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Wilmington, NC

I am convinced that someday Wilmington will be listed as one of America's major cities. It is literally growing before my eyes. You might actually already know what the town looks like because the TV series Dawson's Creek was filmed here (on location and in our local movie studio, Screen Gems), and now One Tree Hill is produced here. Guess what that means?Movie star sightings all over town! (I spotted the gorgeous Chad Michael Murray walking down Market Street!) That's not the only thing people like about Wilmington. Where else do you have a historic downtown-filled with fancy old houses and lots of cool shops and restaurants-and a beautiful stretch of sand, Wrightsville Beach, only 20 minutes apart? Everyone here zigzags between the two.

To Do Downtown

On a sunny day, you can catch the free trolley to get your bearings, or you can take a horse-drawn carriage (the guide will tell you all the local history). Or join one of the walking tours. I recommend the nighttime Ghost Walks (910/794-1866; www.hauntedwilmington.com; $10 adults, $8.50 children), which take place year-round. They say that Wilmington is the most haunted city in America-in part because the town used to be a busy port, and there were so many ship-related deaths. I've never had any run-ins with spirits, but hundreds of people have reported seeing the three ghosts that haunt Thalian Hall (301 Chestnut St.; 800/523-2820; www.thalianhall.com), where we go for plays and movies.

Downtown is on the Cape Fear River, and the water taxi—like a ferry—is another fun way to get around. It costs only $3 for a 15- to 30-minute ride to the U.S.S. North Carolina (Eagles Island; 910/251-5797; www.battleshipnc.com), which everyone just calls the Battleship. The tour is self-guided. You get to explore the bunk rooms and mess hall and imagine what it was like to spend months on a huge boat during World War II. On deck, try to spot Charlie, the giant alligator who lives on the riverbank. Yep, he's real.

A great place for lunch or dinner is Front Street Brewery (9 Front St.; 910/ 251-1935; burgers for four $25). My sisters and I love the burgers; our parents love the beer, made right there. Afterward, it's a short stroll to Kilwin's (16 Market St.; 910/772-1298) for ice cream or fudge. You won't believe how good it smells when you walk through the door.

When it rains, there's still plenty to do, especially if you're up for museums. Don't tell anyone, but I still love to climb on the giant pirate ship at the Wilmington Children's Museum (116 Orange St.; 910/254-3534; www.playwilmington.org). If you tour only one of the historic houses, I think it should be the Burgwin-Wright House (224 Market St.; 910/762-0570). It's a plantation from 1770, with seven gardens and, sometimes, open-hearth cooking demonstrations. Then brace yourself for the new Cape Fear Serpentarium (20 Orange St.; 910/762-1669; www.bushmastersonline.com). It contains one man's collection of reptiles from all over, including albino pythons, king cobras, and, my favorite, a creature called Komodo. I think it's a lizard; it's huge!

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