Wilm­ing­ton, N.C. and Beaches

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - News - By Re­becca McCormick, pho­tog­ra­phy by Re­becca McCormick and cour­tesy of Wilm­ing­ton and Beaches CVB

When it comes to con­vinc­ing fam­i­lies to travel for the hol­i­days, it can be dif­fi­cult to find some­where that meets a va­ri­ety of pref­er­ences, ex­pec­ta­tions and needs.

Wilm­ing­ton, N.C. com­bines a 230-block his­toric dis­trict, a lively arts scene, the Univer­sity of North Carolina Wilm­ing­ton, Bat­tle­ship North Carolina, nearly 50 down­town restau­rants, an award-win­ning river­front plus miles of nearby un­spoiled At­lantic beaches to cre­ate a some­thing-for-every­body des­ti­na­tion suit­able for fam­i­lies of ev­ery de­scrip­tion.

Back­ground: Although orig­i­nal ex­plo­ration of the area dates to the early 16th cen­tury, the town wasn't in­cor­po­rated un­til 1740, when it was named in honor of Spencer Comp­ton, Earl of Wilm­ing­ton. For the next cen­tury, Wilm­ing­ton's eco­nomic growth was fu­eled largely by port business. Still a thriv­ing hub of marine re­sources (aca­demic, gov­ern­men­tal and in­dus­trial), North Carolina's eighth-largest town (pop­u­la­tion 120,000, in­clud­ing beach com­mu­ni­ties) is also home to global cor­po­ra­tions like GE Hi­tachi Nu­clear En­ergy, Corn­ing, Ver­i­zon Wire­less and PPD, Inc.

Why go now: Hol­i­days sparkle through­out Wilm­ing­ton's his­toric dis­trict and on sur­round­ing beaches at more than 50 spe­cial events. Two of the most popular cel­e­bra­tions are col­or­ful night­time flotil­las, which il­lu­mi­nate area wa­ter­ways to the de­light of lo­cals and tourists alike. On Nov. 30, see the An­nual North Carolina Hol­i­day Flotilla at Wrightsville Beach. The fol­low­ing week­end – on Dec. 7 – see the Is­land of Lights Hol­i­day Flotilla at Carolina Beach. Each daz­zling boat pa­rade fea­tures brightly lit sail­ing ves­sels, rang­ing from tiny row­boats to lux­ury yachts.

Spend your day: Start your morn­ing across the river from down­town Wilm­ing­ton at Bat­tle­ship NORTH CAROLINA to ap­pre­ci­ate the sac­ri­fices made by her crew in the Pa­cific The­atre dur­ing WWII. (www.bat­tle­shipnc.com)

Af­ter­wards, take a stroll along the nearly two-mile River­walk, re­cently named Amer­ica's Best River­front in the 10 Best Read­ers' Choice travel award contest spon­sored by USA TO­DAY. From here, you're within easy walk­ing dis­tance of ad­di­tional attractions, more than 50 down­town restau­rants and 200 shops, in­clud­ing The Cot­ton Ex­change, a his­toric com­plex com­pris­ing eight build­ings dat­ing to the late 19th and early 20th cen­turies. (www.shop­cot­tonex­change.com)

For the best over­view of Wilm­ing­ton, choose from

a va­ri­ety of guided tours—avail­able on a Seg­way, aboard a trol­ley, horse-drawn car­riage, cata­ma­ran or river­boat — to dis­cover the best of Wilm­ing­ton — in­clud­ing his­toric homes, film­ing sites, ghost haunts, craft brew­eries and foodie fa­vorites. Feel­ing in­de­pen­dent? Down­load the free Wilm­ing­ton His­tory Tours app to ex­plore at your own pace. (www.wilm­ing­ton­his­to­ry­tours.com)

Must do: For its size, Cameron Art Mu­seum is a shin­ing ex­am­ple of how to do mu­se­ums right: an en­gag­ing staff, vi­brant pro­gram­ming, in­trigu­ing tem­po­rary ex­hibits, a sub­stan­tial per­ma­nent col­lec­tion, a thought­fully cu­rated mu­seum store and a foodie-heaven café. (www.cameronart­mu­seum.com)

