Historic Downtown Wilmington, River District and Beyond
Historic charm and rich Southern culture meet modern design, new attractions and vibrant nightlife in Wilmington’s Historic Downtown and River District. But there are smaller, unique neighborhoods popping up and forming their own distinct vibe and character across the city that are not to be missed, too. When in Wilmington, be sure to explore them all to live like a local.
Stroll along the Riverwalk and enjoy a breathtaking view of the Cape Fear River. Stop into the assortment of markets, unique boutiques, art galleries and independently owned outdoor cafés and restaurants that line the nearly two-mile scenic walkway, all set against the picturesque river backdrop that includes the iconic WWII Battleship NORTH CAROLINA.
Explore the area’s historic roots on a self-guided or horse-drawn carriage ride of downtown’s National Register Historic District. One of the largest and most picturesque historic districts in the South, the 230-plus blocks hold their own alongside the likes of Charleston and Savannah. Visit some of the finest examples of historic Victorian-era architecture at the Bellamy Mansion, built on the eve of the Civil War; the Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens, the only structure in Wilmington from the colonial era open to the public; and Latimer House, which transports visitors back to the Victorian era to learn tales of the Latimer family.
Located on the historic north side of downtown Wilmington, Brooklyn Arts District is an artist’s dream full of industrial buildings and old churches. It is anchored by the Brooklyn Arts Center + The Annex. Originally constructed in 1888 as St. Andrews Church, the building was the center of Wilmington’s Brooklyn neighborhood for nearly a century. St. Andrews school building was completed in 1910. Today, both buildings have been restored and refurbished as an event venue that plays host to live music and concerts, weddings, art shows and vintage flea markets.
Flytrap Brewing pays homage to the Venus flytrap, a carnivorous plant whose only native habitat in the world can be found in and around the Wilmington area. Specializing in American- and Belgian-style ales, Flytrap Brewing made its home here in an extensively renovated former office building. It is not only a brewery, but also a place where locals and visitors meet and mingle, artists display their works and live music and food trucks can be found every weekend.
Tempt your tastebuds with a gourmet burger at Angus Grill and choose from 30 different burger types, like the Pimento Cheese & Bacon Burger, Brisket Burger or the Queso Burger in one, two or three-patty sizes.
Located inside a 111-year old historic firehouse directly across the street from Brooklyn Arts Center, Edward Teach Brewing features a two-story ship-shaped bar with eight craft beers on tap, including the Three Sheets Double Whitt, Cutlass German Lager, Devil’s Son IPA and Peg Leg Chocolate Porter. The brewery’s namesake is none other than the infamous pirate better known as Blackbeard. To find Edward Teach Brewing, look for the flag Blackbeard flew over the Queen Anne’s Revenge above the door.
Brooklyn Arts District is also home to Bottega Art and Wine, a wine bar-meets-art gallery. Artists, collectors, wine enthusiasts and beer connoisseurs regularly gather in this inspiring atmosphere, where the backyard courtyard is filled with interesting spaces, sculptures and 3D art pieces.
South Front District is home to older buildings and warehouses that have been transformed into delicious restaurants, funky breweries and picturesque wine bars. Feast on tasty tacos at BlockTaco, or enjoy a brew and a bite at Satellite Bar and Lounge that is located in a renovated grocery store. The bar is home to Sunday Screenings Movie nights, live music and Signature Sunday Evening Live Bluegrass Jam sessions filled with listening and dancing both inside and on the outside patio. Known for its fresh, American spin on classic European brews, New Anthem Beer Project opened an expanded taproom and production that includes spirit barrel aging in a restored former industrial building.
Visible from the street, vino lovers won’t be able to take their eyes off the temperature-controlled wine cellar that houses nearly 1,000 bottles of wine at The Second Glass. This unique eatery and true wine bar offers a full menu, crafted from the freshest local ingredients available, all intended to enhance the flavor and aroma nuances of the drink selections.
