One of the perfect places for families is the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher, listed by the Travel Channel as one of the 20 best aquariums in the country.
Featuring a 235,000-gallon saltwater tank, the theme of the aquarium is “The Waters of the Cape Fear,” which showcases both fresh water and salt water aquatic life in a journey down the Cape Fear River to the Atlantic Ocean.
Situated on a wooded oceanfront location complete with lovely gardens and wildlife areas, the aquarium features many beautiful and exotic displays beginning with a large tree-filled atrium containing stream, pond and swamp aquatic life, plants and ground cover. Very popular with the kids is the Coquina Outcrop Touch Pool in the Coastal Waters Gallery where the little ones (and the big ones, too) can reach out and touch whelks, sea urchins, horseshoe crabs and other sea critters.
The focal point of the aquarium is the Cape Fear Shoals exhibit, where visitors can even talk to a scuba diver.
The huge, two-story tank displays a vast array of sea life including moray eels, stingrays, sharks and grouper plus a multitude of other varieties of sea life. At feeding time, divers underwater answer questions from the audience as they feed the fish.
The Open Oceans Gallery features creatures found off our coastline, and there are two tanks displaying jellyfish. Another tank contains the beautiful and fascinating sea horses. Five other tanks display sea snakes, lionfish, cuttlefish, Pacific Reef fish and an octopus. In the Shadows on the Sand exhibit, skates and rays endlessly cruise above the sandy bottom. All told, more than 2,500 sea creatures, including a rare albino alligator, are on display at the aquarium.
Located at the southern tip is the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, which offers visitors unspoiled ocean beaches accessible only by walking from the park offices, bathhouse, nature exhibits and concession area, or by four-wheel drive vehicles on a beach access trail.
Here you’ll find the perfect opportunity for swimming, surf fishing, shelling, bird and loggerhead sea turtle watching, hiking and exploring miles of nearly deserted beach and marshes. Lifeguards are on duty during tourist season in the swimming area near the park offices and there is ample parking.