A Wrightsville Beach vacation may center on long sunny days on the seashore, but the occasional rainy day presents a perfect opportunity to get out and about and discover the historically and culturally rich Cape Fear region.
From top rated museums to fun activities the whole family will love, the Cape Fear region is brimming with things to do that can be enjoyed, rain or shine. Use a rainy day as an opportunity to check out these destinations and attractions that will keep visitors entertained long after the sun comes out again.
Wrightsville Beach Museum of History
Housed within a historic vacation cottage, the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History explores the popularity of this beach vacation town from the ground up, with exhibits on its early roots as a tourist destination, its first wave of vacationers, and even the area’s brushes with hurricanes. Exhibits of note include original rooms outfitted with period antiques of the town’s first beach-goers, a model of the famed Lumina Pavilion, and special seasonal exhibits, such as a look into the history of Wrightsville Beach surfing, or bathing suit fashions throughout the decades.
Cape Fear Museum
Located in neighboring Wilmington, the Cape Fear Museum is the oldest museum in North Carolina, and has been highlighting the regional history, culture, and natural landscapes for visitors since it first opened in 1898. The two-story museum has a wealth of exhibits that explore all corners of the Cape Fear area, like a Discovery Gallery where the local habitats and wildlife are on display, and an engaging Fort Fisher exhibit which outlines this historic fort’s role in the Civil War. Engaging throughout, visitors can effortlessly learn all there is to know about the Cape Fear area with a visit to this iconic attraction.
USS Battleship North Carolina
On a rainy day, bypass the top level decks and head into the interior of this massive battleship which currently serves as one of Wilmington’s most prominent and engaging museums. Located along the downtown waterfront, the USS Battleship North Carolina was built in 1937-1940 and earned 15 battle stars during World War II, where it served in almost every major Pacific battle or offensive. Today, visitors can explore the vast interior of the ship to learn how the vessel works, its role in history, and a wealth of info on the war years and the region in general. When the sun comes out, visitors can make their way to the topside decks where the local downtown and Cape Fear views are truly out of this world.
Wilmington Railroad Museum
Wilmington was one home to one of the largest railroad lines in the world, thanks to a single track that connected the Port City with Raleigh some 150 miles or so away, and this legacy is explored in engaging detail at the Wilmington Railroad Museum. A great destination for history buffs, train enthusiasts, and everyday explorers of all ages, this museum boasts real original train components from the railroad’s heyday, an impressive model hall, and even a special hall dedicated just for kids with Thomas the Tank Engine. Regular programs, (including special events for kids), are also held at the museum to make a visit extra enjoyable.
Cameron Art Museum
Head to the heart of Wilmington to pay a visit to one of the city’s most established and renowned museums, the Cameron Art Museum. Featuring both permanent exhibits and rotating exhibits from artists all over the region and the world, this expansive site will impress and inspire visitors of all ages. For a more in-depth and artful adventure, sign up for one of the many art classes and camps at the in-house CAM art school, or linger a while to enjoy lunch at the critically acclaimed CAM café. With so much to explore with the massive space, a visit to this art museum can easily turn into a full-day exploration.
North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher
Visitors can still enjoy the waterfront scene of the Cape Fear coastline on a rainy day by heading south to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. This expansive aquarium features a diverse variety of exhibits that highlight the sea life and wildlife that call coastal North Carolina home, from the local freshwater streams to the ocean waters that extend hundreds of feet deep. With special exhibits that include rare species like albino alligators and sea turtles, interactive features like the touch tank gallery, or cool shows like the daily diver feeds, visitors of all ages can be engaged for hours at this fully immersive destination that’s located just south of Kure Beach.
Several historic residences in the downtown area have been converted to enchanting museums, where the local history comes alive through ornate rooms that are brimming with period furnishings, antiques, and original décor. Spend a rainy day exploring Wilmington’s historic side with a visit to top attractions like the Latimer House and Gardens, the Bellamy Mansion, and the Burgwin Wright House, which are all open to visitors, and which have either docent led tours, self-guided audio tours, or both. Dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries, respectively, all three sites are prime examples of how wealthy Wilmington residents lived before the onset of the Civil War.
Wilmington and the Cape Fear Region are the setting for hundreds of movies, TV shows, and commercials, and visitors can explore this history in depth by checking out several sites that are dedicated to the area’s reputation as the “Hollywood of the South.” The EUE Screen Gem studios is a working studio that is home to countless productions every year, and which extends for more than 100,000’ square feet. Tours are occasionally available, (typically on the weekends), allowing visitors to see, first hand, how their favorite films and shows are made. In addition, Wilmington’s own Museum of the Bizarre has a host of unique exhibits which includes authentic movie props and memorabilia from some of the area’s most famous film or television projects. Either destination provides a peek into movie making history, and shines a spotlight on the Cape Fear region’s role in Hollywood legacy.
