The Best Waterfront Anywhere

Just three blocks from the Basilica Shrine of St. Mary is “America’s Best Waterfront”. It was voted best by readers of USA Today in 2016.


We didn’t know about the Wilmington waterfront until we saw it on a billboard along a highway in central North Carolina while chasing another story for Catholic Roads.

“Did you see that?” Beth asked me.

I had! I was glad she had seen it too.

“We have to go see it,” I said to Beth.


That sealed the deal! Just two months later, we found ourselves checking in at the Hotel Riverwalk after enjoying a memorable lunch at the Pilot House Restaurant along the Riverwalk on the Cape Fear River.

Afterwards, we had spent the afternoon visiting shops along the nearly two mile long Riverwalk and lingering at the Cotton Exchange (a must for visitors who like to shop and who appreciate unique arts and crafts).

We also invested some time checking out various restaurants and reading their menus so we could plan a “progressive dinner” along the waterfront to end our evening. The rest of the time, we just enjoyed talking to people on the street.


Some of our special memories of the Riverwalk included viewing the Battleship North Carolina, as well as seeing the 210 foot U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Diligence. There were also the harbor tour boats and the occasional sailboat moored along the dock connected to the Riverwalk. Boats and ships have always been exciting to me!

If that’s not enough, there are three beaches nearby (Wrightsville, Carolina and Kure beaches), the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, and lots of other things to see and do.


There’s lots of things happening along America’s Best Waterfront, the Riverwalk of Wilmington NC. We can’t list them all, but here are some of our favorites:

  • The Cotton Exchange — a full block of shops and stores on three levels. In the heart of the district near most of the large hotels. Ample parking with lots of arts and craft stores and shops. There’s something for everyone at the Cotton Exchange.
  • Swahili Coast — ethically made goods by talented carvers, leatherworkers, tailors, weavers, and beaders, using age-old techniques to create modern products. Made by hand in East Africa. Even if you don’t buy anything (you’ll be sorry if you don’t), stop in and say hello to Caroline Fisher, the owner and designer for the shop! You’ll become “old friends” very quickly!
  • Hotel Riverwalk — a one-of-a-kind, boutique hotel overlooking the waterfront area. It’s owned and operated by Troy and Carla Reed. They’re transplants from the Midwest with a pretty unique story of how they got to Wilmington. You’ll have to stop in and ask Troy to tell you their story, and if you have time, definitely stay the night! Comfortable and very well done!!!
  • Pilot House Restaurant –the first dining establishment in the historic Chandler’s Wharf district. They focus on fine seafood and traditional Southern regional cuisine, and the service is truly excellent!
  • Black Sea Mediterranean Grill — a warm and cozy atmosphere just one block off the waterfront. Featuring middle eastern cuisine and excellent, fresh fish. The falafels were (probably) the best we’ve ever eaten!
  • Dock Street Oyster Bar –these guys have the awards! The “Best Oysters for the last 17 years , the “Best Overall Seafood Restaurant and the Chefs’ auction “Best Taste Over All The Other Popular Restaurants” in Wilmington. We can’t say for sure if that’s true or not, but the food was excellent. They have a steamed calamari that’s unlike any we’ve ever eaten. However, what we liked best was the servers. Our server had “a personality” and lots of “attitude”. She was a joy to talk with! She knew the menu well. And she was ready to provide good advice on what to eat that evening!
  • Elijah Restaurant — outdoor dining with a riverfront view! Really great seafood, but their specialty is grilled, certified Angus Beef top sirloin finished with a brandy cream sauce.
  • NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher — aquatic wildlife, daily dive shows, animal encounters, behind-the-scenes tours, outdoor adventures and lots more
  • The Java Dog Coffee House — a great, little coffee shop in the Cotton Exchange. Excellent (with or without the dog)


The verdict is in! The Riverwalk and surrounding area in Wilmington NC is definitely “America’s Best Waterfront”. It’s also very CATHOLIC COOL!

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