Spring Festival Celebrates Art, Gardens, and Southern Culture
Of the many things to do in Wilmington NC, the North Carolina Azalea Festival in April attracts visitors to the warm weather and natural beauty of the Cape Fear Coast.
Since 1948, when the first Azalea Festival was established to celebrate the beauty of Greenfield, Orton, Airlie, and other area gardens, this weekend event has grown to a week-long celebration. Beginning each year with the crowning of Queen Azalea followed by a parade through historic downtown Wilmington, the Festival week is filled with garden tours, a street fair, concerts, a shag contest, family activities, and large heaping helpings of Southern culture and hospitality.
The North Carolina Azalea Festival takes place annually at various locations throughout the Cape Fear Coast from downtown Wilmington’s Riverwalk to the area’s beaches and gardens. Events vary widely, from a juried art show and sale to a street fair to an amateur boxing tournament, and visitors find that the mild coastal North Carolina spring weather adds to the enjoyment.
Celebrities abound in Wilmington on most occasions, with the EUE/Screen Gems Studios producing movies like the classic, Cape Fear, and television shows like One Tree Hill, but during the Azalea Festival, the likes of hometown native Michael Jordan might be seen along with other sports figures and Hollywood stars.
The Azalea Festival also lures big-name entertainers. Past Festivals have enjoyed the talents of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Carrie Underwood, the Beach Boys, Alabama, the Judds, Jessica Simpson, and Natalie Cole.
Another Azalea Festival tradition is the Belles. Over 100 young women serve as ambassadors for the City of Wilmington, symbolizing the Festival season as much as the flowers they represent. Dressed in colorful antebellum gowns, the Azalea Belles enhance the beauty of several activities during the Festival, but their primary duty is to act as hostesses in the gardens featured on the Festival Garden Tour.
North Carolina Azalea Festival Events
- Azalea Garden Tour – sponsored by the Cape Fear Garden Club – a selection of private gardens changes annually (ticket required)
- Historic Wilmington Foundation Home Tour – an annual showcase of homes and properties in Wilmington’s historic district (ticket required)
- Parade – a fun-filled, three-hour extravaganza winding through downtown Wilmington with floats, celebrities, marching bands, and clowns. (free)
- Street Fair – downtown Wilmington and the Riverwalk – arts and crafts vendors, concert stages, international foods, displays and exhibits, and a street dance. (free)
- Juried Art Show – presented by the Wilmington Art Association – over 100 artists from North Carolina offer their works (free admission)
- Amateur Boxing Tournament – features competitors, ranging in age from 8 to 34, in national and international levels of competition as well as from the military branches. (free admission)
- Concerts – Trask Coliseum, UNC-Wilmington – major entertainers featured (ticket required)
- Circus – at the Wilmington International Airport – the Cole Bros. Circus comes to town Thursday through Sunday of the Festival week. (ticket required)
- Horse Show – sponsored by the Seagate Saddle Club – competitions in dozens of classes and various styles of riding are featured ($3 admission)
- Coin Show – presented by the Lower Cape Fear Coin Club – showcases 45 dealers offering coins for sale ($1 suggested donation entry fee)
- Shag Contest – at the Hilton Wilmington Riverside Hotel – dancers can strut their stuff and compete for cash prizes in three divisions including junior, club/social, and non-professional. No dance instructors or professional dancers. (no entry fee, free admission)
- Variety Show – a 40-year tradition showcasing local talent (free admission)
For more information about the North Carolina Azalea Festival events, contact the North Carolina Azalea Festival, 5725 Oleander Drive, Unit B7, Wilmington, NC 28403, 910-794-4650.