From the sunny beaches to the educational museums and attractions, the Cape Fear region is seemingly designed for kids. The towns that dot this coastal region are filled with tempting options for the young and young-at-heart, which includes cool watersports, outdoor activities, historical treasures, and just about everything in between.
Make your Cape Fear vacation a trip that your family will never forget by ensuring that these kid-friendly activities and destinations are on your agenda. With so much to see, discover and do, it’s no wonder that the Cape Fear area has been ranked as one of the best family-friendly vacation destinations along the coastline.
Downtown Wilmington is a playground for vacationers of all ages, as this attraction-in-its-own right is filled with a myriad of shops, restaurants, and museums that will keep everyone entertained. Take a stroll along the mile-long Wilmington Riverwalk, or embark on a carriage, trolley, walking, or even a boat tour to discover centuries of history, stories and legends that this nearly 300-year-old town is famous for.
Children’s Museum of Wilmington
Designed for kids ages 1-10, the Children’s Museum of Wilmington is outfitted with tons of hands-on activities that will keep little minds and hands effortlessly entertained. Favorite exhibits within the museum include the towering “Ahoy Wilmington!” pirate shop, the Magnetic Minds Science Center, the Imagination Circus Exhibit, the Teddy Bear Hospital, and a special in-house art studio. Special classes, programs, and tours are also readily available to make a visit extra special.
The Cape Fear Museum is a Wilmington landmark, and will fascinate visitors of all ages with its detailed collection of exhibits that outline the past and present Cape Fear landscape. Let the kids explore the wild residents at the Discovery Gallery, meet Wilmington’s oldest resident - a 20-foot-tall Giant Ground Sloth, and discover the history of the region through endless exhibits, models, and interactive displays. With so much to discover, the Cape Fear Museum is a great first stop for regional newcomers of all interests.
Older kids and budding artists will be fascinated by the dozens of exhibits that highlight artists from all across the world, while younger kids will have a fine time getting their hands dirty at the in-house art school at the Cameron Art Museum. With regular classes for students of all ages, the Cameron Art Museum is a great destination for visiting and local artists alike to find inspiration and create their own masterpiece.
This impressive battleship that’s stationed along the Cape Fear Riverfront will fascinate visitors who want to tour the impressive World War II-era vessel from top to bottom. Kids can explore the decks, galleys, and engine rooms, and will love attending one of the USS North Carolina Battleship’s many special events, like fireworks displays, Easter egg hunts, and weekly family-friendly movie nights in the summer month.
Located in the heart of Wilmington, the Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park is the Cape Fear area’s premier waterpark and fun center, with a wealth of activities for visitors of all ages. On-site attractions include waterslides, a wave pool, a lazy river, and a special kids' splash pool, as well as “indoor” activities including mini bowling, an arcade, laser tag, and even a rock climbing wall.
The 7-acre New Hanover County Arboretum is an introduction to the flora and fauna that calls the Cape Fear area home, and is a central Wilmington site that features 33 distinctive and easy to explore gardens. The site also has a special kids’ garden designed just for young visitors, with a bright yellow and purple playhouse, as well as a variety of special events for budding gardeners throughout the year such as kid-friendly educational programs and plant sales.
The Wilmington Railroad Museum features a special children’s hall that’s just for kids, as well as a myriad of interactive displays and exhibits where the region’s rich railroad history shines. Kids will especially adore the intricate 1,500’ square foot model hall, as well as the authentic and full-size locomotive, ACL boxcar, and caboose which guard the museum’s entrance.
Located north of Wilmington, the Poplar Grove Plantation is a true-to-life example of what farm life was like in the 1850s, and is a popular site for history buffs of all ages. The expansive property features a 12-room manor home that’s open for visitors, authentic outbuildings, a kids’ play area, and even local farm animals that tend to meet and greet new visitors. The site also features regular events, including a weekly farmers’ market in the summer months.
Let the kids run wild while learning about the abundant foliage in the Cape Fear area at the 67-acre Airlie Gardens. Special gardens and exhibits are available for the attraction’s youngest visitors, and kids of all ages will be inspired by the lush grounds which include a centuries-old live oak, 10 acres of freshwater lakes, and more than 100,000 seasonally blooming azaleas.
The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is a favorite destination for Cape Fear visitors of all ages, thanks to its dozens of tanks and exhibits that highlight the array of coastal North Carolina marine life. Special kids’ exhibits include a “touch tank” with skates and other sea critters, a two-story open ocean exhibit, and a regular array of kid-friendly programs that can range from daily diver feedings, to special holiday events like the annual Halloween-themed “Trick or Treat Under the Sea.”
