Lovers of history, nature, and food will all find draws in Cape Fear and Wilmington, North Carolina
Wilmington is a study in contrasts. Nearby beaches and the Cape Fear River bless the city with natural beauty—it has appeared in enough films to earn the nickname Hollywood East—and there’s Civil War history that citizens can be proud of. On the flip side, it was the site of one of America’s most notorious massacres. Now, the city is both coming to terms with its past and looking to the future with new attractions. Here, four attractions to get you acquainted with the area.
Turn the Clock Forward at the Cameron Art Museum
In February 1865, Union soldiers, led by more than 2,000 United States Colored Troops (USCTs), won the Battle of Forks Road and captured Wilmington. After the war, Wilmington emerged as a prosperous, predominantly Black city—until 1898, when white supremacists staged a coup, vandalizing Black-owned businesses, murdering scores of people, and taking control of the city. Today, organizations and individuals alike are stepping up to illuminate the city’s past. See one such effort at the Cameron Art Museum, which is located on the site of the Battle of Forks Road, and which this fall unveils Boundless, a life-size sculpture that commemorates the bravery of the USCTs. To create the piece, artist Stephen L. Hayes made casts of 11 African-American men, including one who is descended from four USCT soldiers. Those who want to learn more about the 1898 tragedy, meanwhile, should keep tabs on local historian Cedric Harrison’s WilmingtoNColor shuttle tour, which explores the city’s Black heritage and is set to debut this winter.
Get Back to Nature at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher
If you’re more into the outdoors than history, head 20 miles down the Cape Fear River to Kure Beach and the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, which covers everything from fresh-water streams and swamps to reef and ocean habitats. The aquarium’s most exciting development is a new otter habitat, where you can watch a family of the über-cute aquatic mammals frolic. Feeling inspired? Book a kayaking tour of the Intracoastal Waterway with PaddleNC, and keep an eye out for dolphins, pelicans, and bald eagles.
Grab a Bite at These Local Restaurants
A pair of James Beard Award nominees are bringing new restaurants to town. Dean Neff, formerly of local standout PinPoint, opened Seabird, which serves seafood sourced from small-scale fishermen (don’t miss the smoked catfish and oyster pie) in a nautical-chic space. And Top Chef contestant Keith Rhodes, of the acclaimed Catch, is going casual with his latest venture, offering sandwiches and small plates at Tackle Box Kitchen, starting this winter. No matter which you choose, have a nightcap—we recommend a Moscow or Kentucky mule on tap—at the speakeasy-style Blind Elephant.
Sleep Tight at The Hive
Opened in 2019 just a couple of blocks from the restored Wilmington Riverwalk, The Hive is a 15-suite apartment-style boutique hotel that boasts exposed brick walls, fully equipped kitchens, stylish decor, and art-laden walls. Best of all, each room comes with a big basket of complimentary snacks. Go ahead, have a few Biscoff cookies before bed; we won’t tell anyone.