#Outaboutnc: Experience Tea at the Washington Duke Inn in Durham (Two for Tea Giveaway)

#Outaboutnc Experience Tea at the Washington Duke Inn in Durham (Two for Tea Giveaway)
Enter to win tea for two at the beautiful Washington Duke Inn in Durham, N.C, a Four Diamond Hotel. 

Four years ago in January, I published my very first blog post on the HinesSight Blog. I had just turned 42, my first child was about to go to kindergarten, and my baby, Liza, had just turned one.

A lot has happened in four years. 

Boy, time flies when you are having fun. Fast-forward four years, and I'm now older, wiser, even more silly, and my baby girl is about to start kindergarten.

A child starting kindergarten again. Wow!  What's next for us?

Well, you guessed it. It's January again, and I've decided to birth another baby,  but this one will hopefully, sleep through the night. My new baby is an extension of this blog that I've named #Outaboutnc. It's a social media community of people who love North Carolina, and all it has to offer in terms of travel and hospitality. Outaboutnc.com will eventually be an online travel guide sharing the best of North Carolina and you are going to help be a local guide in your hometown by tagging your social media photos #outaboutnc. We will be able to get the conversation started about all that North Carolina has to offer from the coast to the mountains, and all places in-between.

#outaboutnc Tag your photos to be featured by this NC Travel Community
We have a great state to visit, and when I was in Italy and talking to bloggers from all over the world, I realized that I have the tool that  can help people learn about our state.  Travel guides are my favorite things to read, and any time I go to a city on vacation, I pick up a hard copy to read. 

#outaboutnc Photo by Leigh Powell Hines, A North Carolina Morning on the coast. Tag your N.C. photos featured.
Photo by Leigh Powell Hines, A North Carolina Morning on the coast.

#outaboutnc A visit to Valle Crucis, N.C, Mast General Store. Photo by @Hinessightblog. Tag your photos.
Photo by Leigh Powell Hines, A Visit to Valle Crucis, North Carolina and one of N.C's most historic general stores. 
Each time, I post a North Carolina travel related post,  it will always lead with my new hashtag and will be talked about and shared more in the #outaboutnc social media community. You can also have the option of signing up for an OutaboutNC newsletter by entering your email at the top of the Outaboutnc site. The #Outaboutnc social media community of Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, will feature North Carolina  travel and hospitality content only.

The HinesSight Blog, as it was developed in 2011, will continue to be my creative and very Southern outlet where we will talk about some of the best hotels in the world, recipes, health, travel and lifestyle stories. My popular "Pack Your Bags" hotel features will continue to be a travel feature, as well, as exploring awesome hotel package deals. We all want a little luxury at a better price. I will continue to travel outside of North Carolina, and showcase the best in upscale family travel.

As a a writer for Visit Raleigh, Skimbaco Lifestyle, and Examiner.com, it became very clear to me as my own online publisher that I needed a  new social media channel/site where I could focus on North Carolina, but still have the flexibility and creative ability not to be just travel related here. The audiences are just too diverse, and have different interests.  Some of my most popular posts here on the HinesSight Blog are my parenting humor pieces and recipes. My simple baked ziti recipe is probably being made in China right now it has been pinned so many times on Pinterest. Baked Ziti, Buckyeye Brownies,  my Southern Shoe Peg Corn Salad bring me more traffic than any post I've written.

#outaboutnc afternoon tea at Washington Duke Inn.

In order to celebrate my HinesSight Blog 4th anniversary and my launch of #Outaboutnc,  I have the pleasure of giving you the opportunity to experience one of my favorite things to do in North Carolina. The Washington Duke Inn in Durham, N.C. has partnered with me to offer the Tea for Two Giveaway.

#outaboutnc afternoon tea at Washington Duke Inn in Durham, N.C.

I love traditional afternoon tea, and for me, that means great scones and lots of clotted cream. The Washington Duke Inn has a great balance of sweet and savory with its menu selection, and is probably the most like traditional afternoon tea in London. It has the best scones I've experienced thus far in North Carolina. I still have more places to.  I've talked about tea at the Washington Duke Inn throughout the the past four year as being an absolute favorite experience.  I'm so thrilled to share my news, and celebrate this blog's anniversary with one of my most favorite North Carolina experiences so you can share this experience, too.

