Plan a weekend trip to Wilmington, a beautiful coastal destination in North Carolina where you can stroll along the Riverwalk, visit great museums, restaurants, gardens, breakfast spots, wedding venues and historic attractions like the USS North Carolina.
Best things to do in Wilmington, NC with kids include the Wilmington Railroad Museum, the Cape Fear Serpentarium and the Children's Museum of Wilmington.
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The Riverwalk is a popular boardwalk in downtown Wilmington that runs along the Cape Fear River waterfront. Originally designed in the 1980s with the purpose of drawing more people to the historic area, the pedestrian pathway will eventually connect the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge to the Isabel Holmes Bridge. The Riverwalk is one of the top Wilmington attractions.
Along the way, visitors are treated to beautiful views and many attractions. Some of the attractions located along Riverwalk include the USS North Carolina, the Cotton Exchange, and the historic 1914 Murchison Building.
In addition to the historic buildings, there are many restaurants and shops including boutique shops and souvenir shops. The Riverwalk is also well known for its weekly Wilmington’s Farmer’s Market.
2. Wilmington’s Historic District
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Wilmington’s Historic District begins at Water and Market Streets and continues for 230 blocks, making it one of the largest historic districts in the United States and one of the best things to do in Wilmington, North Carolina.
It features churches, gardens, homes, museums, shops, restaurants, and much more. Popular transportation methods for touring the moss-draped historic area include horse drawn carriages, riverboats, and trolley cars. There are guided tours as well as self-guided tours of the district that lies along Cape Fear River.
The historic district is home to more than 40 locally owned restaurants; some of these sit at the water’s edge and offer fresh local seafood. There are many music performances in the district, especially in the evening. The Riverwalk winds through the heart of downtown and affords beautiful views of the river.
Water and Market Streets, Wilmington, North Carolina, Phone: 901-341-4030
3. Bellamy Mansion Museum
© Bellamy Mansion Museum
Located in downtown Wilmington, the Bellamy Mansion Museum is one of North Carolina's most extraordinary examples of antebellum architecture and one of the best things to do in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Built for Dr. John Dillard Bellamy and his family, the magnificent 10,000-square-foot mansion features fine examples of Victorian architecture in the elegant main entrance framed by soaring columns and the handcrafted intricate details throughout the house.
The abode is surrounded by a beautifully manicured Victorian garden with winding oyster-shell paths and 150-year-old magnolia trees. Now serving as a museum of history and the design arts, the mansion provides visitors with an opportunity to take a stroll through history on daily guided tours and visit one of the country’s last remaining and perfectly preserved urban slave quarters.
The Museum also offers dynamic educational and cultural programs throughout the year and is open Tuesday through Sunday.
503 Market Street, Wilmington, North Carolina, Phone: 910-251-3700
4. Airlie Gardens
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Airlie Gardens, a 67-acre public garden, was established in 1901 for the Pembroke Jones family and has been enchanting visitors for the past 100 years.
Originally created as a private and authentic Southern garden that was named after an ancient Airlie Oak, Airlie Gardens represent the vision of landscape architect Rudolf Topel who remodeled the landscape into a spectacular public garden in 1999. If you are wondering what to do in Wilmington NC with kids, this is a great place to visit.
Airlie Gardens feature striking combinations of formal and informal gardens, a world-renowned collection of over 100,000 azaleas and camellias, walking trails with beautiful views of Bradley Creek, historic structures and sculptures, and more than 10 acres of freshwater lakes.
Relax in the Pergola Garden and enjoy continuous year-round blooms in displays around the 468-year-old Airlie Oak.
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5. New Hanover County Arboretum
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The New Hanover County Arboretum is a seven-acre arboretum located on the grounds of the New Hanover County Cooperative Extension Service.
