While Wilmington, North Carolina has its scenic Riverwalk and a vibrant riverfront to explore during a visit, the surrounding area is also home to some of the best beaches in the state. These beaches offer a wide variety of seaside activities, family-friendly events, musical festivals, shops, restaurants, and more to enjoy. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
4.Wilmington Beach: Wrightsville Beach
4 Best Wilmington (NC) Beaches
- Carolina Beach, Photo: Greg Brave/stock.adobe.com
- Kure Beach, Photo: Sean Board/stock.adobe.com
- Masonboro Island, Photo: jdowns67/stock.adobe.com
- Wilmington Beach: Wrightsville Beach, Photo: Sirena Designs/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Sirena Designs/stock.adobe.com
Attraction Spotlight: Airlie Gardens
Airlie Gardens is 67 acre public garden of historical significance located in Wilmington, North Carolina. Originally Airlie Gardens was included within a small part of a 640 acre plot of land granted from King George II in 1736 to the Ogden brothers. The gardens then known as ‘Seaside Park’ were purchased and worked upon by the wealthy industrialist Mrs. Sarah Green Jones and her husband in 1886. The gardens were renamed to Arlie and over the years even saw Minnie Evan,s a local artist as the gatekeeper in the 1940’s. One owner later, the Corbetts and then in 1998 the gardens were bought by New Hanover County. The gardens were designed originally as a truly Southern style garden with flowing form and natural features. To this day it is still filled with an abundance of wisterias, azaleas, camellias, oak and pine trees. The grounds house several lakes, fountains, creeks, statues and busts. Benches line the paths and the gardens are aligned with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Visitors often come to the grounds to spot butterflies and birds both of which commonly found. A tour of the gardens is 0.9 miles and combined with the 0.3 mile nature trail results in a 1.2 mile walk which lasts around an hour. The gardens charge an admission fee aside from children under four who enter for free and are open from Tuesday through to Sunday.
Exhibits and attractions
Airlie Gardens is full of attractions as well as groves of trees and gardens with flowers of historical interest. The garden includes a Spring Garden where a fountain and stone pergola are placed and azaleas and seasonal bulbs have been planted and a Seasonal Garden where the areas are replanted every season such as tulips and sunflowers. Other gardens are the Camellia Garden which contains a grove of old oaks, a 150 ft trellis and a collection of camellias dating back many years and also the Pergola Garden featuring a 3 tiered fountain, seasonal flowers and steps that lead to Airlie lake. The Tranquility Garden features Charleston garden, the CF Garden Club, Centennial Plaza and Sam’s garden. Within this area is also the Airlie Butterfly House. The Butterfly House is a much visited feature of the gardens and is inhabited by eleven species of native butterflies. Visitors can get close to the butterflies and learn about their life cycles and habitat in a tactile environment.
A popular attraction which is the focal point of many events and visits is the ancient Airlie Oak. The tree is believed to date all the way back to 1545 and is the largest in the Carolinas of its kind. Nestled near the Season Garden is the Seaside Park Motel, a model house representing Airlie House before and after its renovation. The model is of particular interest of visitors who are interested in the history of the local area. The grounds also includes Bradley Creek Pier, a pier which is used privately for kayak eco tours and educational programs. Bradley Creek Overlook is a viewing platform where visitors can observe both a freshwater lake to one side and a tidal creek ecosystem on the other.
An unusual attraction is the Bottle Chapel (The Minnie Evans Sculpture Garden). Composed of more than 2,800 bottles plus mosaics and sculptures created by local artists in the garden. The garden is devoted to the artist and previous gatekeeper Minnie. Further attractions are the Mystery Grave where “John Hill” allegedly the marshal of Napoleon is buried and the Lebanon Chapel which dates back to 1835 and is still used on occasion by St. James Episcopal Church in Downtown Wilmington.
The lobby of the Garden Services Center sees historical photos and timeline of the gardens with the center also housing the gift shop, Bug Zoo classroom and other amenities.