Washington Duke Inn Afternoon tea #outaboutnc

Tell your friends, and enter this giveaway. The Washington Duke Inn is located on Duke University's campus, and it is a peaceful sanctuary for the upscale traveler.  Under the culinary leadership of Executive Chef Jason Cunningham, the Fairview Dining Room does an exceptional job of embracing the local community with events. From special events like Valentine's Day to wine dinners, a visit to the Washington Duke is a culinary experience.

Outdoor patio at Fairview Dining Room at Washington Duke Inn. #outaboutnc

The Inn is popular, and it can be hard to get a room during Duke Basketball season, and certain Duke University parent events. If  you know you want to stay at the Washington Duke Inn on a visit to North Carolina and have your dates in mind, you may want to consider the Book Early Special package. If you are coming to Durham from out of town to experience the theatre , afternoon tea, or just for a local staycation, you may want to consider the Classic Package, which includes breakast in the Fairview Dining Room or room service in your stay.   Having breakfast included in the rate is always a good way to get a little more luxury at a better price. Depending on availability, rates can range from $350 to $250 per night through March,  depending on demand, availability, and time selected.

We hope to see you #outaboutnc at the Washington Duke Inn, and be sure to tag your photos to be featured in our travel community.  Be sure to also visit http://www.durham-nc.com/ to learn more about visiting Durham, N.C. and Duke University.

Disclosure:Washington Duke Inn is sponsoring this tea giveaway. A winner will be chosen at random on 2.15/2015 and notified. Tea reservations and the voucher will be handled by Washington Duke Inn and be subject to reservation availability. 

Note: If you are having difficulty using rafflecopter, please email hinessightblog@gmail.com and ask for help.  We don't want anyone to miss out. 

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Quick and Easy Spinach Bleu Cheese Dip with No Mayo

Updated: August 9, 2019

Mayonnaise in North Carolina is a staple. Many southern recipes use it as a base, especially in dips. Personally, I like the condiment, but some people hate it. I have friends who refuse to eat anything dripped or dipped with mayonnaise.

Instead of mayonnaise, dip recipe uses salad dressing as a base. It's quick and easy, and is the perfect accompaniment to chips and veggies, especially for bleu cheese lovers. If you dislike bleu cheese, then substitute ranch dressing.

Recipe for dip without using mayo. Spinach and Mayo are the main ingredients.


Quick and Easy Spinach Blue Cheese Dip. Great for game-day. Easy list of ingredients.

I used a lite bleu cheese when I made this dip initially in 2015. I like to buy my salad dressings for recipes in the refrigerated section of a grocery store. I shop Whole Foods Prime at Amazon, so I use the 365 brands of salad dressing a lot now.

Spinach Blue Cheese Dip has all-natural ingredients including Naturally Fresh salad dressing.
Spinach Bleu Cheese Dip is quick and easy.
Spinach Bleu Cheese Dip


1 6 oz. Bag of organic spinach or one bunch of spinach from your produce box. 
3/4 cup of low-fat organic cottage cheese
3/4 cup of Lite Bleu Cheese salad dressing
1/4 cup of chopped onions (green parts, too)
1 to 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire Sauce
A dash or two of hot pepper sauce
2 teaspoons of minced green jalapeno pepper
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper
6 tablespoons of aged, crumbled bleu cheese 

Serve with raw vegetables or/and blue corn chips. 


Wash spinach. Remove longer stems, and put in a large saucepan using only the water clinging to the spinach leaves. Cover and cook over medium-high heat, occasionally stirring until spinach is wilted. This takes about 5 minutes.  Drain spinach, rinse with cold water. Squeeze water out gently, and chop coarsely. 

Quick and Easy Spinach Blue Cheese Dip

Place cottage cheese,  Lite Bleu Cheese Dressing, spinach, green onions, and seasonings into a bowl of a food processor. Process until well combined. Add crumbled blue cheese and pulse on and off to just combine the cheese into the dip. There should be chunks of blue cheese in the mix. 

I loved it with celery, red pepper, corn chips, and crackers.  Also, adjust the taste by adding more Worcestershire sauce or hot sauce, if needed. 

Spinach Blue Cheese Dip works well with crackers, raw veggies, and blue corn chips
I love this dip with red peppers and celery. 

This spinach bleu cheese dip using a salad dressing as a base instead of mayonnaise is perfect for tailgating, parties, and potluck occasions.

Pin it:

This quick and easy spinach bleu cheese dip is a great dip to serve a crowd. #appetizers

#OutaboutNC: Explore 14 National Parks in N.C.

