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FREELOADING ILM: Where to go, what to do, who to see—all for F-R-E-E!

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Welcome to encore’s first edition of “Freeloading ILM”—dedicated to highlighting a host of freebies across town, which cost you zelch! From educational hikes to music, children’s storytime to salsa dancing, here are only a few ways to save a buck and engage in our coastal town’s activities.

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Inflation tends to get the best of our wallets annually, with rising prices across the spectrum of survival: shelter, groceries, utilities, gas, etc. In southeastern NC, there’s never a shortage of places to go and things to do. Yet, for the cash-strapped, sometimes it can be hard to fork out a $25 concert ticket or a $50 dinner.

Thus welcome to encore’s first edition of “Freeloading ILM”—dedicated to highlighting a host of freebies across town, which cost you zelch! From educational hikes to music, children’s storytime to salsa dancing, here are only a few ways to save a buck and engage in our coastal town’s activities. Just show up and enjoy on the days and times designated, and you can thank us later with a five—a high-five, of course.



Multiple locations • Across town

The Wilmington Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau have been on top of providing free stuff to locals for years. Their annual “Be a Tourist in Your Own Hometown” used to be held the first Sunday in March, annually. It welcomed locals to enjoy numerous museums, attractions, tours, and the like for free all day long. In 2014 the bureau evolved the event to be year-round. Local hotspots—such as the county-owned Airlie Gardens and Cape Fear Museum—began offering free admission the first Sunday of every month, 365 days a year.

“Some of the attractions are free year-round; others offer designated free days throughout the year,” communications/public relations director Connie Nelson relays. “Some are free for residents only; some are free to all visitors.”

Nelson says some of the most popular freebies include Fort Fisher Historic Site and its recreation area, located south of Carolina Beach. Hidden gems like the NC Military History Museum, Wrighstville Beach Museum of History and Wilmington’s municipal parks are included, too.

“Attractions with designated free days [also] include the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher,” Nelson continues, “as well as Cameron Art Museum, Bellamy Mansion, Jungle Rapids and Burgwin-Wright House. They offer free days for residents and/or service personnel that change each year.”

Locals can access all participants and the times and dates of free (or practically free) admission at


Carolina Beach State Park

Flesh-eating plants don’t always conjure images of “The Little Shop of Horrors.” The Venus flytrap—which the famed Broadway show and movie is based on—has greater celebrity on a local scale. The plant is indigenous within 60 to 75 miles of Wilmington; though, it can be found in other areas of the eastern U.S. and even in Canada.

ABOVE: Venus fly traps are indigenous to Carolina Beach State Park, where a carnivourous plant hike is offered for free every Saturday and Sunday. Courtesy photo

ABOVE: Venus fly traps are indigenous to Carolina Beach State Park, where a carnivourous plant hike is offered for free every Saturday and Sunday. Courtesy photo

Each Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. in the spring, summer and fall (2 p.m. during winter months) folks can learn all about its history, preservation and propogration methods, with a free hike through Carolina Beach State Park (1010 State Park Rd.; 910-458-8206). “The Venus flytrap was first introduced to the world in an April 2, 1759 letter penned by none other than Royal Governor Arthur Dobbs,” park superintendent James Helms says. “Governor Dobbs wrote a friend in England, naturalist Peter Collinson saying, ‘We have a kind of ‘Catch-fly sensitive,’ which closes upon anything that touches it. It grows in the Latitude 34, but not in 35—I will try to save seed here.’”

Other carnivorous species exist in the park: pitcher plants, bladderworts, sundews, and butterworts. Basically, the difference between the flytrap and the others come down to how active the flytrap is.

“Others are more passive in that they don’t move or only slightly move,” Helms clarifies. “The Venus flytrap is one of the very few that exhibits motion to actively trap its prey. . . . two hinged lobes [are] at the end of each leaf. On the inner surface are hair-like projections called ‘trichomes’ that cause the lobes to snap shut when prey comes in contact with them.”

Hikes are just under an hour, often welcoming up to 40 people, with the average group ranging from eight to 12. Folks will learn about the plants’ differences, habitat and range, as well as educational facts.


Across Wilmington and beaches

Audubon NC offers bird walks every Monday morning at 9 a.m., lead by the Wrightsville Beach Bird Stewards. Walks last about two hours and start at Beach Access 43 in the gazebo at Wrightsville Beach. The walk goes along the perimeter of a large nesting colony of American Oystercatchers, Black Skimmers, Common Terns, and Least Terns.

“All birds that migrate here from Central America,” says Marlene Eader, Audubon volunteer coordinator. “This year we have a total of over 400 nests.”

Onlookers get to see the action up close without disrupting the habitat. Though the walk is free, parking is $2.50 per hour in Wrightsville Beach (insert sigh here).

