Today’s city guide update belongs to Wilmington, North Carolina and comes to us courtesy of Ellie Snow of Mint. ellie grew up in Wilmington and has been living in the triangle area of north carolina ever since. She’s currently freelance graphic designer in durham, specializing in invitations, and she keeps a small vintage etsy shop for fun. Wilmington is known as “Wilmywood” to some, because of the numerous tv shows and movie that shoot there, so keep your eyes peeled for celebs at every corner. Thanks Ellie for this wonderful revision!–Stephanie
Nestled between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean, Wilmington is often called the Port City; although many fondly refer to it as “Wilmywood” in honor of local motion picture and TV studio Screen Gems. (Think Dawson’s Creek or One Tree Hill). Wilmington was settled nearly 300 years ago, and today visitors can stroll tree lined streets past century-old homes, then drive less than twenty minutes to find themselves among surfers and sunbathers on beautiful beaches. In the mid 1980s, Wilmington began to revitalize its downtown and today the area is rich with restaurants, bars, boutiques, galleries, and antique shops.
-Airlie Moon- 1908 Eastwood Rd. in Lumina Station
Step into Airlie Moon, take a whiff of that lavender, and you’ll be ready to move into a cottage on Wrightsville Beach and start decorating. Think refinished furniture and design with southern, sophisticated vintage-inspired flair – with plenty of crisp linens, hand-milled soaps, and delicate jewelry to boot.
-Antiques on Castle Street, 500-600 block
Castle Street is a great place to spend a couple hours antiquing. The shops seem to move around and change out frequently, but I’ll be surprised if you leave empty handed! Castle Corner Antiques (#555) and Michael Moore’s shop (#539) are notable favorites.
-Baby Swank- 7204 Wrightsville Ave
Baby Swank is an upscale shop with everything needed to upfit your dream nursery, from cribs to rocking chairs to linens.
-Beanie + Cecil- 1904 Eastwood Road, Suite 108 (Lumina Station)
Beanie + Cecil is a beautiful women’s boutique filled with upscale, trendy clothing, shoes, and jewelry with designers such as Rag & Bone, Helmut Lang, and Loeffler Randall.
-Edge of Urge- 18 Market St.
Located just a block from the riverfront in downtown Wilmington, indie boutique Edge of Urge has become a favorite among locals and tourists. The boutique specializes in the handmade, with a range products by DIYers to brands like Orla Kiely, and a wonderful collection of men’s and women’s clothing, shoes, accessories, goods for the home, note cards, and more.
-Flashbax- 30 N. Front St.
You’re sure to find the perfect flapper dress, sixties beads, or vintage cowboy boots at Flashbax on Front St.
-Hallelu- 84 Waynick Blvd. Wrightsville Beach
Hallelu has great clothing (both new and consigned), good prices, and a scenic view of the sound. After you’ve bought that cute dress, duck around the corner to Trolley Stop (see below) for the best hot dog you’ve ever had.
-Hewitt- 1904 Eastwood Road (Lumina Station)
Hewitt is full of beautiful furnishings, from hand-embroidered pillows and rustic farm tables to hip artwork and breathtaking chandeliers.
-Island Passage- 4 Market St. or 1900 Eastwood Rd. (Lumina Station)
An old local favorite for women’s clothing and accessories, Island Passage now boasts 6 locations in the Cape Fear region and has labels such as Free People, French Connection, and Velvet.
-The Ivy Cottage- 3020-3030-3100 Market St.
The Ivy Cottage was opened in 1998 by a mother daughter team with a true love for antique shops and flea markets. Over the years it has grown from one building to four and now has over 25,000 square feet of vintage and consigned furniture, home accessories, antiques, china, jewelry, garden items, and more.
-Monkee’s- 1900 Eastwood Rd.
Upscale women’s fashion located in Lumina Station.
-Re-Eco- 5325 Oleander Dr.
Re-Eco is a small, family owned shop filled with repurposed furniture, accessories, and jewelry with an eco-conscious mission. Artists Mary and Robert Holst have a knack for refinishing old furniture and hand-painting them with unique and beautiful illustrations, and their children Miles and Laura have helped fill the store with ceramics, jewelry, screen prints, handmade books, and more.
-Return Passage- 302 N. Front St.
