Whether you decide to hit the water or stay on land, you’re sure to find a variety of fun and amazing things to do in Wilmington, NC – The Port City.
It’s the perfect destination for foodies too — especially seafood fans — as you’ll find incredible restaurants scattered throughout this beautiful place. So book your vacation rental and get ready to explore Wilmington, North Carolina!
Here are some of the amazing things you can do in this awesome North Carolina town!
If you want a memorable, relaxing, uncrowded type of family vacation, thinking about heading to Onslow County, NC. It is only about an hour north of Wilmington and a great alternative if you want to get off the beaten path. It’s a hidden gem only 1.5 hour flight from Atlanta (or about a 7 hour drive)!
Stay on the river in Swansboro, enjoying everything from a family picnic cruise to a marsh cruise to look for shark teeth! Try kayaking, paddleboarding, shrimping and crabbing, too. You can also enjoy a more relaxed coastal vacation in North Topsail Beach. Stay in the St Regis Resort or Villa Capriani. Both are right on the beach and ideal for families.
Camping more your style? There is terrific backcountry camping right on the beach at Hammocks Beach State Park. You honestly can’t go wrong in Onslow County!
THINGS TO DO IN WILMINGTON NC ON LAND
Not a fan of getting soaked? No problem! There are plenty of things to do in Wilmington that don't require a swimsuit.
In our opinion, the best way to be introduced to the area is by exploring downtown Wilmington.
Take a walk along the riverfront on the mile-long Wilmington Riverwalk. The Riverwalk provides easy access to some of the area's most popular attractions -- like the Cotton Exchange, and the USS North Carolina Battleship. In addition, you'll find some great shops and restaurants along the way. Every Saturday in the summertime, you'll find an incredible Farmer's Market hosted here, too.
Within walking distance of the Riverwalk is the Historic District, where you'll find several museums and some great tours. There's always something going on in downtown Wilmington, so it's a great place to get started.
Find out more about Wilmington by signing up for a tour!
Walking tours, carriage rides, trolley tours, boat tours, haunted house tours, history tours, and more can be found in Wilmington. Most of the tours take place around the Downtown Wilmington area and along the Cape Fear River.
They even offer self-guided tours! Download the Wilmington History app and choose from the African American History Tour, Pub Crawl, Civil War, or Old Wilmington tours and discover what the area has to offer at your own pace.
FORT FISHER HISTORIC SITE
Fort Fisher Historic Site is home to the largest amphibious fight in the Civil War. A scenic trail, shaded by gnarled live oaks, leads past the earthworks, around to the back where you can see the remains of the fort.
Don't miss a stop at the visitor center where you can find artifacts recovered from sunken ships.
CAPE FEAR MUSEUM
The Cape Fear Museum is the perfect place to learn all about the history of the region. Here, you'll find many exhibits about the history and culture of Lower Cape Fear, along with educational exhibits and programs. Along with stories from the area, there are also exhibits on space, music, sports, and even the giant ground sloth!
On the grounds, you'll also find the Cape Fear Museum Park, which everyone in your family will enjoy. With hands-on exhibits, gardens, historical objects, and educational opportunities, the park provides a fun way to learn about history.
WILMINGTON RAILROAD MUSEUM
All aboard! The Wilmington Railroad Museum is the perfect place to stop for the train lover in your group.
Here you'll find a children's area, model railroads, museum displays, and so much more. Climb aboard a real steam engine, and tour a caboose too!
The Wilmington Railroad Museum is also home to a 2011 Guinness World Record. Model railroaders here broke the world record for the world's longest model train!
NEW HANOVER COUNTY ARBORETUM
The New Hanover County Arboretum is an amazingly beautiful place that you just have to see! The gardens are open to the public every day, and there is no fee for admission.
Covering over seven acres of land, the arboretum houses a number of gardens on site. You can stop in to see their camellias, the roses, or find out more about the herbs they grow there.
And if you’re having issues with your own garden, there’s a plant clinic on site where you can bring your clippings from home to find out exactly what is wrong.
There are fun activities throughout the arboretum for children, including a pipe organ and a sandbox, and there’s also a special children’s garden that houses a miniature cottage.
The beautiful Airlie Gardens is known for its 67 acres of historical gardens sprawled out across New Hanover County.
Take a leisurely stroll through the gardens, the bug zoo, and their seasonal gardens too! The gardens host special events throughout the year, like their a monthly bird hike tour. The gardens also host a summer concert series, and many family friendly events.
The Gardens have a butterfly house, and during the summer months you'll want to catch their weekly butterfly release!
The annual Airlie Oyster Roast takes place every fall and is a big hit with both locals and tourists visiting the area.
CAMERON ART MUSEUM
The Cameron Art Museum offers both indoor and outdoor art exhibits for your enjoyment.
You'll also find music and dance programs, and regular events through the Kids@CAM program -- including a weekly storytime for kids.
Children 16 and under receive free admission to the Cameron Art Museum with a paying adult. You and your family will never forget your visit here and will surely plan to return for more.
STANLEY REHDER CARNIVOROUS PLANT GARDEN
The Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden is as cool as it sounds!
