead of touring holiday homes’ outside lights, venture inside historic homes and neighborhoods, exquisite gardens and an aquarium. Cape Fear Festival of Trees at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher invites guests to wander through a winter wonderland, while seeing unique underwater animals, from Nov. 19 through Jan. 2. Airlie Gardens, which has been featured in televisions series like “One Tree Hill” and “Dawson’s Creek,” transforms into a sparkling garden full of over one million lights and holiday sights during Enchanted Airlie, Nov. 23-24, Nov. 30-Dec. 1 and Dec. 7-22.
Spanning 230-plus blocks, Wilmington’s National Register Historic District is one of the largest in the country. Explore seven private homes, including the oldest house in Wilmington (the Mitchell-Anderson built in 1738) and three churches during the Old Wilmington by Candlelight Tour on Dec. 1-2. Journey through the Burgwin-Wright House, Bellamy Mansion and St. James Episcopal Church for an old-fashioned Christmas with an evening filled with music, dancing and costumes during A Christmas Stroll Through the Past on Dec. 8. Enjoy a spot of tea, live entertainment, catered treats and more in the charming Bellamy Mansion during Jingle Belles Holiday Tea at the Bellamy Mansion, Dec. 2- 3.For a bountiful experience, visit Poplar Grove Plantation for A Merry Little Christmas Festival Dec. 7-9 and 14-16. Embark on a candlelight tour of the Manor House to see decorated rooms by theme and color. The plantation’s twinkling grounds will offer activities for guests of all ages including a bonfire to roast marshmallows, a station to send your wish list to the North Pole, visits with Santa and outdoor screenings of holiday favorites like “The Polar Express,” “A Christmas Story” and “Elf.”
Floats that Float
Christmas parades at the coast look a little different – the floats actually float! This year, celebrate a non-traditional Thanksgiving and kick off the holiday season in style as you watch festively-decked out boats cruise the Intracoastal Waterway during the 35th Annual North Carolina Holiday Flotilla at Wrightsville Beach on Nov. 24-25. Voted a Southeast Tourism Society Top 20 Event, this weekend-long celebration including a Festival in the Park that culminates with the lighted boat parade and fireworks. Thanksgiving plans already set? Enjoy the Island of Lights Christmas Flotilla at Carolina Beach on Dec. 1.
Grab a bite to eat along the Riverwalk at Elijah’s or The Pilot House before taking in a different view of classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol” at historic Thalian Hall, named one of the most beautifully designed theatres in the country by Architectural Digest. Experience the beloved ballet, “The Nutcracker,” in a new way by watching The Moscow Ballet perform "The Great Russian Nutcracker” at UNCW Kenan Auditorium on Nov. 21 or "A Carolina Nutcracker” set in Wilmington’s own historic Bellamy Mansion performed at the Wilson Center on Dec. 1 and 2. The Wilmington Ballet Company will present the holiday favorite at the state-of-the-art Wilson Center on Dec. 15 and 16. After the curtain has closed, toast the show with a craft cocktail from manna ave. 123 or to keep the entertainment rolling, find a spot and a drink at Tail’s Piano Bar and Lounge.
Shopping with a View
To find the perfect present for everyone on your list, mark your calendars for the Kure Beach Holiday Market on Nov. 24, and finish your holiday shopping oceanside. Visit the North Pole at the Carolina Beach Boardwalk during Christmas by the Sea to shop coastal finds. The Holiday Flea at BAC invites you to shop the “ultimate vintage flea” for retro antique treasures on Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in St. Andrew’s Church, which served as the cultural, spiritual and social center of Wilmington for nearly a century.