You’re going to be excited about your move to Wilmington when you finish reading about all the benefits this culturally blooming North Carolina city offers. Whether you’re a family ready to plant some roots, retirees who want to live in a historic coastal community, or a young adult searching for a fresh start, Wilmington has what you’re looking for. You’ll be impressed by family-friendly fun galore at the Carolina Beach Boardwalk, Jungle Rapids, and Children’s Museum. Wilmington’s Riverwalk serpentines along the Cape Fear River amidst unique boutiques, intriguing antique stores, tantalizing bakeries, cafes, and restaurants. And exciting nightlife includes live music on rooftop bars that serve up hip craft cocktails and dance lounges with outdoor patios.
No matter your age, if you love nature, you’ll be invigorated by the active lifestyle you can enjoy on miles of beautiful hiking and walking trails. Plus, join locals at Wrightsville Beach, internationally recognized, according to National Geographic, as one of the nation’s top 20 ‘Most Incredible Surfing Towns.’ And did you know that Wilmington has an illustrious history for film-making? Or that the Venus flytrap’s only native homeland is within a hundred-mile radius of your new hometown? Wilmington offers so much to provide you with a fascinating and high-quality lifestyle. So, come on, let’s get packing!
Living in Wilmington, NC: What to Know Before Moving to Wilmington
Wilmington is an important port city with just over 122,000 residents, and the greater Wilmington Metro area includes twice the population of Wilmington proper, with 263,500 residents. Wilmington’s population has seen steady growth over the past few decades, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
Pros and Cons of Living in Wilmington
You’ll want to know how Wilmington weighs in on pros and cons. Here are some of the most obvious:
- Past, present, and future convene with activities for all interests: history, fantastic outdoor activities and current culture, and growth/expansion
- Strong economy
- Reasonable cost of living
- Internationally recognized surf town
- Amazing beaches
- Severe weather conditions are more prevalent in this coastal city
- 58 inches of rain annually
- Higher than national average crime rates
- Not very walkable – you’ll need to drive almost everywhere
- Tourism creates congestion during holidays and in the summer months
- Property Tax: The property tax rate is 0.713%. At an average annual payment of $1,783, you’ll be well below the national average of $2,700.
- Sales Tax: Wilmington’s combined sales tax is 7%, a total of 4.75% state tax, and 2.25% New Hanover County tax.
- State Income Tax: Wilmington is on the low end of the scale with a 5.25% state income tax rate.
Choosing a new home can take some time. Luckily, almost half – 48.9% – of Wilmington homes are rented, which means you can take up a short term lease before you make the final choice to purchase a home. The median rent price, as of October 2019, is $1,450, only slightly less than the national average rent price of $1,470.
Wilmington currently experiences significant growth in home value. As of October 2019, home values rose 6.3% over the past year. Zillow.com forecasts home values will go up another 4.1% in 2020. The median home value is $234,800, quite a bit higher than the state average of $187,300, but right on target with the national home value average of $231,200. The median price of homes currently listed for sale is $304,900.
Cost of Living
Wilmington’s overall cost of living index, according to bestplaces.net, is 101.8. The national average index is 100. At 114.1, housing costs are the highest of all the index expenses. The other above-average expense is healthcare at 108. Below average cost of living expenses include Grocery at 91.9, Utilities at 97.2, and Transportation at 88.8.
The median household income is $42,130, which is less than the US average of $53,482. A family of four needs to bring home $90,106 to maintain a moderate standard of living in Wilmington.
Weather & Natural Disasters
While living in Wilmington, you’ll notice that rain is consistent. You’ll have an average of about 3.5 inches each month between October and May, then prepare for over 7 inches each month between June and September, totaling about 58 inches of rain a year. You’ll also get a tiny touch of snow, about one inch annually.
December and January are the coolest months, with highs in the mid-50s and lows in the mid-30s. The warmest months are July and August when you’ll be throwing on your shades to greet the sunny 90 degree days. Summer lows go down to around 72 degrees. Did we mention the humidity? Yep, summers are muggy and sticky.
