For the past five decades folks from all over have come to Wilmington North Carolina to attend the annual North Carolina Azalea Festival and to celebrate the thousands of azaleas that bloom along Cape Fear. The North Carolina Azalea Festival is nationally recognized for community artwork, gardens, history and southern culture and has been listed by the Southeast Tourism Society as one of the top 20 tourist attractions in the Southeast.
By far the biggest celebration in the New Hanover and Brunswick County area this unique celebration has grown exponentially and now attracts over 300,000 people every year with many more attractions to keep visitors coming back every year to Wilmington. The North Carolina Azalea Festival showcases much about our area as it focuses on our local culture, the elegant beauty of our area, charming southern hospitality, local history and all that is southern.
The North Carolina Azalea Festival is a celebration which lasts 5 days, includes a parade, a street fair, circus, fantastic concerts, and a beauty pageant. The celebration generally kicks off on a Wednesday with the Azalea Queen’s arrival ceremony in the morning, then moving on to the Queen’s official coronation ceremony at Wilmington’s riverfront park in the afternoon, and then a concert that night at Trask Coliseum.
Held in the beginning of April when area azaleas are in full bloom and brightest color, The North Carolina Azalea Festival has downtown Wilmington booming with excitement and activities. Don’t miss walking downtown along the Cape Fear river walk at sunset taking in the sight of the twinkling lights reflecting off of the river and the aroma of homemade food wafting in from the street vendors. There are even fireworks to brighten an already perfect warm southern evening. It’s an occasion not to be missed, and one as unique as Wilmington’s cobblestone streets and charming atmosphere. Southern hospitality at it’s finest awaits you here at the festival.
The Azalea Festival concerts are held at Trask Coliseum, the basketball court of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s Seahawks. There are also free concerts and usually there is a Contemporary Christian concert held downtown featuring a Christian rock band.
The event that everyone flocks to is the parade. Everyone loves the parade and most locals make it a tradition to take their families to the Azalea festival each year. There are floats decorated in every color you can imagine, and marching bands playing familiar tunes. Horses, clowns, tiny cars and of course all of the local beauty queens waving. You will also see in the parade, visiting celebrities, the Azalea Queen and her court, and the Azalea Princess. The parade is held on Saturday morning and is free to spectators young and old.
After the parade, the 35 or so street fair vendors offer a wide variety of fair food as well as local cuisine. Serving such delicacies as crispy soft shell crab sandwiches, sausages with peppers and onions, Alligator tail, as well as fluffy pink or blue clouds of homemade cotton candy and lightly browned funnel cakes sprinkled with powdered sugar. Have a large glass of freshly squeezed lemonade to top it all off and you are ready to go visit the local craft booths to walk off your tasty lunch.
The Azalea Belles
Mrs. Harley Vance, then president of the Cape Fear Garden Club, introduced the tradition of the Azalea Belles participating in the North Carolina Azalea Festival Garden Tour in 1969. Seven young ladies wore hoop-skirted antebellum dresses that year as their costumes for the Confederate Ball. Since then, the Belles have grown from that original seven, with 120 young women serving as ambassadors for the City of Wilmington during the Azalea Festival in 2005. They still wear authentic antebellum dresses and have come to symbolize the Festival season as much as the flowers they represent.
The Azalea Belles enhance the beauty of several activities during the Festival, but their primary duty is to act as hostesses in the 10 gardens featured on the Festival Garden Tour. Azalea Belles must be at least sixteen years old or in grades ten, eleven or twelve and must be sponsored by an accredited Garden Club member.
The North Carolina Azalea Festival Garden Tour is not to be missed. Here you can see the Azalea Belles and take part in an amazing garden tour. Multiple gardens are featured each year featuring magnificent displays of azaleas, camellias, statuary and historic trees. Miniature maritime forests created with historical accuracy with native trees and bushes provide fruits and berries for birds. Lavish blooms, curved beds of greenery and natural arbors of flowering trees await your perusal.
Over 200 crafters are normally on hand to show their wares at the North Carolina Azalea Festival. They set up displays along Water Street right on the beautiful Cape Fear River. They remain on display all Saturday and Sunday, showcasing woodcrafts, jewelry, pottery, ironwork and many other handcrafted items. The ice sculpting contest held by local chefs should not be missed, as it is extraordinarily entertaining. There is also a children’s area, filled with free events for children of all ages.
Drawing dealers from around the country to display, trade and sell their collectibles, this coin show is a highlight for area numismatists and draw hundreds of visitors. Whether you are a serious collector or simply interested in coins, at the North Carolina Azalea Festival Coin Show you can find items of interest and even finally find out how much that coin you’ve been saving is really worth.
Book your trip now for next year’s Azalea Festival, it will surely not disappoint. The Azalea Festival is a non-profit civic organization. Contact the Azalea Festival by calling 910-794-4650 or by Email. For more information, check out the Official Website of the Azalea Festival.