Come for the beach, stay for the culture and captivating culinary scene in this North Carolina town with plenty of star power.

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You can witness the beauty of Wilmington, North Carolina, any time of year, but especially in spring. The city's North Carolina Azalea Festival, held every April, features parades, street fairs, home tours, art shows, concerts, and of course, its namesake blooming bushes in vivid shades of purple, pink, and red. These bold flowers are indicative of the personality of this special beachside town, which comes to life with historic allure, natural wonders, and an independent spirit that's caught the eye of Hollywood, too: Hundreds of projects from "Dawson's Creek" to "Iron Man 3" to the final movie of the "Halloween" franchise (releasing in October) have been filmed here. See why everyone's got their eyes on this jaunty coastal city lately.

Where to Stay

While Wilmington does have a few upscale hotels, including a forthcoming Aloft and the historic Hotel Ballast on the waterfront, unique accommodations are the city's sweet spot. For instance, there's Dreamers Welcome, a design-focused boutique inn downtown with four individually designed, minimalist suites straight out of a magazine, and historic bed and breakfasts to suit every taste—from casual beach cottages of Beacon House Inn to C. W. Worth House, the longest continuously operated B&B in the city. Another unique, modern option is The Hive, a 14-suite boutique hotel with full kitchens and living rooms.

What to Do

Wilmington is first and foremost a beach town, so spending sunny afternoons strolling the sand is a must. Each of its three beaches have something unique to offer: Wrightsville is known for its white sand and surfer culture and has access to the inlet, sound, and salt marsh; while Kure is home to the oldest fishing pier on the Atlantic Coast and has an aquarium nearby. Carolina Beach, 12 miles from Wilmington, has a classic family beach vibe with summer concerts and public art.

When you're ready to change out of your bathing suit, check out Wilmington's historic district, which encompasses more than 200 blocks. Its picturesque historic homes, brick-lined streets, and moss-draped oaks that will have you feeling like you're in a movie—and there are plenty of self-guided or guided tours that take you through "Hollywood East," as the town's been nicknamed. You can also hit Castle Street for your arts and culture fix, whether that's perusing vinyl at Gravity Records, catching a show at Cape Fear Playhouse, shopping for your home at Decades of Décor, or scooping up a piece of jewelry at Half United. This summer, the 6.6-acre North Waterfront Park will open off Wilmington's Riverwalk with an amphitheater, walking trails, and plenty of green space.

Downtown Wilmington
Credit: DenisTangneyJr/Getty Images

Where to Eat

Over the last few years, the community has been transforming old buildings and warehouses into cool restaurants and breweries, injecting new life into Wilmington's dining scene. You'll find plenty of coastal fare and classic Southern dishes at here — but there's also a lot more. Chef Vivian Howard's brought wood-fired pizza and Italian cuisine to the up-and-coming South Front District with Benny's Big Time Pizzeria, and a trendy new wine bar called The Second Glass is just around the corner. This spring, James Beard semi-finalist Dean Neff will open Seabird, a space near the Riverwalk celebrating local seafood and veggie-forward dishes. When you're at Wrightsville Beach, pop into Adapt Kitchen & Juice Bar for healthy options from adaptogenic smoothies to poke bowls. And if you fancy local brews, check out Flytrap Brewing's buzzy beer garden or visit Edward Teach Brewery, housed in a historic downtown building that was once a fire house.