When I tell people I live in Wilmington, they usually ask two things.
“Isn’t there a real battleship downtown?” Yes, the Battleship NORTH CAROLINA, and you can visit year-round. And, “How close are you to the beach?” Ten minutes away. I’m fortunate.
I always follow up with questions of my own: “Have you ever been to Wilmington? Have you explored downtown? Or hit up the shops in the Castle Street Arts and Antique District? Visited one of our breweries?”
See, downtown we have a killer riverfront—one voted America’s Best Riverfront in USA TODAY’s 10Best. The downtown River District blends Wilmington’s past with its present as shops and galleries occupy historic buildings, while new boutiques and restaurants have opened along the river, all with the river itself taking center stage. It’s a focal point for visitors, but as great as our River District may be, if that’s the only place you see, you don’t get a full picture of Wilmington.
So, I try to direct the curious all around town—tell them to do all the things I love to do when I have free time. That’s usually weekends, but my recommendations are things our guests and visitors can do any time. And I’m a little jealous of them. Why? Because my typical weekend is awesome, and they can enjoy the same things any day they choose.
It starts with a Friday night happy hour. I clock out of work and pick up my wife, and we head out to the Brooklyn Arts District to meet friends at Flytrap Brewing. The Brooklyn Arts District is bookended by Flytrap, a brewery specializing in American and Belgian-style beer, and Palate, a bottle shop with an excellent selection of North Carolina beer and wine. My wife grabs a picnic table outside while I get beers. Our friend Taylor usually joins us with something to eat, maybe a po’boy or banh mi from Detour Deli and Café (a couple of blocks away) or something from the evening’s food truck. If there’s a concert at Brooklyn Arts Center—a church-turned-performance venue—we’ll go, but if not, we’ll enjoy a brew or two, then head to Brick & Mortar for a coffee before going downtown to the River District, where we’ll have our pick of restaurants or spots for another drink.
On Saturdays, I like to spend the morning on Castle Street, where a burgeoning arts and antiques district has developed over the last few years. We eat breakfast at Jester’s Café and then shop at Decades of Décor, which has some amazing mid-century and mid-century modern antiques, or at Fifth & Castle Design Shop, where Meg Caswell of HGTV renown carries a great selection of new and vintage home decor items such as some great pendant lights we got recently. We always stop in at Jess James + Co. to see what the super-stylish namesake has found in her hunt for vintage clothing perfection. During our walk around the neighborhood, I check the upcoming shows at Cape Fear Playhouse, a small black box theater where they do some interesting plays. If there’s something that night, I’ll get tickets and make dinner reservations at Rx, a Southern restaurant just down the block, where the Buffalo Pig Ears are one of my all-time favorite dishes.
After shopping, I like to go for a walk. Sometimes, it’s a walk a few blocks away in the National Register Historic District, or we go to Midtown and explore Airlie Gardens. Throughout the Historic District, some 230 blocks of downtown, the streets are tree-lined and the houses—from colonial homes to Civil War-era mansions to World War II ship workers’ homes—tell a story of a city growing from a small port town to what it is today. At Airlie Gardens, it’s another history lesson—this time of a family’s private kingdom by the sea. Walking the paths, gardens, and naturalized areas, we find there’s always a refreshing breeze and more than a few great places to picnic.
Depending on the afternoon—usually when our nephews are in town—we stop by Midtown’s Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park, a waterpark/go-kart track/mini golf/arcade/fun bonanza. Our 13-year-old nephew likes to drive the go-karts, and the wave pool fascinates our younger nephew. Both boys enjoy mini golf, and I have a feeling I’ll be taking them to the driving range and Wilmington Municipal Golf Course (both right down the street) for a round of real golf pretty soon. The Donald Ross-designed course is friendly to beginners yet presents challenges—and opportunities for great shots—for more skilled golfers.
If our earlier research yielded a must-see, we take in a play from Big Dawg Productions at Cape Fear Playhouse or we go to Mayfaire Town Center to do a little more shopping and head to the movies. If we take in a play, then it’s dinner at Port Land Grille; if we go to the movies, we stop by Lumina Station for dinner at Brasserie du Soleil.
Sundays are a little lazy. The agenda is light: beach time or a long walk around Greenfield Lake. Soon, we’ll have some new places to explore. The south end of town, near Greenfield Lake, will get a gourmet pizza place (Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria) from celebrity Chef Vivian Howard, adding a little vibrancy to the neighborhood where Satellite Bar and the ArtWorks Art Village are. The north end of town is growing, too. A new marina will have a pair of restaurants—BlackFinn Ameripub and Vida Mexican Kitchen y Cantina—adding to Pier 33, a dockside concert venue, and the Embassy Suites Wilmington Riverfront Hotel rooftop bar opening this fall. Once that happens, I’ll have a whole new set of shops and restaurants to explore, and Wilmington, as always, will keep growing and keep things interesting for everyone in town.
Explore more great things to do in Wilmington.