As far as I can recall, I have never spent any time visiting or thinking about Wilmington, North Carolina. Yet, I must have thought about it at some point, because it was not at all what I expected. For some reason, I had a vague vision of a slow-moving, sleepy place, evocative of an earlier era, dark and overhung with Spanish Moss.
Wilmington is anything but sleepy–it’s bright and buzzing with lots and lots of people. It has the feeling of a town struggling to handle its burgeoning population—the same feeling we had in Kelowna, British Columbia and Bend, Oregon. They all had similar clusters of every imaginable chain store and restaurant–newly built with the latest village-like architectural style–and nightmare-inducing traffic. In Wilmington, except in the early morning, it was nearly impossible to take a left hand turn out of our campground. We had to take a right and then turn around at the next convenient road. Ridiculous.
The area was too crowded for us, but provided a convenient stopover to our next destination and a place for some beach time with our grandkids before we left North Carolina. Our first morning there, we woke to brilliant sunshine and the combined smell of ocean and paper mills. Not necessarily a bad combination to me, because it reminded me of St. Simons in Georgia, one of our favorite getaways when we lived near Atlanta. The paper mill smell is unique and unmistakable, almost as if you are baking something sweet and chemical-laden, with sulfur overtones. It comes and goes, depending on the wind direction.
We arrived in Wilmington a few days before the grandchildren. On our first day, we checked out dog-friendly Kure Beach, about half-an-hour drive south. We maneuvered heavy traffic through streets that alternated between a tacky 1960s beach town feel and newer mostly upscale beach houses jammed together as closely as possible. Kure Beach is at the end of a barrier island, with Cape Fear, a treacherous headland for ships and part of the Graveyard of the Atlantic, on an island just offshore. The island peninsula includes an old civil war site, Fort Fisher, an aquarium, and a state recreational area with undeveloped beach.
It was a weekday and the beach was uncrowded, except for the area allowing 4-wheel drive vehicles on the beach. Big trucks bristling with fishing poles arrived steadily, staking out their territory for the day. For some reason, there were no women fishing and it felt like a man-only zone when Zoe and I ventured into it.
We spent another morning in downtown Wilmington on the banks of the Cape Fear River. It has a smallish downtown, wide, tree-lined streets with lovely old houses, and a riverside area with old warehouses now converted to shops and restaurants catering largely to tourists.
It was a chilly day and the river was a gorgeous deep blue and running fast. We had lunch at The George restaurant, based on its name and dog-friendliness. We sat on the outside deck with Zoe, watching the river and tourists on the boardwalk. The food and service were nothing special, but the setting made it worthwhile.
When the grandkids arrived, we headed to Wrightsville beach. It also was dog-friendly, which doesn’t mean that dogs can run free—they must be on leash. The dog laws apparently are strictly enforced with high fines.
The beach at Wrightsville was beautiful and broad, with a long stretch of fine sand, a fishing pier, and what looked like some decent surf breaks. But it amazed us that, in such a hurricane prone area, there was so much building right on the water, at sea level. The area was absolutely packed with houses that looked like they would be devoured by a serious storm surge. Flirting with disaster.
There was a beach photo session underway by the pier—something we’ve encountered before on the trip. This one was a video of a teenager performing some awkward pop and lock-style dancing to the accompaniment of “Landslide.” It did not look like it was going too well.
After the kids and Zoe had their fill (well, almost) of the beach, we found our first restaurant of the trip that allowed dogs inside. Tower 7 (named after the lifeguard tower on the beach behind) had two sides, one dog-friendly, one dog-free. The food was surprisingly creative. I had a grilled shrimp, bacon, and pineapple enchilada, a delicious combination that I intend to recreate in the RV. We headed home full of food and sunshine.
As an addendum to my last post, in which I noted that two ducks at our interstate campground appeared to watch the sunset every night, here a two photos taken after I wrote the post. As you can see, most of the ducks were going about their business. But in the second photo on the right you will see the duck couple I mentioned, sitting on their spot on the shore looking out toward the sunset.