The Carolina Beach Boardwalk is famed as one of the few remaining classic beach boardwalks on the East Coast, and this coastal attraction is brimming with rides, games, and attractions for visitors of all ages. Kids will love taking a ride on the Ferris wheel that hovers above the local landscape, as well as indulging in “fair food” like funnel cakes and cotton candy.
Young visitors who want to try a new watersport can head to the 10-acre Carolina Beach Lake Park, which is always nice and calm, and which features seasonal pedal boat and kayak rentals, which are both easy to maneuver around the gentle waters. The site is also a venue for a number of summertime events, including weekly outdoor concerts, outdoor movie nights, and regular fairs and festivals.
The 761 acre Carolina Beach State Park is a playground for “kids” of all ages, thanks to its abundance of outdoor activities, seasonal ranger-led programs, and myriad of terrain to explore. Take a hike along one of the park’s many nature trails to look for local Venus flytraps, or enjoy a paddle through the Cape Fear River via the on-site sandy beach and docks. When it comes to wild fun, the expansive Carolina Beach State Park is simply hard to beat.
For a sunny beach day with miles of room to roam, head to the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. This destination features six miles of undeveloped shoreline, seasonal restrooms, and ample parking, which allows visitors to enjoy hours of swimming, sandcastle building, shelling, and playing in the ocean waves.
Beaches of Carolina Beach, Wrightsville Beach, and Kure Beach
The primary beach towns of the Cape Fear region, (Carolina Beach, Wrightsville Beach, and Kure Beach), all have multiple public beach accesses and parking areas which make reaching the shoreline a breeze. In addition, all three towns have seasonal public lifeguarded beaches, (which are generally operational from Memorial Day until Labor Day), which ensures that kids can have a safe time playing in the warm Atlantic waters, while parents can have a chance to relax and enjoy the sunshine.
Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach are famed for their surfing scenes, and newcomers can join the fun via a myriad of surfing lessons, surf camps, and surf schools that are available in these coastal communities. Hourly lessons and full-day in-depth training camps are both available, which include special programs that are designed just for the younger surfing set.
Kayaking / SUP
Both kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding are incredibly popular in the Cape Fear area, and are very easy sports to pick up for water fans of all ages. Kids who want to get their feet wet will find ample guided tours, lessons, and rentals available in Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington, and Carolina Beach, which makes any Cape Fear destination a great spot to embark on a new on-the-water adventure.
In the state of North Carolina, anglers under the age of 16 do not need a fishing license to cast a line in the local salty waters, so use a vacation as the perfect chance to take the kids fishing! There are multiple fishing piers at public parks throughout Wilmington, and coastal anglers can also head to one of three fishing piers along the oceanfront – Kure Beach Fishing Pier, Carolina Beach Fishing Pier, and Johnnie Mercer�s Pier in Wrightsville Beach – for the best odds of reeling in a big catch or two. Rods, reels, and bait are available at the oceanfront piers and at tackle stores throughout the Cape Fear area.
There are dozens of parks in the communities that dot the Cape Fear landscape, which can feature everything from playgrounds and ballfields to indoor basketball courts and fitness centers. Head to a park in your neighborhood for a full day of (free) entertainment that will keep kids moving. Long Leaf Park is pictured above.
There are countless stores throughout the Cape Fear area for shoppers of all tastes, and all ages. Head to big shopping destinations like the Independence Mall or the Mayfaire Town Center - both in Wilmington - for the most options, or check out more unique shopping destinations like The Cotton Exchange in downtown Wilmington for a wide array of distinctive goodies. In addition, visitors with a sweet tooth will want to head to the coastal towns of Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach, where beachy treats like fudge, ice cream, and homemade donuts can all be found.
There are plenty of kid friendly restaurants to be found within the hundreds of options that are available in the Cape Fear region. From popular and familiar fast food joints to cool seafood shacks and BBQ eateries, every taste can be accommodated in this area that’s renowned as a dream for visitors with great taste.
From a day at the beach to an afternoon at a museum, the Cape Fear region is truly brimming with things for the area’s youngest visitors to do. Make a lifetime of memories by exploring all the sites and activities that kids adore, and discover just how fun life in coastal North Carolina can be when you stay in the heart of the Cape Fear.