After exploring nesting sites, folks can learn about Sea Turtles with Wrightsville Beach’s Turtle Talks every Tuesday at 7 p.m. through August. Held at the NC Coastal Federation building (309 W. Salisbury St.), next to the Wrightsville Beach Museum, participants will learn about the turtle’s exoskeleton, migrating and breeding habits and more. No reservations are needed.

Pleasure Island Sea Turtle Project also offer talks at the Carolina Beach State Park visitor center at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays and at Ocean Front Park (105 Atlantic Ave.) on Mondays at 7 p.m. They cover sea turtles nesting and hatching areas, and enlighten on how to help protect them. For more information, contact (910) 458-8206.

Cape Fear River Watch (617 Surry St.) hosts free activities on the first and second Saturdays of each month. On the first Saturday, a pancake breakfast starting at 8 a.m. is followed by a guest speaker in the field of history or ecology of the Cape Fear region at 9 a.m. These seminars are managed by CFRW’s executive director, Frank Yelverton. He says the seminars average 40 attendees, and cover anything from maintaining healthy garden habitats to water runoff.

“[We] educate over 500 folks per year on different environmental topics and bring together fellow river lovers, while our Second Saturday Clean Ups remove hundreds of pounds of trash from our community each year,” Yelverton explains. On the second Saturday of each month, CFRW hosts organized cleanups along various rivers and streams of the Cape Fear River in New Hanover or Brunswick counties. 

The CFRW lists a full schedule of events at



Multiple locations • Across town

As far as free music goes, you can’t throw a stone without hitting a guy with a guitar playing for free somewhere in this town! We all know the go-to summer concert series: Friday nights’ Downtown Sundown (Riverfront Park area) and Mayfaire’s Music on the Town (6835 Conservation Way); first and third Sundays’ Boogie in the Park (Ocean Front Park 105 Atlantic Ave.) and Summer Fireworks By the Sea and Gazebo Music Series in Carolina Beach. Plus, there’s WECT’s Sounds of Summer at Wrightsville Beach Park (1 Bob Sawyer Dr.) on Thursdays. But there are a plethora of other hot spots to get a fix for free performances.

Satellite Bar & Lounge (120 Greenfield St.) has its weekly Sunday Bluegrass jam, as well as acts on Friday and Saturday evenings without a cover charge. Goat & Compass (710 N. 4th St.) has multiple local favorites featured weekly, with Tuesday Open Mic Nights becoming more popular. Gravity Records (612 Castle St.) has added more free live in-store shows to their Facebook page.

Speaking of records, whether you’ve been a collector for years or you’re just getting into vinyl, the Juggling Gypsy (1612 Castle St.) hosts Vinyl Tap: A Vinyl Record Meetup every other Wednesday, with the next meetup on July 15 at 8 p.m. Turntables are provided, with all genres and bands welcome. The Opera Room (119 Grace St.) welcomes folks to bring their own vinyl to share with others on Tuesday, and Turntable Tuesdays also are in full swing at Palate (1007 N. 4th St.) from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

“You can basically be your own DJ,” manager Andrew Bopes says. “We’re all music fans and initially set it up much like our bottle shop—curated records for folks to choose from. We’ll have about 15 to 20 people come in and [bring] anything from funk to hip-hop to newer Indie music.” Palate even invites the occasional food truck to set up shop.


San Juan Cafe • July 15, 10:30 p.m.

Jaime Zurita of Sabor Productions is getting folks moving at San Juan Café (3314 Wrightsville Ave.) every other Wednesday, beginning at 10:30 p.m. Free salsa dance night brings a heft of spice to any ordinary weekday. It also provides new ways to meet other dancers and learn new moves.

“People love the energy that’s around when we get together to listen and dance to Latin music with our friends,” Zurita notes. “It starts with learning your first step, then your second, then your third . . . it’s a great feeling and is addictive. Combination after combination, you will be hooked.”

Though they don’t host workshops during dance nights, the production company does bring performers and teach lessons outside its social dances. “However, if anyone has any questions about salsa or bachata or merengue, we have no problem  showing them the basics,” Zurita assures.

San Juan’s dance night welcomes all ages, races, and levels, from beginners to advanced. There is always a host of diversity on site, too. “We have had up to 30 or 40 people,” he notes. “We have an open mic that’s been great, [featuring] very talented people who have played music and sung for the dancing community.”

Folks can check the Sabor Productions Facebook page to keep up to date on San Juan salsa night (next one is Wednesday, July 15). Plus, they list other events, including family-friendly picnics at Hugh MacRae Park, where they cook out, play volleyball and soccer, and of course dance. 


Riverwalk • Daily, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

The Historic Downtown Marketplace started in 2010 and opens in early April (the weekend after Azalea Fest) to run through October. Featuring multiple vendors weekly, the marketplace showcases handmade arts and crafts, from woodwork and garden art, to ceramics and jewelry, dog apparel and more. Overseen by the City of Wilmington, the marketplace helps “create a vibrancy along the river,” according to downtown services specialist Kimberly Adams.