A sister of Island Passage, Return Passage is a one stop shop for those looking for gently used, well priced clothing and accessories. If Marc Jacobs under $50 sounds appealing, then Return Passage is your place.
-Sambuca- 200 N Front St.
Sambuca is a boutique and spa specializing in organic, fair trade, renewable, and recycled materials with lots of style. They offer a good sized selection of beauty and skincare products, in addition to Bella Muse gift cards and stylish, comfortable women’s clothing.
Narrowing down Wilmington’s restaurants is no easy task. Wilmington has become known for its wide selection of delicious cuisine, and of course nearly everyone offers a good selection of seafood. If you’re new to the area, you have to give Calabash-style (read: deep-fried) seafood a try – preferably with a side of hush puppies. And of course there is good ‘ol southern BBQ at every turn. But as you’ll see from this list, this southern town is not all greasy-spoon joints.
-Boombalatti’s- 1127 B Military Cutoff Road
A wide assortment of ice cream flavors. If you have a hard time choosing just one, try the 4 or 8 flavor sampler!
-Caffe Phoenix- 9 S. Front St.
Caffe Phoenix gets a bad wrap for being a bit “cold,” but you’d be hard pressed to order a bad thing on their menu. Modern and trendy since it opened in the ’80s, Caffe Phoenix is a good place to have a glass of wine, watch passersby, and check out local artwork on the walls.
-Circa 1922- 8 N. Front St.
The hardest part about classy Circa 1922 is knowing when to stop eating all the fantastic tapas you’ve ordered. Because skipping dessert is not recommended! (Be sure to check out their website for more fantastic sister restaurants).
-Coastal Cupcakes- 129 Princess St and 7210 Wrightsville Ave
The perfect treat at any time of day! Coastal Cupcakes offers daily specials like Hot Chocolate or Cheesecake, and offers breakfast cupcakes, too.
-The Dixie Grill- 116 Market St.
Combine greasy-spoon style eating with menu items like veggie burgers and fresh fruit & granola, and you’ll have Dixie Grill. Just don’t leave without trying the sweet potato fries! Breakfast served until 3pm.
-Dock Street Oyster Bar- 12 Dock St.
When I tell people I’m from Wilmington, it’s not uncommon for the Dock St. Oyster Bar to come up in conversation shortly thereafter. Delicious seafood, good service, and dog friendly.
-Elijah’s- 2 Ann Street
Great food, good oysters, river views, and outdoor seating make Elijah’s a favorite among locals and visitors alike.
-Flaming Amy’s- 4002 Oleander Drive
Huge burritos and a salsa bar with flavors like Cucumber or Ginger Peach salsa make Flaming Amy’s a favorite.
-Front Street Brewery- 9 North Front Street
Front Street brews beer on site, and is a great place to grab a burger and pick up a growler for later.
-Indochine- 3007 Market St.
I’ve lost count of how many restaurant awards Indochine has been given, and in my own humble opinion, Indochine is one of Wilmington’s best. Since it’s often crowded, you’ll probably be sent to the bar for a couple drinks before you’re seated in their richly atmospheric dining area and served delicious Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. If the weather is nice, sit out back in a gazebo and enjoy the garden under strings of lights.
-J. Michael’s Philly Deli- 3501 Oleander Drive
Yes, it’s in a strip mall a few doors down from Harris Teeter, and looks like it’s not worth your time. But Philly Deli has the best cheesesteaks in town.
-Jackson’s Big Oak BBQ- 920 S Kerr Ave
Delicious pork BBQ, hushpuppies, brunswick stew… you really can’t go wrong at Jackson’s.
-Jester’s Java- 607 Castle Street
Wilmington is the birthplace of Port City Java, although now that Port City Java is a franchise in seven states, it’s almost like visiting Starbucks in Seattle. Instead try Jester’s Java on Castle Street, which is a great place to stop after you’ve hit up all the antique shops. They also serve a delicious lunch.
-K38 Baja- 5410 Oleander Drive
K38 is a favorite for Mexican dishes.
-The Little Dipper- 138 S. Front St.
Fondue, fondue, fondue!
-Osteria Cicchetti- 1125-K Military Cutoff Rd. (The Forum)
Delicious, delicious Italian food. ‘Nough said.
-Sweet and Savory- 1611 Pavilion Place
Sweet and Savory serves three meals a day, has outdoor seating, and is a perfect stop for delicious baked goods and desserts.
