EZ Home Search Guide to Living in New Hanover County, NC

Photos of homes in Wilmington NC, Naval Ship, and Wrightsville NC Beaches

EZ Home Search Guide to Living in New Hanover County, NC 

The diverse coastal communities of New Hanover County, North Carolina, are a wonderful place to call home. Once a shelter for pirates, modern New Hanover County is home to Wilmington, one of the state's largest cities and boyhood home of famous NBA basketball star Michael Jordan. Besides a bustling scene along the Cape Fear River, the county also has island beaches and small-town inland communities that take advantage of the coastal plain's agricultural wealth. 

Come check out New Hanover County and what makes a living here so attractive.  

About New Hanover County

New Hanover County is just one of the 100 counties inside North Carolina. It's the second-smallest county by land area but one of the state's most populous. The county seat of Wilmington along the Cape Fear River is one of the state's largest cities. 

New Hanover resides in the Lowcountry or the Tidewater region of southeastern North Carolina. The significant geological features of the area include the Cape Fear River, the Brunswick River, and the Northeast Cape Fear River. The US Army Corps of Engineers also cut the Intracoastal Waterway, which has given the area some of its local features.

All of New Hanover County is included in the Wilmington Metropolitan Statistical Area, near Pender County.

Two major highways make getting around New Hanover County pretty easy. These include I-40, which begins just north of Wilmington, and I-140, which moves east-west. US 421 runs down to the popular beach towns.

The areas around Wilmington and the waterfront are highly developed urbanized communities, but you can still find rural real estate in inland New Hanover County. A primary example is the lands around Castle Hayne, near the northern border. This is still a southern small-town community where all the neighbors know each other.

New Hanover County History

The county was created first in 1726 as New Hanover Precinct and gained county status in 1739. Parts of the original county have formed other counties, with the final borders that we recognize today established in 1875.

In the earliest years of colonization, several attempts were made to establish towns in the Cape Fear region. Many of these failed. Finally, the settlement took hold in the 1720s and 1730s. Wilmington was laid out in 1733. 

Since sandy roads in the region were hard to navigate, water travel became important for the trading goods. This made coastal access necessary; water transportation helped with the establishment of the port at Wilmington. 

In the early years, New Hanover County was an agricultural region used to cultivate tobacco and other high commodity crops. Before the Civil War, the majority of the county's residents were African enslaved peoples. 

Some of the closing battles of the American Civil War took place inside the county. The last major coastal stronghold of the Confederacy was Fort Fisher. Two battles took place at the fort; the Battle of Wilmington also occurred in the region. 

The Reconstruction Era saw the implementation of Jim Crow laws. The Wilmington Insurrection of 1898 saw the rejection of a biracial city government by the white residents. They then led mobs in a riot to attack the city's African-American neighborhoods and residents. It was the only coup d'etat ever to take place on American soil. The impact of the event has only been more recently acknowledged. 

Growth proceeded slowly through the early years of the 20th century. The completion of I-40 to Wilmington helped boost the local economy. Starting in the 1980s, Wilmington became home to a film and television studio. For a short time, it was considered the "Hollywood of the East."

New Hanover County Cities and Areas

New Hanover County is a popular destination for tourism, thanks to Wilmington and its beaches. 

Wilmington serves as the county seat. It has a mix of history and new development. Wilmington has been voted America's best riverfront, with a scenic two-mile Riverwalk packed with boutiques, cafes, entertainment, and nightlife. Its National Register Historic District spans over 230 blocks. 

Wrightsville Beach is the access point for all kinds of water sports. It is just 8.5 miles from Wilmington and has been named one of the top surfing towns by National Geographic. This beach town also has a walkable island atmosphere with open-air villages and other beach town amenities. 

Located 18 miles from Wilmington is Carolina Beach, a bustling and busy seaside town with lots of hotels, restaurants, and dining options. 

At the end of the highway sits Kure Beach, a small town beach community home to the oldest fishing pier on the Atlantic coast. It's also home to some of the area's best attractions, such as the state aquarium and the historic fort.

To the north of Wilmington and its beaches, you will find more suburban developments as well as rural communities. 

New Hanover County Job Market 

New Hanover County does have a large tourism industry, but it is not solely reliant on the tourism economy. This bustling region in southeast North Carolina has a diverse and thriving job market. Some of the largest employers include New Hanover Regional Medical Center, New Hanover County Schools, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, PPD Development, MasTec Services Company, Cellco Partnership, and Cape Fear Community College. 

Unemployment figures for the Wilmington MSA report that its July unemployment rate was 4%. At the same time, North Carolina reported a 4.6% unemployment rate. 

