Fringe Benefits: Wilmington brings us to the beach! Water sports and seafood await in this surf-side episode that explores regional history, waterfront beauty and Atlantic cuisine.
The episode begins downtown in historic and charming Wilmington, NC. This small waterfront city’s downtown is friendly and walkable, with shops and restaurants lining the riverfront. The port here, on the Cape Fear River and not far from the Atlantic Ocean, played an important role in the Civil War and, during WWII, 243 warships were built in port in a five year period! The USS Battleship North Carolina, just across the river from downtown, is open for tours. She and her crew served in the Pacific during WWII. Today, tourism and filmmaking take the lead here – and the city’s new nickname is “The Hollywood of the East.”
Katie heads just out of town to Airlie Gardens, where her favorite teenage TV show, Dawson’s Creek, filmed some scenes! While the film-set nostalgia is great, the gardens are the real star. Beautiful and expansive with a wide array of azaleas, and the oldest oak tree in the state of North Carolina. Spanish moss hangs from nearly every tree, and the fountains and ponds are beautiful.
Next up, Katie heads to Poplar Grove Plantation to gather a deeper understanding of pre and post-Civil War United States, and the effects of slavery on the people and community. Poplar Grove was a peanut plantation, and in the mid 1800s depended on labor from 50 slaves. Here we chat with director Caroline Lewis, and meet a local man devoted to caring for the plantation’s animals.
To get a feel for the natural history of the Cape Fear region (as the Wilmington area is known) we visit Fort Fisher Aquarium in Kure Beach, about an hour south of the city. Here, animals and plant life from the surrounding waters educate visitors about conservation and marine habitats. We learn about the sea turtles, and their extraordinary journey from hatching on local beaches to returning to the sea.
Eager to get out on the water herself, Katie heads to Carolina Beach for a surf lesson and fun in the water at the Tony Silvagni Surfing School. And what a fun time we had! The waves were just the right size for a beginner, and the instruction excellent.
Having worked up an appetite, we meet Chef Keith Rhodes for an adventure of another kind. A morning visit to the fish market on Wrightsville Beach offers a chance to choose our supper. The fish is right off the boat, and the fishmongers clean and prep Chef Rhodes’ fish for his restaurant, Catch. We choose some tuna and grouper, then head back to Catch for a cooking lesson and lunch.
The Wilmington area is beautiful and historic, and offers great opportunities for outdoor fun! A great visit!
For more information on Wilmington area lodging, dining and attractions, visit the Destination Guide.