Established in 1989, the arboretum currently features over 30 gardens consisting of verdant lawns, flowering plants and bushes, and one of the largest water gardens in North Carolina, which is home to hundreds of multi-colored koi and catfish. Among the gardens, visitors will find a herb garden, a rose garden, a bog garden, a children’s garden, an aquatic garden, and a landscaped Japanese garden.
The gardens have more than 4,000 varieties of native and naturalized plants. The arboretum also serves as a horticultural laboratory and education center and provides opportunities for all levels of ability to enjoy gardening. The New Hanover County Arboretum is free of charge.
6206 Oleander Dr, Wilmington, North Carolina, Phone: 910-798-7660
6. USS North Carolina Battleship
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Work began on the USS North Carolina in 1937. Launched in 1940, the ship was so fast and carried so many powerful guns that the North Carolina was given the nickname of “Showboat.”
The USS North Carolina took part in nearly every major battle in the Pacific Ocean during World War II and won more battle stars than any other battleship in that same time period. The ship was decommissioned in 1947 and arrived in Wilmington in 1961.
It became a National Historic Landmark in 1986. The battleship hosts many programs and events.
One Battleship Road NE, Wilmington, North Carolina, Phone: 910-251-5797
7. Cape Fear Museum
© Cape Fear Museum
Founded in 1898, the Cape Fear Museum is the oldest history museum in the state and is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and interpreting the history, science, and cultures of the Lower Cape Fear.
The museum has a collection of more than fifty-two thousand artifacts collected from regions around the city of Wilmington and displayed in a variety of educational exhibitions and programs.
The Michael Jordan Discovery Gallery on the first floor of the Museum explores the region's ecosystems while the bones of a Giant Ground Sloth and a locally built Simmons Sea-skiff boat are on display in the lobby.
The museum also hosts temporary and traveling exhibits including Make it Work, a presentation of simple machines and maritime work. The Cape Fear Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday.
814 Market St, Wilmington, North Carolina, Phone: 910-798-4370
8. Cameron Art Museum
© Cameron Art Museum
Established in 1964, the Cameron Art Museum is located in historic downtown Wilmington and presents a permanent collection of works by international and local artists across a range of disciplines. It also features several rotating exhibitions of contemporary historical significance on an annual basis.
The museum is set on the historic site of the pivotal Civil War Battle of Forks Road and is surrounded by Confederate revetments built during the battle that saw the fall of Fort Fisher and marked the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.
Every year the museum commemorates the lives lost during this fight with a re-enactment of the battle, artillery demonstrations, workshops, and lectures.
The museum also offers a range of educational art programs and classes for adults and youth, including educator-guided access to the museum’s exhibitions and non-circulating art library that houses over 2000 monographs and publications.
3201 South 17th Street, Wilmington, North Carolina, Phone: 910-395-5999
9. Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens
© Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens
The Burgwin-Wright House is a spectacular example of Georgian architecture, and it open to the public as a museum house. Built circa 1770, the house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has several distinct features, including rooms furnished with antiques from the 18th and 19th century and an array of rare objects that enhance the unique experience for visitors.
The house is surrounded by magnificent gardens that offer visitors a tranquil oasis in the heart of the city, complete with orchards of figs and pomegranates, a manicured rose garden, and a fragrant kitchen garden full of herbs. The property also boasts a stand-alone kitchen house with an immense hearth and period cooking utensils, which can be explored on self-guided or docent-led tours. The Burgwin-Wright House is also available for private events and portrait photography.
224 Market Street, Wilmington, North Carolina, Phone: 910-762-0570
10. Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden
If you’re looking for a unique and one-of-a-kind attraction to visit in Wilmington, look no further than the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden. Managed by the City of Wilmington in partnership with North Carolina’s Coastal Land Trust, the Carnivorous Plant Garden is located within the Pine Ridge Nature Preserve and is named after the “Flytrap Man”, Stanley Rehder, who was celebrated for his tireless efforts to protect the carnivorous plants you’ll see in the garden today. These plants are quite special because they only naturally grow in a 70-mile radius around Wilmington, and as such deserve protection and appreciation. The garden is open year-round, but the best time to visit is in the spring as this is when the park truly comes to vibrant life. There are concrete walking trails to take guests around the garden, and several wooden observation decks situated around the area as well.