Airlie Gardens hosts regular environmental and cultural programs within its grounds. The Airlie Gardens Concert Series runs from May to October and sees musicians perform in the area of the Airlie Oak Tree. October means the Lowcountry Oyster Roast event and Airlie’s holiday light show and festive flower display named ‘Enchanted Airlie’ begins on the Friday after Thanksgiving and continues on specific days until Christmas. The gardens often host yoga sessions within the grounds for beginners to advanced level individuals.
On the third Thursday of each month Airlie’s education staff set up interactive activities and displays according to the season. On the second Wednesday of each Month Airlie Gardens hosts Bird Hikes where attendees can watch out for hundreds of species of bird due to the gardens positioning as included in the North Carolina Birding Trail.
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300 I Rd, Wilmington, NC 28403, Phone: 910-798-7700
Attraction Spotlight: Bellamy Mansion
The Bellamy Mansion Museum of History and Design Art is a historic mansion with additional buildings and garden located in downtown Wilmington, North Carolina. The museum is a non-profit educational institution and has a focus on historic preservation, preservation methods and architectural history. The 22 room mansion has been lived in by several generations of the Bellamy family and has seen 150 years of historical and social change over the years. Now restored to its former charm Bellamy Mansion, the Slaves Quarters, Carriage House (Visitor Center) and gardens are open to the public. Since the 1970s the mansion and grounds have been maintained by the charitable corporate Bellamy Mansion, Inc as instructed by current day Bellamy family members. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday and requires an admission fee.
Attractions and exhibits
The Bellamy Mansion House measure 10,000 square foot and can usually be toured on all five floors, though sometimes renovation work may close certain rooms to the public. Dr. Bellamy the original owner of the house decided on hiring James F. Post to undertake the architecture of the mansion and he in turn employed an assistant, Rufus Bunnell. The architecture of the Corinthian columned Bellamy Mansion is based on both an Italian and Greek Revival style and is a prime example of Antebellum architecture. It was constructed by freed black artists and enslaved carpenters in 1859 on the Eve of the Civil War and took two years to finish.
Visitors can walk around the mansion and see the furniture, plush rugs and classical décor as well as many objects soaked in history such as African American artifacts and Civil War paintings. Small art exhibits are placed around the interior and visitors can read and learn about family life, life as a child in the mansion and life as a slave worker. The mansion includes revolving small exhibits of art too. If visitors decide to join a tour they can watch a 12 minute video introducing the property and then walk around the home hearing information, facts and the detailed history of Bellamy's, slaves, buildings and grounds from the knowledgable tour guide.
The Carriage House which was renovated to be in keeping with the mansion is now known as the Visitor Center. In the Visitor Centre, the public can buy tickets from the admissions desk, begin a walking tour with a guide and browse the Gift Shop which has a range of souvenirs, books and gifts.
The Slave Quarters were originally built in 1860 to house the slave workers of Bellamy Mansion. The building is three rooms wide and one room deep with a red brick appearance and some features of Greek Revival style. Visitors can explore the two story building which is ventilated and quite spacious inside. The bottom floor has a kitchen, laundry room plus two privies and the second floor contains three chambers. The building portrays quite an average representation of slave as found in the American South at that time.
The gardens were originally created in 1861. Mrs Bellamy had a great interest in plant botany and was thought to do some upkeep on the garden but after hear death in 1907 its splendor began to face. After much maintenance, tending and a complete renovation and redesign the garden opened to the public. The re imaged design was of a Victorian style elliptical garden with an ornamental flower bed and a range of native plants. Some of the paths are set in white shell and the carefully trimmed hedges create interesting visual textures. Just some of the flowers on display are snowdrops, lilies and magnolia trees dating back 150 years.
Ongoing programs and education
The mansion hosts many workshops and lectures through the year as well as a variety of exhibits which change regularly. Both adult and school group tours are available with pre booking. Wilmington’s Historic Homes offers ticket combinations including entry to Bellamy Mansion Museum as well as other historic homes and local attractions.
The Mansion's Pathway to History is an opportunity for supporters to have theirs or a loved one's name etched onto a brick which is then displayed on the entrance to the carriage house. The mansion hosts an event called Family Fun Day and Bellamy Mansion Museum Camp where children can learn about architecture and history as well as take part in games and activities.