New Hanover County Real Estate Market 

The New Hanover County real estate market offers diverse housing options. Historically, median sales prices for single-family homes and townhouses and condos have been increasing since 2013. The prices here are higher than those in the regional MLS.

The market report for July 2021 shows that inventory continues to be on the lower side. As of July 2021, the median sales price for a single-family home was $349,000, a 6.7% year-over-year increase. For townhouses and condos, the median sale price was $288,000, a 22.7% increase from July 2020.

The inventory of homes for sale remained under one month and was down 59% year-over-year. The number of new listings coming to the market remains lower than 2020. Homes in the region were typically receiving 100% or higher of their list price. 

Use EZ Home Search to find the latest data on the New Hanover County real estate market. We offer specific current information for Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Wrightsville Beach, and Wilmington. You may be curious to see the most expensive homes sold in Wilmington.

New Hanover County Demographics

With 225,702 residents as of the April 2020 census, New Hanover County has experienced tremendous growth over the last decade. The population grew by 10%.

The average age for a resident was 39.1. A county profile says that the area has a higher relative proportion of residents aged 20-34 and 65-84.

The residents tended to be highly educated, with 41% of people 25 and older holding a bachelor's degree or higher. Around 77% of residents identified as white alone, while 13% identified as African-American and 6% identified as Hispanic or Latino. The median household income was $54,891. 

New Hanover County Education

Public education is offered through the New Hanover County School District, which serves 26,000 students. It operates a total of 45 schools, which includes three pre-kindergarten centers, 25 elementary, eight middle schools, eight high schools, and two alternative schools. It has an 88.2% graduation rate. It is the second-largest employer in the region.

Parents have 25 private schools to choose from as of 2021. The top-ranked private schools include St. Mary Catholic School, Wilmington Academy Of Arts & Sciences, and New Horizons Elementary School. Around 68% of schools are religiously affiliated.

The University of North Carolina-Wilmington posted a 2021 enrollment record of nearly 18,000 students. The University has 58 bachelor's degree programs, 36 master's, and four doctoral programs. US News & World Report listed the college on its 2021 Best Online Bachelor's Programs. It was the third consecutive year that its online bachelor's programs ranked in the top 20. Other recognized programs include its online graduate programs in nursing, business administration, and education. 

Cape Fear Community College has 160 ways to earn a post-graduate credential. It provides university transfer programs, associates degrees, certificates, and diplomas. 

New Hanover County Healthcare

The New Hanover County Regional Medical Center is part of Novant Health, which is a four-state integrated network of medical facilities and hospitals. The DNV-GL healthcare nationally accredits the New Hanover Regional Medical Center. It operates as a public, not-for-profit hospital and is a teaching hospital.

The emergency department is the region's only Level II trauma center and is open 24/7. It operates several campuses. The main campus on 17th Street has heart, cancer, women's and children's, and rehabilitation care. Other affiliated providers are scattered around the Wilmington area.

New Hanover County Things to Do

The beaches usually draw people to New Hanover County, followed by Wilmington's ample entertainment and lifestyle amenities. The Wilmington area beaches offer miles of Atlantic shoreline and water recreation access. 

But it's not just sunbathing, shell hunting, and beach volleyball that draws people here. The area is popular with scuba divers. Offshore, numerous shipwrecks wait to be explored. There are artificial reefs and fossil ledges rich with Megalodon teeth.

The Atlantic waters are also rich with fishing opportunities. People come to spearfish for Spiny Lobster and to deep-sea fish for trophy catches. The river waters are abundant in bass and Spot fish. 

At the heart of Wilmington is the two-mile Riverwalk, a two-mile stretch of Boardwalk that Food & Wine magazine ranked as one of the top 10 boardwalks in the country. The boardwalk contains all kinds of dining, retail, and entertainment options. There is a seaside amusement park, weekly fireworks, and a concert series. 

One popular festival held in the county is the North Carolina Azalea Festival, held annually in April. The first festival happened in 1948; today, over 300,000 people from across the nation admire the beauty of these flowers. The various beach towns also run events throughout the year. Carolina Beach hosts the Pleasure Island Seafood Festival, Carolina Beach Music Festival, and a boardwalk film and fireworks series.

Golfing is also a popular pastime, with 13 courses available in Wilmington and the surrounding area. Legendary golf architect Donald Ross designed the Wilmington Municipal Golf Course to provide the public with a high-quality championship course at an affordable price. Independent sources have highly ranked it.

New Hanover County Local Attractions

Get a taste of history at the Fort Fisher State Historic Site, an important Civil War Fort. This was the site of the Civil War's largest amphibious battle. There are still remnants of the gigantic Fort Fisher earthworks, a restored palisade fence, and a seacoast gun. The exhibits include artifacts recovered from the sunken ships. Just offshore, scuba divers can explore the wreck of the Condor, located about seven hundred yards off the beach and one of the first stops on the North Carolina Heritage Dive Site Trail.