In­ter­est­ingly, Wilm­ing­ton has sev­eral nick­names (Film­ing­ton, Hol­ly­wood East, among oth­ers) be­cause since 1983, more than 400 projects hav­ing been filmed in Wilm­ing­ton's his­toric river dis­trict and is­land beaches. Go be­hind the scenes for a week­end tour at EUE/Screen Gems Stu­dios, the largest in­de­pen­dent film stu­dio east of Los An­ge­les to see where the ac­tion hap­pens. The stu­dio's most re­cent cred­its in­clude Mar­vel Stu­dios' “Iron Man 3,” “We're the Millers” and “The Con­jur­ing.” (http://stu­dios.eu­e­screengems.com/nc/tours/ )

Don't bother plan­ning to snow ski in Wilm­ing­ton, where the hu­mid, sub­trop­i­cal cli­mate at 26 feet above sea level pro­duces fab­u­lous land­scap­ing, but an av­er­age an­nual snow­fall of only two inches. Golf is a good op­tion; choose from dozens of cour­ses in the area.

Where to eat: Manna puts big city swank in down­town Wilm­ing­ton. Cre­ative bar­tenders like Ian Mur­ray serve their pa­trons in the finest his­toric tra­di­tions. And the menu of New Amer­i­can cui­sine is a feast for the eyes, a ban­quet for the palate and an al­tar for the soul. (http://man­naav­enue.com $$$)

My two fa­vorites for Asian food are Saigon Bistro for lunch — in­ti­mate down­town din­ing, French-in­spired Viet­namese cui­sine — (http://saigonbistrofs.word­press.com/2014/03/03/saigon-bistro $$), and In­do­chine for din­ner — wildly popular Thai-Viet­namese dishes served in artsy en­vi­ron­ment (http://www.in­dochinewil­m­ing­ton.com $$$).

For seafood, try Catch, owned by James Beard Foun­da­tion award-win­ning chef Keith Rhodes. His pas­sion for surf-to-ta­ble of­fer­ings shows up in dishes like cast-iron black­ened N.C. catch cra­dled in hoop ched­dar-stone ground grits, served with spicy col­lards and a splash of Texas Pete aioli. (http://catch­wilm­ing­ton.com $$$)

Where to stay: To get a gen­uine taste of Wilm­ing­ton's au­then­tic-but-not-syrupy hos­pi­tal­ity, cozy up to lo­cals who run some of the best bed and break­fast ac­com­mo­da­tions in the South­east.

At the 1854 Ve­ran­das, innkeeper Charles Pen­ning­ton will im­merse you in his­tory and lux­ury. And if you're ag­ile enough to climb his spi­ral stair­case to the cupola, your re­ward is a stun­ning view of the river­front two blocks away. Sun­set heaven! (www.ve­ran­das.com $$$)

Another op­tion is the 1893 C. W. Worth House, the long­est con­tin­u­ously op­er­at­ing B&B in Wilm­ing­ton, known to tour op­er­a­tors as “the wed­ding cake house,” where innkeep­ers Margi and Doug Erick­son

marry their ca­sual style with for­mal Queen Anne ar­chi­tec­ture. (www.worth­house.com $$)

Get­ting around: Wave Tran­sit pro­vides a va­ri­ety of pub­lic trans­porta­tion op­tions for the Cape Fear re­gion: fixed bus routes, shut­tles, and a free down­town trol­ley. (www.wave­tran­sit.com)

The down­town his­toric dis­trict is fully walk­a­ble, but to reach out­ly­ing ar­eas, in­clud­ing the beaches, you'll need a car. Eco­nomic down­town park­ing is read­ily avail­able in lots and garages.

So you know: On-street park­ing is con­sid­ered prime real es­tate in down­town Wilm­ing­ton. City of­fi­cials are se­ri­ous about how long you park, which di­rec­tion you park and where you park. Fines range from $20 (ex­pired me­ter or fac­ing op­pos­ing traf­fic) to $250 (park­ing in hand­i­capped zone).

For more in­for­ma­tion: Wilm­ing­ton and Beaches Con­ven­tion Vis­i­tors Bureau. Toll free 866-266-9690. (www.wilm­ing­to­nand­beaches.com)

Wilm­ing­ton is North Carolina's largest port city that boasts a one­mile river­front dis­trict com­pris­ing more than 200 shops, tours and cruises within easy walk­ing dis­tance.

At left, Wilm­ing­ton's 230-block Na­tional Reg­is­ter His­toric Dis­trict is a show­place of civic pride and in­ten­tional preser­va­tion.

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