It's no secret that North Carolina is a diverse state in terms of travel. We have the coast and the mountains plus beautiful terrain in between.  We also have 14 National Parks to explore.  My husband has hiked the Appalachian Trail, and I've driven on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but we are very behind on this list. As you plan your family travels, keep this National Park list in mind for N.C.

Explore 14 National Parks In N.C. Blue Ridge Parkway by Leigh Powell Hines @Hinessightblog
Beautiful blue ridge parkway near Blowing Rock, N.C. 

National Parks in North Carolina

Appalachian Scenic Trail 

I'm proud to say my husband has hiked this trail through several states, and my son would love to do the same thing one day. I hope that the two can do that together one day while my daughter and I follow along, and find luxury hotels in nearby towns so they can shower on occasion. This trail is a great place for kids and teens to get outside, exercise and experience nature.  

A good place to enter the trail is in Hot Springs, N.C. in Madison County. Check out these cute accommodations at the historic Iron Horse Station

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a great scenic drive. My favorite place to get on the parkway is in Blowing Rock, N.C.  I love the tranquility of The Chetola Resort.They have a fire pit there that can't be beat. It was my absolute favorite spot to spend time while staying there. 

Chetola Resort by Leigh Powell Hines @Hinessightblog
Blowing Rock's Chetola Resort 

Blue Ridge National Heritage Area

This encompasses a huge area in the North Carolina mountains. There are tons of beautiful towns to explore. Valle Crucis, North Carolina is on the list. The historic Mast Farm General Store is a must-visit, and of course, I love the beautiful Mast Farm Inn in Valle Crucis. Pictured below are some of the original cabins. Inside they've been upgraded to the best in luxury. 

Mast Farm Inn by Leigh Powell Hines @Hinessightblog
Historic Mast Farm Inn 

The Blue Ridge National Heritage area is a great website to plan your adventures in North Carolina's mountains. Highlands, North Carolina is also in the area. You must check into the Old Edwards Inn and Spa or their new casual chic property, 200 Main.  Asheville, N.C. is on the list if you are looking for a larger city as a base to explore. 

North Carolina's Outer Banks is a must-visit in our state. My kids haven't been yet so we must change that soon. There are some great restaurants in this area, plenty of camping spots, and of course, hotels. I have the luxury resort, The Sanderling, on my list. 

The Atlantic Ocean by Leigh Powell Hines @Hinessightblog
Atlantic Ocean at sunset 

Camping on this island is in primitive style, if that is your thing. You must reach the area by boat, and plan to take everything you need with you including water. The islands are undeveloped and wild. The highlight will be the Cape Lookout Light House. The base for this area is Harker's Island, and a boat will take you to the remote areas. Harker's Island Visitor Center is where you need to start your trip. There are several museums in the area like the Keeper's Museum and Portsmouth Village. 

Carl Sandburg is celebrated as an American poet, although his works are found all over the world and have been published in many different languages. Carl Sandburg and his family lived in a home in Flat Rock, N.C. from 1945 until his death in 1967. The park offers tours of the Sandburg Home, over five miles of hiking trails and cares for the descendents of Mrs. Sandburg's prize-winning goats.

If traveling to the Flat Rock area, you may want to check out The Highland Lake Inn and Resort.  Steeped in local history, Highland Lake Inn rests in a country setting of 26 gently wooded acres on a serene lake in Historic Flat Rock. Resort accommodations range from cabins and cottages, to a lodge and an upscale inn.

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site protects and preserves known portions of England's first New World settlements from 1584 to 1590. This park is home to the outdoor summer drama, The Lost Colony", and it also boasts the The Elizabethan Gardens, which offers  year-round opportunity to enjoy 10 acres of flora as a living memorial to England's first New World colonists. There is a visitor's center, and hiking opportunities. 

This North Carolina National Park extends into Tennessee. In North Carolina, you can enter the park in Cherokee, N.C. This is a nature lover's paradise. For hard core nature lovers, you can hike to a hotel that is only accessible by foot. At 6,593 feet elevation, Mount LeConte is the third highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and LeConte Lodge® is located near the summit at 6,360 feet elevation. There is a lottery to stay there, and there is a wait list. 

