Wilmington is brimming with activities that are ideal for the younger crowd. From amazing tours on the Cape Fear River to a host of sites and attractions that are ideal for kids, keeping everyone in the family – especially the youngest members – is a breeze in this engaging town.
Start your family-friendly expeditions by ensuing that these amazing activities and destinations are on your vacationing agenda. With so many adventures waiting to be discovered, it’s no wonder that Wilmington continually lands on the top of the list of Kid Friendly North Carolina Vacation Spots.
With a treasure trove of cool stores, fun restaurants, and of course, ice cream shops, a day of shopping and dining in Downtown Wilmington is an activity that family members of all ages will adore. Scope out the local antique stores where a number of antique toys and games can be discovered, or embark on a trolley, walking, or Segway tour to discover all the history that’s located just beneath the surface of this 18th century town. With a historic district that includes 875 contributing buildings and 38 sites, a downtown exploration is effortlessly both entertaining and educational.
Children's Museum of Wilmington
There’s arguably no better place for Wilmington’s youngest visitors than the always engaging Children's Museum of Wilmington. Designed for visitors ages 1-10, this museum is stocked with interactive exhibits that will keep little hands and minds busy. Popular exhibits include the giant “Ahoy Wilmington” pirate ship that’s perfect for climbing, the Magnetic Minds Science Center, the Imagination Circus Exhibit, the Teddy Bear Hospital, and the on-site art studio. With regular classes and programs held throughout the week, kids of all interests will always discover something new at this engrossing and educational museum.
New Hanover County Arboretum
Located in the heart of Wilmington along Oleander Drive, the New Hanover County Arboretum is a beautiful representation of all the flora and fauna that thrives in Wilmington’s naturally temperate climate. Kids can burn off a little excess energy following the paths that lead to 33 different garden displays, and the site also features a special “kids garden” complete with a sunny yellow and purple kids’ house. Scenic year-round, with a host of special events including seasonal plant sales, the Arboretum is a fun destination where budding gardeners can learn and grow.
Cameron Art Museum
Budding artists of all ages will be inspired by the collection of works from artists all around the world at the sprawling Cameron Art Museum, or CAM, which is a 50+ year institution in the heart of Wilmington. In addition to the rotating and permanent exhibits on display, the CAM also has an on-site art school, where students of all ages and talents can let their creativity run wild. Sign up for a special class or art camp, or just spend a day admiring the array of exhibits that are found both inside and out of the impressive structure. Regardless of how you explore, there’s plenty to discover at this acclaimed North Carolina museum.
Cape Fear Museum
Famed as the oldest museum in North Carolina, the extensive Cape Fear Museum has two levels of interactive exhibits that will impress and engage visitors of all interests. Separated by subject, exhibits of note within the museum include a scale model of the 19th century Wilmington waterfront, the hands-on Michael Jordan Discovery Gallery, and Wilmington’s oldest resident, a 20-foot-tall Giant Ground Sloth. Educational programs for kids and families are held regularly, which makes every visit a fun opportunity to learn something new.
USS North Carolina Battleship
Built in 1937 and earning 15 battle stars during World War II, the USS North Carolina Battleship is an impressive “museum” and attraction that’s easy to find thanks to a looming presence along the waterfront in Downtown Wilmington. Visitors who step aboard will have an opportunity to explore the ship from top the bottom, discovering hidden engine rooms and galleys as well as scenic topside decks, all while learning a boatload about the ship’s unique history. With a number of seasonal programs and special events, such as the annual Easter egg hunt and summertime movie nights with family-friendly flicks, the USS North Carolina Battleship is an engaging destination for miles of on-the-water fun.
Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park
Let the kids go wild while having a splash-worthy time at this amusement park that’s a perfect destination on a hot summer day. Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park features a complex of outdoor entertainment, which includes waterslides, a wave pool, a lazy river, and a special kids' splash for the park’s youngest visitors. In addition, the site features go karts, a laser tag arena, a mini-golf course, a kids' jungle, and an arcade, which will delight active visitors of all interests, rain or shine. With so many ways to have fun, a visit to the Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park is sure to be a highlight of any young Wilmington visitor’s vacation.
Bluethenthal Wildflower Preserve
Explorer a natural slice of Wilmington while learning about the local flora and fauna that calls this scenic region home with a trip to the Bluethenthal Wildflower Preserve. This 10 acre site that’s located adjacent to the UNCW campus features a nature trail that winds through the preserve, and which bypasses a number of local plant species, including plenty of seasonal wildflowers. Pamphlets are located at the trail’s entrance, and with wide boardwalks, markers, and benches, the trail is easy to navigate for visitors of all ages and walking abilities.
