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Exploring Southeastern North Carolina

Southeastern North Carolina is packed with a variety of sights, cities, and places to explore. I-40 now provides an express route between the state capital city, Raleigh, to the state’s largest city on the Atlantic coast, Wilmington. But why follow a fairly boring Interstate when you can experience plenty of attractions, towns, historic sites, and more along the way? On the Capital to Cape Fear Tour, we take the long way – which is by far more interesting – to take advantage of everything this part of North Carolina has to offer.

Start in Raleigh, North Carolina’s dynamic and growing capital city. With over 400,000 residents in the city and over 1.2 million in the metro, Raleigh is the center of government and, like so many cities in this area, home to a major university. NC State (North Carolina State University), along with Duke and UNC, is the third corner of the “Research Triangle.” The university began as the North Carolina College of Agriculture & Mechanic Arts in 1887; the “NC State” change officially came in 1963 and today, the student body numbers around 34,000. Like the other universities in the area, the school is a major research university and is ranked worldwide, not just nationwide, in many academic programs.

The NC State Wolfpack share big rivalries with these schools and others in the ACC. Their football team plays at Carter-Finley Stadium, which opened a few miles west of campus in 1966 and holds nearly 58,000 spectators. Basketball is just as huge with NC State as with Duke and UNC; the team plays in Raleigh’s PNC Arena, which also hosts the only major league pro team in the area, the NHL Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes, originally the New England and Hartford Whalers, came to North Carolina in 1997 and snagged the Stanley Cup in the 2005-06 season. They are the only pro sports team in one of the four major sports in the state outside of Charlotte.

Along with basketball and hockey, PNC Arena also hosts major events from concerts to monster truck shows, from the circus to ice skating shows and rodeos. Other professional sports in Raleigh include the NASL Carolina RailHawks, who play at WakeMed Soccer Park in suburban Cary (the NC State Wolfpack play soccer there, too); and an “A”-advanced affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, the Carolina Mudcats. The Mudcats play at Five County Stadium in suburban Zebulon (that’s a nearby town, not a distant galaxy).

The centerpiece of the city is the North Carolina State Capitol, a lovely Greek Revival structure that opened in 1840. One might look at it in the center of Union Square and think it’s not very big to serve as the capitol of such a large state, and that’s true. But North Carolina was a wee bit smaller back then; the expansions have gone into many surrounding buildings. The Office of the Governor and Office of the Lieutenant Governor are still located there, and statues showcasing the history of the state and some of its famous politicians adorn the grounds; tours of the Capitol are offered every half hour.

Meanwhile, the legislature meets one block north in the North Carolina State Legislative Building. Amidst these government buildings are a complex of museums, including the North Carolina Museum of History, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (the oldest museum – and largest museum of its kind – in the state), the Raleigh City Museum, and the Marbles Kids Museum, where there’s a lot more than just marbles to play with. A few blocks away, the Executive Mansion is an architectural gem built in 1891 surrounded by beautiful gardens. Limited tours are available of the Mansion, which connects the Capitol area to the historic Oakwood neighborhood, which is a great place for a walking tour.

A centerpiece of this area is Mordecai Historic Park, which preserves the Mordecai House. The House was built in 1795, is the oldest house in Raleigh still standing in its original location and was the birthplace of 17th President Andrew Jackson. The park was the center of what was the largest plantation in Wake County. Other historic and lovely buildings are within a few blocks; the nearby Visitor Information Center has maps and other details.

South of the Capitol are the major towers in Raleigh, including the 538-foot, 33-story PNC Plaza, 431-foot, 29-story Two Hannover Square, and 400-foot, 30-story Wells Fargo Plaza. The Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts is a few more blocks to the south and hosts the city’s theatre companies, symphony, opera, and more.

Outside downtown, other major venues include the North Carolina Museum of Art, a large museum and 164-acre outdoor complex on the west side close to the PNC Arena and Carter-Finley Stadium. Also nearby are the grounds of the North Carolina State Fair, which takes place every October. The Dorton Arena is a National Historic Landmark on the fairgrounds, hosting events on the grounds year ‘round. Having opened in 1952, the Dorton Arena is known for its unique, sweeping elliptical architectural style.