There are several communities around Cherokee such as Maggie Valley, Waynesville, and Bryson City which also offer lodging. These are great towns to explore, and most of the Inns are very economical. Harrahs Casino Cherokee Resort is family-friendly despite the gambling. It has tons of restaurants on-site, an indoor and outdoor pool, and a spa. It's like a mini Las Vegas in one spot. My vote for cuteness goes to The Chalet Suites Boutique Hotel and Chalet Inn Bed and Breakfast.  It has an alpine, European look with a touch of luxury. For those who like to prepare meals, tthe Smoky Mountain Country Club Lodging in Whittier may appeal to you.  These condos offer the chance for families to spread out.  A property that certainly caught my eye is  McKinley Edwards Inn in Bryson City. The main house is currently going through a renovation, and based on photos, it will be a very nice place to stay in the area. 

This historic trail goes through nine states. Remember and commemorate the survival of the Cherokee people, forcefully removed from their homelands in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee to live in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. They traveled by foot, horse, wagon, or steamboat in 1838-1839. In North Carolina, there are three museums in the mountains to honor this trail. Cherokee, N.C. is also a federal Indian reservation. 

This is a national military park in Greensboro that memorializes North Carolina's significance in the Revolutionary War. There are hiking trails, wildlife, and twenty-eight monuments within the park that honor Revolutionary soldiers, statesmen, heroes, and heroines. William Hooper and John Penn, two of North Carolina's three signers of the Declaration of Independence, are buried under the Signers' Monument. A large equestrian statue of General Nathanael Greene dominates the monument honoring the soldiers of the Southern Army and its leader.

Greensboro has great lodging and lots to see. I've stayed at the O'Henry Hotel and loved it. 

Located in Currie, North Carolina, this battlefield marks the site of the first Patriot victory in the American Revolution and the site of the last Scottish Highland broadsword charge. The victory ended British authority in the colony and stalled a full-scale British invasion of the South for nearly four years. Currie is located in Pender County and is very near Wilmington, N.C. which I highlighted this month for its civil war landmarks

Stretching 330 miles through four states (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina) the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail traces the route used by patriot militia during the pivotal Kings Mountain campaign of 1780. You can access the trail via these points in North Carolina

North Carolina is first in flight.This is an extremely kid-friendly destination in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. Paying honor to Wilbur and Orville Wright, this memorial is a great place to learn about the history of aviation. The Wright Brothers Visitors Center is hands-on fun.  Plan your trip by visiting the Outer Banks Tourism website. 

Atlantic Ocean by Leigh Powell HInes @Hinessightblog (NC Coast)
North Carolina Coast

Designated by Congress in 2006, the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor extends from Wilmington, North Carolina in the north to Jacksonville, Florida in the south. It is home to one of America's most unique cultures, a tradition first shaped by captive Africans brought to the southern United States from West Africa and continued in later generations by their descendents. Festivals for awareness are held several times a year. 

Happy exploring in North Carolina. 

Ticket Giveaway: NC Chefs to Battle it Out in Annual Competition Dining Series.

North Carolina has a "Super Bowl" of its own in the state, and it's just getting started. The Carolina Panthers may be out, but your favorite chef is just firing up. The event to see this year is the The “Got To Be NC” Competition Dining Series. 

2015 Triangle area chefs compete in "Got to Be NC" Competition Dining Series
2015 Triangle area chefs compete in "Got to Be NC" Competition Dining Series

The brackets are out, and I'm going to help you get a front row seat for a six-course dinner created around North Carolina ingredients. 

Battle Apple Mill Apple Butter, Atlantic Caviar & Biltmore Winery Sparkling Wine Blanc de Blanc: NC  Competition Dining Series
Battle Apple Mill Apple Butter, Atlantic Caviar & Biltmore Winery Sparkling Wine Blanc de Blanc

Here's the fun part about this competition. There is a secret ingredient for each dinner, and the chefs don't know what that ingredient will be until a few hours before guests arrive. Each chef has to make three dishes using that secret ingredient. It could be chocolate or sweet potatoes or peanut butter. 

Big Spoon Roasters Peanut Pecan Butter & Panko-Crusted Lamb with Goat Cheese Crème Fraîche Mousse, Islander Ginger Beer & Basil Vinaigrette, Pickled Windcrest Farm Organics Ginger, Beet & Ginger Beer-Marinated Dry Apple Salad
Big Spoon Roasters Peanut Pecan Butter & Panko-Crusted Lamb with Goat Cheese Crème Fraîche Mousse, Islander Ginger Beer & Basil Vinaigrette, Pickled Windcrest Farm Organics Ginger, Beet & Ginger Beer-Marinated Dry Apple Salad

Peaches or blackberries. It could be heirloom pork. It could be NC beer, or TOPO whiskey.  It could be several ingredients. No one knows until that day. This competition is quite a challenge, and the chefs are vying for a 2,000 cash prize and a coveted red chef jacket. 

