Wilmington seen across Cape Fear River © Jason W. Smith
Restored through a massive revitalisation effort, Wilmington is a quaint, charming, and genuine Southern town. Grand antebellum mansions sit back from shady, tree-lined lanes leading towards the Cape Fear River and historic downtown district.
Brick streets overflow with sweet shops, fashion boutiques, jewellers, and craft stores. Locals lounge alongside tourists at sidewalk cafes, resting up before taking a stroll on the system of boardwalks and promenades along the Cape Fear River.
Here, dining is an art. Genuine barbecues contain pit-cooked pork, with sides of collard greens and hush puppies. For those who are more discerning, one might indulge in exquisitely presented low country cuisine in beautifully restored buildings.
In recent years, this small but picturesque area has earned a major reputation in the film and television industry. It is the headquarters of EUE Screen Gems Studios and the filming for major films and television shows, like Dawson's Creek.
The Atlantic coastline is worth the drive across town. Across a short bridge spanning the Intracoastal Waterway lies the beautiful barrier island of Wrightsville Beach, a breathtakingly lovely hideaway of pastel beach houses raised on high pilings and weathered fishing piers.
A handful of upmarket shops, beach gear outfitters, and restaurants are the only distractions from the warm waves dotted with surfers, the boats skimming along the intracoastal and endless stretches of sandy beach bordered by dunes and sea oats.
Wrightsville's reputation as a quiet, classy, family destination is carefully guarded. Farther down the peninsula toward the tip of Cape Fear, there are other pretty beaches, like Kure and Carolina, though none with quite the same charm as Wrightsville.
However, along the ocean and the myriad inlets and waterways of the Wilmington area, visitors will discover pockets of the quintessential coastal South. Oyster gatherers in wade through marshland mud and shrimp trawlers cruise against the sunset.