Given Wilmington’s proximity to the coast, hurricanes are a natural disaster threat every hurricane season. Additionally, the area occasionally suffers from heavy flooding and high winds associated with coastal thunderstorms and sometimes encounters tornadic activity. Make sure your emergency plans are in place by reading through Wilmington’s Natural Disaster Preparedness tips.
Economy and Job Market
Wilmington’s economy is thriving, and job growth is predicted to increase by 37.3% over the next ten years, which will surpass the anticipated nationwide growth of 33.5%. The unemployment rate matches the national rate at 3.9%. The major industrial sectors are Health & Social Assistance, Accommodation and Food Services, Retail Trade, and Educational Services.
Some of the larger employers include Pharmaceutical Product Development, University of NC Wilmington, Guilford Mills, and Interroll. If you’re hoping to find employment in Wilmington, search for opportunities at Indeed, Monster, and many of the other online job boards, or try working with a recruiter.
Traffic and Transportation
While there are no major interstates, a few main routes will connect you with all of Wilmington. US Route 74 travels east-west and passes by the Wilmington International Airport (ILM) in the northern section of the city. US Route 17 runs east-west from the Cape Fear River to Airlie Gardens and then connects with US Route 74 east to Wrightsville Beach. Running north-south, N 3rd St and S 3rd St transition to US Route 421.
Wave Transit provides bus, shuttle, and trolley services throughout Wilmington. A free downtown trolley service is convenient and a fun way to show your friends and family around your new city! The transit company also works with Greyhound and Amtrak to provide intercity transportation options. If none of the Wave Transit routes work for you, consider Wilmington’s Park and Ride Solution.
During peak traffic, be sure to find an alternate route around College Rd, Market St, and Carolina Beach Rd. Most significant delays on these major routes are just before or around 3 pm. The Wilmington Walkscore is 34, which means you need a car for most errands or activities unless you live near Downtown. The bike and transit scores are 48 and 20, respectively.
What to Do
From a Christmas-light boat parade to the huge, nationally recognized independent film festival, Cucalorus, Wilmington has a festival, event, or outdoor activity just for you. However, in case a rainy day prevents you from enjoying an outdoor adventure, we’ll give you a few indoor options.
- Family Friendly: Schedule a Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tour cruise to be a pirate and dig for treasure with your little mateys or learn about the wildlife and flora along the coast. This group can even set you up for a private luau! If you’re not much of a water person, make a trip to the Carolina Beach Boardwalk and enjoy the amusement park rides and fireworks that happen throughout the summer. Need an indoor activity? Go to one of the many trampoline parks and play dodgeball or find out how well your family works together as a team at Battle House, the only indoor paintball park which also offers laser tag for the kiddos.
- History: If you’re interested in learning about Wilmington’s history, options abound! Plan a trip to tour the Battleship North Carolina, where you can go below the decks and discover how our brave soldiers lived and fought for us during WWII. If you’re looking for more of an outdoor history lesson, visit Fort Fisher to be amazed by Civil War-era relics. In historic downtown, Bellamy Mansion Museum of History and Design offers tours of the restored antebellum mansion and grounds. Visit Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson, the first permanent settlements of the Cape Fear area, and learn about its role during the Civil War.
- Parks and Greenspace: Airlie Gardens offers a 67-acre wonderland with diverse ecosystems that provide special habitats for wildlife, plus a Japanese tea house, a 474-year old live oak, formal gardens, and a summer concert series. Portions of a popular drama series, like Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill, were filmed here. If you have four-legged, furry family members such as dogs and even horses, they’re welcome at Hugh McRae Park. There are also baseball fields, basketball courts, a walking trail, a playground, and a splash pad for your minnows! This park also offers many more amenities depending on your desires, so check it out. The entire Masonboro barrier island is part of the Masonboro Island Estuarine Reserve, an undeveloped area that provides critical habitat for numerous coastal species. You can water taxi or boat to the shoreline then explore this amazing wilderness.
