Because of Wrightsville Beach’s long legacy as a hot vacation destination, as well as its proximity to a collection of historically or environmentally significant sites, the community is close to a wealth of museums where furthering an area education is always a fun adventure.
Dedicate an afternoon or two to checking out these area museums for an opportunity to fully discover the Cape Fear region – from its early roots to its current status as one of the most unique corners of the Carolinas.
House within a classic beach cottage from the turn of the 20th century, the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History is a fascinating destination that uncovers the story of how this coastal town became the popular vacation spot it is today. The charming museum features a wealth of exhibits that explores different chapters of this town’s history – from rooms that are outfitted with period beach antiques, to scale models of what the local landscape looked like decades ago. With unique displays that cover everything from historic bathing suits to hurricanes, the history of the beach scene is fully explored at this engaging and unique museum.
Take a trip along the coastline to one of Cape Fear’s favorite spots for area education, the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Located just south of Kure Beach, the aquarium has a range of exhibits that uncover a variety of habitats in coastal North Carolina, from freshwater streams to open ocean waters. Visitors can get their hands on horseshoe crabs and even sharks at the touch tank, encounter a rare albino alligator, and watch divers descend into one of the largest saltwater tanks along the coastline. With regular special programs and activities for visitors of all ages, every visit is an adventure at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
Renowned as the oldest museum in North Carolina, and established in 1898, the Cape Fear Museum is filled with exhibits that outline the local environment, from its history to the current landscapes that make this region a popular tourist destination. Exhibits of note within the museum include the interactive Michael Jordan Discovery Gallery which focuses on the local environment, a scale model of Wilmington during its mid-19th century heyday, and an outline of Fort Fisher’s instrumental role during the Civil War. With virtually all corners of Cape Fear covered in engaging detail, the Cape Fear Museum is a great first stop for new visitors who want to know everything about this historic area.
Head inland to the town of Wilmington for a museum visit that the youngest vacationers will enjoy. The Children's Museum of Wilmington is designed for visitors ages 1-10 and is filled with interactive and engaging exhibits that are designed to power and expand young minds. Favorite exhibits within the museum include the giant “Ahoy Wilmington!” pirate ship, the Magnetic Minds Science Center, the Teddy Bear Hospital, the art studio, and the Imagination Circus Exhibit. With each station igniting a different interest, and regular special tours and hands-on programs, learning is truly a joy at this bright museum that kids and parents alike will adore.
Explore a chapter of Wilmington’s history with a visit to this former private home that was built in 1770-1771 and was converted to a museum in 1957. The Burgwin-Wright House Museum and Gardens is a stunning example of Georgian architecture, and the interior paintS a portrait of what life was like in the 18th and 19th centuries through decadent rooms that are filled with period furnishings and antiques. Explore the interior of the home, the separate kitchen house, and the stunning gardens that range from utilitarian herb gardens to blooming and ornate landscapes. Regardless of where a visitor starts first, history comes alive at this enchanting and historic home turned museum.
Located in the heart of Wilmington, the Cape Fear Serpentarium is one of the most unique museums in the Cape Fear region, and is home to 150 different kinds of snakes and other reptiles which are housed within a sprawling, 10,000 square foot space. Visitors can tour the more than 50 exhibits to meet and greet with constructors, cobras, and even black mambas – all while being protected by heavy duty glass barriers. Though a little intimidating, the Cape Fear Serpentarium will impress animal lovers and any visitors who appreciates a natural thrill.
Located in the heart of Downtown Wilmington, NC, the Latimer House Museum and Gardens is a stunning 1852 home that has been converted to a lovely museum where the 19th century lifestyle of Wilmington’s elite is on full display. Guests can view more than 600 period antiques which are housed within 14 rooms, stroll through pretty gardens that boast Victorian-era blooms and foliage, and even tour original servants quarters which have been carefully restored and preserved. With guided tours available year-round, the local history can be uncovered in-depth with a visit to this legendary local residence.
Discover Wilmington’s deep ties to its stature as a port city with a visit to this museum that pays homage to its once thriving railroad. The Wilmington Railroad Museum has a wealth of historic and engaging exhibits that outline the Cape Fear’s original railroad system, which was once one of the largest single track lines in the world. With autheuntic train parts and even a locomotive, a model hall, and an exhibit room just for kids, every aspect of the railroad is uncovered at this engaging destination that patrons of all ages will adore. Special programs for kids and adults alike are also held year-round.
Built just before the start of the Civil War, (1859-1861), the Bellamy Mansion is a stately historic residence that is filled with period antiques and furnishings, and which paints a portrait of what life was like for wealthy 19th century Cape Fear residents. The sprawling property features the on-site main house, a carriage house, and historic slave quarters, and visitors can uncover the history of this home – and Wilmington in general – through a docent led or a self-guided audio tour. With special programs throughout the year, like seasonal ghost or holiday tours, and unique gardens tour, visitors of all interests can learn something new at this enticing museum.
Established more than 50 years ago, the 42,000’ square foot Cameron Art Museum is home to a wealth of treasures, which includes an outdoor historic Civil War site, a host of permanent exhibits from all over the world, and a rotating series of 6-8 exhibits to make every visit an opportunity to discover a new talent. The expansive museum also features an on-site café as well as an in-house art school, which can turn any trip into a full-day exploration or an opportunity to develop an individual creative side. Regular special events, including artist receptions, are also held throughout the year.
Easily known as one of the Cape Fear region’s most distinctive museums, the Museum of the Bizarre lives up to its name with a series of exhibits that are dedicated to the strange, and the eclectic. Displays of note within the museum include props from some of the many movies filmed in the region, legendary “artifacts” like the Fort Fisher mermaid or the Crystal Skull of Knowledge, and interesting historic relics like Alexander Hamilton’s hair. With so many exhibits that are well outside the norm, this museum serves as an opportunity to explore Wilmington’s stranger side.
USS Battleship North Carolina
The USS Battleship North Carolina is one of the most impressive “museums” along the Cape Fear, and is an impressive 1940 battleship that’s docked on the edge of the downtown waterfront. Visitors can climb aboard to explore the massive vessel’s role in history through its intact interior, which includes everything from the topside decks with incredible views, to the network of galleys and rooms below. Home to a wealth of special events, like an annual Easter egg hunt and a 4th of July celebration, the USS Battleship North Carolina is easily Wilmington’s most celebrated and distinctive museum.
Tips and Tricks for Visiting Wrightsville Beach and Cape Fear Area Museums
- Be sure and ask about discounts when purchasing tickets. Many museums offer reduced prices for UNCW students, active or retired military personnel, seniors, and children and / or teenagers.
- Additional “outdoor” museums, like the Airlie Gardens, the Bluethenthal Wildflower Preserve, and the New Hanover County Arboretum, are perfect destinations on a sunny day, and feature a wealth of living exhibits in the form of beautifully rich flora and fauna.
- Further an area education through an in-depth tour. Wrightsville Beach is home to a number of eco-friendly kayak or boat tours, while Downtown Wilmington, NC visitors can explore the city via a walking tour, trolley tour, or even a Segway tour.
- Be sure and check out the local events calendars before your trips to see if any special programs are on the agenda. Many local museums offer guided tours, special exhibits, and even hands-on activities to make a museum visit even more engaging.
Wrightsville Beach and the surrounding coastal towns of the Cape Fear region are home to some of the state’s most engaging museums, and visitors will find a myriad of ways to learn something new with every visit. From historical sites to destinations where the local natural setting is on full display, a museum visit can easily turn any Wrightsville Beach vacation into an exploration of everything this rich region has to offer.