Where to See Santa Claus in Wilmington NC

Santa Claus

Ready to take the kiddos to see the big man in red? We’ve compiled a list of Wilmington area businesses and events hosting Santa Claus. If we missed any, let us know in the comments!

Please note that there are several sensory-friendly options for families with children with all spectrums of special needs to enjoy a visit and/or photo with Santa. There is “Santa Cares” at the Independence Mall and Mayfaire Town Center, as well as “Quiet Visits with Santa” at Airlie Gardens. There are also opportunities for photos of your pet with Santa.


Airlie Gardens

Multiple Dates in November and December

300 Airlie Rd., Wilmington, NC 28403
910-798-7700; [email protected]
  • Enchanted Airlie: There are two run times per evening (5 PM – 7 PM and 7 PM – 9 PM) November 23, 24, and 30, December 1 and 7 – 22. During this time, The Gardens close at 4 PM (for general admission) to prepare for this festive New Hanover County tradition. Per the website, “. . .since 2005, guests from around the world have visited Airlie Gardens from Thanksgiving to Christmas to take in the sparkling sights and festive sounds of the season. Guests will experience a 0.5m stroll through the Gardens, on a self-guided walking tour while feasting their eyes on a spectacular array of lights and holiday displays.” Santa and a few local food and beverage vendors with hot chocolate, popcorn, cookies, beer, wine and more will also be in attendance.

Advance-sale tickets sell out quickly, so be certain to reserve yours early. They do not take orders by phone. Click here for ticket information and remaining available dates and times. Enchanted Airlie is a park-and-walk-through experience. Note that tram service is not available during this event. The tour is wheelchair accessible, and wheelchairs are available for check out on a first-come, first-serve basis. A ticket includes onsite parking for one vehicle and admission for all of its passengers. Tickets are $30/carload (car, standard truck, SUV, and mini vans only) and $55/XL van (10-15 passenger or conversion vans only). Contact Airlie Gardens for special reservations for larger vehicles, including limos, mini busses, trolleys, coach, or school buses.

  • Quiet Visits with Santa: According to their facebook page, the 4th annual Quiet Visits with Santa provides a quiet, “’stress-free zone’ for children with special needs (autism spectrum, sensory processing, intellectual disabilities. . .)” to visit with Santa and share their wishes. The visits are free and by appointment only due to limited space between 9 AM – 3 PM on Saturday, December 8 and 12 PM – 3 PM on Tuesday, December 11. Call the Clinic for Special Children at 910-319-7744 to schedule an appointment. A photographer will be present to provide a keepsake for all families.

Cameron Art Museum (CAM)

December 9th

3201 South 17th St., Wilmington, NC 28412
Phone: (910) 395-5999

From 4 PM – 7 PM on December 9, as part of “Illumination 2018,” CAM will host the 4th annual Floating Lantern Ceremony, allowing patrons to send small lighted lanterns out on the museum’s pond. Attendance is free, but donations are appreciated. Participants may purchase a lantern sleeve ($10 through December 8, $15 on December 9) that they may personally decorate before floating. The evening will be accompanied by live music and refreshments for purchase.

A new offering this year includes a visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus if you purchase a combo ticket ($6/ticket, ages 3 & under free), which includes the visit and access to the teamLab digital arts exhibitions. The art collective teamLab is three installations in A Time when Art is Everywhere: Story of the Time when Gods were Everywhere, Flower and Corpse Glitch Set of 12, and Sketch Aquarium. The latter invites participants to color a drawing of a sea creature which is then scanned, projected and animated onto a giant virtual aquarium. Illumination 2018, which runs Thursday, December 8 – Sunday, Jan. 13, is a juried exhibition of coast-to-coast artists displaying their original illuminated sculptures throughout the holiday season.

The Cotton Exchange

November 23

Front St. & Grace St. in Downtown Wilmington, NC

Take free pictures with Santa from his arrival on a fire truck at 11 AM on Friday, November 23 until 4 PM.