“Our goal is to create more of a festive atmosphere on Sundays, when it is otherwise quiet,” she elaborates. “Out of 45 vendors, only half are marketplace regulars. The other set up during the week at their convenience.”

The vendors are juried, too, in order to ensure high-quality goods are being sold. In fact, they’ve welcomed a multitude of professionals, from a graphic artist with the New York Times, to a stained-glass artist whose client list included Glen Close’s family and the Angus meat family. As of last week, their silversmith, Melissa Manley, received an arts grant to learn from expert Celie Fago in polymer clay and metal techniques in Vermont. Manley will return to Riverfront Park’s Sunday marketplace to sell her handmade art.

“It’s a great platform for local artists who are a big part of the wonderful fibers that make up this city,” Adams says. “I get calls from artists throughout NC who want to participate.”

They want to participate for good reason, too. Vendors can make anywhere from $300 to $1,000 in a day among the tented and open-air setup. There aren’t street closures, either, so everyone who comes upon it can access it easily, whether it’s a weekday or Sunday.

For more information about the market, contact Kim Adams at (910) 254-0907.



Multiple locations • Across town

From 2013-14 the New Hanover County libraries served 30,580 children and 6,263 adults with hundreds of free programs, some weekly, monthly, year-round, and others with varied schedules. Right now summer programs are in full swing.

Approximately 120 programs have been added since June 13 and will continue through August 8. In June alone, Susan DeMarco, librarian at the NHC Main Library, says among the 137 children’s programs, overall attendance was 3,446—an increase of 374 from last year.

“We expect to have close to 2,500 participating in our summer reading program before August 8,” DeMarco continues. “The summer theme is ‘Superheroes,’ and the program has been very popular.”

It takes place every Wednesday through August 5, as well as Mondays at the Carolina Beach Library (300 Cape Fear Blvd.), and will end with a Superhero Fun Run (TBA). There are no fees or registration required for superheroes-in-training, but there are separate craft events so kids can construct masks, capes and more.

The Main Library (201 Chestnut St.) also has its monthly Film Club in a three-part series. Plus, they do Build It workshops, to help kids brush up on problem-solving skills (next one is July 20, 3 p.m., hosted in conjunction with Cape Fear Museum). They also show family movies on Fridays at 2 p.m. at Main Library and at 3 p.m. on Wednesdays at Northeast Regional Library (1241 Military Cutoff Rd.); concessions are welcome. Also coming up Tuesday, July 28 is the Totally Teen at Northeast Regional, along with the Super Villain Syndicate for Teens at Myrtle Grove (5155 S College Rd.).

A calendar of free activities for children, as well as teens and adults, can be found at It also includes events presented by county and city departments, like the 4-H Food Detectives, Cape Fear Museum and fire department.


750 Bess Street • Downtown

Sure, the city pools may charge a buck to get cooled down this summer, but the Splash Pad on the northside of downtown is absolutely free. Kids can stay cool for the rest of the summer at 750 Bess Street, across from the Wilmington Police Department. With geysers and water cannons galore, fully automated equipment and zero depth, kids of all ages can play safely. They’re open Mondays through Sundays, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (weather permitting) until September 9. For more information, call (910) 343-3682.


NHC libraries • Multiple locations

Ocean Front Park • Kure Beach

The NHC libraries host upward of 17 weekly storytimes year round. Family Yoga Storytime is most popular downtown, but there also is Pre-school Storytime at the Northeast Regional (1241 Military Cutoff Rd.) and Myrtle Grove branches  (5155 S College Rd.) for ages 3 to 5, as well as Art Storytime on Tuesdays at Myrtle Grove for ages 5 to 10. They include activities revolving around books, music and pre-literacy development.

Free reading-based programs are offered for children at Story Time by the Sea at Ocean Front Park (105 Atlantic Ave.) in Kure Beach. The stories are paired with activities for boys and girls each Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and feature an appearance by princesses and friends from favorite fairy tales.

Storytimes galore exist across Wilmington to keep your kids happily learning and improving literacy skills all summer long. Stock photo

Storytimes galore exist across Wilmington to keep your kids happily learning and improving literacy skills all summer long. Stock photo

Barnes & Noble (750 Inspiration Dr.) hosts a slew of storytimes, too, including Tuesday toddler groups at 10 a.m., “Magic Tree House Stories” every third Thursday, along with a special Saturday series. On July 18 they will host one revolving around “Star Wars.” Kids and adults of all ages can join in for activities, trivia, and even come dressed in character for prizes. More dates are upcoming, too.

Not to neglect valuable math and science skills, parents and their kids (ages 3 to 6) can learn more in both areas through reading, interactive stories, hands-on experiments, and exploration stations at Airlie Gardens (300 Airlie Rd.). Pre-school Math and Science at Airlie Gardens starts at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 22, with pre-registration required by calling 910-798-6365.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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