To be honest, we didn’t know much about Wilmington, NC at the time we were planning our Southern USA road trip. We simply wanted to break up the 8 hour drive from Charleston with kids and before hiking in Shenandoah National Park with kids.
Wilmington was around the halfway point and was on the ocean, so we decided to give it a shot, and we are so glad we did. Our visit to Wilmington, NC with kids turned out to be one of our favorite places on our whole Southern USA family road trip!
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Things to do in Wilmington, NC with Kids
1. Find Venus Flytraps at Carolina Beach State Park
Did you know that Venus flytraps only grow in the wild within a 75 mile radius of Wilmington? I always thought that Venus flytraps were an exotic plant from the jungle in Asia… certainly not a native plant of North Carolina! Who knew?!?
You can see Venus flytraps with your kids at Carolina Beach State Park, a beautiful park located on the Cape Fear River only 20 minutes from downtown Wilmington.
We were so fortunate to get a Carolina Beach State Park tour from Park Ranger Chris. Our Venus flytrap tour began in the in the Visitor’s Center, which has all sorts of good introductory information on the Venus flytrap, as well as some fun hands-on exhibits for our kids.
One of the first things we learned is that Carolina Beach State Park is home to several other kinds of carnivorous plants including sundews and pitcher plants, but the Venus flytrap is the star attraction.
Just outside the information center is a little nursery where the Carolina Beach State Park staff are growing new Venus flytrap plants to help replace the one that are so carelessly being stolen from the park.
It is a felony offense to steal a Venus flytrap!
It’s a good idea to visit the Carolina Beach State Park Visitor Center first to get a good idea of what the Venus flytrap plants look like before you attempt to see them in the wild.
Ranger Chris used a little twig to demonstrate how the Venus flytrap plants close their ‘jaws’ on their victims. Venus flytraps have three little whiskers on the inside of each jaw leaf ; nothing happens if only one is touched, but if two of them are touched, the jaws will snap shut.
I was very surprised how quickly the jaws of the Venus flytrap snapped shut! Given the Venus flytrap is a plant, I expected the closing action to be slow and methodical, but it was really fast!
The Carolina State Beach Park has an easy, short trail called the Venus Flytrap Trail where, if you know where to look, you can see these carnivorous plants in the wild.
Venus flytraps like to grow in the transition zones between dry land and wet land, so watch for these areas and you’ll improve your chances of seeing one.
Venus flytrap plants are actually quite small making them a little hard to see, but I found it was helpful to look for the teeth. The “teeth” on a Venus flytrap make a predictable pattern which stands out in the randomness of the wild plants.
Park Ranger Chris asks that everyone help keep the Venus flytraps alive by staying on the trails and not touching these fragile carnivorous plants.
If you have the time, check out the other hiking trails in Carolina State Beach Park, as this is a really beautiful area.
2. Fort Fischer Recreational Area
There was a heat advisory issued for Wilmington during our visit, so we decided to skip the highly rated North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and spend the whole afternoon playing at the beach.
The Fort Fischer Recreational Area beach has restrooms, changing rooms and hoses to wash off your feet, but that’s it. Everything else is pure, natural North Carolina beauty.
This was a very beautiful beach near Wilmington – it’s deep and wide with super soft sand. Our kids loved looking at all the pretty seashells scattered along the shore.
Despite the heat in the middle of high season, the Fort Fischer Recreational Area beach didn’t feel that crowded, which was a very pleasant surprise for us.
The Fort Fischer Recreational Area was such a beautiful beach on a beautiful day. We were happy to forget it all and spend the whole afternoon having good, old fashioned family fun on the beach. It was perfect thing to do with kids in Wilmington, NC.
3. Eco Tour on Masonboro Island
We wanted to experience more Wilmington beaches, so we drove to the coast to join an Eco Tour with Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours. The Eco Tour is a family-friendly catamaran boat tour to a protected nature preserve on nearby Masonboro Island.
The captain dropped our group off on a Masonboro Island beach facing Masonboro Sound. We split into two groups, with one guide per group. Our guide immediately got to work and gathered the kids on the shoreline and they all started to look for hermit crabs.
Then we started walking inland towards the Masonboro Island beach which was exposed to the ocean. Along the way our guide pointed out many interesting things about the ecosystem of Masonboro Island and why it is so important.
Once we got to the ocean, the official part of the tour ended and everyone could go do their own thing on the beach for about 90 minutes.
The Masonboro Island beach was incredibly beautiful and stretched for as far as the eye could see in both directions. There are not many visitors to Masonboro Island, so there was an abundance of treasures on the beach for the kids to find like seashells, etc.
There was a huge, shallow tide pool which our 3 year old thought was awesome, in fact, he played in it literally the whole time.
Meanwhile, our daughter and one of the guides built a home in the sand for the crabs to live in. Once the sand house was built, they looked for seashells to decorate it with. The guides with Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours were so good with the kids, they made it a lot of fun for them.
We highly recommend the Eco Tour by Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours as a fun activity with kids in Wilmington, NC.
Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Wilmington, NC
1. The Basics
After a long drive from Charleston, we arrived in Wilmington, NC late afternoon. We didn’t have time to do much, so we drove to their charming downtown for an early dinner. We found a really nice southern food restaurant downtown called The Basics.
The food at The Basics was excellent and we were impressed at the quality of the kid’s food; it was prepared with a quality you don’t see very often.
As good as our dinner entrees were, the star of the show was the Hummingbird Cake – a three layer spiced cake with very generous cream cheese icing. Between the four of us, it was like a cow falling into a lake of piranhas – the Hummingbird Cake was gone instantly!
2. Michael’s Seafood Restaurant
After our Eco Tour on Masonboro Island, we drove into the nearby town of Carolina Beach to have lunch at Michael’s Seafood Restaurant, which was highly recommended to us.
The food at Michael’s Seafood Restaurant was great and reasonably priced and we were truly impressed by the kids menu. It had real seafood menu items for kids (not just the standard chicken fingers, etc), with good portion sizes at a very reasonable price.
3. Slice of Life
After the Fort Fischer Recreational Area beach, we were starved from playing all day. We went back to downtown Wilmington for pizza at Slice of Life, a local favorite for over a decade. Our kids loved the ring of TV’s all around the room, while we enjoyed sinking our teeth into some very good food.
Where to Stay in Wilmington with Kids
We rented a 3-bedroom vacation rental house in Wilmington, NC. Our rental house was in the Ardmore district, which was an 8 minute drive to downtown Wilmington. We didn’t need to find a kid-friendly hotel in downtown Wilmington as most of our activities were along the coast.
One thing we’d like to share, is that as we were driving along the beautiful coastline to the beach in the Fort Fischer Recreational Area, we were intrigued by the large number of vacation homes right on the beach. We promised ourselves that one day we’d return and get a rental house on the beach at Wilmington Beach.
Southern USA Road Trip with Kids
- Orlando, Florida (Princess Experiences, Essential Disney gear, Disney World Tips, Kid-friendly Orlando restaurants)
- Things to do in Savannah with Kids
- Two Days in Charleston with Kids
- Two Days in Wilmington, NC with Kids
- 6 Kid Friendly Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
- 6 Kid-Friendly Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes
- 7 Kid-friendly Hikes near Asheville, NC
- Things to do in Gatlinburg with Kids
- Nashville with Kids
Visit Wilmington With Kids
We are grateful to Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau for their generosity during our visit. All opinions are our own.
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