Found in one of the world’s few micro-climates, permitting year-round outdoor growth of carnivorous plants, its beds are home to pitcher plants, sundews, Venus flytraps, and other insectivorous species.
Visitors are invited to visit anytime during daylight hours, and plant hikes are offered for free each Saturday morning. Interested parties are advised to wear close-toed shoes -- after all, these plants may bite!
NORTH CAROLINA AQUARIUM
The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is a place your entire family will enjoy.
You'll find great exhibits, a touch tank, the opportunity to chat with a diver, alligators, sea turtles, sharks, and so much more here. They also offer behind-the-scenes tours, kid-friendly camps, and outdoor adventures.
It's the perfect place to learn all about our underwater friends.
CHILDREN'S MUSEUM OF WILMINGTON
Recognized as Wilmington’s best family museum by Wilmington Parent Magazine, the Children’s Museum of Wilmington offers opportunities for its visitors to engage fully with their exhibits.
The CMOW is a hands-on venue with 12 exhibits, an outdoor courtyard and garden, a toddler treehouse area specifically for the littlest of children, and events like story time, cooking club and more. This is the perfect destination for you and your family when you’re in Wilmington!
TREGEMBO ANIMAL PARK
Lions, tigers, and bears -- oh my! Tregembo Animal Park features over 100 species of animals, and has been operating for over 60 years.
The animal park houses all types of animals -- snakes, birds, monkeys, giraffes, zebras, and more. There's also a mini museum on site, where you (and your little ones) can see dinosaur bones and learn about fossils.
Built in 1861, the Bellamy Mansion represents many aspects of our nation’s history.
When viewing the garden and touring the 10,000-square-foot home, you’ll find yourself witness to historic preservation at its finest.
Walk through one of the only preserved slave quarters in the United States, and learn about the social history of the Bellamy family and their slaves. Take the time to tour the grounds, and learn all you can about how they lived so many years ago.
POPLAR GROVE PLANTATION
The Poplar Grove Plantation is one of the last remaining peanut plantations in the U.S. today. The plantation is a fascinating place to absorb history.
Take a self-guided tour and visit the Manor House and grounds, stop by the farm and stables, take a basket weaving class, or consider booking a ticket to the Paranormal Ghost Tour (schedule dependent).
Poplar Grove also hosts the area’s longest running herb and garden fair, a huge event that kicks off the farmer’s market opening for the year.
MUSEUM OF THE BIZARRE
With an admission fee of only $3 per person, the Museum of the Bizarre is the kind of place you can’t pass up!
Perfect for a rainy day (or any day), and located in the heart of Downtown Wilmington, this museum’s exhibits cover random facts and offer odd interactive opportunities. I mean -- you can see a bigfoot imprint! Or Alexander Hamilton's hair! And a unicorn horn! It’s bound to be a blast for you and the kids.
Wilmington, NC On Water
THE BEACHES (OF COURSE)
Carolina Beach is often thought of as the most family-friendly beach in Wilmington. With a vintage boardwalk, state park, plenty of sand, and festivals and events, Carolina Beach is the perfect place for your family to have fun.
Kure Beach is a laid-back beach, that will remind you of the small-town beaches you visited as a kid. This beach is sometimes called "nature's playground." It's unspoiled, less crowded, and home to the oldest fishing pier on the Atlantic. Kure beaches are the kind of beaches you'll want to go to for relaxation.
Finally, Wrightsville Beach was named one of the world's best surf towns. In fact, it was named one of North Carolina's best beaches. Don't miss their signature kids programs, like pirate-led treasure hunts, and surf camps.
WILMINGTON WATER TOURS
Wilmington Water Tours offers a number of cruises to choose from so you can experience the town from the water!
You can decide if you’d like to take an educational and informational cruise -- like their Eagles Island Cruise or the Down River Maritime History Cruise. The former is a 50-minute cruise with beautiful views of wildlife and nature along the way, while the latter is a 2-hour cruise south of Wilmington.
They also offer sunset cruises for a more relaxing experience, or consider taking the kids out for Pirate School. Whatever you decide, Wilmington Water Tours promises you an incredible experience.
The Battleship North Carolina is one of the most highly decorated battleships of World War II. It has been authentically restored and named a National Historic Landmark. You can visit and tour the ship, take a walk through the exhibits and feel as though you’re experiencing history firsthand.
Consider making an adventure of it and print out a copy of this trivia questionnaire about the ship, and see how many answers you can come up with during your tour!
MASONBORO ISLAND RESERVE
The Masonboro Island Reserve is the largest barrier island in the area. It can only be reached by boat, so be sure you’ve got steady sea legs if you’re planning on venturing out there!
You can decide whether you want to take a tour of the island, or explore on your own to bear witness to the beautiful wildlife around the island.
Consider a eco-scavenger hunt with the kids, or bring your camping equipment if you want to make it an overnight. Whatever you decide, you’re sure to enjoy the natural beauty of the island.
SEA TURTLE CAMP
Sea Turtle Camp is the ultimate hands-on experience in marine biology for kids.