The North Carolina Aquarium is situated at the meeting point of the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Fear River. Combine a visit with a trip to Fort Fisher State Historic Site. Walkthrough the two-story open-ocean exhibits to see sharks, rays, and heels. There's also an outdoor garden and daily live shows. 

Don't miss a tour of the USS North Carolina battleship located in Wilmington. It is one of the region's most popular tourist attractions. Explore the refurbished ship and see what life was like at sea during World War II. The ship is also visible from the Riverwalk.

If you enjoy history, take a self-guided tour or horse-drawn carriage ride through Wilmington's downtown National Register Historic District. It is one of the largest historic districts in the south, with many examples of historic Victorian-era architecture.

Art enthusiasts will appreciate the Brooklyn Arts District on the historic north side of downtown Wilmington. At its core is the Brooklyn Arts Center at St. Andrews, a historic church in the area.

Fish from the recently renovated pier at Carolina Beach State Park overlooking the Cape Fear River. For a fun fact, the park is also home to the carnivorous Venus Flytrap, which only grows natively within a 60-mile radius of Carolina Beach. These plants bloom each May. Another unique feature is the Sugarloaf Dune, a 50-foot sand dune on the bank of the river where Civil War troops camped.

Airlie Gardens is known as one of the south's premier gardens. Built during the Gilded Age, it has 67 acres of cultivated gardens and lakes. 

New Hanover County Dining

The Wilmington Boardwalk is a top dining destination. It was rated one of the best in the country by Food & Wine magazine, so you know there are many delicious dishes to be found up and down its stretch. However, all of New Hanover County has some excellent dining destinations. You don't want to miss out on access to fresh seafood. Here's a taste of what New Hanover County has in store:

  • Fat Pelican is a unique bar with a gigantic walk-in cooler
  • Coast Craft Cocktails and Calabash pairs Calabash-style seafood with from scratch-cooking
  • Soul Flavor Kitchen & Bar uses the freshest possible Southern ingredients and prepares everything in house
  • Carolina Smoke House is a beloved BBQ restaurant featured on the Food Network with a location on the Carolina Beach Boardwalk
  • Fork & Cork has been featured on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives
  • Shuckin' Shack Oyster Bar was called one of the "Best Seafood Dives in America" by Coastal Living. 
  • Benny's Big Time Pizzaria was opened by celebrity chef Vivian Howard. It has been included on Southern Living's Top 13 Things to Eat
  • Rx Restaurant And Bar is a seasonally-inspired ingredient-driven Southern cuisine restaurant 

New Hanover County Shopping

Around the beach towns of New Hanover County, find surf shops, quirky gift shops, and unique retail experiences. Popular destinations include the retail and dining areas along Carolina Beach Avenue, Lake Park Boulevard, and Cape Fear Boulevard.

Find antiques, farm-to-table dining, and more unique restaurants in Wilmington Castle Street Arts & Antiques District near downtown Wilmington. You'll also find some vintage boutiques and other socially conscious themed stores.

Downtown Wilmington also has family-owned boutique stores and unique shopping destinations. Look around, and you'll find funky and artistic shops with all kinds of souvenirs and unique treasures.

For name-brand shopping, look to the Hanover Center, a 320,000 sq ft community shopping center. Another option is the Independence Mall which has retailers like Dillard's and Belk.

Of course, the popular Wilmington Riverwalk has two miles of retail and entertainment waiting to be explored.

New Hanover County Local Favorites

Do something unique and join the locals at Freeman Park. This is located at the north end of Carolina Beach. You can take 4x4s onto the beach, look for endangered loggerhead sea turtle tracks, and even camp overnight. You do need to have a permit through the Town of Carolina Beach.

Surfing is a big deal here. The Tony Silvagni Surf School holds weekend surf clinics to help teach or polish your skills.

The Gulfstream Restaurant has been a Carolina Beach Marina Institution for over 40 years. Locals visit for breakfast, lunch, or dinner to appreciate the classic Calabash-style seafood and other creative offerings. 

Living in New Hanover County

As you can see, New Hanover County has a lot to offer residents. Enjoy beachfront living with lots of urban amenities without breaking the bank. While there is a lot of development, the seaside towns retain their character. This is not the highly polished tourist communities like other regions of the Atlantic seaboard. Much of the seafront has been preserved. You also have access to world-class dining and excellent schools. Learn more about moving to Wilmington, or explore more areas in New Hanover County. 

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