3800 Canterbury Road, Wilmington, North Carolina 28403, Phone: 910-341-7852
11. Masonboro Island Reserve
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Masonboro Island is an 8.4-mile long barrier island situated five miles southeast of Wilmington with a rich estuarine system and diverse range of natural habitats.
The island is the largest undisturbed barrier island along the southern part of the North Carolina coast and is home to an array of different ecosystems, from salt marshes and maritime forests to tidal flats, ocean beaches, and rolling grasslands, which in turn attract a plethora of birds and wildlife.
The pristine beaches serve as nesting sites for loggerhead and green sea turtles, while the nutrient-rich waters of Masonboro Sound are a vital marine nursery area for a variety of fish, including mullet, pompano, summer flounder, and bluefish. Masonboro Island can only be reached by boat, and it has a network of walking trails that allow visitors to explore the island. Primitive camping is also allowed on the island for a maximum of two days.
12. Wilmington Railroad Museum
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The Wilmington Railroad Museum is dedicated to presenting and preserving the history of railroading in the Southeastern United States with a particular focus on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, and it provides an educational and enjoyable experience for everyone.
Established in 1979, the museum features a variety of informative and interactive exhibits for all ages, from a life-size caboose, boxcar, and a century-old steam locomotive to operating scale model trains and a Thomas the Tank Train play area for children.
The museum hosts several family-friendly events throughout the year, including Red Caboose parties and the arrival of the Polar Express, and offers guided group tours of up to 10 people. More info
505 Nutt Street, Wilmington, NC, Phone: 910-763-2634
13. Empie Park
For easy to access outdoor recreation in Wilmington, Empie Park is the place to be. Open to the public, the park is located in between Wrightsville and Park Avenues and along Independence Boulevard. It provides access to the Wilmington Cross City Trail, making it a fantastic way to explore a portion of Wilmington holistically and actively, as visitors can walk, bike, or jog along a well-maintained paved trail that wraps around the park’s perimeter. Empie Park is also home to a 1,4000 square foot clubhouse, 18 tennis courts, care of the Althea Gibson Tennis Complex, a public basketball court, and a baseball field. There is also a dog park that dog-lovers can visit to meet some of the city’s cutest four-legged inhabitants in Empie Park, as well as a modern playground with an exciting climbing wall, zipline, firepoles, and swinging bridges to traverse.
3405 Park Avenue, Wilmington, North Carolina 28403, Phone: 910-341-7852
14. Poplar Grove Plantation
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Poplar Grove Plantation is one of the oldest peanut plantations in the state of North Carolina and has been open to the public as a museum since 1980.
Built by Joseph Mumford Foy in the 1850s, the plantation is located on Topsail Sound Plank Road in Scotts Hill and is dedicated to preserving and conserving the homestead of a successful farming family and showcasing the workings of a typical 19th century working community.
The current Manor House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is surrounded by 835 acres of landscaped gardens, both of which can be explored on guided tours through the property.
Poplar Grove Plantation is also home to a farmers market and an animal sanctuary, and it plays host to several festivals throughout the year.
10200 US-17, Wilmington, NC, Phone: 910-686-9518
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15. Children's Museum of Wilmington
© Children's Museum of Wilmington
The Children's Museum of Wilmington celebrates the joys of childhood by creating magical and playful experiences that stimulate the imagination, curiosity, and a love of learning. Located on Orange Street in historic downtown Wilmington, the museum features playful, hands-on exhibits and child-directed displays that encourage children to explore and learn more about science, art, and culture. If you are looking for fun things to do in Wilmington, North Carolina with kids, this is a great place to visit.