The Walnut Creek Amphitheatre hosts outdoor concerts and music festivals for up to 20,000 music lovers, who enjoy the long “outdoor concert” season. Another outdoor place to enjoy – that’s a little quieter – is the JC Raulston Arboretum on the NC State campus. This Arboretum is rated among the top in the Southeast, with an extensive and diverse collection of landscape plants, with an emphasis on Piedmont species. For more flowers, the WRAL Azalea Garden is tucked away behind the city’s Channel 5 TV station; it’s a well-tended, fragrant garden with brilliant azaleas, orange blossoms, a fountain, and more; admission is free and spring is the best time to visit.

Close to suburban Garner and Cary, the Historic Yates Mill County Park is a 174-acre wildlife refuge and interpretive center that actively showcases the area’s agricultural and environmental heritage, including the grinding of wheat and corn in the grist mill, a museum, hiking trails, and more. On the north side of Raleigh, the Lassiter Mill is an historic park with a similar mill as well as a pleasant little waterfall. You can also fish below the nearby dam.

In the Raleigh area, four Best Western hotels offer terrific accommodations – which is good, since the area is worth spending at least a couple of days! In Raleigh proper, you’ll find the Best Western Raleigh Inn & Suites on the east side and the Best Western Raleigh North-Downtown on the (surprise) north side; both of these hotels are right off I-440. Just to the west-southwest in Cary by NC State, you’ll find the Best Western PLUS Cary Inn – NC State. Raleigh has plenty of options for a city and metro with plenty to see and do.

But let’s head out of Raleigh and explore other areas of North Carolina on our way to the Atlantic coast near Wilmington, in the “Cape Fear” area (more on Wilmington later). For now, let’s just hit the road!

Out of Raleigh, follow U.S. 70 (sure, I-40 is an express route to Wilmington, but don’t you want to see stuff? That’s the point of the driving tour, right?) U.S. 70/401 comes straight south out of downtown; it’s only a few minutes until U.S. 70 turns southeast and heads into Garner. A pleasant suburb of 27,000, Garner features plenty of parkland and a pleasant little downtown area, which includes its own performing arts center.

The original U.S. 70 parallels today’s highway as Old Garner Road just a few blocks away through the old downtown; it was the first paved road in North Carolina (around 1916). Garner saw some of the last skirmishes of the Civil War; a brief side trip down NC Highway 50 to New Bethel Baptist Church (2110 Benson Road, 919-772-2712) will reveal some carefully-preserved bullet holes from one of them. Garner has the Best Western PLUS Edison Inn, located in a quiet office park area. Garner’s business community is growing quickly, and it has long been a center for food production; Butterball Turkey has its headquarters nearby.

From Garner, continue on U.S. 70 heading southeast; you have the freeway option of U.S. 70 BYPASS, which offers an 11-mile express route, or you could follow U.S. 70 through Clayton. Either way the two roads reunite southeast of Clayton, and from there just follow BUSINESS U.S. 70 into Smithfield, a town of 13,000 along the banks of the Neuse River. A riverwalk and BUSINESS U.S. 70 (as Market Street) allow for a nice stroll through the heart of Smithfield’s charming downtown. The town hosts its annual Smithfield Ham & Yam Festival each May and proudly celebrates its status as the hometown of actress Ava Gardner, who was born in Smithfield in 1922.

Right along Market Street downtown, the Ava Gardner Museum showcases the life of one of Hollywood’s leading ladies with a large collection of personal items, costumes, posters, and awards from her movies, and a special “Ava’s Closet” section exhibiting personal clothing, jewelry, shoes, and pocketbooks – much of it from pretty famous designers. Along Market Street/U.S. 70 along the river, the Neuse Little Theatre is housed in a former American Legion Hut and has played to audiences for over 40 years.

Public art installations including sculptures can be found throughout downtown, with works from famed sculptor Frank Creech highlighted. For twenty years, Creech taught at Johnson Community College in Smithfield, and the Frank Creech Art Gallery features his works and those of many others in a 1,500 square foot gallery on campus, which also features a nice arboretum. Smithfield is now a brewing town; you can enjoy a beer garden and tap room at Double Barley Brewing Company, which also offers tours Wednesday through Sunday and samples of their eleven beers.

Smithfield is also along I-95, which skirts the eastern edge of town. Where U.S. 70 and I-95 meet, you’ll find plenty of outlet shopping as well as the Best Western Smithfield Inn, a great base of operations for exploring everything in and around the town.