Celebrity chef Vivian Howard, the star of the popular PBS series, “A Chef’s Life,” opened Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria in this up and coming neighborhood. Benny’s features an open kitchen and a menu filled with wood-fired pizza, homemade pastas, big salads and smaller, shareable dishes. See for yourself why this chef and her talents on display at this restaurant were filmed for a national television show, and the restaurant was previously included on Southern Living's "Top 13 Things to Eat" list.
Coffee, wine, antiques, farm-to-table fare and more can be found in Wilmington’s Castle Street Arts and Antique District, located just a few blocks away from downtown Wilmington. When you stroll down Castle Street, pop into Gravity Records to find a treasured vinyl and hear sounds from local acts. Or eat at the original farm-to-table spot in Wilmington, Rx Restaurant & Bar. Owner James Doss strives to offer his guests seasonally inspired, ingredient-driven Southern cuisine. The menu is packed with regional dishes like Kyle’s Fried Chicken, Lady Edison Pork Chop, N.C. Clams and Humble Roots Pork Belly.
The neighborhood is also home to several chic boutiques. Find elegance and style at Jess James + Co, a vintage boutique curated by local style editor and fashion consultant Jess James. Her vintage finds range from clothing to accessories to collectibles. Or stop by the socially conscious Half United. Founded by siblings Carmin and Christian Black, the boutique pairs Carmin’s elevated fashion sense and Christian’s gritty, rock ’n’ roll surfer vibe with a shared passion to give back. That’s why for every Half United product purchased, seven meals are provided for a child in need.
Catch the container craze in Wilmington’s newest neighborhood, the Cargo District. Explore a variety of creative businesses from shopping to dining, housed in reused shipping containers with tons of local charm. Spend time at End of Days Distillery, Wilmington’s very first craft distillery and sip on craft cocktail drinks created from limited-edition spirits like the Castaway Series of barrel-rested rum and gin and the Port of Entry vodka, rum and gin. Take a guided tour to learn about the distiller’s process to create heritage spirits through the process of sourcing, fermentation, distillation and finishing. Take a seat - inside or out - in the communal dining courtyard and choose from eight rotating taps at Alcove Beer Garden, grab a coffee or tea at the Blue Cup Roastery, dine at Mess Hall, which offers a variety of burgers and tasty vegan options or stop by Cheesesmith for artisanal grilled cheese sandwiches and sides. As the menu says, "Not your Momma's grilled cheese".
Airlie Gardens, one of the premier gardens in the South, is home to 67 acres of Gilded Age gardens and lakes, including the famous nearly 500- year-old Airlie Oak.
Visitors will find everything from a family fun park and historic gardens, to golf and shopping villages in midtown. Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park features a waterpark with a million-gallon wave pool, speed slides and lazy river, along with dry activities like miniature golf, go-karts, laser tag, mini-bowling, a rock-climbing wall and an arcade.
Midtown also offers exceptional shopping opportunities like Lumina Station, where visitors can enjoy locally owned boutiques and cafes set amidst impeccable landscaping, whimsical sculptures and storybook bridges; and Mayfaire Town Center, featuring brand-name shops, restaurants and a movie theater.
Named for a former Coca-Cola bottling plant built in the 1930s, the emerging Soda Pop District is located just outside of downtown Wilmington. The fledgling neighborhood is already home to a few local favorites including Folks Cafe. Get your caffeine fix with the cafe's fair-trade, organic coffee roasted in small batches and be sure to sample their signature empanadas. Raise a glass at Hi-Wire Brewing, which is housed in a former car dealership within the district. Enjoy the outdoor beer gardens while sipping from a selection of 21 craft beers. Or, head inside to the pet- and family-friendly taproom for some foosball and table tennis. Explore the arts community at Jengo's Playhouse, a local cinema and home to the Cucalorus Foundation, which hosts the annual Cucalorus Festival.