-Slice of Life- 122 Market St.
Who doesn’t want a hot piece of pizza after hitting up the downtown bar scene? Open until 3am, cozy Slice of Life has a great pub atmosphere and truly delicious pizza.
-Tidal Creek- 5329 Oleander Dr. #100
Tidal Creek is a market and deli selling organically produced foods and goods from local growers and high-ethics companies.
-Trolley Stop- 121 N. Front St. and 94 S Lumina Ave. Wrightsville Beach
The Trolley Stop has two locations – one downtown and one at the beach. Go to Trolley Stop at the beach in the summer, and the line goes out the door as beach-clad locals load up on Surfer Dogs. I don’t know if it’s the ridiculously soft buns, the melty cheese, or the juicy hotdog itself, but there is nothing like a Trolley Stop dog.
Wilmington holds numerous festivals – most notably Azalea Fest which takes place each year in April when the azaleas are in full bloom (well, at least in theory.) The multi-day festival includes a parade, a street fair with local crafters, teens in antebellum gowns (‘Azalea Belles’), concerts, home tours, and more. Downtown Wilmington becomes festive again in October with Riverfest, when you can watch fireworks, view local arts and crafts, hear good music and watch various competitions. For those who tire of the street-fair scene, there are some fantastic arts festivals that should not be missed. In November the Cucalorus Film Festivalcelebrates independent films, in May the volunteer-run W.E. Fest celebrates indie musicians, and in July the Cape Fear Blues Festival brings national and local acts to the Port City.
Wilmington bars come and go, but these favorites always promise a good time. The Soapbox Laundro-Lounge is downtown’s largest music venue and has washing machines available for patrons who need to kill two birds with one stone. Level 5 at City Stage (21 N. Front St. 5th floor) is a theatre and rooftop bar combined. Enjoy the riverfront view from above and then duck inside and see what’s playing. Bluepost Billiards (15 S Water St.) is a smoky dive off of an alley downtown. Pop open a PBR and play pool, skee-ball, air hockey, or any number of arcade games. My newest favorite bar in Wilmington is Satellite Bar and Lounge (120 Greenfield St.). It’s in an up-and-coming part of town (that’s putting it nicely), and has a chill, neighborhood bar atmosphere with occasional live bands. Owners Dusty Ricks and Carol Cutshall did a beautiful job with the space, leaving exposed beams, original plaster and brick walls, and filled vintage and repurposed furniture. Hell’s Kitchen (118 Princess St.) is another good spot, with a pool table, darts, and Monday trivia.
-ACME Art Studios, 711 N. Fifth Ave. 910-763-8010
Ring the bell and if anyone answers then you’re in for a real treat. ACME is home away from home for 18 artists who work in all different mediums. You can also visit ACME during Fourth Friday art walks, from 6-9pm.
-Airlie Gardens & the Minnie Evans Sculpture Garden, 300 Airlie Rd.
Airlie Gardens is an historic, 67 acre county-owned piece of property on the water just before Wrightsville Beach. It’s a wonderful place for a walk or a picnic, and is home to the “bottle house,” a work of art dedicated to African American folk artist Minnie Evans. Evans was the gatekeeper of Airlie from 1949-1974 and the bottle house (named because it is made of glass bottles and mortar) was built in 2004 by local artists to celebrate her life.
-Farmers Market- N. Water St. between Princess & Market
From mid April to the end of December, local farmers, crafters, and musicians gather on the Riverfront for the Saturday Farmer’s Market.
-Fourth Friday Art Walk, from 6-9pm April-December, 208 N Front St.
Start at Bottega Gallery, get a map, and visit the downtown art galleries during this monthly grassroots event.
-Louise Wells Cameron Art Museum, 3021 S 17th St.
Built by the famous architectural firm Gwathmey Siegel & Associates of New York City, the Cameron Art Museum is one of my favorite places to visit. The museum has featured such exhibits as the costume designs of William Ivey Long, contemporary works using classic weaving techniques, and the phenomenal installations of Diane Landry. The museum shop items complement whatever is currently on display in the museum, making it an enjoyable stop on the way out.
-Thalian Hall- 310 Chestnut St.
Built in the 1850s, Thalian is a beautiful place to see local and national productions from ballet to music to films.