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, NC 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, NC. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Ocean Front Park & Pavilion, 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.