Even in a vacation destination as sunny as Carolina Beach, an occasional rainy day can still arise to put a momentary break on the shoreside fun. But just because a visitor has to leaves the beach doesn’t mean that the vacation fun has to end. There are a myriad of cool attractions and activities in and around the Carolina Beach area that are crowd-pleasing destinations for visitors of all ages, regardless of the weather.

So use the next sporadic rainy day as a delightful excuse to check out these spots and things-to-do that should be included on a Carolina Beach vacation itinerary, rain or shine.

NC Aquarium Fort Fisher

North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher

It may be raining outside, but the waters within the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher are always inviting. This impressive aquarium – one of three NC-managed aquariums in the state – is brimming with galleries and interactive exhibits to fascinate visitors of all ages. Meet a rare albino alligator, touch gliding sting rays in the touch tanks, or talk to a daring diver swimming with sharks, rays and a green sea turtle named Shelldon in the two-story habitat. No matter where you go first, the dozens of exhibits dedicated to local and state-wide wildlife will keep your family engaged for hours.

Shopping at Carolina Beach

Carolina Beach Shopping

A little rain is the perfect excuse to satisfy a shopping bug, and the heart of Carolina Beach – particularly along US 421 – is a great destination for beach-worthy shopping pursuits. Discover a collection of surf shops, chic boutiques with sun dresses and apparel, classic beach gear stores, and fun donut, fudge and candy shops to satisfy a craving for a myriad of sunny goods. With dozens of shops within the Carolina Beach town borders alone, (which doesn’t include the impressive malls and plazas in nearby Wilmington), virtually every coastal taste can be appeased with a shopping trip around town. 

There are many great area restaurants

Carolina Beach Dining

Whether you’re in the mood for a quick snack during a brief summer thunderstorm or a sit-down lunch or dinner that will leave everyone satisfied, Carolina Beach has you covered. The town is home to more than 30 distinctive restaurants and eateries that cater to all tastes, and which includes an assortment of classic BBQ joints and southern home cooking establishments, Mexican fare, ethnic cuisine like Thai, Japanese and Indian, Pizza places, burger spots, and seafood restaurants. Enjoy a seafood feast with local shrimp and Alaskan crab legs, or just grab a burger and ice cream to go – with a wealth of indulgent fare scattered throughout the heart of town, it’s easy to satisfy any coastal craving in Carolina Beach.

Wrightsville Beach Museum of History

Wrightsville Beach Museum of History

Learn all about the Cape Fear coastline’s original vacationers with a visit to the uniquely engaging Wrightsville Beach Museum of History. Located in the nearby town of Wrightsville Beach to the north, this museum which is housed within an early 20th century original beach cottage has fascinating rooms that are outfitted with period beach-going antiques, memorabilia from generations of vacationers past like postcards and bathing suits, and fascinating exhibits on local milestones like the area’s most devastating hurricanes and the town’s long history of surfing. With seasonal and rotating exhibits, every visit can be a new discovery of a unique chapter in the more than 100 years of history that Wrightsville Beach and the area shorelines has to offer.

Cape Fear Museum in Wilmington NC

Cape Fear Museum

First opened in 1898, the Cape Fear Museum is a treasure trove of exhibits that outline virtually all aspects of life in the Cape Fear region from the earliest Native American residents to the town of Wilmington’s modern day ties with Hollywood. Unique exhibits like the Michael Jordan Discovery Gallery which focuses on the local environments, the Fort Fisher exhibit, and a model of Wilmington in the 1850s present ample opportunities to uncover the area in detail, and with regular programs and special events, visitors will have ample chances to learn something new while enjoying a leisurely rainy day visit to this iconic museum.

