Published: May 2009
By Carter Elisabeth Jewell
In our mind you're going to Carolina—to one of the
best little-known beach towns. Follow teen correspondent
<em>Carter Elisabeth Jewell</em>. Heads up for movie stars!
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!
At Wrightsville Beach
On your way to the beach from downtown, you have to give in
and let your kids play at Jungle Rapids (5320 Oleander
Dr.; 910/791-0666; www.junglerapids.com). It has
mini-golf, laser tag, go-karts and a fantastic water
Wrightsville Beach itself is a barrier island; the
Intracoastal Waterway runs between it and the mainland. The
beach is all public, with perfect sand for volleyball, and
great waves. Whatever the season, temperature, or forecast,
you can always find a surfer in the water. The Intracoastal
Waterway is where everyone kayaks, canoes, and goes tubing,
waterskiing, and knee boarding, which is like waterskiing
but on a short board (I just tried it for the first
time-very fun). Salt Marsh Kayak Co. (222 Old Causeway
Dr.; 910/509-2989; www.saltmarshkayak.com) rents
kayaks and Hobie Cats and gives lessons.
My favorite place
to swim is right around the Blockade Runner, a nice hotel
where lots of locals and out of towners go. I like to look
at all the people who somehow end up here.
surfers get their sandwiches-and their surf reports-at
Robert's Market (32 N. Lumina Ave.; 910/ 256-2641);
the Trolley Stop (1 S. Lumina Ave.; 910/256-3421)
has the best hot dogs around. (It got its name from the old
streetcar that once made its way from downtown to the
beach, before a lot of people had cars.) Another great
place to go is Jackson's Big Oak Barbeque (920 S. Kerr
Ave.; 910/799-1581; lunch for four $10), halfway
between downtown and the beach. I've heard that North
Carolina barbecue is different from any other because of
all the vinegar, but I've never tried "imported barbecue,"
and that's really okay with me.
Three More Must-Sees
Airlie Gardens People mainly come for the plants and lakes. I have
to say the azalea bushes are gorgeous, but the most amazing
attraction is the new bottle house, made entirely out
of-you guessed it! The house was built as a memorial to
Minnie Evans, a self-taught artist who was the gatekeeper
at Airlie for many years. In the summer, my mom plays jazz
concerts here as part of the First Friday Jazz Series.
300 Airlie Rd.; 910/798-7700; www.airliegardens.org.
Greenfield Park My
friend Meredith and I come to Greenfield to canoe or ride
paddleboats on the lake. It also has a playground, picnic
shelters, a skate park, and tennis courts that are free.
1702 Burnett Blvd.; 910/341-7852.
Screen Gems This
place is the biggest movie studio east of Hollywood.
Firestarter, Blue Velvet, and Hackers were all shot here.
You can take a back-lot tour, but it's not exactly like
Universal's. Screen Gems is a real working studio, and you
get to see movie, TV, and music video sets. They have
Dawson's bedroom preserved. Can you believe it takes eight
12-hour days to shoot a single episode of Surface, one of
the new television shows filmed here?As you tour, be sure
to keep your eyes open-chances are you'll see a famous face
or two. 1233 N. 23rd St.; 910/ 343-3500; www.euescreengems.com; tours $12 adults, $5
OUR GUIDE Carter
GUIDE QUALIFICATIONS Fourth-generation Wilmingtonian
IMMEDIATE FAMILY Mom and Dad, both musicians, and two sisters, Annie,
11, and Isabelle, 7
HOME A small farm with 15 goats, two
horses, three chickens, a dozen ducks, three dogs, and four
FAVORITE FOOD North Carolina barbecue, with a side of
TALENT Singing. The whole family performs
together at concerts-and on their answering machine
Carter's mom and dad, Julia and Kelly, offer their tips.
When to Come
Spring is ideal because it's not too hot and the azaleas
are in bloom. That's a pretty big deal here—the 59th
annual town-wide North Carolina Azalea
Festival ( "http://www.ncazalea%20festival.org/" target=
"_blank">www.ncazalea festival.org) takes place
this year April 5 through 9. We never miss the downtown
How to Get Here
You can fly right into Wilmington International Airport.
We're also a two-hour drive from Raleigh.
Where to Stay
Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort
Located on Wrightsville Beach, it has a kids' club, and a
costumed parrot who delivers milk and cookies.
1706 N. Lumina Ave., Wrightsville Beach; 877/
330-5050; "_blank">www.sunspreeresorts.com; doubles from
Also in Wrightsville Beach, this hotel fronts the Atlantic
on one side and the Intracoastal Waterway on the other. In
summer it offers a kids' program and a boat outing with a
275 Waynick Blvd., Wrightsville Beach; 800/541-1161;
"_blank">www.blockade-runner.com; doubles from
Best Western Coastline Inn
(503 Nutt St.; 800/617-7732; www.bestwesternnorthcarolina.com; doubles from $109
A fun place to stay because it's located downtown on the river, in a former train station-the
Wilmington Railroad Museum is next door.
Wilmington is the land of B & B's. For an overview of the options, see www.cape-fear.nc.us,
or contact the Cape Fear Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau at 877/406-2356.