These are the places you need to see at least once.
Wilmington, North Carolina.
Credit: Mike Melnotte/Getty Images/iStockphoto

On the southeastern tip of North Carolina, on the banks of the ominously named Cape Fear River, Wilmington welcomes travelers all year round (and especially in summer) seeking barrier island beaches and southern charm.

Since the late 20th century, the area has become a magnet for film and television productions, ranging Matlock and One Tree Hill to Blue Velvet, Idlewild, Ironman 3. These big-screen hits have really put Wilmington on the map, making it a destination for more than just sun seekers and beach-goers.


Nearly two miles of boardwalk lining the Cape Fear River, downtown Wilmington’s Riverwalk is all about the scenery. Take a stroll by the water, or settle in for a bite at one of its many outdoor cafes.

Fort Fisher State Historic Site

Just 21 miles south of Wilmington, Fort Fisher was a pivotal Confederate fort during the Civil War, a point of entry for supplies past the U.S. government’s blockade. Now its wide, sandy beach is as much an attraction as the historic fort, museum, and visitor center.

Kure Beach

Just north of Fort Fisher is a beach town named after its Dutch founder, Hans Andersen Kure (pronounced more like Marie Curie than curry). Along with its small town vibe, Kure Beach boasts the oldest fishing pier on the Atlantic.

Carolina Beach

On the opposite side from the shore, facing the Cape Fear River, Carolina Beach State Park offers 761 acres of wild Pocosin wetlands, an ecosystem that supports an array of rare carnivorous plants, such as the pitcher plant and Venus flytraps.

Wrightsville Beach

The farthest north of Wilmington’s nearby beaches, Wrightsville is just east of the city proper. It’s been a popular resort destination since 1889, when a train (later a trolley) first connected the oceanfront to downtown Wilmington.

U.S.S. North Carolina

A World War II battleship turned museum, it both presents a history of all ships named North Carolina and memorializes all North Carolinians who served in the Second World War.

Cape Fear Museum

Founded in 1898 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, it’s the oldest history museum in the state, though it’s expanded its purview past preserving the Confederate narrative to include natural history, the Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights Movement.

Arlie Gardens

Originally established as a private garden for the Pembroke Jones family in 1886, its 67 acres, full of azaleas, camellias, magnolias, and wisteria, were opened to the public in 1998.

Cameron Art Museum

With a 700 work collection — including pieces by Mary Cassatt and Romare Bearden — the Cameron Art Museum offers exhibitions of contemporary and historic art, drawing from a mix of permanent and on-loan works.