Back downtown, the Johnson County Courthouse (2nd & Market) and the Historic Hastings House (200 S. Front Street) features two of the three markers along the Carolina Campaign Civil War Trail, which follows the troops who advanced to fight in the Battle of Bentonville, the largest battle ever fought in North Carolina. It was the last major action of the Civil War where Confederate forces mounted an offensive.

The battle raged from March 19-21, 1865, and troops to and from used a road between the site and Smithfield in their movements. Follow their path – roughly – by heading out of Smithfield via U.S. 301 south out of town and then cutting over to U.S. 701. You cross I-95 (Exit 90) and continue south on U.S. 701 for about 7 miles, then follow the signs (mostly along County Road 1188) to the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site. The site preserves the battlefield grounds and offers a Visitors Center that chronicles this crucial battle with displays, artifacts, maps, and galleries. Cell phone audio tours of the grounds are available, too.

From the grounds, we’ll head up to a military town: Goldsboro. Follow Harper House Road (County 1008) east and then head south on Jordans Chapel Road (County 1009). Stay on 1009 until you reach U.S. 13, and follow that northeast into Goldsboro.

Goldsboro is a city of about 37,000, home to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. The base opened in 1942 and is home to the 4th Fighter Wing, the 916th Air Refueling Wing, and the 414th Fighter Group. In fact, the city’s slogan is “Be More. Do More. Seymour.” (Get it?) The city has lots of planes – and pickles. The famous Mt. Olive Pickle Company is based just south of Goldsboro in Mount Olive, and popular barbecue joints are everywhere. The Neuse River rolls through town, similar to Smithfield further back.

The downtown is a busy place, filled with shops and well-kept older buildings. The Paramount Theatre dates back to 1882 and was revamped in 2008; it serves as the area’s primary performance venue. It’s situated on Center Street, a boulevard where you’ll also find the dual gold statues on the roof of Goldsboro’s City Hall. Nearby, the Wayne County Museum is housed in a former USO building and offers exhibits on the Civil War and other notable local elements of history, industry, and people.

Trivia: The Goldsboro area almost experienced one of the most disastrous accidents in history. On January 24, 1961 a B-52 Stratofortress carrying two 2.5 Megaton Mark 39 nuclear bombs crashed north of the city, ditching its two bombs just beforehand. One bomb landed gently with its parachute open, only one of its four arming mechanisms preventing detonation. The other plunged into a muddy field and disintegrated, although portions remain and are cordoned off by the military. Had either of these bombs detonated, this area of North Carolina would look much different today.

Goldsboro was originally named Waynesborough, and the Waynesborough Historical Village features recreations of 11 structures representing the town’s history in a 150-acre park with walking trails, boat launches, and fishing sites along the Neuse River. The second oldest synagogue in North Carolina – and also one of the oldest in the country – is Temple Oheb Shalom, built in 1886.

Goldsboro is home to the Best Western PLUS Goldsboro, a beautiful hotel on the north side of town just off the U.S. 13/70 Bypass.

Head out of Goldsboro on NC Highway 111, which heads south from Goldsboro’s east side. Horses are quite popular in the region, and equestrian aficionados might like the Spring Bank Equestrian Center. This 22-acre complex features a large stall barn, pastureland, a jumping arena, and riding rings and welcomes visitors. A few miles further south, you’ll find Cliffs of the Neuse State Park, which runs along the banks of the Neuse River.

This was a popular hunting ground for Native Americans for centuries; erosion unique for this part of the state has carved and chiseled cliffs along the river that rise 90 feet. The cliff walls reveal layers of sand, clay, seashells, shale and gravel with all of their different colors. A nearby settlement called Seven Springs began as Whitehall during the Revolutionary War. With the river as a gateway to the Atlantic, during the Civil War a vessel called the CSS Neuse was built in the town, but it ran aground and was destroyed to prevent capture by Union forces, which heavily damaged the town.

Trivia: Whitehall (now Seven Springs) near Cliffs of the Neuse State Park was known for its mineral water cures in the early 20th century. Seven springs in very close proximity were said to each produce water with a different chemical content. A gallon of the water per day was prescribed to visitors for "whatever ails you."

It was reported the waters were also used for whiskey stills—reasoning that if the mineral water didn't cure people's ills, the corn whiskey would make them forget what ailed them to begin with!