Burgwin Wright House
Kids can take a step back in time while discovering a chapter of Wilmington’s rich history with a visit to the impressive Burgwin Wright House. Built in 1770-1771, the Burgwin Wright House was eventually converted to an in-depth museum and gardens in 1957, with three stories of unique antiques as well as spacious grounds that are filled with local blooms and foliage in the warm weather months. From the ornate parlor and dining areas to the separate kitchen house, the Burgwin Wright House offers a peek into local history from the inside out.
Active kids will have a blast at one of Wilmington’s many parks, which are scattered throughout the city and which are wide open for visitors and locals alike. Head to the 33-acre Empie Park, which features a number of playing fields, basketball courts, a playground, and the Althea Gibson Tennis Complex with 18 lighted courts, or explore Wilmington’s wild side at the River Road Park which is a popular destination for fishing, kayaking, and other waterside activities. With dozens of different options to choose from, and pick-up and little league games regularly available, having a little outdoor fun is a breeze in this active and sunny city.
Wilmington has a rich theater scene, and families will be delighted to discover that a number of the shows are perfect for younger patrons. Check out the schedules of smaller area theaters, such as the Cape Fear Playhouse, TheatreNOW, or the Opera House Theatre Company, or plan a matinee outing at one of the most impressive theaters in the region, Thalian Hall. Home to a roster of family-friendly events which are held all year long, as well as special programs for kids like the Thalian Association Youth Theater Program, it’s easy for young thespians to watch a performance, or even become part of the show in culturally rich Wilmington
Wilmington is brimming with ways to have fun on the water, which can range from engaging boat tours to kayak or paddling expeditions in some of the most scenic spots in North Carolina. Enjoy a self-guided adventure at one of Wilmington’s many waterfront parks, like Trails End Park or River Road Park, or head to the downtown waterfront for an opportunity to embark on a tour of the massive Cape Fear waters. Iconic local vessels like the impressive Henrietta III, one of the largest cruising vessels in the state, offer a myriad of different tours that effortlessly combine sightseeing, education, and literally miles of fun.
Wilmington Railroad Museum
Budding engineers will love visiting one of Wilmington’s most unique museums, the Wilmington Railroad Museum, where centuries of local history and interactive exhibits are perfectly combined. Kids can explore the authentic locomotive, ACL boxcar, and caboose which are stationed outside the museum, marvel at the displays within the 1,500’ square foot model hall, and enjoy special exhibits designed just for young hands and minds at the on-site Children’s Hall with Thomas the Tank Engine. With regular programs and events for kids and adults alike, every trip is a fun opportunity to discover something new at the Wilmington Railroad Museum.
Cape Fear Serpentarium
Brave kids and adults will be fascinated with the Cape Fear Serpentarium – a 10,000’ square foot museum that’s home to roughly 150 scaly critters of all varieties. 54 rotating displays are home to the wide variety of reptiles, which can include everything from kind cobras and black mambas, to impressively huge boa constrictors. Not for the squeamish, the Cape Fear Serpentarium will fascinate reptile fans of all ages, and will be an unforgettable attraction and a unique addition to any Wilmington vacation.
Take a stroll along the roughly 1-mile Riverwalk for an all-encompassing perspective of everything that Wilmington has to offer. Kids can check out historic sites like The Cotton Exchange, marvel at the massive USS North Carolina Battleship that’s docked along the Cape Fear River, and enjoy miles of open river waters all while taking an engaging walk along the waterfront. With benches, informative plaques, and panoramic vistas throughout, an amble down the Wilmington Riverwalk is an excursion that every family member will effortlessly enjoy.
Poplar Grove Plantation
Head just north of Wilmington to discover one of the oldest original plantations in the region, the Poplar Grove Plantation. Serving as a representation of what everyday life was like in 1850, kids will have a ball exploring the extensive on-site property which includes the manor home with 12 rooms of antiques, ongoing craft demonstrations, authentic outbuildings, and even a farm where local animals can be admired and petted. There’s even an on-site play area just for kids, as well as regular events including a weekly farmer’s market, which makes every visit to this historic site an engaging and active adventure.
North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher
Head to the southern sunny beaches of the Cape Fear region to discover one of the area’s most popular attractions for kids, the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. This extensive aquarium takes visitors on a tour through the state’s many ecosystems – from the local swamps and freshwater streams to the open ocean waters – via a variety of interactive exhibits that kids will love. Visitors can touch live horseshoe crabs, sea stars, and even sharks at the “touch tanks,” watch divers descend into a giant saltwater tank, and even meet a rare albino alligator – one of the aquarium’s most famous local residents. With regular programs for kids and adults alike, the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher earns its reputation as one of the most fun and fascinating destinations in the Cape Fear area.
