Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach, Fort Fisher Offer Lots of Family Fun
With sunny beaches, a Civil War fort, an aquarium, a zoo, and lots of outdoor recreation, the Cape Fear Coast of North Carolina is an ideal place for a family vacation.
Discovered in 1524 by Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano and settled by the English 200 years later, the Cape Fear coast of North Carolina is a cone-shaped peninsula encompassing New Hanover County with the city of Wilmington and the beach towns of Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, and Kure Beach. The cape, or point of land at the southern tip of the peninsula, became known as Cape Fear for the dangerous currents and many ships lost offshore in the so-called “graveyard of the Atlantic.”
Pirates Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet sailed the local waters and both Revolutionary War and Civil War battles were fought here, so taking a beach vacation on the Cape Fear Coast is like stepping back in time. From the 1950s atmosphere of Carolina Beach to the Civil War era Fort Fisher you’ll find there’s something for everybody to enjoy.
With museums, restaurants, shopping, and attractions, Wilmington is where you’ll find the most activity. The Cameron Museum of Art, the Children’s Museum of Wilmington, Battleship North Carolina, and the Riverwalk are just a few of the attractions to be found here. There are history, mystery, and even a few ghosts in this historic riverfront town.
Sun, sand, and surf await you in this beach town just across the peninsula from Wilmington. Wrightsville Beach offers swimming, fishing, boating, and surfing on a compact, five-mile-long island. Try windsurfing, parasailing, scuba diving, kite flying, kayaking or just napping on the beach, whatever suits your style.
Travel south of Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach and you’ll come to Tregembo Animal Park, the area’s oldest zoo. With over 75 species of animals and a 4000 square-foot gift shop, this family-owned park is fun for the whole family.
Located on a narrow strip of land called Pleasure Island, just across the Intracoastal Waterway from Wilmington, is Carolina Beach. With its 1950s atmosphere, wooden boardwalk, and central lake with pedal boats, Carolina Beach is a laid-back vacation destination. There is a large charter fishing fleet at the yacht basin and lots of surf and sand for beachcombing. Carolina Beach State Park offers camping, a marina with two boat ramps, six miles of hiking trails, and wild, biologically diverse plant life, including the rare Venus’s flytrap. Dig in the sand, play mini-golf, buy fudge and ice cream and browse the shops on the Boardwalk for an old fashioned beach vacation.
Also on Pleasure Island just south of Carolina Beach is the town of Kure Beach with its 712-foot wooden fishing pier. Built in 1923, it is the oldest continuously operated family-owned fishing pier in North Carolina.
Here too you’ll find the Fort Fisher State Historic Site with an earthen fort that was the last major Confederate fortification to fall to the Union, keeping the port of Wilmington open for most of the Civil War. Today, its 32-pound cannon is the only one in the country still fired regularly.
The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is one of three state-owned aquariums and offers a look at the world under the sea. A 250,000-gallon ocean tank houses fish and other sea creatures and exhibits include freshwater conservancy, swamps, estuaries, and beaches.
Fort Fisher-Southport Ferry
No trip to see the sea is complete without a boat ride. The Fort Fisher-Southport Ferry operates daily, running every 45 minutes. The one-way fare for cars is $5 and for pedestrians $1. From the ferry’s deck you can see Bald Head Island and its famous lighthouse, Old Baldy, feel the wind on your face and smell the salt-sea air. Look closely and you might even spot a pirate ship. Yo ho ho!
For more ideas of things to do in the area, contact the Cape Fear Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1-877-406-2356.