- Seasonal Events: Airlie Gardens buzzes with activity around the Christmas holiday when the entire garden is lit up with twinkle lights. Walk through the crisp air and enjoy sipping hot chocolate with your closest friends and family. How’s your sweet tooth? Dessert makers from all over Wilmington collaborate in November to bring you delicious morsels all in one place. Then, for the summer months, be amazed at the surfing skills the pros exhibit at the Annual O’Neill/ Sweetwater Pro-Am held in August. There is also another popular water sport that has a huge following in Wilmington: Stand Up Paddle (SUP) boarding. During the Carolina Cup SUP race, the Carolina Paddleboard Company wants you and your family to join in on the fun with a clinic. It’s guaranteed to be a weekend full of laughter, fun, and great exercise!
- Sports: The Wilmington Hammerheads play professional soccer, The Wilmington Sea Dawgs play in the Tobacco Road Basketball League, and The Wilmington Sharks play baseball in the Coastal Plain League. The University of North Carolina Wilmington supports 19 intercollegiate sports.
Schools and Universities
The New Hanover County School System serves Wilmington students. According to greatschools.org, eight of the 26 elementary schools rate as above-average. Those with the highest rating of 9/10 include Walter L Parsley Elementary, Ogden Elementary, and Dr John Codington Elementary. Middle schools don’t fare as well. Of the ten middle schools, only MCS Noble Middle scores a 7/10; the other schools rate as 6/10 and lower. Of the five high schools, Isaac M Bear High, with 225 students, is rated 9/10. John T Hoggard High has 1,800 students and is rated 7/10; the remainder of schools have lower ratings. Isaac M Bear High also offers an early college program for qualified applicants.
If you want to explore private schools, you’ll find many are religiously affiliated, and you’ll also find alternative schools designed to teach at-risk students based on the individual’s certain needs and developmental challenges.
The major four-year institution of higher learning is the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Cape Fear Community College is a public two-year school, and Miller-Motte College-Wilmington is a private, for-profit two-year school.
On a scale of from 1 to 100 (1 indicating a low crime rate and 100 indicating a high crime rate), Wilmington ranks 35.4 for violent crime, which is higher than the national average of 22.7. Property crime is significantly higher at 60.8, compared to the national index of 35.4. As with any town, crime rates vary by neighborhood. The best areas for low crime are the most eastern communities in and south of Stoneybrook and north of Tanglewood. Be aware of your surroundings when downtown between North 3rd St, North 9th St, Market St, and Red Cross St. Here, crime is the highest in Wilmington.
- Gas service – Progress Energy provides natural gas service – 844-388-7425
- Electric service
- Water/sewer service – provided by Cape Fear Public Utility Authority – 910-332-6550
- Trash pick-up/recycling services – vary by area, check who your provider is here – 910-332-6550
- Internet/Cable service – provided by AT&T Internet and DIRECTV, Spectrum Internet and cable, or Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation – 910-754-4311. Enter your zip code on highspeedinternet.com and find out which provider services your new address, packages they offer, and pricing.
Best Neighborhoods in Wilmington, NC
If you’re wondering where to settle down, check out these top Wilmington neighborhoods.
About five miles south of Downtown Wilmington, Riverlights is a small master-planned community bordered by the Cape Fear River on the west, Barnards Creek on the north, and River Rd on the east. If you’re a young family, professional, or retiree interested in health and fitness, this almost-rural neighborhood is focused on wellness as a lifestyle, not just a fad.
Marina Village at Riverlights is the neighborhood center, acting as a community square, with stores, restaurants, and entertainment options. Smoke on the Water is one of the most popular restaurants with locals. So, while rural may sound secluded, you can enjoy an amusement-filled oasis, never having to leave to search for basic amenities. In Riverlights, you’ll find mostly single-family homes, condos, and townhouses where residents enjoy the riverfront boardwalk, kayak launches, and a marina.
