Wrightsville Beach is a fun vacation destination for visitors of all ages, but it’s arguably the most entertaining for the younger crowd. From watersports to boat tours, museums to shops, the town and surrounding Cape Fear region is brimming with activities and attractions that kids will adore.
Start planning your kid-friendly itinerary by investigating these activities, attractions, and things to do that will appeal to the youngest members of your vacationing party, as well as the young at heart.
Head to the Beach
Everyone loves the beach, and Wrightsville Beach’s wide shorelines, gentle sloping ocean floors, and typically smaller waves makes it perfect for young vacationers who want to go for a swim. Parking is available throughout the town for $2.50 per hour or $15 per day from March 1 through October 31, and visitors will find a number of public parking areas and / or lifeguarded beaches at popular destinations like the South Lumina Parking Lot (near the Oceanic Restaurant), the East & West Salisbury Street Parking Lots (adjacent to Johnny Mercer's Pier), the North Lumina Parking Lot ("L" shaped lot), and the North Wrightsville Beach Parking Lot (adjacent to Shell Island).
Head to Camp
Kids who want to learn something new while on vacation will find all sorts of opportunities where fun rules, and the local beaches serve as the classroom. Wrightsville Beach is home to several watersports companies that offer surf lessons and surfing day camps, paddle board lessons and paddling day camps, and other watersports tutorials so kids can learn how to ride the waves. The local Coastal Education Center in Wrightsville Beach also hosts camps of a different variety, also known as the S.T.E.M. Science Summer Camps, which focus on the coastal environment, while the local Sea Turtle Camp, which is also based in Wrightsville Beach, is a fascinating and life enriching marine biology summer camp for teens with plenty of hands-on, wet-feet activities. Virtually all camps are offered during the summer months, and can be booked in advance online.
Meet the Local Wildlife
Head to the Fred and Alice Stanback Coastal Education Center, which is located within the historic Palmgren-O'Quinn cottage (c. 1946), to meet a host of local critters through the center’s regular “Touch Tank” presentations. For a fuller exploration, head south to the Forth Fisher Aquarium, where hundreds of species are held within different galleries dedicated to the many coastal environments throughout the state. Both excursions allow young visitors to learn more about the sea life that calls Cape Fear home while embarking on a fascinating and hands-on activity.
Take a Tour
A number of boat tours launch from Wrightsville Beach, and many are designed with young mariners in mind. Book a dolphin watching tour or eco-tour to encounter the local wildlife, or plan a sea-faring adventure via Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours’ Pirate Treasure Hunt, where kids will be led by a costumed pirate to search for buried treasure on nearby Masonboro Island. From shelling to searching for pirates, a boat cruise presents ample options to have fun on the water.
Take a Ride, Cruise or Paddle
For an easy-going adventure, swing by a local watersports company and / or beach gear rental store to pick up a couple kayaks or stand-up paddle boards for an hour, afternoon, or a full day. Both watersports are easy to pick up for beginners, and can be enjoyed in the calmers soundside waters or even in the Atlantic Ocean waves for more adventurous sports enthusiasts. Motorized boat rentals, such as skiffs, pontoons, and jet skis, are also available throughout Wrightsville Beach for self-guided family adventures on the water.
Adults in North Carolina may need a saltwater fishing license to drop a line, but kids under the age of 16 don’t! Head to the local beach and cast a line or two to reel in a fresh catch, or head to the Johnnie Mercer Pier for exceptional fishing conditions and incredible views of the local landscape. With several tournaments that are designed just for kids, Wrightsville Beach is a fine destination for young anglers to show their stuff.
Feast on Local Eats
Wrightsville Beach has a host of restaurants and eateries that kids will love, which includes hot dog stands / restaurants, pizza parlors, burger joints, and Mexican food restaurants. In addition, there’s plenty of ice cream shops and / or vendors along the shoreline, making it easy to fill a salty appetite or satisfy a sweet tooth.
Considering that the majority of local stores are dedicated to having fun on the water, it should come as no surprise that kids will have a blast exploring the local shopping scene in Wrightsville beach. More than a dozen stores that feature beach gear, watersports equipment, beach apparel, and sweet treats like donuts or frozen custard are found just across the Causeway and close to the beach, making it easy to find a few goodies to enjoy on the sand.
Head to Downtown Wilmington
Enjoy a different perspective of the Cape Fear region that’s also brimming with fun with a visit to the famed Wilmington downtown area. The Wilmington Riverwalk along Water Street is a good place to start, as this wide boardwalk bypasses many of Wilmington’s top sites, including The Cotton Exchange, the wide Cape Fear River, and the impressive USS Battleship North Carolina which is anchored along the riverfront borders. Multiple kid-friendly tours are available which include boat tours, trolley / carriage tours, bike tours, and even Segway tours, for visitors who want to fully explore the historic Port City.
