Squeezed between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean, Wilmington is a North Carolina city long known for its extensive shipbuilding, deep military ties and thriving seaport. Along with ample ship-centric attractions, Wilmington is also home to some of North Carolina’s most-loved beaches, verdant parks and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. This coastal college town is chock full of waterside entertainment and fun.
Wilmington shipbuilding companies were instrumental in World Wars I and II, constructing over 200 warships. Wilmington’s port was one of few Southern seaports where ships were able to ferry in military gear for General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Today, the Port of Wilmington is still highly traveled by local and international vessels.
Two miles upstream from the Port of Wilmington, one might see the United States Coast Guard Cutter Diligence stationed near North Water Street. Members of the public can walk aboard this Wilmington attraction during the Coast Guard City Celebration each August. Across the Cape Fear River, the USS North Carolina battleship is docked. Decommissioned in 1947 and now a museum and National Historic Landmark, the warship is a lasting symbol of North Carolina’s involvement in World War II. Wilmington tourists can board the 728-foot long battleship and explore the ship’s armor, decks and controls.
Leaving the battleship and heading back across the Cape Fear, visitors discover downtown Wilmington, ripe with entertainment and dining spots. Newcomers should first stroll down the Riverwalk, a popular promenade bordering the river and flanked by shops and eateries. Get a taste of local seafood at The George on the Riverwalk, a popular waterfront restaurant. Shop at the quaint Cotton Exchange, a collection of boutiques in eight restored brick buildings, situated two blocks from the riverfront. Attend a play at the heralded Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, located in the central business district, a few blocks southeast of downtown.
Just east of downtown Wilmington lies the Wrightsville Beach oceanside area, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Here locals and Wilmington tourists can go butterfly watching, stroll under tall oak trees, and enjoy the riot of color among the tulips and azaleas at Airlie Gardens. Step into Wrightsville Beach Museum of History to glimpse the evolution of the local beach lifestyle via exhibits that include a replica of a beach home, circa 1910, and an array of swimsuits from the past.
About 19 miles south of Wrightsville Beach, past the Masonboro Island Coastal Reserve, is the Carolina Beach area. With a fishing center, marina and state park, Carolina Beach attracts many water enthusiasts who settle in for days of boating and trout catching.
The Kure Beach area, three miles south of Carolina Beach, anchors the southern tip of Wilmington. The stand-out here is Fort Fisher, which history buffs will want to see. It was this fortification that protected Wilmington’s port and enabled imports to the South during the Civil War.