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Best Road Trip Destinations: Wilmington, North Carolina

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Wilmington, NC

Cape Fear River in Wilmington, North Carolina – Photo: James Willamor

Nestled between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean is the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina. Home to a rich history and several feature-film and television filming locations, there’s plenty to see as you arrive after a long road trip.

What you’ll see

Driving into the city is fairly straightforward; it’s not a town of skyscrapers and hustle and bustle, so traffic is usually light. You’ll likely pass the University of North Carolina Wilmington campus, and you’ll notice the salty air from the nearby ocean.

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USS North Carolina in Wilmington

USS North Carolina on the Cape Fear River – Photo: Ken Thomas

Where to Stop

If you’re in town for a few days, there are a few key places you’ll want to stop in the historic city of Wilmington.

Historic Downtown
A small section of downtown Wilmington, just off the Cape Fear River’s boardwalk, offers local shopping, aesthetic coffee shops, and fun restaurants for you to enjoy. You can dine with river views or listen to live performances in the area on the weekends.

The Cape Fear River
Of course, you can’t visit the city of Wilmington without exploring the Cape Fear River. The city offers riverboat cruises daily, giving you some background about the river’s purpose; plus, you’ll have a great view of the USS North Carolina.

USS North Carolina
Floating on the Cape Fear River is the USS North Carolina. The ship was used during World War II. Converted into a museum, the ship tells the stories of its crew and the experiences they had abroad.

Filming Locations
With beautiful weather practically year-round and access to both river and ocean views, Wilmington is a popular Hollywood filming location. The city was home to several hit television series, including One Tree Hill and Dawson’s Creek. Several feature films have been filmed in the area, including Safe Haven and Iron Man (if you take a cruise on the Cape Fear River, you’ll be able to see the filming location for the climactic crane scene in Iron Man 3).

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The coastal port city of Wilmington was incorporated in 1739. It was a highly respected and important town due to its access to both the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean. During the American Revolution, the city was occupied by British forces until October 1781. Wilmington played a significant role during the Civil War as the last Atlantic port of the Confederacy. As the 20th century rolled around, Wilmington and neighboring Wrightsville Beach became popular tourist destinations with beautiful beaches, boardwalks, and local history.

Sources: Wilmington Downtown Inc., Wilmington NC Visitor’s Guide, Battleship NC, Wilmington Tourism Site, Historical Wilmington and Beaches