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503 I St, Wilmington, NC 28401, Phone: 910-251-3700
Attraction Spotlight: Cape Fear Serpentarium
Cape Fear Serpentarium is an indoor rare reptile facility located in downtown Wilmington, North Carolina. The serpentarium originated in 2001 under the care of herpetologist Dean Ripa who is still the director and owner to this day. The building itself is composed of a 10,000 square foot space and the construction site was on the grounds of the old Wilmington Iron Works. Inside, there are 54 displays built by Hollywood set designers and are regarded as the biggest of their kind internationally. The displays have been designed to imitate the real habitats where the animals would live in the wild. Looking through the glass fronts, visitors can witness live feeds, mating and even combat.
The species found in the serpentarium come in the form of 80 species of of both indigenous and exotic reptiles. At any time, there are around 150 animals which are displayed. The animals in the main exhibits are giant crocodiles, giant constrictors, exotic lizards and dragons and dangerous and rare venomous snakes. Considered to be one of the world's most recognised and extensive collection of reptiles, the serpentarium has been led by the expert knowledge of Dean Ripa who has been studying reptiles with a focus on snakes for over 20 years. Mr Ripa has appeared on Discovery TV and Animals Planet amongst others and has written academic papers on reptiles in the past. The serpentarium is open all week with limited hours which can vary each season and only accepts cash for admissions.
The exhibits are divided into species and within this, types of species. There are four main exhibits with 54 displays throughout. Visitors can see the a freshwater alligator snapping turtle which is the largest species of snapping turtle in the world. The turtle is known as Chomp and during live feeds he showcases his powerful jaw action as he seizes the food. Other animals outside of the main exhibits are a number of insects and a tarantula.
The Constrictors/ Non Venomous Exhibit is comprised of 5 bays with giant constrictors housed in them. Visitors can see a giant anaconda which is around 35 years old and one of the oldest in the world. Other constrictors are the reticulated pythons which are the longest snakes in the world at 30 ft long.The reticulated pythons have been known to swallow people whole, as Mr Ripa will detail if a tour is taken with him. During feeding visitors can pet the constrictors as they wrap their body around their prey.
Within the Crocodiles Exhibit are 3 large and fully equipped interior habitats with 3 species of crocodile. Inside, some of the animals which the visitors can see are the giant saltwater crocodile named Bubble Boy and a deadly nile crocodile, a breed which is infamous for eating people across Africa, South East Asia and the U.S. Also in this section is the siamese crocodile. The habitats contain rocky landscapes, plant life and water for the crocodiles to swim and rest in. If visitors are present during feeding time they can watch the crocodiles leap upwards to snatch their prey with jaws which are the strongest of any animal species in the world.
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Another exhibition is the Great Lizards and Dragons exhibit. This exhibit has bays which are home to several exotic and large species of lizards. Within the tropical style enclosures is realistic looking rocky terrain, plant life and bark. Visitors can view the savannah monitor, black throat monitor, Argentine tegu and green iguana as they sleep, eat, feed and explore their habitats.
In the Venomous Exhibition visitors can find 40 different species of snake. One of the most notable is the 15ft king cobra with enough poison to kill an elephant. Visitors will also find mambas, rattlesnakes, vipers and others. Mr Ripa famously bred bushmaster snakes in captivity for the first time in record at the serpentarium. He also bred a hybrid bushmaster which brought to life an extinct species after millions of years. Visitors can also see the the snapping turtle Chomp which is the largest species of snapping turtle in the world. During live feeds Chomp showcases his tongue and powerful jaw action as he seizes the food.
Ongoing programs and education
For educators, the Serpentarium offers special "Teacher Appreciation Days" where they can come in without paying the admission fee. Information on this is found with the Educational Coordinator. A whole host of downloadable lesson plans, crafts and educational resources are downloadable from the website too. Guides are available for pre booked tours for adults and children.
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20I St, Wilmington, NC 28401, Phone: 910-762-1669