A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

From a cozy seat on her patio — which she’s unveiling soon for the summertime season — Alicia Mitchell surveys the street. New businesses are popping up regularly in Wilmington’s

Madison County Championship Rodeo

From a cozy seat on her patio — which she’s unveiling soon for the summertime season — Alicia Mitchell surveys the street. New businesses are popping up regularly in Wilmington’s

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

From a cozy seat on her patio — which she’s unveiling soon for the summertime season — Alicia Mitchell surveys the street. New businesses are popping up regularly in Wilmington’s

The New Coastal Bucket List

From a cozy seat on her patio — which she’s unveiling soon for the summertime season — Alicia Mitchell surveys the street. New businesses are popping up regularly in Wilmington’s Brooklyn Arts District, where Alicia opened her restaurant, The Kitchen Sink, last fall. And from her nook of the neighborhood, she says the energy is palpable.

“People are ready to get out and gather,” Mitchell says. “They’re wanting to support local business, visit the districts, and find places that feel warm and inviting.” That’s what guests get at The Kitchen Sink, where locally sourced ingredients and a whole lot of love make up a menu of seasonal soups, savory sandwiches, and creative salads. Picture pints of local beer and bowls of refreshing gazpacho (or even soup flights, if you can’t pick just one!), plus decadent sides like pork belly burnt ends and even a luscious lavender lemonade.

North Carolinians across the state have long cherished Wilmington and its three nearby island beaches. Indeed, there’s a lasting draw to tried-and-true favorites like the Wilmington Riverwalk, which hugs the Cape Fear River downtown, and lazy beach days at Carolina, Kure, and Wrightsville beaches.

But don’t stop there — this region is awash in new eats, tours, and exhibits to explore. Welcome some wonder to your next vacation by checking off this list of fresh to-dos.

 

The Brooklyn Arts Center in located in the former St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, built in 1888. Photography courtesy of Wilmington & Island Beaches, NC

New Bites on the Block

Anchored by the Brooklyn Arts Center + The Annex, Brooklyn Arts District takes pride in its eclectic vibe. Among industrial buildings and old churches, and just a few blocks from The Kitchen Sink, three10 is a taste of modern Southern seafood and updated classic cocktails. In a repurposed 1920s bungalow, you’ll feel right at home ordering from the Raw Bar or the special Sunday menu.

Tucked within South Front District’s warehouses, wood-fired pizza, and wine bars, True Blue Butcher & Barrel is a combo restaurant, butcher shop, and bar all in one, with an extensive whiskey and bourbon selection, plus a pet-friendly patio.

Located in Historic Downtown Wilmington, Dram Yard Restaurant recently reopened under a new celebrated chef, Joe Wolfson. Here, Southern coastal fare gets a global twist. You’ll also want to swing into Sauce’d, situated along the Riverwalk, as the sun starts to set. Creative cocktails and fanciful fries with (you guessed it) signature sauce? Picture perfect.

 

Hi-Wire Brewing’s eastern outpost is located in Wilmington’s Soda Pop District. Photography courtesy of Wilmington & Island Beaches, NC

Coastal Cheers

Founded in Asheville and Glen Alpine, respectively, Hi-Wire Brewing and Catawba Brewing Co. have both expanded to Wilmington in the past year. In the Soda Pop District, Hi-Wire has two outdoor beer gardens, plenty of parking, and an expansive two dozen taps to select from. Catawba Brewing Co.’s on-site brew pub, Zombie Fresh Kitchen, also offers fresh fare and a dog-friendly patio.

Panacea Brewing Company made a name for itself with its rainbow of local hard and non-alcoholic Kombucha, which pairs perfectly with its menu of vegan eats. Most recently the family business added beer to the lineup and is expanding to a large multipurpose space.

Meanwhile, in the Cargo District, Bottles offers a curated collection of natural and sustainable wines, including minimal-sulfite and organic wines, plus a handful of rotating draft beers brewed in North Carolina.



Located in a quaint alley adjacent to Front, Dock, and Water streets, The Ivey serves up craft cocktails with a lower price point. Select a seat at its island bar, which — surrounded by 42 stools — serves as the focal point of the eclectic watering hole.