Interactive exhibits include the Toothasaurus Dental Exhibit where children can familiarize themselves with a dental environment; Magnetic Minds Science Research Center, which allows children to take part in facilitated science projects; and Ports of Call, which introduces and explains the ports of North Carolina to children.
116 Orange St, Wilmington, NC 28401, Phone: 910-254-3534
16. Latimer House
© Latimer House
Located on South Third Street, the Latimer House is a historic house museum and home of the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society. Built in 1852 in the Italianate style by local merchant Zebulon Latimer, the four-story house contains 14 rooms and is perfectly symmetrical.
In 1963, the Historical Society acquired the house, which then began operating as a museum. Inside the house there are more than 600 historic items such as jewelry, pieces of furniture, and much more. Some of the rooms even feature original marble fireplaces and stunning chandeliers.
Outside, visitors can admire the beautiful formal gardens. Trained docents lead guided tours throughout the establishment, and the house hosts many events.
126 South Third Street, Wilmington, NC, Phone: 910-762-0492
17. Halyburton Park
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Halyburton Park is a nature reserve that features a community building, playground areas, picnic shelters, and a 1.3-mile trail used by bicyclists and walkers.
The park offers a wide variety of nature programs for all age groups: Little Explorers is for children aged two to five; Eco Explorers is for two age groups, five to seven and eight to ten; and a number of family programs.
The park also offers group programs like school field trips. The Halyburton Events Center is a community events building where yoga and Pilates classes are held; the building can accommodate groups for birthday parties, business meetings, and weddings.
4099 South 17th Street, Wilmington, NC, Phone: 910-341-0075
18. Legion Stadium
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Legion Stadium is a 6,000-seat stadium with 3,500 seats in the grandstand and 2,500 visitor seats. Built in 1930, it underwent several renovations, the most recent refurbishing taking place in 2011. It is the home of the Wilmington Hammerheads, who belong to the United Soccer League.
Other facilities of the stadium include concessions in the grandstand, a beer garden, a merchandise booth, a press box with public address, a VIP Tent, and home and visitor field houses. The main field is covered in Vamont Bermuda, a type of artificial turf, and there are four acres of paved parking for visitors.
2149 Carolina Beach Rd, Wilmington, NC 28412, Phone: 910-341-4604
19. Tregembo Animal Park
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Closed for the season, this attraction will reopen in 2016.
Tregembo Animal Park is a family-run zoo located on Carolina Beach Road in Wilmington. Opened in 1952 by George and June Tregembo, the zoo began with just a few species but grew tremendously over the years. Today it is home to more than 100 species of animals from all over the world.
In business for more than 60 years, Tregembo Animal Park is the oldest zoo in South Eastern North Carolina, and animals that live there include amphibians, birds, insects, mammals, and reptiles.
Some of the popular mammals are bears, giraffes, lions, monkeys, sloths, tigers, and zebras. The zoo’s mini museum displays ancient artifacts, dinosaur bones, fossils, and other compelling items.
5811 Carolina Beach Road, Wilmington, NC, Phone: 910-392-3604
20. Noni Bacca Winery
Owned and operated by husband-and-wife duo, Toni and Ken Incorvaia, the Noni Bacca Winery is an award-winning winery that was originally opened in Buffalo, New York, but later relocated to Wilmington. The winery finds its roots in Toni and Ken’s European families who came to America from Bulgaria and Sicily respectively, bringing with them their old-world traditions of wine making. Today, the winery produces over 60 different varieties of wine, through which the winery has earned 179 international medals of excellence since 2009. The tasting room of Noni Bacca Winery offers close to 50 varieties of internationally acclaimed wines to sample.
420 Eastwood Road, State 108, Wilmington, North Carolina 28403, Phone: 910-397-7617
21. Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts
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The Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts is one of the most important and oldest theaters in the United States. Opened in 1858, it is an old-world arts venue that features two stages for dance and music performance, films, and theater productions. If you are looking for date ideas in Wilmington, watch a performance at at this unique venue.
