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. It’s also the perfect destination for foodies, especially seafood fans, as you’ll find several incredible places to eat scattered throughout this beautiful place. So head to Wilmington, and start exploring North Carolina!
Whether on land, by sea or through your stomach, here are 25 amazing things to do in Wilmington, North Carolina that you just can’t miss.
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 stay out of the crowds. 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 take 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 back-country camping right on the beach at Hammocks Beach State Park. You honestly can’t go wrong in Onslow County!
Wilmington NC On Land
Headed to Wilmington and unsure where to begin? Downtown Wilmington is the area that connects you to everything Wilmington has to offer. Within walking distance of the Riverwalk, is the Historic District, several museums, an incredible farmer’s market, and a number of exciting tour options, from Trolley Tours to a guided walking tour, Downtown Wilmington is where you need to be.
Wilmington Adventure Walking Tour
Find out more about Downtown Wilmington by signing up for the Wilmington Adventure Walking Tour. Take a tour of the historic sights with a Wilmington resident who will introduce you to the town’s history and share some incredible knowledge of the buildings and community that you can’t learn anywhere else.
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 rear of the fort remains. Don't miss a stop at the visitor center where you can find artifacts recovered from sunken ships.
New Hanover County Arboretum
The New Hanover County Arboretum has been open since 1989. 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 you can head to with some clippings from home to find out exactly what is wrong. There are some 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.
Cape Fear Serpentarium
We are sad to report that the Serpentarium has permanently closed due to the death of the owner.
Located in the downtown area of Wilmington’s Historic District, Cape Fear Serpentarium features exhibits with over 80 species of reptiles. Known to house all of the deadliest snakes known to man, the serpentarium is not for the weak of heart. Whether your interest is in venomous or non-venomous reptiles, this is the place for you to visit. And if you’re really intrigued you can find out when they do live feedings and ensure that you’re there to watch, as long as you can stomach it! As in most museums, the Cape Fear Museum offers a multitude of exhibits. The difference here is that they include a number of hands-on opportunities. Learn. Engage. Interact with exhibits throughout. With a park and sculptures, along with a Geo-Challenge for you and the family, there’s plenty to do. Show up prepared and download the Geo-Challenge Passport in advance. Or take a stroll through their collection of more than 52 thousand historical objects and learn about the history of the Lower Cape Fear.
The beautiful Airlie Gardens offer a number of family friendly events throughout the year, but are best known for their 67 acres of historical gardens sprawled out across New Hanover County. Consider taking a self-guided tour of the gardens so you can pick and choose which sections to see, look into attending a monthly bird hike tour, or keep an eye out for their summer concert series schedule. The Gardens also has a butterfly house and during the summer they put on a weekly butterfly release that you can attend for no extra fee. The annual Airlie Oyster Roast takes place every fall and is a big hit with both locals and tourists visiting the area. Some come specifically for this event.
Cameron Art Museum
The Cameron Art Museum offers both, indoor and outdoor exhibits for your enjoyment. Also available are music and dance programs, and regular events through the Kids@CAM program, including a weekly storytime for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Children 16 and under receive free admission to the Cameron Art Museum with a paying adult. The Museum School offers a rich calendar of classes for youth and adults, including weekend workshops. 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 occupies three-quarters of an acre behind Alderman Elementary School. Found in one of the world’s few microclimates permitting year-round outdoor growth of such plants, its beds are home to pitcher plants, sundews, Venus flytraps, and other insectivorous species. Visitors are invited to survey the lands anytime during daylight hours, and plant hikes are offered for free each Saturday morning. Interested parties are advised to wear closed toed shoes. After all, these plants have teeth.
Recognized as Wilmington’s best family museum by Wilmington Parent Magazine, the Children’s Museum of Wilmington offers up an opportunity for its visitors to engage fully with their exhibits. A hands-on venue with 12 exhibits, an outdoor courtyard and garden, their 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 the area. The museum makes sure to provide a safe environment for your children to learn through play.
