Rain or shine, the Cape Fear area is always brimming with ways to learn something new, have some fun, and create incredible memories that will last long after a vacation is over.
From unique museums and historic sites to incredible shopping and dining opportunities, there’s a lot to discover in this coastal North Carolina region, even when the weather doesn’t cooperate.
So if a rain cloud or two tries to put a damper on your upcoming Cape Fear vacation, discover these incredible attractions, activities and sites that are always engaging, regardless of the weather.
The Cape Fear Museum is an essential “first stop” for newcomers to the region, as this museum that originated in 1898 is filled with exhibits that outline virtually all the details of the area – past, present and future. Special exhibits of note include a Discovery Gallery which highlights the local habitats, an exhibit with antiques and movie props from Wilmington’s famed Hollywood scene, a model of Downtown Wilmington from the mid-19th century, and exhibits on important events such as the Battle of Fort Fisher, or the area’s many brushes with hurricanes.
The expansive 42,000’ square foot Cameron Art Museum has a collection of rotating and permanent exhibits from all across the globe, and from all different time periods. In addition to the impressive collections, this engaging site also features a charming and critically praised on-site restaurant, the CAM café, as well as an in-house art school that offers a range of classes for students of all interests, ages, and skill levels. As a result, it’s easy to spend hours exploring everything that the more than 50-year-old Cameron Art Museum has to offer.
Young visitors will adore the Children’s Museum of Wilmington, which has dozens of interactive exhibits designed to entertain and education museum patrons ages 1-10. Activities and exhibits at the museum include a giant pirate ship for climbing, a teddy bear hospital, an art studio, an “Imagination Station,” and a science center where kids can conduct their own experiments. The museum also hosts a regular series of tours, classes, and special programs, making any visit a great opportunity to discover something new while having a ball.
History, shopping, and dining all interconnect at The Cotton Exchange, which is famed as one of Downtown Wilmington’s most popular shopping plazas. This collection of original brick buildings from the early 1900s features 33 distinctive specialty shops as well as a collection of restaurants, coffee shops, and other tempting options. The eight brick buildings have been perfectly restored to their former stature, and when the sun comes out, step outside to enjoy pretty courtyard and incredible nearby Cape Fear River views.
Climb aboard the USS Battleship North Carolina, which is conveniently located in the heart of the downtown waterfront, and head below decks to discover the interior of an authentic 1940 battleship. This massive vessel which earned an amazing 15 battle stars during World War II has been converted into an intricate museum, where visitors can tour engine rooms, galleys, and other original quarters while discovering the remarkable tenure and story of this famous US battleship.
The Cape Fear Serpentarium serves as one of the creepiest museums in downtown Wilmington, and is the permanent residence of more than 150 different types of snakes and other reptiles. Housed within thick glass display cases, the Serpentarium’s many exhibits include local snakes and critters, giant constrictors, and venomous snakes from all around the globe including pythons, mambas, vipers, and cobras. The end result is a scary but unforgettable museum that will fascinate wildlife lovers of all ages.
A unique and popular attraction, the Wilmington Railroad Museum honors the town’s reputation as a famed port community through a series of exhibits that outline the history of Wilmington’s railroad ties. Special displays include a hall just for children, a model train exhibit, and original relics, artifacts, and even train components, which includes a locomotive, boxcar, and caboose that’s stationed just outside the museum entrance.
Head north of Wilmington to explore this hidden gem attraction that provides an inside look into the local farm life of the 1850s. The Poplar Grove Plantation features a central plantation homes that’s stocked with period antiques, and when the sun starts shining again, visitors can head outside where additional exhibits – including a kids’ play area, local gardens, and a collection of farm animals – are waiting.
A rainy day is the perfect time to pay a visit to the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher – which is one of three aquariums managed by the state of North Carolina along the coastline. Visitors will love touring the hundreds of local and regional critters that call the aquarium home, as well as exploring the site’s favorite exhibits such as the Touch Tank exhibit, and the two-story open ocean tank where sea turtles, sharks, and giant rays can all be found.
