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.
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 watch a daring diver feed in the two-story open ocean tank. No matter where you go first, the dozens of exhibits dedicated to local and state-wide wildlife will keep your family engaged for hours.
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.
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
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
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
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 Battleship North Carolina
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
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.
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 and Gardens, the Bellamy Mansion, and the Burgwin Wright House, 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.
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. The Cape Fear Serpentarium is a spine-tingling museum that’s home to more than 150 reptiles, which includes giant constrictors, local scaly residents, and venomous snakes from all around the world. For an even weirder excursion, 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. Always fascinating, these destinations are perfect for vacationers who like their museum trips to be a on the wild side.
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 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.
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.