I have never seen the downtown area of a small city as vibrant as Wilmington, North Carolina. It’s a small downtown area surrounding Market Street and Front Street, but within those few square blocks are plenty of places to shop, eat, drink, and enjoy your time in this “big city at the beach”.
Park at the towering parking garage at 115 Market Street and drive to the top floor. From here you get a vantage point to see all of downtown. To the left is iconic Cape Fear Memorial Bridge spanning the wide river. Straight across the river is the USS North Carolina, a World War II-era battleship that is open to the public. To the right you can catch a narrow glimpse of Front Street with the old, rustic brick buildings and beautiful decorated street.
If you only walk one street make it Front Street. From one end near Orange Street to the other at Walnut Street you’ll find just about everything. The Cotton Exchange is a series of buildings that have been opened and connected with hallways and staircases, allowing visitors to meander from one to the next while browsing the art, clothing, jewelry, and gift items from local artisans. Paddy’s Hollow and The German Cafe are two fantastic places to get something to eat and if you want dessert look no further than The Scoop.
Front Street Brewery has become its own destination over the years. Wilmington’s original brewery has grown in leaps and bounds in recent years in a beautiful setting inside an old building. Sample the craft beer but also enjoy a full meal. If you want some great food in a little bit of a quieter setting try Reel Cafe; they have outdoor seating along the street at one end of the downtown area. Right in the middle of these two is Kilwins, one of the best places anywhere to get a scoop of ice cream (you’ll know you’re there by the smell in the air).
When the sun starts getting low head down to the end of Market Street to Riverfront Park. The battleship is almost straight across the river at this point and makes a great location to watch the setting sun. The Cape Fear River Walk is a boardwalk/sidewalk that stretches from Nun Street to the Wilmington Convention Center. From Market Street turn left to visit shops and eateries along the waterfront, or turn right to enjoy a peaceful walk past the waterfront hotels.