Located in an original early 1900s beach cottage, the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History explores the early roots of Wrightsville Beach’s popularity as a vacation destination through original memorabilia, artifacts, and cool beach-going items. The museum features rooms that have been transformed to look like a decades-old beach retreat, photos and memorabilia from former landmarks like the Lumina Pavilion, and a series of seasonal and unique exhibits like a peek inside the area’s love affair with postcards, beach fashions, and surfing.
Built in 1852 by local Zebulon Latimer, and restored as the home of the local Wilmington Historical Society in 1963, the Latimer House Museum and Gardens is a unique attraction that features hundreds of period antiques and artifacts from the height of the Cape Fear region’s antebellum period. Visitors can tour the extensive home in grand detail, and when the sun is out, can explore the stunning public gardens where local flora and fauna shine.
This historic Downtown Wilmington residence is a remarkable example of what life was like on the eve of the Civil War, thanks to a stunning and accurate collection of antiques, furnishings, and architectural details. Visitors can tour the 1859-1861 home of a prominent local doctor from top to bottom through a docent-led guided tour or a self-guided audio tour to soak up the local history while exploring a famed local landmark.
This 1770 residence is stocked with a collection of 1700s and 1800s antiques that replicate early life for Wilmington’s wealthy residents. The impressive property can be toured in detail, (with guided tours available on the hour), and when the clouds part, visitors can also venture outside to explore the freestanding kitchen house and a collection of stunning and colonial-era gardens.
Art and Antiques
Downtown WIlmington is a prime destination for shopping, especially when it comes to art and antiques. Head to the relatively new Brooklyn Arts District to discover a wealth of new galleries and talents, or check out the collection of vintage treasures at the many thrift and antique stores found close to the waterfront. Regardless of what a visitor is looking for, there’s a myriad of treasures to uncover in this distinctive Cape Fear town.
There’s lots of ways to stay active and have some fun in the Cape Fear region, even when heading outside is not an option. Check out popular Wilmington destinations for fun and games like the Jellybeans Family Skate Center, the Cardinal Lanes Beach Bowl, the kid-centric Power of Play, and the unique Defy Gravity Wilmington trampoline park for hours of family entertainment. Additional destinations like local parks with indoor basketball courts / fitness centers, laser tag arenas, and arcades, (which are found throughout the area), ensure that family members of all ages will always finds something to do, rain or shine.
The Cape Fear area, and especially downtown Wilmington, is renowned for its theater scene, and visitors can use a rainy day as the perfect excuse to take in a show. Check out the upcoming productions at smaller local theaters in the downtown area, or at large and famed venues like the Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts to enjoy a taste of Wilmington’s rich cultural scene.
The Cape Fear region is home to dozens of shopping centers, plazas, and malls that are perfect for a coastal shopping expedition. Check out famed shopping destinations like the Independence Mall, the Mayfaire Center, The Cotton Exchange, and the Lumina Shopping Plaza for a far-reaching range of options in a central, single locale.
There are hundreds of restaurants in the Cape Fear area that can range from casual Eastern BBQ establishments to fashionable French eateries. Pack along an appetite, and spend a vacation sampling the amazing coastal flavors that have earned the Cape Fear region rave reviews from culinary visitors from all around the world.
The Cape Fear area is home to several home-grown breweries, eclectic and distinctive wine shops, a variety of cool beach bars, and upscale cocktail establishments, which makes it a fine destination to settle in and enjoy a drink. Head to downtown Wilmington or popular beach towns like Carolina Beach to enjoy an afternoon of great tastes.
A rainy day is often a reason to celebrate in the Cape Fear area, as it presents the perfect opportunity to discover some of the region’s favorite attractions and “hidden gem” destinations.
On your next vacation, use the occasional rainy day as the perfect excuse to uncover all the historical and cultural treasures this destination has to offer. From kid-friendly museums and play centers, to world-renowned dining and shopping options, there’s endless ways to have fun in this corner of coastal North Carolina.