There are tons of options when it comes to shopping in the Cape Fear area, and Wrightsville Beach visitors will never be very far from a host of cool boutiques, shopping plazas, big chain stores, and everything in between. The main drag of Wrightsville Beach is home to a number of casual surf shops and beach gear stores, while just across the Causeway, Wrightsville Beach explorers will find a variety of recognized shops at the Lumina Shopping Plaza. For even more options, check out the extensive Mayfaire Shopping Center, which boasts a number of upscale brand name stores, or The Cotton Exchange in downtown Wilmington, which features a collection of unique shops and eateries that are housed within a former 19th century warehouse. No matter what direction you go first, there’s always a cool new boutique or shopping center to discover, making a rainy day a perfect excuse to exercise a wallet.
Art Galleries and Antiques
For an afternoon of exploring vintage stores, antique shops, and art galleries, Wrightsville Beach visitors will want to head west to the heart of Downtown Wilmington. The city blocks that border the waterfront are home to more than a dozen antique stores where visitors can acquire a myriad of treasures with a traditionally coastal aesthetic. Representing a collection of antique furnishings, porcelain, glassware, artwork and décor, games, military memorabilia, and much more, collectors of all varieties are sure to find a treasure or two in the downtown antiques district. The downtown area is also becoming a hot spot for artists from all across the Cape Fear region, and new galleries are popping up all the time in chic neighborhoods like the downtown’s Brooklyn district. Check out local galleries and venues like the Brooklyn Arts Center, the Art in Bloom Gallery, and the New Elements Gallery to discover rising talents from all across the southeast. Both the local galleries and antique stores are easy to reach with an exploration that starts in the downtown region.
Fun and Games
The greater Cape Fear area is home to a wealth of active destinations for a little rainy day fun, and which will be a big hit with young visitors. For a little entertainment, stop by by Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park, which is known for its waterslides, but which also has a host of indoor activities including rock wall climbing, mini bowling, an arcade, and laser tag. Wilmington is also home to a host of fun diversions, which includes the Jellybeans Family Skate Center, the Cardinal Lanes Beach Bowl, the kid-oriented Power of Play, and unique destinations like the Defy Gravity Wilmington trampoline park. When combined with the local park complexes that can include basketball courts and fitness centers, the local YMCA, and other indoor facilities such as laser tag arenas and arcades, visitors will find that there are plenty of ways to play, regardless of the weather.
Theater and Shows
There are several movie theaters in and around Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach, and the region is also distinctive for its exceptional arts and culture scene which attracts performers from all over the world. There are a dozen or smaller stages and venues where matinees and evening performances are regularly available, and newcomers to the Cape Fear arts scene will want to look for upcoming shows at the impressive Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts as well. Located in downtown Wilmington, this impressive opera house was built in the 1850s, and has been hosting a wealth of productions ever since, from afternoon children’s shows to world renowned ballet companies and theater troupes. Use a rainy day as an excuse to catch a matinee, a summer blockbuster, or a show or live performance at any of the region’s many venues, and discover why this region is celebrated for its vibrant arts and theater scene.
Wine and Dine
There are several hundred restaurants in and around Wrightsville Beach, and a rainy day is the perfect excuse to satisfy a big appetite or a craving for something unique and different. Wrightsville Beach is home to a collection of eateries that serve salty beach staples, like burgers and pizza, chic surfer grub, like fish tacos and Baja Mexican, and fresh seafood fare or pub grub in casual and friendly environments. Go slightly inland, and diners will find countless more options that can include a seemingly endless array of different cuisines, price points, and atmospheres. For something truly local, head to one of Wrightsville Beach’s seafood joints, or check out the many NC barbecue restaurants which are found just off the coast. From southern comfort food to unique twists on coastal fare from the local Cape Fear waters, the dining scene in the Wrightsville Beach area is truly eclectic and always tasty.
Wrightsville Beach is fun when the sun is out, but visitors will find plenty to do when the occasional rainy day makes an appearance. Explore the region in its entirety, from Wilmington to Fort Fisher, and discover a vibrant array of history, arts, culture, and cuisine which is readily available and waiting in the wonderfully diverse and entertaining Cape Fear Region.