From Cliffs of the Neuse, continue south on Highway 111 through small settlements like Albertson and Kornegay; at Kornegay, head south on Highway 11 into Kenansville, where you can get a good look at antebellum history at two museums on Main Street in town. One is the Liberty House, a former plantation home built around 1800 that hosted generations of the Kenan family (note the town’s name).

The home has an interesting history, including serving as the site for the 1901 wedding of family member Mary Lilly Kenan and a certain industrialist named Henry Flagler, whose legends in Florida’s history and helping John D. Rockefeller start the Standard Oil Company are well-documented. It became a museum in 1968, and today it stands as a Southern Historic Landmark; it is open for tours for a small admission fee. The other museum – within eyeshot, no less – is the Cowan Museum of History and Science, which you’ll find inside another historic home, the Kelly-Farrior House, built around 1848. The house and adjacent park have collections of historic tools and equipment and natural science exhibits that include a tornado demonstrator, geological specimens, an “alternative fuel” fan, and a “hog oiler”…which is just what it sounds like.

From Kenansville, follow Highway 11 south. If you want to hit Interstate 40 sooner rather than later, use Highways 24/903 to connect to I-40 or otherwise stay on Highway 11 for two-lane experience through rural Duplin County (I-40 and Highway 11 meet 11 miles further south). You can do a straight shot to Wilmington on I-40 from here if you want, but for a significant historical site, stay on Highway 11 past Wallace and Willard, along the brief duplex with U.S. 421, and then through Atkinson to the junction of NC Highway 210.

Head back east on Highway 210 to Moores Creek National Battlefield. Site of a major Revolutionary War victory on February 27, 1776 that essentially ended British rule in the North Carolina colony, it is credited with being the site of the first Patriot victory in the American Revolution. The grounds of the Moores Creek National Battlefield offer two long interpretive walking trails, commemorative statues, and a Visitors Center with plenty of resources, including an auditorium. It’s a beautiful site with well-documented history amidst the solitude of rural coastal North Carolina.

Trivia from the National Park Service about Moores Creek we had to share: “Every free male, regardless of race, between the ages of 16 and 60 was required to serve in the colonial militia. He was expected to provide his own weapon and equipment. Learn more about colonial militias at Moores Creek National Battlefield.”

From Moores Creek National Battlefield, follow Highway 210 to U.S. 421 (or, use rural Blueberry Road, which can serve as a cutoff that saves a few miles). This area, which tends to be marshy and good grounds for hunting, is lowland in the Cape Fear River basin; from here on out, we’ll be paralleling the Cape Fear River to its outlet at the Atlantic Ocean.

Continue on U.S. 421 south for about 10 miles and you’ll reach the junction with I-140; this is a north bypass for the Wilmington area, providing connections to I-40 and U.S. 17. Stay on U.S. 421 and as the city comes into view across the Cape Fear River, you’ll find one of the top attractions in the state: Battleship North Carolina. Quite an impressive sight, the USS North Carolina was the first battleship to join World War II effort and earned 15 battle stars during Pacific operations. The Battleship was decommissioned in 1947 (she had seen enough) and has been parked in a berth on the Cape Fear River since 1961. Plan on a big chunk of the day to visit the battleship; you won’t waste a minute. Nine levels of the ship are available to explore, from the boiler room below to upper decks above. You simply have to see it to realize how awesome a tour of this place is!

Just to the west, Leland is growing quickly as part of the Wilmington area. Located on the west side of the Brunswick River close to where it meets the Cape Fear River, Leland offers terrific boating and fishing opportunities, as well as a mixture of old and new from its downtown to the expanding neighborhoods. The Best Western PLUS Westgate Inn & Suites is just to the west along U.S. 17, offering terrific access to the Carolina coast southwest of the Cape Fear River.

Directly across the river from Battleship North Carolina is downtown Wilmington, with the Best Western PLUS Coastline Inn in view. You need to check it out. From the Battleship North Carolina site, continue south on U.S. 421 and join U.S. 17 Business and 76 for the ride into the heart of the city on the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, a vertical lift bridge that stands as the highest bridge (over water) in North Carolina.

