North Carolina Beach Sites: 10 Places to Play Near Wilmington

North Carolina is steeped in history and noteworthy attractions. However, the Wilmington area has a collection of beach towns full of sites, natural beauty and interesting stories that rival other cities in the South. If looking for a new activity or to plan something fun with loved ones, check out these North Carolina beach sites. Areas include Bald Head Island, Carolina Beach, Wilmington and other destinations.

Top 10 North Carolina Beach Sites to Explore

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Airlie Gardens (Wilmington)

Stroll 67 acres of paths, gardens, historic sculptures and contemporary art at Airlie Gardens in Wilmington. This outdoor attraction has treated guests to nature’s blooming beauty for decades, while the name has been a local legacy since 1735.

For a small fee – free to $9 per person – visitors can explore 13 attractions and gardens during a self-guided tour. At Bradley Creek Overlook, see a tidal creek on one side and freshwater lake on the other. Or see what blooms in the seasonal garden, camellia garden and spring garden. Other notable sites include chapels, a summer-fall butterfly garden and historic grave.

Bald Head Island Conservancy

Bald Head Island Conservancy (BHI) works to educate and inspire visitors to appreciate nature. For over 30 years, BHI Conservancy has provided fun activities and programs for all ages.

Visitors can fish from the beach, take nature tours, kayak, go birding, see reptiles and take turtle walks. These activities explore Bald Head Island, Middle and Bluff islands, all located near the Cape Fear River and Atlantic Ocean. While roaming, participants learn about local wildlife and conservation efforts.

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Battleship NORTH CAROLINA (Wilmington)

As one of the most iconic North Carolina attractions, this battleship sits near Wilmington and welcomes guests to walk her decks. Additionally, Battleship NORTH CAROLINA offers a glimpse into her crew and daily life during World War II.

Plan a self-guided tour and learn about soldiers who served during WWII. Hear their stories, browse photographs and memorabilia, and spend time at exhibits. Visitor note: Plan to spend two hours at this site, and there is no air conditioning.

Bellamy Mansion and Museum (Wilmington)

Bellamy Mansion is located in downtown Wilmington. The mansion showcases Antebellum architecture, with a carriage house, gardens and original slave quarters on site.

Guided and self-guided tours are available daily, but major holidays can effect hours of operation. While touring, see the 22-room Bellamy Mansion, learn about the family, step back to the Civil War era and admire the garden’s Victorian design.

Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens (Wilmington)

While in Wilmington, stop by Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens. This attraction ranks among the top North Carolina Beach sites because it’s the only colonial-era structure in Wilmington open to the public.

Start with a mansion tour where each room features 18th- and 19th-century antiques and objects. Then stroll the 1 acre gardens separated into distinct areas, including a rose garden and orchard. Other must-sees include previous jail cells, a free-standing kitchen and period cookware. Guided tours occur Monday through Saturday and last one hour.

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Carolina Beach State Park

Want to spend time at the beach? Head to Carolina Beach State Park. Its on-site marina offers anglers access to world-class fishing. Those who prefer a different outdoor adventure find miles of hiking trails that wind through diverse habitats and natural beauty. Swimming is not permitted at the park, however guests can enjoy boating, picnicking and sunbathing.

Fort Fisher State Historic Site

In Kure Beach, Fort Fisher protected Wilmington’s port during the Civil War. Today, Fort Fisher State Historic Site serves as an attraction where visitors can see indoor and outdoor exhibits.

While outside, walk the trail to see monuments, seacoast cannon, a Napoleon field piece and Coehorn mortar. Once inside, visitors browse battle maps, artifacts, weapons, technology and learn about life at the fort.

New Hanover County Arboretum (Wilmington)

North Carolina Cooperative Extension provides easy access to beautiful gardens, educational programs and events. The gardens open every day from dawn to dusk and offer free admission.

The arboretum has 7 acres of gardens and plants that showcase North Carolina landscapes. A few features include a Japanese Garden, magical children’s garden, a large rose garden, and an herb garden that attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Additionally, guests can honor those who served in the five branches of the military at Military Memorial Contemplation Garden.

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North Carolina Aquarium (Fort Fisher)

Guests also enjoy getting up close and personal with marine life at North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. When exploring, learn about freshwater creatures, swamps, the open ocean and reefs. A few must-do activities include meeting a rare albino alligator, talking to scuba divers and mermaids, digging for fossils, and petting protected animals.

North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher also offers free programs and interactive experiences. Activities range from daily feedings and animal encounters to custom tours, surf fishing and job shadowing.

Wilmington Historic District

Downtown Wilmington features a mix of modern amenities paired with historical charm. The best way to see the area is scheduling a tour. Several companies host guided tours that explore historic homes, iconic landmarks, Cape Fear River, and TV and film locations. That’s right: Wilmington has appeared in Iron Man 3, Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill and more.

Wilmington Historic District appeals to history lovers as well. While sightseeing, travel back in time with Tour Old Wilmington. This option showcases life from 1837 to 1901, and delves into sea tales and folklore. Those who believe in the supernatural should know Wilmington ranks among the most haunted cities in the South. Haunted tours allow guests to learn about the paranormal, haunted homes and burial grounds.

Interested in these North Carolina beach sites? Book a vacation rental in North Carolina beaches to get started.

Need a break from sightseeing? Check out the top Wilmington lunch restaurants.