In a blind tasting (don't worry...neither you or the chefs are blindfolded), you get to rate the dish put before you by using a fun phone app. At the end of the evening, the system computes a winner based on the scores for each dish. 

Competition Dining Course 1 battle Pepsi and Sweet potatoes   Brown Butter Roasted NC Flounder, Bourbon-Pepsi Sausage Meat Pie with a Bacon, Sweet Potato & Kale Crust, Apple-Pistachio Butter
Competition Dining Course 1 battle Pepsi and Sweet potatoes (2014)

Brown Butter Roasted NC Flounder, Bourbon-Pepsi Sausage Meat Pie with a Bacon, Sweet Potato & Kale Crust, Apple-Pistachio Butter

The winner gets to move on to the next round, and a regional chef will eventually battle it out for top honors in the state against other regional chefs at the end of the year. 

It's really exciting in person. They hype it all up. They play music. Dim the lights. It's like the Super Bowl for foodies. 

The competition is starting first in Raleigh so let's take a look at the brackets:

First-Round Brackets

 I'm going to be a guest judge (judges rankings weigh a little heavier on the point scale than the audience diners. It's kind of scary. You may even get booed, if they audience does not agree with you your choices) on Jan. 26 at the dinner between these two chefs: Christopher Hill of Faire Steak & Seafood and Teddy Diggs of Il Palio in Chapel Hill. 

Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series, Jan. 26 dinner in Raleigh
Hill vs. Diggs. They look like they are ready to rumble. 

Hill describes his cooking style as classical French foundations with Southern influences while Diggs says his is rustic and regional Italian. Their bios are strong. Diggs has cooked for the Obamas during their vacation in Martha Vineyards. He started making pizzas at local pizzeria when he was 15. Meanwhile, Hill is a chef who has worked his way up from dishwasher to Executive Chef.  He's also felt this competition pressure before. This will be his third time competing. It will be Digg's first time in the competition. Will one be more familiar cooking with the secret ingredient? Can't wait to find out later this month. 

YOUR CHANCE TO GO: 2 Tickets to Feb. 2 Dinner Giveaway

You can use this link to order your tickets to any of the dinners, including the night I'm judging. Tickets get more pricey per person as the competition gets to the finals. It is a six-course dinner though, and loads of fun. 

All Triangle events are held at 1705 Prime, located at 1705 E. Millbrook in Raleigh. Tickets to attend a preliminary battle cost $55 each and tickets for a quarterfinal battle are $59 each, excluding beverage, tax and service fee. 

Sweet Grit & Almond Cake, Vanilla Railhouse Brewery Porter Marshmallow, Buttermilk Sherbet, Pine Nut Toffee
Sweet Grit & Almond Cake, Vanilla Railhouse Brewery Porter Marshmallow, Buttermilk Sherbet, Pine Nut Toffee
Tickets to attend a semifinal battle cost $69 each and tickets for the final competition are $75 each, excluding beverage, tax and service fee.  You can attend as many dinners as you like or you can try to win tickets to the Feb. 2 match up from my blog. 

  • Feb. 2 Dinner: Spencer Carter of Weathervane in Chapel Hill, versus Rhett Morris of Rhett's Restaurant in Southern Pines  (Enter to win tickets via rafflecopter). 

  • Feb. 9 Dinner: Jan. 19 winner versus Jan. 20 winner
  • Feb. 10 Dinner: Jan. 21 winner versus Jan. 26 winner
  • Feb. 16 Dinner: Jan. 27 winner versus Jan. 28 winner
  • Feb. 17 Dinner: Feb. 2 winner versus Feb. 3 winner

  • Feb. 23 Dinner: Feb. 9 winner versus Feb. 10 winner
  • Feb. 24 Dinner: Feb. 16 winner versus Feb. 17 winner

Final Battle (Triangle championship event)
  • March 2 Dinner: Feb. 23 winner versus Feb. 24 winner

The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series has the goal to celebrate local North Carolina products and agriculture, and to showcase the culinary ingenuity and talent across the state. For more information, visit www.competitiondining.com or get in on the conversation at www.facebook.com/competitiondining and @CompDiningNC on Twitter or Instagram.