And along the Riverwalk in Historic Downtown Wilmington, the new Aloft hotel houses aView, a rooftop bistro with panoramic views of the Cape Fear River. Open year-round—cozy up by the firepits in winter—you can sip inventive cocktails while you savor oysters on the half shell.

Or opt for an all-new experience at The Sorrow Drowner, the highly anticipated Vaudeville-inspired tiki bar and restaurant designed by former Disney Imagineer Brandon Kleyla, best known for his work on Trader Sam’s Tiki Bars. Set in the imaginative age of exploration, The Sorrow Drowner features classic craft cocktails, island fare like pupu platters, and a wandering “waitcast” of characters and comedians.

 

The Hive is a locally owned boutique hotel with 14 suites. Photography courtesy of Wilmington & Island Beaches, NC

Stay Inn Style

Historically known for its Victorian bed and breakfasts, Wilmington also has an array of modern boutique lodging options that are worth a visit. Anticipation is building around ARRIVE Wilmington’s reopening later this year. The posh mid-century-styled site features The Gazebo Bar and lauded restaurant Dram Yard to complement the approachable but luxurious guest rooms.

Another comparable new lodging option is The Hive, a locally owned boutique hotel featuring 14 stylish suites with stocked kitchens and spa-like bathrooms. Enjoy the centrally located spot for shopping, dining, and cultural events.

 

The Cameron Art Museum is currently home to Boundless, a bronze sculpture created in honor of the U.S. Colored Troops at the Battle of Forks Road in 1865. Photography courtesy of Wilmington & Island Beaches, NC

On Exhibit

When the sculpture Boundless was unveiled at the Cameron Art Museum last November, the virtually unknown story of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) and the Battle of Forks Road came to life. Created by North Carolina artist Stephen Hayes and cast from men connected to the troop, this bronze sculpture will be the focal point of the state’s first USCT Park, expected to open by the end of the year.

See the otters at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Photography courtesy of Wilmington & Island Beaches, NC

On the tip of nearby Kure Beach, the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher delights all ages with its aquatic exhibits. In addition to seeing the fan-favorite small-clawed otters, visitors will soon be able to dive into the Caribbean Corals habitat, ogle mega-sized jellyfish, and admire the majesty of two rescued owls.

This year from June to August, Kure Beach will host a new program, Up and Active, at the Ocean Front Park & Pavilion. Held each Thursday, the event invites guests to enjoy music, face painting, and games. When you’re ready for breakfast or lunch, you can grab a bite just across the street from Ocean Front Park at Kure Beach’s newest restaurant, Ocean View Restaurant.

In Wilmington’s 67-acre Airlie Gardens, special events such as summertime concerts and winter lights combine with formal gardens, a butterfly house, lakes, and trails to make this a year-round destination. Adding to the whimsy this summer will be the arrival of Hoppy Times, a rabbit-themed sculpture exhibit featuring 4.5-foot fiberglass bunnies.

 

Go for a ride on a sailboat charter during a stay at the storied Blockade Runner. Photography courtesy of Wilmington & Island Beaches, NC

Tour & Explore

There’s no doubt that water is the way to see Wilmington’s beach towns, and local charter companies are dreaming up more creative cruises to do so. Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours has room for your whole crew in its new private charter aptly dubbed the Family Beach Party. Meanwhile, Blockade Runner Surf to Sound Adventures has a new sailboat charter, and Island Cruises specialize in sunsets. Browse their websites to select among their fleet.

In Carolina Beach, Salty Ventures was recently launched by residents Thomas Dosier and Lisa Overby-Dosier. The charter has a variety of full- and half-day itineraries that include island hopping, visits to local restaurants, shelling, booze and sunset cruises, and other custom ways to spend a day afloat.

“There’s nothing like seeing the geography of this area from the water. It gives a unique perspective that most people don’t get to see out on the roads,” says Lisa, who is looking to expand the business to even larger groups by collaborating with other local boat owners.

No matter how you choose to spend your coastal vacation, entrepreneurs like Lisa encourage you to try something new. “The value of experiences — spending your money on an adventure — is unmatched,” she says. “You can’t put a price tag on memories with your family. Those are forever.”

This story was published on May 17, 2022

Lauren Eberle

Raised in Winston-Salem, Lauren Eberle now enjoys writing, editing, and storytelling from her home in Cornelius.