North Carolina’s major coastal city, Wilmington sits as the north end of a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, with the Cape Fear River to the west (hence, the peninsula being called “Cape Fear.”) The area brims with history, beautiful beaches, championship golf courses, and an eclectic blend of local cuisine, a laid-back atmosphere, and TV and film production. Seriously, Wilmington is one of the top production centers for TV and movies outside of Hollywood: EUE/Screen Gems Ltd. established a Wilmington location in the mid-1980s and a whole slew of movies and TV shows have been filmed in and around Wilmington since, including Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill, Sleepy Hollow, Tammy, Iron Man 3, and plenty more. Tours of the facility will resume in spring 2015; call (910) 343-3433 for details.

Downtown Wilmington features a nice riverwalk along the Cape Fear River. Riverboat tours are available on water; on land, trolleys and horse-drawn carriages offer a great way to tour downtown. Front and Market Streets form the focal point of downtown. One popular locale is the Front Street Brewery, which offers a number of unique beers brewed on-site and a massive selection of bourbons and whiskeys; free tours and tastings are available and while you’re there, it’s also a darn good restaurant, housed in an 1865-era building. Other popular ones in town include Manna, Dock Street Oyster Bar, The Flying Pi, The Dixie Grill, The Blue Post, and Circa 1922 – and don’t be surprised if some movie and TV producers or actors are in these places. It happens fairly often in Wilmington. Many restaurants, shops, and much of the nightlife is concentrated along Front Street and are part of the Cotton Exchange of Wilmington, a transformed former industrial district (where, yes, cotton was exchanged).

The riverwalk itself offers looks up and down the Cape Fear River and access to the Best Western PLUS Coastline Inn right along the promenade. In front of the hotel towards the street, you’ll find the Wilmington Railroad Museum with its steam engines and train cars out front; inside are artifacts from the Atlantic Coast Railroad, galleries, replicas, a kids’ area, plenty of buttons to push, and an impressive layout commemorating a 161-mile railroad line from the 1840s. Orange Street offers two venues kids will love. One is the Children’s Museum of Wilmington, a 17,000 square foot cornucopia of kids’ activities.

Next door is the Cape Fear Serpentarium, North Carolina’s largest reptile zoo and museum. The Serpentarium features a large collection of world’s most poisonous snakes – many of them are milked to help make anti-venoms. Moving from critters to culture, the Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts is one of the oldest theatres in the country and pretty much been at it non-stop since 1858. The complex houses a variety of performing arts groups and players as well as events from film festivals to award ceremonies. The city’s main art venue, the Cameron Art Museum (CAM), is just southeast of downtown along 17th Street, near U.S. 117 and 421. The CAM opened in 2002 in Pyramid Park amidst woodlands, nature trails, sculptures, and the historic “Battle of Forks Road” Civil War site, one of the last battles of the war.

Near downtown and heading east away from the river along Market Street (U.S. 74) you’ll find a series of mansions, memorials, and museums. The Bellamy Mansion went up in 1861 and offers tours showcasing its 22 rooms, history (especially Civil War era), and beautiful gardens surrounding it. Nearby in the center of the historic direct is the Burgwin-Wright Museum House, which dates back to around 1770 and features a nice collection of Georgian architecture, antiques, and a large terraced areas of gardens with seven distinct themes. The Cape Fear Museum showcases regional history and offers everything from historical exhibits to science, including how tar is made. All of this leads towards the campus of UNC Wilmington, whose student body of 14,000 adds a nice college town atmosphere to the city. The Best Western PLUS University Inn is located by the campus, with good access to downtown via Market Street and the rest of the country via U.S. 17 and I-40.

Other areas of the city have some nice attractions, too. The New Hanover County Arboretum is a nice oasis in the Midtown district of Wilmington, featuring Japanese gardens, a tea house, rose gardens, and more. Along U.S. 17 the Poplar Grove Plantation offers tours of the beautiful manor and grounds of this former peanut plantation, which operated from 1795 until 1971. Many local events including a weekly Farmers’ Market from April through November and an annual “Zombie Run” take place on the 15+ acres of the plantation. A new permanent exhibit called From Civil War to Civil Rights: The African-American Experience at Poplar Grove opened in June, 2014 inside the Manor House.

