The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Friday January 28th

Wilmington: A Drive to Remember

Between beaches and bars, weekend will fly by.

But for those looking to cherish the last days of warm weather, Wilmington, with its abundant beaches and bars, can make a great weekend road trip from Chapel Hill.

"Research has shown that (Wilmington has) two main attractions: 31 miles of beautiful beaches and a historic downtown," said Connie Nelson, communications manager at the Cape Fear Coast Convention and Visitor's Bureau.

Downtown Wilmington, about a three-hour drive from campus, is home to rows of historic buildings that are now occupied by an eclectic mix of restaurants, bars and music venues.

Though staying in the historic district can be pricey, hotels a few miles away have better deals, such as the Days Inn, ($55 per night on weekends) and the Motel 6 ($54), both on Market Street, a short drive from restaurants and nightlife.

If visitors from Chapel Hill suffer from Top of the Hill withdrawal, they can try the Front Street Brewery, 9 N. Front St. The brewery specializes in American food and 10 handcrafted beers and serves a late night menu, said manager Will White.

Another Wilmington favorite is Tomatoz American Grille at South College Road and Wrightsville Avenue. It serves a rotating menu and offers everything from pizza to fresh seafood.

The restaurant also has daily drink specials and live music Wednesday and Thursday nights, said executive chef Brian Williams.

The historic downtown is also home to several art and theater venues.

One of the most popular places to see shows is Thalian Hall, the oldest operating theater in North Carolina."It's a major center for the performing arts in southeastern North Carolina," said Tony Rivenbark, executive director of Thalian Hall. The theater hosts a broad range of productions, from local ballet recitals to the Shanghai ballet.

Not only does the city showcase live productions, it is also the third-largest filmmaking city in the nation.Wilmington has provided the backdrop for many feature films, including "A Walk to Remember" and "28 Days." It is also the setting for the television show "Dawson's Creek."

For visitors who want a behind-the-scenes look at this bustling industry, EUE/Screen Gems studios, the largest working motion picture facility east of California, gives studio tours Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays that cost $10 per person, according to materials published by the studio. The tours also include a visit to the set of "Dawson's Creek."

But for stars, locals and out-of-town visitors alike, Wilmington's biggest attraction is the beach.

Wrightsville Beach is about 10 minutes from downtown Wilmington by car and can provide a nice change from the downtown atmosphere. Open-air bars and restaurants line the intercoastal waterway and beachfront streets.

From the outside seating, patrons of Bluewater American Grill, 4 Marina St., have a scenic view of the intercoastal waters."The ambience is excellent," said manager Joseph Smith. "We're the only restaurant with actual sunset seating."

And after drinking and dining near the ocean, it might be wiser to catch a cab back to Wilmington instead of staying in a hotel at the beach. But the least expensive of the ocean hotels are the Harbor Inn at 701 Causeway Drive and the Sandpeddler at 15 Nathan St., which on the weekends are $135 and $159 per night respectively.

Now that school is back in session, the crowds in Wilmington will probably die down somewhat, Nelson said. But events will continue to draw visitors to town, including Riverfest -- a two-day festival that features food, crafts and entertainment -- Oct. 5 and 6.

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