This giveaway ends at 12:00 am on Sunday, January 25. One winner will be chosen at random. Please share with your friends. They may want to go, too.

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See you all at competition dining!

#OutaboutNC: Top Civil War Landmarks and Attractions near Wilmington, N.C.

2015 is a big year for North Carolina, especially for lovers of civil war history history. 

Civil War Landmarks and Attractions near Wilmington, N.C.

When it comes to civil war history, Wilmington and its beaches are among the most historically significant destinations in the United States. Even if you can't make this big event, there's still a lot of civil war history to see. 

Until the last few months of the Civil War, Fort Fisher kept North Carolina’s port of Wilmington open to blockade-runners supplying necessary goods to Confederate armies inland. When Fort Fisher fell after a massive assault on January 15, 1865, its defeat helped seal the fate of the Confederacy. 

The Confederate forces surrendered, opening the way for a Federal thrust against Wilmington, North Carolina, the South’s last open seaport of the Atlantic coast. Union troops moved inland and occupied homes and structures.

Civil  War Landmarks near Wilmington, N.C. (Fort Fisher)

I worked in Wilmington, N.C. for five years in television. At the time, I was too young to appreciate the town's history. I look forward to going back with my family now to experience the history of this beautiful city, and it's coastline. Wilmington is about two-hours from Raleigh, and even though you can visit the city in one day, I suggest taking a long weekend or an entire week long beach vacation so you can mix relaxation with sightseeing.

The following are some important Wilmington landmarks and attractions with civil war history that may interest the history buff.  I believe travel is an open classroom for learning, and this would be a good place to start.


Bellamy Mansion, a fine example of antebellum architecture, was completed on the eve of the Civil War and occupied by Federal troops during the 1865 occupation of Wilmington. The mansion now serves as a museum of history and the design arts, offering daily tours and educational/cultural programs year-round. Tour the magnificent 10,000-square-foot home, visit the meticulously-recreated gardens, and walk through the recently restored Slave Quarters, one of very few preserved urban slave quarters in the country. 

Cameron Art Museum is located on the site where the Battle of Forks Road was fought in February, 1865A NC Civil War Trails historical marker identifies the location of the “Forks Road Engagement” where Major General Robert F. Hoke made his last stand against Union soldiers comprised primarily of U.S. Colored Troops. Each year in February the museum reenacts this significant 3-day skirmish with a Civil War Living History weekend event (Feb. 7-8, 2015). 

Cape Fear Museum of History & Science, N.C.’s oldest history museum, was founded in 1898 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to preserve Civil War history. Its collection includes an interactive diorama of the Battle of Fort Fisher and hundreds of artifacts, many of which will be on display in a special collections exhibit Fort Fisher: 100 Years from Dec. 15 through July 13

Fort Fisher State Historic Site  Fort Fisher is a state historic site that welcomes visitors year-round to explore the Civil War battlefield and gigantic earthworks, museum exhibits, outdoor monuments, and a 1/4 mile interpretive trail around the fort. Educational programs and artillery demonstrations are offered throughout the year. The Fort’s annual Anniversary Observance takes place in mid-January with reenactments and special programs. 

Fort Fisher Underwater Archeology Center has uncovered historic gems dating back to the Civil War era, including the remains of 29 Civil War period shipwrecks off the coast of southeast NC. Most were blockade runners attempting to evade the Union ships and enter the Cape Fear River. Divers have also located four sunken Union warships and two Confederate gunboats. 

Oakdale Cemetery, established in 1852, was open for burials in 1855.  Within the grounds you will find the graves of Civil War Generals such as Whiting, Barry and MacRae to name a few. Confederate spy Rose O'Neale Greenhowe is also laid to rest here and there is an impressive monument to the Confederate Dead, overlooking the 367 graves within its enclosure. 

Orange Street Landing on Cape Fear was dedicated in May 2005 as part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Wilmington's largest known escape took place here in September 1862, when 22 freedom-seekers confiscated three sailboats and rowed 28 nautical miles to the mouth of the Cape Fear River. A kiosk interprets this freedom story. 

Sugarloaf Sand Dune at Carolina Beach State ParkHike the Sugarloaf Trail (a 3-mile journey beginning at the marina parking lot) that leads to the giant Sugarloaf sand dune where up to 6,400 Confederate troops under Major General Robert F. Hoke were encamped in defensive positions during the siege of Fort Fisher. 

