Explore the wild and learn a little history along the way at Carolina Beach State Park in Wilmington, N.C.
W hen we told the kids we were going camping, they jumped up and down with excitement. When we mentioned it would be on the beach, they started squealing. Camping and going to the beach are two of their most favorite things to do. That’s why we anticipated a great family vacation in Wilmington, N.C., and the Carolina Beach area.
Carolina Beach is close to a plethora of things to see and do. And since Wilmington is a historic town, I knew the possibilities were endless!
It’s not really roughing it at Carolina Beach State Park. For one, you’re not actually camping directly on the beach, although it’s very close. There are four fairly new cabins on the family campground and primitive campsites, too. We stayed in a quaint little cabin outfitted with two small tables and chairs and enough beds to sleep six. Don’t worry, there are electrical outlets along with air conditioning and heat — we stayed cool all night and didn’t have to worry about critters outside. Outdoors, our cabin had a picnic table, charcoal grill and a fire ring. We ventured out to the nearby grocery store to get all we needed to grill out and make s’mores.
Alas, here’s where the camping part comes in: there’s no Wifi in the cabin … or bathrooms at the cabins or tent sites. So, you have to walk to the nearby restrooms with showers. Our kids loved taking pajama walks to the bathroom with the flashlight!
Exploring the State Park
Before you leave the campground, take a minute to peruse Carolina Beach State Park. This 761-acre park features recreational activities, nature trails, fishing and more. The kids had fun exploring the hands-on exhibit at the Visitor’s Center before we went out in search of the infamous Venus flytrap. Do you know that this area is one of the few places in the world where the tiny plant can be seen in its native environment? It was a tough game of seek and find, but we were able to spot several small patches of them. It really was a treat to watch them up close.
Time to Hit the Beach!
When you’re ready to hit the beach, grab some change and your beach bag then head out to the Carolina Beach Boardwalk. You’ll have to pay for parking, but it’s not that much. The beach wasn’t crowded, but the best time to get there is in the morning so you can park as close as you can. The last thing you want to do is carry all your stuff (or tired children) back to the car that’s parked far away.
Before dipping your toes in the water, check out what’s nearby. There are lots of little shops and places for grabbing a quick bite. In summer, there are seaside amusement rides with lots of options for the kids, and you can take a family ride on a surrey bike from Wheel Fun Rentals.
Venture down the road a bit more in your car to find free parking at Kure Beach. You may find a spot by the fishing pier which is next to Ocean Front Park. The park has a little playground the kids can enjoy for a bit. Be sure to check out the Story Time by the Sea there, too. Some of Disney’s favorite princesses come out to read to kids under the shade of the pavilion. Our daughter loved meeting them and getting autographs and pictures.
When you’re done with the sun and ready for something different, head to North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. There’s a 235,000-gallon saltwater tank, 20,000-square-foot conservatory, Luna the albino alligator, a megalodon shark exhibit and more. Our shark-loving son loved seeing how small he was next to the jaws of a megalodon. Stand right behind the jaws and take a picture! Another feature the kids loved — after a little bit of coercion — were the touch tanks. You can gently touch horseshoe crabs, stingrays, starfish and even sharks (not the biting kind)!
Note: The Aquarium opens Lorikeet Landing in mid-April. Kids will be able to feed the birds after purchasing a nectar cup. These small, colorful tropical birds will land on arms and even heads!
If you really want to get into the history of the area, hop in the car and make a short 30-minute drive to Wilmington, just outside the Carolina Beach area. This historic town has the Children’s Museum of Wilmington which boasts a magical, playful area.
Our most enjoyable history experience in Wilmington, though, was stepping into the Battleship North Carolina. The kids were scared at first, but once they grew accustomed to walking through the small spaces and climbing down the tiny steps, they were in awe and wonder of what surrounded them. Just walking through the ship and getting a sense of what life was like for shipmates of yore was something that astounded us all. Before your leave, take a moment to write a note to a veteran and slip it into the retro mailbox. They actually mail them to the veterans, so it’s nice to have the kids write something down that will give the vets a smile.
We enjoyed some good eats while we were there. A few great places to dig into are Michael’s Seafood, Jack Mackerel’s Island Grill or our favorite, Kure Beach Diner. The retro-styled restaurant is small and fills up fast during peak times. We didn’t mind waiting a bit outside, and the wait is worth it — the food is AMAZING!
While you’re at Carolina Beach, don’t forget to grab a sweet treat! You just have to try Britt’s Donuts. You can’t miss the aroma of them wafting across the boardwalk. Have your dollars ready for one though, because they only take cash. Divine!
Want something cold? Head over to New Orleans Snowballs. I’ve never had a snow cone so soft before! The kids loved these icy treats after our long day in the sun.
After all this, there’s still more to see and do here. You need more than just a few days to explore the area. We could have spent a lot more time navigating the trails at the state park and getting up close with creatures from the deep at the aquarium.
We headed home to Nashville though, with wonderful memories of a great experience. You will one day, too!