All kids love a day of splashing and playing in the sand, and visitors will find ample options for enjoying a beach day in the Cape Fear region surrounding Wilmington. Check out the Kure Beach Oceanfront Park, the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, or one of the region’s many fishing piers for a day of enjoying the beach scene, or head to the public beach access points in neighboring Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach. With miles of shoreline to go around, families will have an easy time soaking up the sand and sun when Wilmington serves as a launching point for a beach adventure.
With so many activities to discover, Wilmington is an ideal destination for kids of all ages and interests. Embark on a vacation that’s filled with exploring, learning, and having a ball, and create memories and experiences that will last a lifetime with a visit to this historic and engaging Cape Fear destination.
Rainy Day Activities
Rain or shine, there’s always plenty of fun to be found in Wilmington. Home to a wealth of museums, cultural attractions, shops, restaurants, and so much more, visitors of all interests and ages will have no problem at all finding something to do, regardless of the weather.
So on your next Wilmington vacation, use the occasional rainy day as an excuse to discover one of these unique destinations or activities which will easily be a fascinating aspect of any exploration. In a city that’s filled with arts, history, and miles of fun, there’s always an opportunity to enjoy a new adventure – even when the weather doesn’t cooperate.
Start a tour of Wilmington’s rich historic district with a visit to the Bellamy Mansion, one of the city’s best examples of antebellum architecture. Built in 1859-1861, this historic residence that was once home to a prominent doctor has been converted to an engaging museum that represents what life was like in the city during the eve of the Civil War. Outfitted with period antiques and furnishings throughout, guests can enjoy a guided or self-guided audio tour of the property, and discover a fascinating chapter in local history while admiring one of the grandest structures in town.
Cameron Art Museum
The 42,000’ square foot Cameron Art Museum is a fascinating destination for art lovers, thanks to an incredible collection of artworks from regional, national, and even international artists of note. A series of 6-8 regularly changing exhibits make every visit a chance to discover a new talent, while the on-site Cameron Art School is a great destination for an afternoon activity, thanks to a range of classes designed for budding artists of all ages and abilities. With an acclaimed restaurant on the premises, the CAM Café, and a series of special events and programs regularly available, visitors can enjoy a full rainy day of fun at this acclaimed Wilmington institution.
Cape Fear Museum
A Tour of Wilmington’s history and natural landscape begins at the extensive Cape Fear Museum. This sprawling two-story site is home to a wealth of engaging and interactive exhibits that chronicles the story of the Port City from its early 1720s roots to its present day ecosystems. Peruse popular exhibits like the Michael Jordan Discovery Gallery, an extensive model of the 1863 Wilmington Waterfront, and the engaging Civil War Battle of Fort Fisher section, and discover virtually everything that this city is renowned for with a single rainy day exploration.
Shopping and Dining in Downtown Wilmington and Beyond
A rainy day is a perfect excuse to discover Wilmington’s impressive and city-wide shopping and dining scenes. Home to dozens of shopping plazas and center, a mall, and a host of downtown shops that are wholly unique, Wilmington is the perfect spot to enjoy a little retail therapy. Start your shopping adventures in the downtown area, where a host of art galleries, antique stores, and chic boutiques can be discovered, or use a rainy day as an excuse to feast at one of Wilmington’s hundreds of distinct restaurants. No matter how you choose to indulge, the sheer variety of options will entice foodies and shoppers of all styles and tastes.
The Cotton Exchange
Visitors can enjoy a little history and a lot of shopping and dining with a visit to The Cotton Exchange, a popular destination in the heart of the downtown area. Encompassing a collection of 8 amazing restored brick buildings from the turn of the 20th century, this site features 33 unique specialty shops as well as a collection of restaurants, coffee shops, and other tempting destinations. Visitors can peruse the wide array of specialty stores, and when the sun comes out, can explore the impressive grounds which includes gracious courtyards and nearby river views. As a result of the layout and wealth of interior diversions, The Cotton Exchange is an enticing destination, rain or shine.
USS North Carolina Battleship
Bypass the topside decks and head to the interior of this massive ship for an inside look into military history. The USS North Carolina Battleship is an impressive attraction and is an authentic 1940s battleship that served in the Pacific during World War II, and earned 15 battle stars during its years of service. On a rainy day, visitors can easily explore the network of galleys, engine rooms, and interior compartments, where the impressive layout and structure of the ship itself serves as an enlightening museum and a tour through history.
