A great half-day excursion from the beach is a trip to Orton Plantation Gardens. We visited mid-week, in early September and had the whole place completely to ourselves! There is a self-guided tour pamphlet that gives you a map through the 20 acre gardens which surround a restored plantation house. Actually, rice was cultivated here up until the 1930s, however now these are simply beautiful grounds, filled with giant live-oak trees dripping with Spanish Moss, towering magnolias, and countless camellias, azaleas and rhododendron. Why oh WHY did I forget my camera! There are beautifully sculpted geometric areas and splendid views across marsh land (which was once cultivated in rice) all the way to the Cape Fear River. On the afternoon we visited, there was a heavenly breeze which made the meandering shaded paths incredibly romantic.
Open to the public since the 1930s, Orton Gardens may start to look familiar as you wonder around, and when I looked up their website for this posting, it is obvious that it is one of the best locations for movies and television shows depicting the South, regardless of the era! There is a fee to visit - $9 per adult ($8 for seniors over age 60) $3 for children over age 6.
You can visit a beautiful chapel on the grounds, which was built in 1915, however the 1735 plantation house itself is a private residence, as are several other attractive structures on the grounds.
Perhaps there are ghosts floating around this physically lovely site, with stories and memories that aren't particularly idyllic but filled with terror, shame and guilt. I'd like to think they are much more at peace these days. You can't deny the beauty and calm that any visitor can experience here today.
The likelihood of you visiting Wrightsville and not seeing Wilmington is pretty low, but just in case you were considering it, DON'T SKIP WILMINGTON! It's a really cool town.