The off-season is a great time to visit the Carolina coast including Wilmington, N.C. and its island beaches. Many visitors may only consider visiting a coastal destination during the summer, but there is actually a lot to be said for planning a vacation during the winter.
Below are “4 Lessons to Learn in Wilmington, N.C. this Winter.” From history to biology and everything in between, we bet you’ll discover some best-kept secrets. I’m happy to provide further details and images upon request.
- A History Lesson: Historic Sites Let You Step Back in Time
While you walk through Wilmington’s Historic District, think about the ground beneath your feet. To most, it’s just old streets that were likely full of horse-drawn carriages back in the 1700s. However, locals know there are actually tunnels underneath. Some say the tunnels were used by pirates and smugglers, others think they may have been used for slaves to escape during the Civil War. Still, there’s always the practical theory that the tunnels are there to direct creeks and streams into the river. You can learn more by taking one of the History Walking Tours where you’ll be guided by a Victorian character that will tell fascinating tales of old Wilmington.
Wrightsville Beach is home to the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History, which preserves the 100-year history of the island. One exhibit shows what the beach looked like in the early 1900s with a to-scale model including the old trolley system. The “Beach Car” trolley was an important aspect of the area because it extended from downtown Wilmington to the barrier island, making it a vacation destination for the last century. Today, as you stroll down Lumina Avenue, keep an eye out for the seven plaques that show the old trolley stops.
Kure Beach is home to Fort Fisher State Historic Site, a Civil War National Historic Landmark, which was used to store and transport necessary goods to Confederate armies inland. Since its demise in 1865, the fort has become a history lover’s paradise. Outdoors, visitors can see a fully restored gun emplacement, including a seacoast cannon at Shepherds Battery, as well as take a self-guided walking tour of the grounds. There are also several indoor exhibits at the museum such as the Fiber-Optic Battle Map showing the Battle of Fort Fisher and artifacts from blockade runners that were left behind. The 151st Anniversary of the Battle of Fort Fisher takes place on January 16 and includes a commemoration, as well as a re-creation of the battle.
At Carolina Beach, you can see historic plaques on various buildings including houses, storefronts and office buildings erected in the early 1940s. The Joy Lee Apartments is a family-owned vacation landmark that has been enjoyed by visitors since 1945 and is one of the most photographed buildings in Carolina Beach. The iconic signage and one-of-a-kind stairways take visitors back in time to an era of simplicity, where they’ll be intrigued by unique architectural elements.
- A Biology Lesson: Parks and Recreation Areas are Full of Wildlife and Rare Greenery
Fort Fisher State Recreation Area is a great location for winter birdwatching. You can see a variety of warblers, Loggerhead Shrikes or even the world’s fastest bird, the Peregrine Falcon, on the wooded trailways. As you walk through the windy paths of the recreation area, you may spot wintering seabirds like sleek Red-throated Loons or Surf Scoters. Finally, at high tide, check out the area near the boat ramp where flocks of American Oystercatchers congregate. InWrightsville Beach, be sure to stop by the jetty at the south end in the early morning or late afternoon to see the sea ducks. One of the rarest birds in the area, the Razorbill, known as the penguin of the north, can be spotted and only comes near shore during the winter breeding season.
To get a feel for the local plant life, take a Biological Wonderland tour at Carolina Beach State Park.
A park ranger will point out the variety of greenery, including one of the world’s most unique carnivorous plants, the Venus fly trap, during tours that take place each Saturday. The Venus fly trap is found natively only in North and South Carolina, specifically within a 60-mile radius of Wilmington. To see more carnivorous plants, visit the Piney Ridge Nature Preserve in Wilmington. The 39-acre tract of land hosts several gardens where you can see Pitcher Plants and Sundews.
- A Lesson in Love: Enjoy a Vacation with your Best Four-Legged Friend
Winter is a great time to spend some quality time with your tail-wagging friends. Carolina, Kure and Wrightsville Beach allow pets during the off-season, on leash, to take strolls with you along the shore, or maybe even catch a seaside nap. To give your favorite pooch some exercise and a woodsy experience, there are miles of hiking trails at Carolina BeachState Park or Fort Fisher State Recreation Area for you and your pet to enjoy.
For those dogs that just want to run free, play in the surf and dig in the sand, Freeman Park allows dogs to enjoy thebeach without a leash until February 29. Visitors in Wilmington can also check out one of the many off-leash dog parks in the area, including the Hugh MacRae Park, which has two separate fenced-in areas for big and small dogs and is surrounded by woods.
You may also want to head over to Good Hops Brewing and say hi to the brewery dog, Prada. Well-behaved doggy visitors are allowed to come in and take the tour or just hang out while their owners taste the locally brewed beers. Visitors can also bring their people-friends to play board games or watch the brewers do their thing.
- A Lesson in Adventure: Experience the N.C. Coast from a Different Angle
A 4×4 vehicle is a great way to experience the beach from a different perspective. Drivers are advised to lower tire pressure, watch for low tide for the best conditions, and always be alert to the natural habitat. Carolina Beach’s Freeman Park allows visitors to head out in off-road vehicles to swim, camp, fish or go crabbing throughout the park. The winter months are the perfect time for a small bonfire or campfire, which are permitted throughout the year. Campers will enjoy falling asleep to the sounds of the waves and the crackling of a campfire after spending the day at the beach and watching the sun set.
To take in the view of the shore from the water, take a boat tour. Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours offers a variety of trips year-round, including Party Tours, Eco Tours, Kids Tours and customized tours. Take the charter boat in any direction you want from Wrightsville Beach and see Carolina Beach and Kure Beach from the water. Reserve the Island Shelling Eco Tour, and you’ll get a glimpse of the unspoiled beach on Masonboro Island and find one-of-kind shells to take home including The Scotch Bonnet, the state shell of North Carolina.
Visitors to Wilmington’s historic district can get a different perspective of the monuments and other landmarks by taking a tour via a horse-drawn carriage. Springbrook Farms Inc. offers daily continuous tours complete with a costumed guide who will provide insight on some of the best-kept secrets in Wilmington. The tour company has been in operation for 22 years and has a secret of its own: all their horses are rescued from auctions. They take great pride in the care and well being of each Percheron draft horse.