Wilmington Railroad Museum

Wilmington Railroad Museum

Stroll past the original and full-sized locomotive, boxcar, and caboose at the train’s entrance and discover a fascinating series of exhibits that pay homage to Wilmington’s original roots as a bustling port town. The Wilmington Railroad Museum has become a favorite destination for visitors of all ages, thanks to a decadently intricate model train room, a special children’s hall, and a wealth of displays on the heyday of Wilmington’s railroad era that includes ample photographs, memorabilia and artifacts,

USS North Carolina

USS North Carolina Battleship

Skim past the topside decks where stellar views of the Cape Fear River and Wilmington downtown region await, and head into the deep recesses of this massive battleship that is renowned as one of Wilmington’s most famous attractions. This celebrated battleship which earned an unprecedented 15 battle stars during its years of service in World War II has been converted to a living history museum, and adventurous explorers will have a fine time exploring the galleys, engine rooms and cabins that are found just beneath the surface decks.

Cameron Art Museum

Cameron Art Museum

Established for more than 50 years, the Cameron Art Museum is an engaging destination for art lovers, and is a cool attraction that offers more than one way to while away a rainy afternoon. Visitors can enjoy stellar cuisine at the in-house CAM Café, discover a myriad of talents from all across the globe via a series of permanent or rotating exhibits, and even enjoy an opportunity to uncover their own artistic abilities. With an on-site art school and a number of classes and programs designed for students of all ages and abilities, a visit to the Cameron Art Museum can easily be transformed into a unique artful activity that family members of all ages will adore.

Inside the Bellamy Mansion

Historic Homes

Neighboring Wilmington is well known for its antebellum architecture and southern beauty, and this atmosphere of refinement can be explored in-depth with a visit to the town’s collection of historic downtown homes. Three famed residents, which includes the Latimer House Museum and Gardens, the Bellamy Mansion, and the Burgwin-Wright House Museum and Gardens, are all open to visitors and have been painstakingly restored with a collection of period antiques and furnishings. Enjoy a self-guided or docent-led tour of the interior of the homes, and when the sun comes out, head outside to enjoy spectacular gardens and authentic outbuildings for a full portrait of the decadent 18th and 19th Cape Fear lifestyle.

Museum of the Bizarre in Wilmington

Unique (and Creepy) Museums

Wilmington is home to a collection of unique attractions for visitors with slightly skewed tastes, and a trip to these destinations will be a rainy day excursion that will linger well after the sun has returned. Check out the nearby Museum of the Bizarre where Hollywood movie props, legendary local figures like the Fort Fisher Mermaid, and weird oddities like Bigfoot’s imprint can all be discovered.

Shopping in downtown Wilmington

Art and Antiques

The Cape Fear area has a rich arts and antiques scene, and visitors can discover this culture in vivid detail with a trip to a myriad of shops and galleries which are found throughout the coastal area. For a concentrated collection of destinations, head to Downtown Wilmington, NC where distinctive antique areas as well as artful areas, (like the up-and-coming Brooklyn District), feature dozens of destinations where local talents or ancient treasures shine. Local galleries and venues like the Brooklyn Arts Center, the Art in Bloom Gallery, and the New Elements Gallery are all top spots for visitors who want to discover something new (or old) while exploring a charming corner of the downtown Wilmington scene.

Fun and Games

Head to neighboring Wilmington for a myriad of ways to get active and have fun, regardless of the weather. The town’s Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park features a wealth of indoor activities, including a climbing wall, mini bowling, laser tag, and an arcade, while other cool destinations like the Jellybeans Family Skate Center or the Cardinal Lanes Beach Bowl offer hours of indoor family entertainment. For something unique, check out the Defy Gravity Wilmington trampoline park, or enjoy a special outing that’s just for kids at the Power of Play Center. No matter how your family likes to have fun, there’s ample options in the greater Cape Fear region for active indoor afternoons.

Movies and Theater

Use a rainy day as an excuse to catch a summer blockbuster, or better yet, discover the acclaimed variety of local talents that make up Wilmington’s famed theater scene. There are several movie theaters in and around the Wilmington area, and the downtown streets are the heart of the local theater district, thanks to both small and large venues that host a wide variety of shows. For a true treat, catch a performance at the Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts - a historic 1850 opera house that will impress theater-goers of all tastes and interests, and which serves as a fabulous venue for performers and artists from all across the globe.