Thalian Hall Center for Performing Arts (c.1855-1858) serves as the city's political and cultural center. During the Civil War, Thalian Hall was in almost constant use as a place of amusement for soldiers and locals alike. It was built by freed and enslaved Africans. The theatre’s main stage makes an appearance in the upcoming Smithsonian Channel documentary “Lincoln’s Last Day.” Thalian Hall’s designer John Montague Trimble is believed to have been involved in the design of Ford Theatre which may explain why they look so similar.    

Wilmington National Cemetery (c.1867). Civil War soldiers’ remains were reinterred to the National Cemetery from the Wilmington City Cemetery, Fort Fisher, and surrounding areas. The remains of the 557 U.S. Colored Troops (55 known, 502 unknown) who died on the advance to Wilmington are buried in the northwest corner of the cemetery. Their grave markers are identified with the inscription “U.S.C.T.” or “U.S. Col. Inf.” 

Wilmington Railroad Museum is housed in an authentic 1883 railroad freight warehouse. During the Civil War, the Wilmington and Weldon line was essential to the Confederacy and was referred to as the “Lifeline of the Confederacy.” The line moved goods and supplies from the single open Confederate port of Wilmington to Robert E. Lee’s Army in Virginia and throughout the Confederacy. The museum interprets Wilmington’s railroad history.

Nearby: Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson in Winnabow, N.C. was constructed atop the old Colonial village site of Brunswick Town during the Civil War and served as part of the Cape Fear River defenses below Wilmington before the fall of the Confederacy. Colonial foundations dot the present-day tour trail, which crosses the earthworks of the Confederate fort. On February 14-15, Fort Anderson will commemorate the 150thAnniversary of the Fall of Fort Anderson with a weekend of special events and programs. 

NearbyPoplar Grove Plantation in Scotts Hill, N.C. is one of the oldest existing peanut plantations in North Carolina.  The Foy family purchased the land in 1795 and kept it until the mid-1970s. Visitors can tour the 1850 manor house and observe farm animals, exhibits and live craft demonstrations typical of an 1800s working plantation. A new exhibit  "From Civil War to Civil Rights: The African American Experience at Poplar Grove" chronicles the lives of African Americans on-site at Poplar Grove from slavery to the early Civil Rights movement. (Note: Poplar Grove will reopen March 2, 2015 for its season.).

Where to Stay: 

Historic  Downtown Wilmington: Top Civil War Landmarks and Attractions in Wilmington, N.C.

As a coastal community, Wilmington and its' beaches have vacation homes to rent and many hotels to meet your travel needs. In the off-season, the beaches are also good bet for deals.  However, with North Carolina's mild temperatures and fun festivals, there is not really an off-season in this area any more.

Wrightsville Beach and the area near it, have an upscale feel with fine dining, shopping, and resorts for the family. For ocean views, the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort and the Blockade Runner are places I would check-in. I've stayed in both, but it's been many years. The Blockade Runner recently went through a renovation to give it a more modern, beach feel. The Holiday Inn Resort has great activities for kids throughout all seasons, and offers an indoor pool for guests. My kids love those in the winter months. For those of you who know I have a passion for luxury hotels, the ones I mentioned would be the most luxurious for the area.

Historic Wilmington is filled with beautiful bed and breakfast inns, upscale chains, and small independent inns along the riverfront. Best Trip Advisor reviews go to the Best Western Plus Coastline Inn for its great staff and perfect river views. There is a new Courtyard by Marriott within walking distance of the riverfront that is getting lots of attention. It operates like a boutique property which interests me. The Hilton Wilmington Riverside is a full-service hotel with three restaurants in the historic district. I've stayed there many times, but have not stayed there since 2003 for a wedding. It has a lovely outdoor pool on the riverfront.

Carolina Beach and Kure Beach have  more basic type hotels. Some of which I would describe as budget. Several years ago, a Courtyard by Marriott opened and it offers a limited-service chain experience on the beach. The Courtyard would be my choice for this area probably, but I have not stayed or toured it. Traditionally, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach are more budget-friendly than its neighbor,Wrightsville Beach.  If you like clean and basic accommodations then you would be happy with some of the choices.

There are also many great hotel chains near the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, too. To plan your vacation to the Wilmington area and its' beaches, visit Wilmington Beaches.com 

My goal is to get down to Wilmington this year, and give your more views from my own perspective.

All photos for this story are courtesy of Wilmington Beaches. 

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