Historic downtown Wilmington and the island beaches of Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach have something for everyone. Whether it’s holiday shopping for coastal-oriented gifts, fresh and creative seafood at world-class restaurants, or a variety of events and activities, Wilmington and the beaches (www.gowilmingtonandbeaches.com) are welcoming this winter.
The city has become a major site for TV and movie production – “Iron Man 3,” which came out this year, was largely shot in the area. Winter visitors should look for Hollywood stars eating out while they’re filming in “Hollywood East.” Recent spottings have included Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr. at Catch (www.catchwilmington.com), Jennifer Aniston at Manna (www.mannaavenue.com), Julianne Hough at Bridge Tender (www.thebridgetender.com), Will Ferrell at South Beach Grill (www.southbeachgrillwb.com), and Michael Caine at Folks Café (www.folkscafe.com).
A tour company that specializes in the areas film industry is Hollywood Location Walk (www.hollywoodnc.com).
The annual Cucalorus Film Festival (Nov. 13-17; www.cucalorus.org) offers a different aspect of moviemaking: It showcases shorts, features, documentaries and full-length efforts by independent film makers. The screenings are usually at five downtown Wilmington venues.
Wilmington’s cultural scene thrives in the winter with a full schedule of events at varying venues: Thalian Hall Center for Performing Arts (www.thalianhall.org), UNCW’s Kenan Auditorium (www.uncw.edu), City Stage Theatre (www.citystagenc.com); TheatreNOW (www.theatrewilmington.com), Hannah Block Historic USO/Community Arts Center (www.thalian.org), Brooklyn Arts Center (www.brooklynartsnc.com), Cape Fear Playhouse (www.bigdawgproductions.org), and Greenfield Lake Amphitheater (www.greenfieldlakeamphitheater.com).
The arts and crafts scene is also flourishing, and the city’s shops and galleries stock memorable gift and souvenir shopping (www.artscouncilofwilmington.org).
Thanks to fresh seafood and more, dining on the North Carolina coast is better than ever, with James Beard-nominee and “Top Chef” contestant Keith Rhodes of Catch (www.catchwilmington.com) fame raising the bar. Among ongoing tour companies that provide a taste of the Port City are Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro (www.lizbiro.com).
Nov. 29-Dec. 21, make a point to see “Enchanted Arlie” at Wilmington’s famous Airlie Gardens (www.airliegardens.org) and take a half-mile, self-guided stroll through the displays of holiday lights and displays.
Other signature holiday events on the coast this winter include the 30th annual N.C. Holiday Flotilla & Festival in the Park in Wrightsville Beach (Nov. 30; www.ncholidayflotilla.org), the Old Wilmington By Candlelight Tour (Dec. 7-8; www.hslcf.org) and the Island of Lights Christmas Parade & Holiday Flotilla at Pleasure Island (Dec. 6-7; www.islandoflights.org).
For history lovers, mark your calendar for the Pearl Harbor Remembrance at Battleship North Carolina (Dec. 7; www.battleshipnc.com) and the 149th commemoration of the Civil War battle for Fort Fisher (Jan. 18; www.nchistoricsites.org). A bit of history and lots of hobby fun? The Model Railroad Show and Sale is Jan. 18 (www.capefearmodelrailroadclub.org).
For fresh air, remember that being between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic means the area is very water-oriented. Regularly scheduled cruises are available until January with Cape Fear Riverboats (www.cfrboats.com), Wilmington Water Tours (www.wilmingtonwatertours.net) and Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours (through Dec. 31; www.wrightsvillebeachscenictours.com).
Landlubbers will enjoy the crisp winter air on the coast with hiking and more at such outdoors destinations as Carolina Beach State Park (www.ncparks.gov), Fort Fisher State Recreation Area (www.ncparks.gov), Halyburton Park (www.halyburtonpark.com) and Greenfield Lake (http://bit.ly/17ZhcrO).