Living Like a Local in Wilmington

Wilmington NC Retirement

Our curiosity ran deep wondering what is it that’s drawing folks to the 300 year old city by the sea, the city of Wilmington North Carolina. Out of 43 cities on our website, it is the #1 most requested city for retirement. The mild weather and barrier islands are the obvious attractions for Wilmington NC retirement but folks may be surprised to discover that Wilmington hasn’t been overdeveloped like South Florida which has kept home prices low. There’s still a number of undeveloped large land tracts, south to Myrtle Beach South Carolina and north to Jacksonville North Carolina, leaving plenty of room for more master planned communities. Trendy new homes in Wilmington can easily be found under $300,000 which is unheard of in major cities. We spent a month 'living like a local' and it revealed one of the most progressive coastal North Carolina cities undergoing transformation.

DOWNTOWN ALONG THE CAPE FEAR RIVER

The USS Battleship North Carolina commands attention and is one of the first things you see parked permanently along the Cape Fear River. The city’s Colonial roots date back to the 16th century.  Cobblestone streets, European-style churches, the Cape Fear Riverfront and dozens of plantations preserved as museums adorn the heart of the city. The port of Wilmington has played a vital role in the economic development over the years and today, is America’s 64th largest port. In 1985, EUE/Screen Gems Studios arrived in Wilmington and has filmed over 400 television shows, movies and commercial projects since then. Every time we visit the city, we see production crews filming on the city streets.

To us, Wilmington is poised to become a ‘Destination City’ like Savannah or Charleston. Soon the downtown area will see trendy new hotels (Hotel Indigo/Embassy Suites Hotel), urban housing, and a decent marina. Under the Wilmington Downtown Vision 2020 Plan, the city is in the process of reinventing itself in a beautiful way. Here’s what’s planned:

  • Increase the amount of open space downtown, especially at the waterfront, for parks varying in both size and uses (expanding Dram Tree Park, Festival park, and other smaller open spaces).
  • Complete north-south Riverwalk connections along waterfront.
  • Preserve east-west street corridor views to the River.
  • Infill vacant land and parking lots with parks and residential and mixed-use development.
  • Complete streetscape improvements along Front, Water, Chestnut, and Market Streets.
  • Create a civic square at Thalian Hall.
  • Expand Cape Fear Community College around a College Square park.
  • Encourage a new mixed-use commercial area in the north waterfront area with a large regional park at Holmes Bridge.
  • Create an Arts Promenade along Orange Street.
  • Facilitate a new Maritime Museum and re-invent the existing Railroad Museum.
  • Convert rails-to-trails open space along the former railroad corridor without precluding a multi-modal facility.
  • Enhance a new green edge along the west side of the River to enhance pedestrian and bicyclist activity.

We believe all of this will remarkably change the Cape Fear riverfront and can't wait to see what it will look like five years from today.

THE RESTAURANT SCENE

Recently Wilmington was named Best Al Fresco Dining Neighborhood by the readers of USA Today and 10 Best. After experiencing our first foodie walking tour by Taste of Carolina where we tasted our way through 7 local restaurants, it left us craving more. On Trip Advisor, a consumer driven review website we trust and rely on, there are 484 restaurants rated in Wilmington and more than half of them are rated four stars or higher. Whether folks are looking for traditional southern comfort food or authentic Asian fare, residents have numerous choices to choose from near the beach communities in Wilmington NC. In downtown and on the barrier islands, there are find plenty of outdoor cafes and restaurants with beachfront or waterway views. Breweries continue to pop up on the scene. The leader established in 1994 is Front Street Brewery, Wilmington’s only ONLY Microbrew Pub and Restaurant. Everyday in the afternoon, free tours and tastings are available. We thoroughly enjoy that and The Fortunate Glass Wine Bar.

COLLEGE AND SPORTS VIBE

The University of North Carolina Wilmington opened it’s doors in 1947 and has about 14,000 actively enrolled. The college is located on the north side of the city. Freshman are drawn to the college because of its close proximity to Wrightsville Beach, a beach on National Geographic’s list of World’s Best Surfing Towns. Live entertainment is easy to find as you would expect in a college town and in coastal North Carolina cities. Although the college has a number of athletic sports teams, Wilmington does not have an NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB team yet. Major annual athletic events include:

  • PPD Beach2 Battleship Ironman Triathlon
  • The Carolina Cup Stand Up Paddle Race
  • Wrightsville Beach Marathon
  • Battleship NC Half Marathon

For Baby Boomers, UNC Wilmington and Brunswick County Community College are super because they offer continuing education programs to locals of all ages for Wilmington NC retirement. Brunswick County Community College is locate on the southern end of the city. The Odell Williamson Auditorium is the college’s state-of-the-art 1,500-seat performing arts facility. The 55,000 square foot Dinah E. Gore Fitness & Aquatics Center is also quite a place and offers much more than a standard exercise facility. They offer a Fitness Center, full gymnasium, locker rooms, a 4,500 square foot lap pool, a 1,584 square foot Shallow Water pool, an aerobics studio, 3-lane elevated track at 1/12 mile in length, SPINNING Room, TRX suspension training, Child Watch, and Massage Therapy. The campus also offers pickleball and Fit Over 50.