Tregembo Animal Park
Tregembo Animal Park has been operating for over 60 years. With about 75-100 species of animals on-site, the park offers up a number of exhibits to introduce you to their residents. They house nine kinds of monkeys, a Bengali tiger, and a two-headed yellow-bellied turtle! The park itself does not open each year until spring, so make sure to be mindful of their schedule when you’re making your plans.
Built in 1861, the Bellamy Mansion stands in Wilmington and 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.
The Poplar Grove Plantation is one of the last remaining peanut plantations in the US today. A fascinating place to absorb so much 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
At an admission fee of only $3 per person, the Museum of the Bizarre is the kind of place you can’t pass up. Located in the heart of Downtown Wilmington, this museum’s exhibits cover random facts and offer odd interactive opportunities, it’s bound to be a blast for you and the kids.
Wilmington NC On Water
The Beaches (of course!)
Carolina Beach is the most family-friendly, with a vintage boardwalk, state park, plenty of sand, and festivals and events galore. Kure Beach is a small town in the area, with a beach that is sometimes called "nature's playground." It's unspoiled, less crowded, and home to the oldest fishing pier on the Atlantic. Finally, Wrightsville Beach was named on 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 should you be interested in experiencing 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. You can also choose from their sunset cruise offerings 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 along 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 a bit to bear witness to the beautiful wildlife around the island. Consider a morning yoga trip, 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. 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 and 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
With a number of locations to choose from, Mahanaim Adventures Kayak Tour offers a chance to take a leisurely paddle with the kids or an all-day adventure on the water. The tour provides everything you need to enjoy the experience, from a safety lesson before you get out on the water, the right safety and kayaking gear, and even food and drinks as needed. However, you’re responsible for ensuring that you are appropriately dressed and prepared for your adventure. Be sure to review their list of suggested attire and items before you head out. And if you’re more interested in a canoe trip than kayaking? They have those, too.
Cape Fear Riverboats
Founded in 1987, and known as the former home of the Henrietta III (once the largest cruise boat in North Carolina), 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 four 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 Park
Greenfield Lake is a man-made lake created centuries ago to benefit the surrounding community. In the early 1900s it became a recreational space people made their way to for swimming and boating. Decide whether you want to walk, run, or bike the 4.1 mile trail, or whether you’d like to find a spot to cast a rod and see what’s biting. Rent a canoe or paddle boats to cool down on the water, or let the kids run free at the numerous playgrounds that surround the lake. Most notable about the park is the Greenfield Grind Skatepark that covers about 9,000 square feet. Open to beginners and seasoned veterans, the skatepark is also a lot of fun to simply observe. And if you’re feeling daring, they offer beginner skateboarding clinics as well as camps.
Good Eats (and Drinks) in Wilmington NC
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.
Front Street Brewery
The menu at Front Street Brewery is several pages long. With a selection of choices that will suit your need for Southern fare, from fried green tomatoes to low country grit cakes, and a number of options in between - if you’re in the mood for it you’ll find it here. Add to that a Whiskey Bar with over 300 kinds of whiskey on site and free brewery tours and tastings daily at 3:15 and 4:15 pm and I’m sure you’re already on your way over.
Blue Surf Café
The Blue Surf Cafe offers delicious diner-style fare at a high quality. 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, to 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.
Bill’s Front Porch
With a menu filled with comfort foods and handcrafted beers, Bill’s Front Porch is exactly where you’ll want to head when you’re in town. With a homey pub-like atmosphere and high quality food, you’ll fit right in. Want to check the beer list before you go? They’ve got an app for that!
Doc Street Oyster Bar
Voted the best Oyster Bar in Wilmington, Doc Street Oyster bar offers up a menu of appetizers (or, as they call them, appeteazers!), salads, sandwiches and steamers with a number of options. They do have a limited number of non-seafood dishes on the menu, as well. But it’s really no wonder that they’ve also been touted to have the best seafood in the area. Take care of your cravings and head over to Doc Street. You’ll be glad you did.
Pin This Post