by Stephanie Burnette
The Cape Fear River is brackish and beautiful, inhabited with seagrass, barnacles and industry, plus panoramic sunsets. It hugs Wilmington’s downtown (and its astonishing 230-block historic district) creating a backdrop for a town that has coupled a storied past with lively culture.
Wilmington feels like a place continuously inhabited; it’s not frozen in time and this distinguishes it, in my mind, from similar towns of tourism.
Much of Front Street boasts the stout brick construction of the Interwar period, today filled with unique retailers, upscale eateries, coffee shops, breweries and wine bars. UNC Wilmington adds in college students, dogs and affordable dining. Just beyond this are hundreds (and hundreds) of historic homes. Walking through the moss-draped neighborhood is a treat for the architecture-obsessed, as nearly every home is at least a century old and residentially occupied.
Three significant mansions are open to the public, just blocks apart, curated with stellar touring information. The Burgwin-Wright house (1770) dates to the Colonial or Revolutionary era and includes Wilmington’s original gallows, a handsome walled garden and original kitchen and many fine antiques of its two enterprising homeowners. There’s also gallery space for local fine art.
The Latimer House Museum (1852) displays the ostentatious wealth of the Victorian era and an ample collection of European art and statuary.
Bellamy Mansion (1859) tells the in-town story of the Antebellum era of North Carolina’s coast; its rare intact urban slave quarters have been adroitly restored and what’s shared about the enslaved servants and their daily life at Bellamy is significant. An audio tour via phone app makes a visit here feel pandemic appropriate and don’t forget to look up; the plaster work in this home is astonishing.
I found myself spending time up and down Princess Street during this trip to Wilmington. There’s a not-to-be-missed donut shop called Wake ‘n’ Bake, the lovely Bespoke Coffee (also a good place to sit if you need to jump on your laptop) and a fantastic place for lunch, Crust Kitchen and Cocktails. For dinner and drinks go to Manna. I really enjoy dining at the bar here.
Wilmington is extra maneuverable with wide sidewalks, cross walks and ready signage. If you plan to stay in town, then your car will likely stay put. But there are reasons to venture out too. The beaches of Wrightsville, Carolina and Kure are gracious with many natural inlets and pretty marinas, all peppered with fresh NC seafood spots.
Beer may pull you out of downtown as well. Wilmington has fostered a legitimate craft beer culture, head to www.wilmingtonandbeaches for fantastic craft beer and brewery info. According to my craft beer expert, New Anthem and Wilmington Brewing Company are top notch; I enjoyed visiting both and brought beer home not sold in SC.
And, then there’s The Ivy Cottage. It should really be called The Ivy Compound as it’s comprised of three buildings, two courtyards and a warehouse, chock full of consignment antiques, vintage wares, designer furnishings, estate jewelry and a wall of Waterford. The front room of the smallest building has vintage glassware ordered in a rainbow of hues, for sure a gram-able moment.
Historic Homes Open to the Public
Burgwin-Wright House Museum
224 Market St. | burgwinwrighthouse.com
The life of the counting house turned private home is a
story of the Colonial Carolinas.
Latimer House Museum
126 S Third St. | lcfhs.org
New wealth of the Victorian age is well represented by
excellent staff at the Latimer.
Bellamy Mansion Museum of History & Design Arts
503 Market St. | bellamymansion.org
The documentation of lives lived on the property is a
study of history accuracy in the era.
Old Books on Front Street
249 N Front St. | oldbooksonfrontstreet.com
A beloved bookstore since 1982, the owners run literary walking tours and Between the Covers B&B.
Port City Pottery and Fine Crafts at Cotton Exchange
307 N Front St. | portcitypottery.com
The Cotton Exchange is a vast complex and Port City Pottery is a must stop for local craft.
Antiques of Old Wilmington
25 S Front St.
A place for collectors with hundreds of items
all grouped by type.
Art In Bloom Gallery
210 Princess St. | aibgallery.com
With its ironwork sign out front, be lured into
a gallery of art and objects and jewelry.
A Proper Garden
2 Ann St. | apropergarden.com
The location of the shop has river views and
great gifts for the gardener in your life.
The Ivy Cottage
3020 Market St. | threecottages.com
125,000 consigned items makes The Ivy
Cottage a treasure hunt.
Blue Hand Home
1125 Military Cutoff Rd. | bluehandhome.com
A massive store of furnishings, dry goods, tabletop, coffee table books and more.
Nest Fine Gifts and Interiors
1125 Military Cutoff Rd. | nestfinegifts.com
Next door to Blue Hand, Nest is a great companion shop with elevated coastal vibes.
Dreamers Welcome Downtown Inn
118 S Fourth St. | dreamerswelcome.com
The most unique B&B experience of my travels, Dreamers Welcome is a boho mirage inside a fully restored antique home. Each room is uniquely and stylishly upfitted, with a focus on wellness, seamless technology and a vegan start to your day. Original fixtures and fireplaces juxtapose modern, luxury bedding, well-appointed baths and gracious service. You won’t want to leave.
Eat Like A Local
It’s a toss-up to choose between PinPoint Restaurant and Manna; hopefully you have two nights and can dine at both. The level of field-to-fork intention at PinPoint is hard to beat and Manna joyfully pairs drink and fare with rapt attention. These are two of my favorite restaurants in the Carolinas.
Lunch is a great time to try a double layer taco at Beer Bario, a gourmet grilled cheese at Crust or the hot roasted pork hoagie at Copper Penny.
If it’s brunch, go to The Basics (home of my #1 fried okra). Fill the breakfast slot with a potato chip topped chocolate donut at Wake’n’Bake or an egg, cheese and Taylor ham bagel with house sauce at Tugboat Tony’s Bagel Café.