BARRIER ISLANDS - Beaches, Beaches and more Beaches

There are six beach communities in Wilmington NC, on the barrier islands, to choose from and each is distinctly different. The inexpensive NC Ferry system makes it easy to catch a ride from Kure Beach to Oak Island. Hurricane Joaquin had recently passed through dumping 12-15 inches of rain in a couple days. We observed some beach erosion. Although the area experienced flooding, we observed minimal damage on the islands and in Brunswick County. Here’s a brief overview about what makes each beach unique:

  • Wrightsville Beach - A traditional cottage home island with two unspoiled peninsulas on each end of the island to explore.
  • Carolina Beach - Touristy and more busy beach scene with pizza and ice cream shops.
  • Kure Beach - Relaxed beach town with the oldest fishing pier on the Atlantic Coast dating back to 1923 and home to the historic Fort Fisher State Park and NC Aquarium. Here’s where folks can pick up the NC Ferry ride to Southport and Oak Island.
  • Oak Island - 10 mile stretch of beach with two piers and a marina.
  • Holden Beach - Beachfront vacation homes and on deepwater canals with small restaurants and t-shirt shops at the base of the bridge.
  • Ocean Isle - Small barrier island with cottage homes and restaurants at the base of the bridge.

HOME AFFORDABILITY - Big Bang for the Buck in Wilmington

In 2015, the average price of homes purchased in Brunswick County is around $245,000 where as the national average home price is $364,000. That’s a huge savings for folks from the Northeastern states and California. Prices continue to be stable with only a 6% increase over the prior year. There’s a lot of home inventory to choose from for a Wilmington NC retirement.

For beachfront homes, we see Wrightsville Beach as the hot spot because of its close proximity to downtown. Homes average $750,000. At Carolina Beach, Seagrove is a new home community within walking distance to the beach where homes begin in the $300K’s. The further you go away from downtown, prices are less such as at Ocean Isle Beach where home prices are averaging $326K. Ocean Isle Beach is a 40+ mile drive to downtown Wilmington and 20+ miles to North Myrtle Beach. Residents living on the barrier islands at the beach communities in Wilmington NC are subject to seasonal rentals and tourists.

Golf communities we favor in close proximity to the beach are Landfall Country Club and Porter’s Neck. Families looking for deepwater dockage within their community will find Helm’s Port attractive. The boating community launched last year. New homes at Helm’s Port begin just under $400K. The waterways in and around the barrier islands are magical. Boaters can scoot out the Cape Fear Inlet for deepwater sport fishing or raft up off the Intracoastal Waterway on one of the exposed sandbars at low tide. 

Exploring homes in the Wilmington area wouldn’t be complete without a visit to our 2015 Bliss Award winner for Happiest Community of the Year, Compass Pointe. The resort-style gated community has incredible curb appeal, the friendliest folks and new homes starting in the $300K’s. 

WILMINGTON NC FESTIVALS

While there’s always something going on in the coastal North Carolina cities. Wilmington has four major annual festivals:

  • North Carolina Jazz Festival - February (32 years)
  • North Carolina Azalea Festival - May (300,000 attendees)
  • North Carolina Fourth of July Festival at Southport (50,000 attendees)
  • Wilmington Riverfest - October (250,000 attendees)

If we had to reveal anything lacking, it would be a Macy’s or fancy department store but don’t be fooled. Belk’s is the equivalent in the Carolinas. Mayfaire Town Center located just north of downtown is the place to shop and has been voted Best Upscale Shopping Center in Wilmington for almost 10 years. The center has 78 shops, 21 restaurants and 2 hotels. If you wanted to live within walking distance to a place like this, Parkside at Mayfair is a beautiful urban community made up of coastal homes with front porches and white picket fences. 

The city also has an international airport and high quality medical care. What more could one ask for? Wilmington is a great place to live smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic Coast.

If you’re exploring Wilmington for the first time, ask for our free Wilmington relocation information to help you learn more about the area. It’s our pleasure to help! 

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