- Median Home Price – $240,000
- Median Rent Price – $1,440
- Schools – Codington or Mary C. Williams Elementary, Williston Middle School, New Hanover High School
Something to try: Club Golf is a newly constructed golf simulator.
Brooklyn Arts District
This artsy, urban area of Wilmington offers a thriving creative community. Home prices cover a wide range depending on size, location, and the recency of renovations. You can find apartments, townhomes, condos under $200,000, and large homes valued at a million dollars.
Acme Art Studios is a hot spot where local artists can display their pieces for shows that are highly attended and loved by residents. Brooklyn Arts Center is a performance venue located in an old church. Artists and entrepreneurs thrive in this district that’s just a short free trolley ride south to Downtown. The Goat & Compass, with its patio and live music, is a pub locals love, and Detour Deli & Café is also a popular spot for a delicious meal. This neighborhood isn’t just a harbor for artists and foodies, though. The Pharmaceutical Product Development Headquarters is based here and attracts many professionals.
- Median Home Price – $200,000
- Median Rent Price – $1,080
- Schools – New Hanover High School, Career Readiness Academy, Lake Forest Academy
Something to try: Fourth Friday Gallery Night – Downtown galleries open their doors to the public for a free glimpse at what artists have in the works.
We’re switching gears now to explore a gated community about six miles east of Downtown at the junction of Military Cutoff Rd and Eastwood Road. While it may be a little farther from downtown, you’re literally within minutes of the beaches. This gorgeous, meticulously maintained community has two golf courses, an Olympic size pool, and a fitness center all contained within the three guarded entrances. Landfall’s homes boast loads of southern charm, and most are available as single-family residences all within the HOA. Employment options are available through local businesses such as Smart Technologies, American Municipal Securities, and retail at the Mayfaire Town Center, directly west of Landfall.
- Population – 31,788
- Median Home Price – $758,000
- Median Rent Price – $1,850
- Schools – Friends School of Wilmington, Wilmington Christian Academy, Isaac Bear Early College High School
Something to try: Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park is an amusement center close to Landfall. Packed full of fun activities, this park will keep you busy each summer.
Historic Downtown/River District
This traditional area’s western-most point borders the Cape Fear River for two miles running north to south and South 7th St on the east. If you appreciate beautiful architecture and living among well-loved historic buildings, this may be the place for you – 875 buildings are historically significant. Homes are available in small apartment complexes, single-family homes, and high-rise condos. If you’re looking to buy a historic home, be aware of strict zoning laws that restrict exterior alterations. The city takes the task of maintaining the integrity of the historical significance of the homes and the area seriously.
Since you’re Downtown, expect plenty to do and an exciting nightlife scene. Along the almost two-mile-long Riverwalk, you can enjoy boutiques, galleries, markets, and independently owned restaurants and outdoor cafes. Some favorite places for locals to have a meal are The Fork ‘n’ Cork, Dock Street Oyster Bar, and The Copper Penny. The area along the river features an outdoor concert venue and large marina. Corning Inc and the Cape Fear Community College are top employers in this lovely area.
- Population – 2,065
- Median Home Price – $505,889
- Median Rent Price – $2,000
- Schools – St. Mary Catholic School, Brooklyn Arts Music Academy, Williston Middle School
Something to try: Visit the Battleship North Carolina for a tour.
Remember reading about the legendary surf in Wilmington? Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the east, the South End of the barrier island on the south, the intercoastal waterway on the west, and Lees Cut on the north, Wrightsville Beach attracts locals and tourists to its beautiful beaches. The only two roads on and off the island are Causeway Dr and W Salisbury St, which merge on the mainland into Hwy 74. It’s still less than 10 miles west to Downtown, but you won’t find yourself heading over there very often. You’ll be busy surfing, swimming, SUPping, and shell-hunting right in your own backyard.