Have a pre-teen or teenage child interested in marine life? The programs offered at Sea Turtle Camp are a must. Campers have an opportunity to work directly with the volunteers at the Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center and find themselves immersed in a hands-on experience of rescuing and releasing a sea turtle back into the wild.
With options that include scuba diving, aquatic sports, and travel camps, you’re bound to find something that your child will absolutely want to do here. And you’ll probably find yourself wishing they had a camp like this for you, too!
Mahanaim Adventures Kayak Tour offers a chance to take a leisurely paddle with the kids, or an all-day kayak adventure on the water.
The kayaking tours provide everything you need to enjoy the water -- including a safety lesson, kayaking gear, and even food and drinks. Choose from half-day or full-day adventures, with many options on which areas around Wilmington you'd like to explore!
And if you’re more interested in a canoe trip than kayaking? They have those, too.
CAPE FEAR RIVERBOATS
Founded in 1987, Cape Fear Riverboats offers options for a number of enjoyable cruises out on the Cape Fear River.
Choose from a relaxing hour-long daytime sightseeing trip, a 4-hour nature cruise, an evening scenic cruise, or a fun murder mystery evening out on the water.
Whether it’s day or night, you’ll enjoy your experience with the longest running cruise company in Wilmington.
Greenfield Lake is a man-made lake created centuries ago to benefit the surrounding community. And now it's still a great recreational space for you to enjoy!
Decide whether you want to walk, run, or bike the 4.1-mile trail, or maybe you’d like to find a spot to cast a rod and see what’s biting. Rent a canoe or paddle boat to cool down on the water, or let the kids run free at the numerous playgrounds that surround the lake.
The park is home to the Greenfield Grind Skatepark that covers about 9,000-square feet. Open to beginners and seasoned veterans, the skatepark is also a fun place for people watching! And if you’re feeling daring, they offer beginner skateboarding clinics as well as camps.
GOOD EATS (AND DRINKS) IN WILMINGTON, NC
Wilmington is home to some of the best restaurants and bars in the region -- here are some of our favorites!
NONI BACCA WINERY
Noni Bacca Winery has been voted the best place to buy wine in the Cape Fear region. With a lovely tasting room that is open seven days a week, you can stop in and pick up a bottle to enjoy, or take a seat on-site and try several of their high quality wines.
The Riverfront Market is where it's at!
Located in a restored warehouse on the Christina River at Market Streets, the market offers all types of food that you'll love in a great atmosphere!
Vendors at the market sell fresh produce, salads, seafood, sandwiches, pizza, sushi, and Mexican and Thai cuisines too. A balcony on the second floor provides seating, so you can take in the view while enjoying your lunch or dinner.
FRONT STREET BREWERY
The menu at Front Street Brewery is several pages long -- and it's all good! They have a selection of choices that will suit your need for Southern fare -- like fried green tomatoes and lowcountry grit cakes. You'll also find many other choices here too, so everyone in your group will find something they like.
Front Street Brewery is home to Whiskey Bar, with over 300 kinds of whiskey on site and free brewery tours and tastings daily at 3:15 and 4:15 pm. I’m sure you’re already on your way over.
BLUE SURF CAFE
The Blue Surf Cafe is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- and it's the perfect place to eat if you're looking for great food in a casual setting.
Their signature breakfast gives you a chance to pick your own base with choices like potato hash and grits, and toppings that invite you to choose between the Castro, Hippy or House styles.
Be sure to head to the Blue Surf Cafe Facebook page before you go, so you can see what the day’s lunch special is.
FORK N CORK
When you check out the menu at Fork N Cork, the thing that will immediately catch your eye is their flexibility. You’ll find options to build your own grilled cheese or your own burger.
Ask about the daily mac and cheese and pot pie choices. The variety of burgers and sandwiches will have your stomach growling before your first bite.
WHERE TO STAY IN WILMINGTON
Best Downtown: Located in Wilmington, 3.1 mi from USS North Carolina, The Hive provides stunning accommodations with a restaurant, private parking, a fitness center and a terrace. Each accommodation at the 5-star hotel has city views and free WiFi. The hotel features family rooms. (And it's immaculately decorated. Insta-worthy for sure!)
Best Riverfront Hotel: Also located downtown, but right on the river, Embassy Suites By Hilton Wilmington Riverfront features accommodations with a bar and private parking. The hotel has an indoor pool and evening entertainment.
Best on the Boardwalk: Located on the Wilmington Boardwalk, Hotel Ballast Wilmington, Tapestry Collection by Hilton offers panoramic views of the Cape Fear Riverfront. Guests can take a refreshing dip in the outdoor pool or work up a sweat in the on-site fitness center. The property features 3 on-site dining options as well.
While you're in the area, make a stop at Barefoot RV Resort -- about 50 miles away from Wilmington -- in North Myrtle Beach, SC. Barefoot RV Resort is a family-operated and gated resort, that's committed to providing you with relaxation and worry-free camping. Choose from RV sites, RV rentals, and tiny homes. Sites include picnic tables, fire pits, and free Wi-Fi. Pets and golf carts are also welcome.
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