When you think of Southern cities, places like New Orleans, Charleston, South Carolina, andSavannah, Georgia, likely come to mind. But there are other Southern locales worth a visit this spring. Take Wilmington, North Carolina and its nearby Carolina, Kure and Wrightsville beaches for example, which are within a 30-minute drive from downtown Wilmington. The beaches, along with the historic charm of Wilmington, make for a perfect getaway. If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-track Southern spot, keep reading to discover top underappreciated destinations to check out this spring.
Wilmington, North Carolina
Wilmington’s Wrightsville Beach was named one of the “Last Best American Beach Towns” by National Geographic Traveler in 2014 and its Blockade Runner Resort was identified as one of the “10 Best Lodges in North America” by Outside Magazine. What’s more, last year, Wrightsville hosted the first stand up paddle board surfing contest. While other local stand-up paddleboarding events happen on flat water, this one took place on the seas. If you would rather enjoy some time on land, check out the 2.45-mile fitness trail that circles the island or hit the shops at Mayfaire Town Center and Lumina Station, a charming shopping village that plenty of charming boutiques. And if you’re looking for a historic perspective, stop by the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History.
When it comes to dining, excellent breakfast spots abound, including Causeway Café and Café Del Mar, which is known for its burritos, biscuits, muffins and locally roasted coffee. Seafood lovers will especially enjoy Oceanic Restaurant, which sits on the beach overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. And at night, make sure to hit the Twisted Martini Lounge at 22 North Restaurant, which is known for unique martini creations like the Berry Blossom.
Meanwhile, at Carolina Beach, you’ll find Carolina State Park Beach, which offers hiking, fishing, camping and more. And no trip to the area is complete without a stop at Kate’s Pancake House, which is renowned for its tasty pancakes and waffles, and Michael’s Seafood Restaurant, which consistently earns kudos from patrons for its crab cakes and chowder. Kure Beach is another idyllic spot, with Kure beach Pier, one of the oldest fishing piers on the Atlantic Coast and the Fort Fisher State Recreation area, which boasts 6 miles of undeveloped beach along with an elevated boardwalk that leads over the dunes to the beach. If you’re traveling with little ones in tow, the kids will love the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. A two-story open ocean exhibit features sharks, rays and eels, interactive experiences and more. And history buffs won’t want to skip the Fort Fisher State Historic site, which includes a Civil War battlefield and museum.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for visitors is Wilmington itself, the sweet spot between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River. (You might remember the river from the thrilling 1991 film “Cape Fear” that starred Robert Mitchum and later Robert DeNiro). Wilmington is full of history, and much of its rich heritage still stands, with a 230 block National Register Historic District. Tour Victorian homes or take a 90-minute “Ghost Walk” of old Wilmington’s most haunted homes and burial grounds.
But for all its history, Wilmington also offers plenty of contemporary enticements. The fun starts with the 1.75-mile Riverwalk downtown. Beyond the lively boardwalk, you won’t want to miss The Pilot House Restaurant, which overlooks Cape Fear River and is beloved for its low country cuisine. Downtown, you’ll find shops carrying an eclectic mix of antiques, vintage clothes, accessories and souvenirs. And don’t skip grabbing a bite at the PinPoint Restaurant to sample appetizers like the baked oysters Rockefeller, with wilted greens and bacon or Blue Crab fritters with fried okra, fried green tomato, spring onions and pickled red onion. Wilmington is also known for it’s brew scene. The Front Street Brewery was the first place to leave its mark, and the last couple of years, a rising number of breweries have been garnering attention from beer-loving locals.
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Jekyll Island, Georgia
Jekyll Island is midway between Jacksonville, Florida and Savannah. It’s home to Driftwood Beach, which has been called one of the most romantic beaches in America, with its dramatic shoreline and secluded coastal areas. More than 100 years ago, the island’s main attraction, the Jekyll Island Club, was the playground for famous American families, like the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers. Today, it’s been transformed into the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, an upscale resort that maintains its historic charm.
The area’s 10 miles of pristine beach and towering Spanish moss-laden oak trees add to Jeckyll Island’s allure. Spend time golfing on 63 holes of championship golf or riding 20-plus miles of bike trails before hopping on a horse riding or kayak tour. During your visit, you’ll likely see diverse wildlife, from alligators to birds and deer.
Folly Beach, South Carolina
About 12 miles south of downtown Charleston, Folly Beach is an ideal retreat to hide out, hang out and get renewed. The laid-back surfer town is kind of place where flip flops are the norm, and there are plenty of bustling cafes, delis and bars. If you’re an audiophile, you can also find plenty of music festivals in Folly Beach, like the annual Folly Jazz Festival. Crowd-pleasing local haunts include Folly Beach Crab Shack and Lost Dog Cafe. And if you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you can’t skip paddleboarding through Folly’s estuaries or taking a boat tour to the Morris Island lighthouse to enjoy fishing, walking, or bird watching on the Folly Beach Pier, the second-longest pier on the East Coast.