Happy Hours

A rainy afternoon is a fine time to discover Carolina Beach’s famed brewing and bar scene, and beach-goers will be happy to discover that their neighborhood pub is never too far away from the sand. Check out local brewing companies like Good Hops Brewery, enjoy a game of pool or a football game at the HopLite Pub and Beer Garden, or get groovy with a tropical atmosphere at one of the many local (and covered) Tiki bars. With unique beverage shops and pubs like Island Beverage or The Fat Pelican, it’s easy to keep the good times rolling off the sand.

With countless shops, restaurants, pubs, and easy proximity to some of southern North Carolina’s most famed and acclaimed attractions, a rainy day does little to hinder the fun in Carolina Beach. When the clouds roll in, enjoy an opportunity to discover everything this region has to offer off the sand, and discover why Pleasure Island is always home to a rolling good time, rain or shine.

Victory Beach Vacations

Visitors who are on the hunt for the postcard-perfect vacation rental in the heart of the Carolina Beach or Kure Beach area will find an enticing selection and plenty of friendly customer service when they rent through Victory Beach Vacations. Based in Carolina Beach in the coastal Cape Fear region, Victory Beach Vacations has more than 100 vacation rentals in all shapes and sizes to ensure that every vacationing family can find their dream home away from home on the beach.   When you book your Cape Fear getaway with Victory Beach Vacations, the fun doesn’t end when you leave the beach, it continues with an array of privately-owned properties outfitted with all of the amenities needed for a fabulous beach vacation.   Jenna Lanier, General Manager, explains that her family first opened the rental and property management business in 2002. At the forefront of Victory Beach operations is Lanier’s mother, Caroline Meeks. Meeks is both the Broker in Charge and co-owner with husband, Buck Meeks, who manages the Field Services team with Lanier’s husband, Scott.   For nearly 20 years, the Victory Beach team has worked tirelessly to establish a network of top-of-the-line rental properties for Cape Fear visitors to enjoy. “As far as our properties go,” explains Lanier, “they are all updated, well-furnished and appointed. “We have always performed post-cleaning inspections and since the pandemic, have put freshly laundered duvets over all of the comforters between rentals.”   Lanier emphasizes how important the guests experience is “we strive to give our guests a relaxing, stress free, memorable vacation.” This emphasis on customer service has led to Victory Beach Vacations having a 4.8 Google rating with over 300 reviews by happy owners and guests.In addition to Victory Beach’s superior sanitation practices, the company offers properties for every type of visitor. Choose from luxury oceanfront houses and condos to more reasonbly priced 2nd row properties with oceanviews. Many properties include pools and hot tubs as well, perfect for outdoor entertaining, and many are dog friendly.   Lanier also notes that all properties are within walking or driving distance to Pleasure Island’s main attractions – Carolina Beach and Kure Beach. The former, as described by Lanier, is the more commercialized of the two destinations and features a boardwalk, outdoor dining options and a plethora of weekly activities including fireworks, live music, amusement park pop-ups, and movies under the stars. Kure Beach offers a more residential feel with its fishing pier, intimate restaurants and family favorite, North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.More water fun awaits, too. “There is a harbor and a canal that feed into the intercoastal. We have several properties on the harbor so guests can bring their boat, kayak, [or jet ski] and travel between islands,” says Lanier.   A stay with Victory Beach Vacations is an annual pilgrimage for most. “A large percentage of guests are previous guests. Some even reserve the same property for the next year as they’re checking out,” Lanier says. “It’s almost like it’s their personal vacation home.”   Even before guests arrive at their vacation destination, the Victory Beach Vacations’ website greets them with a live beach cam and exquisite aerial footage of both Carolina and Kure Beaches. See for yourself by scanning the QR code and call Victory Beach Vacations at 910.458.0868 to book your Cape Fear getaway. Start making your memories today! —Grace Silipigni

Masonboro Island Estuarine Reserve