Nothing quite prepares you for Airlie Gardens until you walk around and absorb the beauty of this space. The impressive gates are one thing but the landscape in these gardens is breathtaking. The show going on was A Sculpted Garden and there were sculptures across the 67 acres, all in fancy stainless steel - a photog's dream exhibit for picture opps. If you are a nature nerd, then this is the spot for you to indulge in some first hand experience of the local tidal creek ecosystem. Lucky for me, the weather was a happy accomplice and I walked all around going shutter crazy with my camera (as the pictures on this post will prove). This is a self-guided walking experience so wear comfy clothes and shoes. They do have a designated tour path as well as complimentary tram service during certain hours of the day - just look out for the benches marked with a 'T' and wait there for the next tram to come along. This is a historic Southern garden and many plants here are more than 100 years old. They do allow rentals for events and weddings, when you visit you will see why. Also a great place to shoot your annual family photos I think! Needless to say, many movies and TV shows have shot here so if you are a Dawson's Creek or One Tree Hill fan, you might find some of the spots familiar.
My ride to Masonboro Island began with a group on a Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours sailboat that meet at the dock in front of the Blockade Runner hotel. Now this comes with fair warning but the parking situation on the street here can be a bit of a hassle. So either carry quarters with you and just play safe or be prepared for the conundrum that ensues trying to pay by card. The meters say you can call a number and pay but you will have to create an account through your phone to be able to pay. God forbid you make a mistake along the way because then you will have to talk to customer service and they cannot help you until your account is created so back you go to calling from the start again. The service leaves from across the Blockade Runner but no you cannot park in their lot. There is a parking lot at the corner before the bridge that takes credit cards but you will have to go park there and then walk about 5-10 minutes to the pier. I know all this because I was the one that delayed my group from taking off while carrying out this very exercise. So just be smart and keep quarters on ya is all. The boat ride itself though was fun. Good company and tour guide always make any experience enjoyable. Captain Joe knew and shared a bunch about the local greenery and animal species. He knew every type of bird species around - its nice to see your tour guide excited about bird sighting every day as they did the first time, the excitement permeated! You can get off on Masonboro to do a guided nature tour and some of the guests with me did that. Masonboro is the longest undisturbed barrier island ecosystem in southern North Carolina, accessible only by boat. Captain Joe was also happy to share about the local history and ecology of WB. On an another visit I hope to be able to do the Masonboro walking tour as well but I had to head on back to solid ground and get a few more sightseeing venues ticked off my list so off and away I went.
Began the day with a somewhat relaxed lunch at Dockside - another local fave. I was amongst the first to enter but over time I saw quite a few people head on in for brunch, on a weekday! I guess thats the beach lifestyle for ya. Anything by the water in WB offers nice views so this too was fun. I am thinking though the place is probably a hotspot at night for dinner. Their catch of the day was a grouper so I did the grouper sandwich - a hearty option. I thought I was done with coffee but could not resist their chocolate cake and had to get some to go. Right on the water's edge and with a laid-back, rustic atmosphere, this is a great option for a casual no frills eatery. While I was sitting there eating I saw folks come and go cruising in their boats, a few folks being adventurous with their stand up paddles and a couple fishing fanatics as well.
I was told the Bluewater Grill would be a fantastic dinner location so I got there while it was still daylight to be able to see the place transform - and it sure does. They had music, on a Sunday evening! Live band was great, people were dancing, they had a DJ playing tracks - it was the place to be. It was by the water and you could see other businesses and places across the water on the other side, people on their boats docking, quite the nice lifestyle I must say. Dinner was a simple affair for me, just wanted to take in the ambiance. I enjoyed a sesame ginger shrimp on crab fried rice with a nice red wine and finished up with an apple cobbler which was HUGE. I did not finish it really. I loved the energy in the space, sat outside as thats where all the action is. Good music and food always gets folks happy and this evening was no different. A pretty nice meal for my first dinner in WB. If you do visit, I strongly suggest heading out earlier to get in some music and ambience over drinks at the bar. If you have the time and inclination, you might want to check out Motts Seafood Channel - a seafood market open all year round offering fresh fish on ice and carefully curated readings and other condiments.
Stayed at the Hilton Holiday Inn during my visit to Wrightsville Beach and it was prime property straight on the sand. The view from my balcony was over the pool and common areas and looking right at the beach. I enjoy certain amenities in a hotel room, especially with my travels these days, so it was nice to have parking on the premises free of charge, wifi, tv, fridge, microwave and coffee machine, although it was a little odd seeing the coffee machine in the restroom albeit a convenient option in case of spills. I was pleasantly surprised to hear a knock on my door after I checked into my room and had a ginormous tray of cheese and fruit delivered to the room. Wow. I was a guest of the local CVB and they were certainly treating me well. I also liked the fact that the hotel was located close to a few places I wanted to visit during my stay. Nothing is very far in Wrightsville Beach and Wilmington is only about a half hour away. If you keep along the coast then you can drive to Kure Beach and Carolina Beach but I had only enough time for one so Wrightsville it was.