Due to its beautiful geography, Wrightsville Beach attracts tourists and those who want to live an active beach-side lifestyle. In addition to all the fantastic beach activities, Wrightsville Beach Park offers some landlubber fun. You’ll find mostly single-family homes, condos, and apartments; however most of the Atlantic-facing coast is reserved for beach house rentals and hotels.
- Population – 2,548
- Median Home Price – $899,000
- Median Rent Price – $1,466, although seasonal rent is much higher
- Schools – MCS Noble Middle School, Bradley Creek Elementary, Wrightsville Beach Elementary
Something to try: Locals agree that Motts Channel Seafood has the freshest catch.
Welcome to an amazing, active, suburban community that offers great public schools and low crime – perfect for a young or professional family. Kings Grant is bordered on the west by North Kerr Ave and the Wilmington International Airport; to the south by Market Street; and Gordon Rd on the east. Interstate 40, AKA N College Rd, slices Kings Grant north-south right through the middle.
Home types are abundant and include a mobile home park, apartments, condos, townhomes, and single-family residences. Several churches dot the neighborhood, and Kings Grant Park is a great outdoor space for the family. Gymnastics Unlimited, Win’s Massage Therapy, Zaxby’s Chicken Fingers and Buffalo Wings, and Broomtail Craft Brewery are some popular spots locals enjoy.
- Population – 9,000
- Home Price – $194,000
- Rent Prices – $1,100
- Schools – Wilmington Early College High School, Eaton Elementary
Something to try: Defy Gravity Trampoline Park – take the kiddos or just yourself for some indoor exercise, especially great for a rainy day.
Don’t worry; there are no actual monkeys like there were in the old days – just newly-built affordable homes, recently established grocery stores, and entertainment activities in Monkey Junction. Back in the day, a local gas station owner kept live monkeys to encourage people to stop and buy fuel and snacks. But today, Monkey Junction bustles with new development. Downtown is only four miles north, and Piner Rd, S College Rd, and US Route 421 merge in the center of the neighborhood.
This thriving neighborhood is one of the more lively areas in Wilmington. A new, state-of-the-art theater, The Pointe 14, offers movie-goers fresh new experiences for their visual enjoyment. Chain and big box stores, restaurants, and pubs make shopping and eating out convenient right in your neighborhood. A mix of condos, townhomes, apartments, mobile homes and single-family homes are available for rent or purchase.
- Population – 1,695
- Median Home Price – $249,900
- Median Rent Price – $1,400
- Schools – Heyward C Bellamy Elementary
Something to try: Cameron Art Museum – the displays are rotated frequently and mix traditional and modern pieces
The eco-friendly Cargo District, about a mile south of Downtown, is probably the most eccentric of all Wilmington neighborhoods. Established in 2017, this tiny neighborhood’s homes, offices, and buildings are built from repurposed shipping containers. This densely urban corner of Wilmington is small – just a block – between S 16th St, Queen St, S 17th St, and Wooster St.
The concept of the shipping containers is to create a sustainable, multipurpose, flexible work/living space. Each container’s internal structure is designed to optimize space and efficiency in 600 square feet and features air conditioning, heated concrete floors, and glass doors. But the creators aimed at more than urban design – they wanted to create a community of art, innovation, pop-ups, and “dreamers.” The idea is still fairly new, with construction that just finished in 2018, so keep your eyes peeled for new updates.
- Population – under 200
- Median Sale Price – $207,000
- Median Rent Price – $1050, includes water/sewer, basic internet, trash, washer and dryer in unit
- Schools – Peace Rose Montessori, Forest Hills Global Elementary
Something to try: Juggling Gypsy – eccentric, live performances accompany a café-style eatery
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When it’s time for your move to Wilmington, North Carolina, let Great Guys Moving do all the heavy lifting. We offer FREE quotes for only the best licensed, insured moving professionals who can provide whatever moving service you need. Wishing you a swift move!