Burgwin Wright House
Wilmington’s history is often best explored via its collection of authentic residences and structures, and the Burgwin Wright House is a prime example of local history come to life. The impressive 1770 property features a collection of rooms that are stocked with 18th and 19th century antiques, a freestanding kitchen house, and a collection of Colonial style gardens which can be admired in person when the skies clear. Open Tuesday through Saturday with guided tours every hour, the Burgwin Wright House is a stunning representation of the daily life of Wilmington’s elite and prominent residences.
Cape Fear Serpentarium
Get your pulse racing with a visit to the 10,000’ square foot Cape Fear Serpentarium, where hundreds of scaly and slithering residents provide a thrilling experience for adventurous visitors. This unique museum features 150 different species of snakes and other reptiles, which includes everything from local snakes to exotic international critters. Housed within more than 50 safe displays, and featuring unique species including black mambas, king cobras, and even giant constrictors, the Cape Fear Serpentarium is one of the most memorable and fascinating destinations in Wilmington.
Children's Museum of Wilmington
Young visitors will be fascinated with the collection of interactive and indoor exhibits that are found within the popular Children's Museum of Wilmington – an attraction that’s designed for museum-goers ages 1-10. In the sprawling space, visitors can climb a giant pirate ship, engage in science experiments, create a masterpiece at the art studio, and let their imaginations run wild – all while having an undeniably fun time. Special programs and kids classes are held regularly, making every visit a unique and fun way to spend a rainy day while discovering something new.
EUE Screen Gem Studios
Use a rainy day as an excuse to explore Wilmington’s distinction as the Hollywood of the South with a visit to the EUE Screen Gem Studios. Open sporadically for tours, depending on ongoing film and TV projects, this massive 150,000' square foot complex feature 10 stages and is known as the largest filming facility in the US outside of California. During a tour, visitors can visit the incredible underwater set, see historic props and movie sets, and even view the settings of TV series currently in production. Though tours are limited, the ensuing experience will be absolutely fascinating for anyone who loves a movie on a rainy day.
Latimer House Museum and Gardens
This stunning and historic home was built in 1852 by a local merchant named Zebulon Latimer, and was converted to the home of the Historical Society in 1963. Today, the Latimer House Museum and Gardens is a representation of upper class life in Wilmington in the 1800s, and visitors can explore this history in rich detail via a tour of the home’s 14 rooms and more than 600 historic objects, such as furnishings, jewelry, tools, tableware, and much more. When the clouds part, take a tour of the outlying gardens, and enjoy a richly decadent experience that portrays the life of Wilmington’s elite from the ground up.
Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts
A rainy day is the perfect excuse to take in a show, and Wilmington has an exceptional theater scene where performances of all varieties are celebrated. While there are certainly dozens of movie theaters and live theater venues to keep visitors entertained, the crème de la crème of Wilmington’s cultural scene is the impressive Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts. Built in the 19th century as Wilmington’s premiere opera house, today Thalian Hall is the host of a full line-up of productions, ranging from visiting musicians and performers to locally staged plays and special events. Check out shows that correspond with a stay for a decadent theater experience you’ll never forget.
Wilmington Railroad Museum
The Wilmington Railroad Museum is a unique museum that celebrates Wilmington’s former distinction as one of the largest and most vibrant port cities along the Carolina coastline. The wealth of attractions includes a 1,500’ square foot model hall, a special children’s area, impressive and original machinery and artifacts from the 19th century, and even a full locomotive which is stationed just outside the museum’s entrance. Because of the wealth of exhibits and interactive displays, the Wilmington Railroad Museum is a fascinating destination for train fans and everyday explorers alike.
Poplar Grove Plantation
Discover a series of exhibits that pays homage to the everyday life of an 1850 farm with a visit to the Poplar Grove Plantation. Located just north of the Wilmington city limits, this unique plantation house is filled with restored rooms that are furnished with period antiques, as well as unique outbuildings which includes an on-site farm and kids’ play area. Guided tours are regularly available, and unique craft demonstrations and other hand-on activities allows visitors to gain a new perspective on what life was like for rural residents more than 150 years ago.
North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher
Visitors of all ages will love spending a rainy day at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher – a fascinating destination that was named as one of the "Best Aquariums in the United States" by the Travel Channel. Home to a series of exhibits that chronicle the many different environments that the Cape Fear region is known for – from freshwater streams to ocean reefs – a visit to this amazing aquarium is a full morning or afternoon adventure that will be a highlight of any coastal vacation. The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is a quick drive away for Wilmington residents, and is located in the southern coastal town of Kure Beach.
With a landscape that’s dotted with unique museums, iconic homes and landmarks, and tons of shopping and dining options, bad weather never puts a damper on a Wilmington vacation. Spend a rainy day discovering all the incredible aspects of this historical town, and see why the Port City remains one of the most fascinating destinations for coastal explorers, inside and out.