Wilmington offers plenty to do and see, but there’s more down the Cape, so let’s go to the tip! Follow U.S. 421 south out of downtown Wilmington. The Best Western PLUS Wilmington/Carolina Beach is right along the main road, with convenient access to both downtown and the beach towns. A lovely stop is Airlie Gardens, noted as “a century of gardens by the sea.” Located along the Intracoastal Waterway, Airlie Gardens blends horticultural splendor, wildlife, historic structures including a chapel, walking trails, sculptures, over 100,000 azaleas, and an Airlie Oak tree that is almost half a millennium old. (Azaleas are popular in these parts; downtown Wilmington hosts the North Carolina Azalea Festival every April, which brings hundreds of thousands of attendees to the area for a five-day period).

Just across Snow’s Cut – a short cut for boats between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic that is almost always snow-free but is part of the Intracoastal Waterway – is Carolina Beach, the first beach town on what is now called Pleasure Island since Snow’s Cut technically made this part of the peninsula an island. They make full use of their beautiful beachfront with a pier, a boardwalk, and Carolina Beach State Park, which offers six miles of hiking trails and natural history exhibits. Freeman Park is a popular beachfront site for four-wheeling and events. The beachfront community of 5,000 also has a local brewery, Good Hops Brewing, near Carolina Beach State Park on Harper Avenue. Good Hops started in 2012 in the mountains of western North Carolina and expanded to brew closer to the beach; they offer tastings of their beers plus other craft brews from across the state.

The final city on the Tour is Kure Beach (pronounced “KYUR-ee”), a beach town of 2,000. Located just about at the tip of the peninsula, Kure Beach is only a few blocks wide, with U.S. 421 as the main street on the ocean side. The Kure Beach Fishing Pier is the oldest fishing pier on the Atlantic coast; it dates back to 1924, although portions have been built due to periodic hurricane damage – the most dramatic being Hurricane Hazel in 1954. The Pier is great for a free stroll, fishing for a small fee, or dining in the Ocean View Restaurant. Up and down the town, you’ll find plenty of beaches, boutiques, and eateries… most specializing in fresh seafood.

As one might guess with such a strategic geographical location, there’s a significant military presence here. The Sunny Point Army Terminal and a National Guard Training Center are both located in Kure Beach, and nearby the North Carolina Military History Museum has both indoor and outdoor exhibits representing all branches of service.

The Wilmington area was a crucial location for both Confederate and Union forces during the Civil War, and Fort Fisher saw the largest land-sea battle of the War. Its strategic location made Cape Fear a key supply and defense point and by 1865 it was the last supply line remaining open through Wilmington that could reach General Lee’s troops in Virginia.

The falling of Fort Fisher to Union forces on January 15, 1865 essentially sealed the fate of the War; three months later, it was over. Fort Fisher wasn’t your typical brick-and-mortar or wood fort; much of it was constructed with earth and sand. That allowed for easier absorption of shelling during battles, but it’s also resulted in the ocean reclaiming the area more easily. While once the largest earthen fort in the South, only about ten percent of it remains. It’s open for touring though, and among the artifacts, you can see a 32-pound reconstructed (and fully operational) heavy seacoast cannon, and explore 15 wayside exhibits.

Inside the Fort Fisher Historic Museum, plenty more exhibits await. Fort Fisher hosts a number of special events and serves as the hub of underwater archeology in North Carolina. Picture the tricky geography of the Carolina coast, with treacherous capes, shoals; remember that two major ocean currents meet offshore, and throw in the legacy of Naval warfare and you’ll understand why the North Carolina coastline is considered the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” The North Carolina Underwater Archeology Center is a small museum near Fort Fisher that explores this topic, exhibits on shipwrecks, dive sites, and other elements of maritime history.

Just down the street is the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, highly-rated nationally for its exhibits and collection of land and aquatic species, both river and ocean. Dolphins, sharks, sea turtles, and stingrays are just some of the featured water species, and some of them you’re allowed to touch. They even have an albino alligator.

For the “endpoint”, just continue briefly on U.S. 421. You’ll reach the tip of the pier, where one can go no further on wheels. The area is usually thronged with fishing enthusiasts and you can see the outlet to the Atlantic Ocean and Bald Island (which helps protect the Cape), as well as Southport across the mouth of the Cape Fear River. A ferry service is available to Southport, or you can turn around the re-enjoy the journey back up towards Wilmington. Either way, you’re in a beautiful place with plenty to see and do as you wrap up the Capitol-to-Cape Fear Tour!