The center is operated by the Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, which maintains the interior of the building and supervises its use. The center produces hundreds of events every year including ballet performances, concerts, film festivals, lectures, recitals, and more.
It is home to many performing companies such as Cape Fear Theatre Arts, Opera House Theatre, Thalian Association, and Willis Richardson Players.
310 Chestnut Street, Wilmington, NC, Phone: 910-632-2285
22. Sea Turtle Camp
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Sea Turtle Camp is a marine biology summer camp for all ages that allows visitors to enter the world of the sea turtle and help make a difference in the environment.
This life-enriching program offers a variety of exciting hands-on, get-your-feet-wet educational experiences from teen summer camps to adult retreats in beautiful places like southeastern North Carolina, tropical Costa Rica, and picturesque Hawaii.
Programs include patrolling Caribbean beaches for nesting leatherback and green sea turtles, volunteering at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, scuba diving North Carolina’s shipwrecks, and helping with ongoing Hawaiian sea turtle research.
This multi-dimensional marine biology program aims to give every participant a life-changing experience.
7213 Ogden Business Lane, Suite 214, Wilmington, NC, Phone: 910-686-4611
23. Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park
© Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park
Have fun under the sun at what is arguably the best water park in the entirety of eastern North Carolina at the Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park. Jungle Rapid’s water park features a crazy selection of adrenaline-pumping water slides and other water-based attractions for the family to enjoy. As the park is so large and jampacked with activities, guests can opt to rent 6-person or 10-person cabanas for the duration of their visit. In addition to the water park, Jungle Rapids also has a dry park with an arcade, a laser tag arena, a mini-golf course, a mini-bowling alley, a rock-climbing wall, a bumper car zone, and even a go-kart track. For young children, there is a kid’s jungle available to keep them entertained for hours on end. Guests to Jungle Rapids can avail of a variety of packages, with the most recommended being their All-In Package which even comes with snacks and beverages.
5320 Oleander Drive, Wilmington, North Carolina 28403, Phone: 910-791-0666
24. Museum of the Bizarre
© Museum of the Bizarre
“If it’s strange, weird, unusual, or a collectible oddity, you’ll see it here.” This is the slogan that greets guests to the Museum of the Bizarre, the one and only unique and curious odditorium museum in this part of North Carolina. A science museum at heart, the Museum of the Bizarre is a great place to visit for brave science enthusiasts no matter what their age. The collections and exhibits are family-friendly with some notable items on display being the Fort Fisher Mermaid, the Big Foot Imprint, Houdini’s Ouija Board, the Chupacabra Hand, and the Unicorn Horn. In addition to their interactive exhibits, the Museum of the Bizarre also has a Mirror Maze and Laser Vault to navigate and explore. Visitors can choose from various packages that allow them access to all section of the museum or just certain areas and is open daily. Children under three years of age may enter for free.
201 South Water Street, Wilmington, North Carolina 28401, Phone: 910-399-2641
25. Wilmington Brewing Company
© Wilmington Brewing Company
Spend a great afternoon in a relaxing and laid-back atmosphere with a fantastic craft beer in hand at the Wilmington Brewing Company. Owned and run by the husband-and-wife duo of John and Michelle Savard, the Wilmington Brewing Company has the same passion and love for craft beer culture that their Wilmington-native founders do. Their family-friendly taproom is open seven days a week from 12 pm to 9pm and welcomes locals and guests alike to sample their selection of incredible craft beers. Come and try draft beers like the Tropical Lightning IPA, the Grapefruit Gose, or the Whitlow’s Belgian Wit, or bring home growlers of offerings like the Effit Lime Hard Seltzer or the Lemur Party Milkshake. Some offerings are only available like the can like the Jorts Party Juice IPA and the Dinosaur Parade Session IPA, making them perfect to take home and to try from the comfort of your own home.
824 S Kerr Avenue, Wilmington, North Carolina 28403, Phone: 910-392-3315
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