Check out the Local Museums
The Wrightsville Beach Museum of History is a great local stop for visitors of all ages, thanks to a collection of fun exhibits that examine different components of this region’s rise to fame – from bathing suits and antiques, to surfing and brushes with hurricanes. Nearby Wilmington also has a host of kid-friendly museums, which includes the Children’s Museum of Wilmington, (which is designed for kids ages 1-10), the Cape Fear Museum, (the oldest museum in the state), and the Wilmington Railroad Museum, (which boasts a special kids’ hall.) All of these museums have hands-on, interactive, and / or fascinating programs and displays that are designed with kids in mind, which makes every outing engaging and fun for museum patrons of all ages.
Explore the Gardens
The Cape Fear region is known for its warm climate where a variety of foliage can thrive, and visitors can enjoy a scenic stroll among countless flora and fauna with a visit to the region’s three garden-oriented attractions. Check out the 67-acre Arlie Gardens, which has more than 100,000 blooming azaleas, the Bluethenthal Wildflower Preserve, which features an easy-to-traverse walking trail, or the New Hanover County Arboretum, which has more than 30 distinct garden displays. All located in Wilmington, these outdoor attractions are an introduction to the stunning Wilmington landscape for visitors of all ages.
Neighboring Wilmington is home to a collection of historic residences which were built in the 18th and 19th centuries and which were converted in the past decades to living history museums, where artifacts and architecture are on full display. Young history buffs will love touring these homes – specifically, the Latimer House and Gardens, the Bellamy Mansion, and the Burgwin Wright House - which are all located in downtown Wilmington, and which all feature docent led and / or self-guided tours through the impressive estates.
Discover the Arts
The Cape Fear area has a wonderfully rich arts and culture scene, and young visitors can expand their creative side in a myriad of ways, starting with a visit to neighboring Wilmington. Sign up for an art class at the Cameron Art Museum, take in a show or matinee at one of the many local theaters, or join the young theater troupe at famed cultural sites like the Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts. From paint your own pottery studios in the downtown area, to theater groups that welcome young talents, it’s easy to join in the artful fun.
Explore the Cape Fear’s Creepy Side
The Cape Fear region has several attractions which are perfect for visitors with a solid spine. The Cape Fear Serpentarium is home to more than 150 different scaly residents, which includes roughly 40 venomous snakes as well as an array of constrictors, which can be admired (or feared) by visitors. Meanwhile, the Museum of the Bizarre is home to a collection of odd relics from legendary and real figures of the Cape Fear area, like the Fort Fisher Mermaid, Bigfoot’s Imprint, and a unicorn horn. Both attractions are located in Wilmington, and are creepy yet always fascinating destinations that will thrill visitors of all ages.
Have some Fun at Local Parks
There are a wide number of both natural and amusement parks in the Cape Fear area which are designed for active kids of all ages. The Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park is a popular destination with the younger crowd, thanks to water slides and attractions, mini golf, laser tag, an arcade, and many more on-site attractions, while other local attractions like the Power of Play center for kids, and the Defy Gravity Wilmington trampoline park, will keep kids moving. In addition, Wilmington is home to a number of public parks, like River Road Park, Wade Park, and Empie Park, which can feature tennis courts and playing fields, walking / hiking trails, fishing piers and kayak launches, or all of the above. As a result, active kids will find plenty of ways to have fun, on and off the sand.
Tips and Tricks for Making a Wrightsville Beach Vacation Amazing for Kids
- Be sure and check out special events programs. Iconic local attractions like the USS Battleship North Carolina or the Cape Fear Museum regularly host special kid-oriented programs that will make a museum or attraction visit extra special.
- Thinking about a tour, cruise, or camp? Book as far in advance as possible. Many of the lessons and excursions in Wrightsville Beach fill up days and even weeks in advance, and especially in the prime summer months.
- Make a vacation fun throughout by perusing and booking a vacation rental. Many modern Wrightsville Beach vacation rentals can feature kid-friendly amenities like game rooms, fishing docks, dens, Wi-Fi, books, games and much more.
With so many ways for young visitors to have a ball, it’s no wonder that Wrightsville Beach is renowned as one of the most kid-friendly destinations along the coastline. Let your young family members embark on a vacation they’ll never forget by including all the engaging activities and attractions that this region is known for on your upcoming vacation agenda.