Downtown Wilmington Tree Lighting

November 23

Riverfront Park, Market St. & Water St., Downtown Wilmington, NC

Kick off the holiday season in Downtown Wilmington with the annual Downtown Wilmington Tree Lighting from 5:30 PM – 8 PM on Friday, November 23. Enjoy free, live entertainment (5:30 PM), and participate in the countdown to tree lighting (6:25 PM), followed by a special visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus with photo opportunities (6:30 PM). Entertainment includes storytelling, traditional carols, as well as songs from “A Christmas Carol: The Musical” to be performed by the period-costumed cast of Thalian Association Community Theatre’s (TACT) production, which opens at Thalian Hall for a two-weekend run on Friday, December 7. Free hot chocolate will be provided while supplies last. This event is brought to you by the City of Wilmington, Downtown Business Alliance and Cool Wilmington.

Greenfield Park Tree Lighting and Santa Visit

November 30

Hugh Morton Amphitheater, 1941 Amphitheater Dr., Wilmington, NC

The City of Wilmington Parks & Recreation will be hosting free holiday festivities from 5 PM – 9 PM on Friday, November 30. Events include entertainment (5:15 PM), a tree lighting followed by the arrival of Santa (6 PM), and showing of the movie, Elf (7 PM). Bring your cameras for photo opportunities during the visitation with Santa (6:15 PM – 8 PM). Refreshments will be sold.

Independence Mall

Multiple Dates in November and December

3500 Oleander Dr., Wilmington, NC 28403

Visits with Santa are free, and the Mall also offers the following activities:

  • Photos with Santa: Dates are Saturday, November 10 – Sunday, December 23. Hours are 10 AM – 9 PM Monday – Saturday, and 12 PM – 6 PM on Sun., except on Christmas Eve (Monday, December 24) when hours end at 6 PM. Please note that Santa is unavailable for photos during the following hours when he feeds his reindeer: 1 PM – 2 PM and 5 PM – 6 PM Monday – Saturday., and 3 PM – 3:30 PM Sunday Photo packages are available for purchase starting at $24.99 and go up to $49.99.
  • Pet Night Photos with Santa: From 6 PM – 8 PM on Sunday, December 16 you may also take your furry friends for photos with Santa. The Mall asks that you please keep your pet on a leash at all times. Photo package prices are the same as above.
  • Breakfast with Santa: 9 AM – 10 AM Saturday, December 1 at the Independence Mall Food Court for breakfast provided by Chick-Fil-A followed by a ride on the train. Visit the Management Office at the Mall 8:30 AM – 5 PM until Wednesday, November 28 to purchase your ticket. Price: $6 (Cash only, please.)
  • Santa Cares: Per the Mall website, from 10 AM – 11:30 AM on Sunday, December 9, it will be hosting a special, free event prior to store openings for “families with children with all spectrums of special needs, providing a compassionate environment to visit the Santa photo experience. Simple adjustments are made to reduce sensory stimuli (such as lights, music and waiting for Santa at activity tables) to create a calming environment. Santa Cares is held in partnership with Autism Speaks, the world’s leading Autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the cause, prevention, treatment and cure for Autism.” Santa photo packages will also be available for purchase.

Mayfaire Town Center

Multiple Dates in November and December

6835 Conservation Way, Wilmington, NC 28405
  • Santa Arrival & Holiday Show: Welcome Santa to his home at Mayfaire from 6:30 PM – 7:30 PM on Saturday, November 24 in front of Regal Cinema. Before counting down to the lighting of Mayfaire’s 18 foot Christmas tree, cast members of TACT’s “A Christmas Carol: The Musical” will perform a scene from the show, the Wilmington School of Ballet will present “The Nutcracker”, and The Cape Fear Chordsmen will sing holiday favorites. There will also be a light show, face painting, and visit from Elsa. Attendees are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy to the show for Toys for Tots.
  • Visit and Photos with Santa (for Families as well as Pets): Dates are Friday, November 23 – Monday, December 24. Hours are 11 AM – 7 PM Monday – Saturday (except for a break from 2 PM – 3 PM.), and 12 PM – 5 PM on Sunday. Santa will be inside Santa’s Workshop located near Belk on 980 Inspiration Dr. for visits with families and pets. Visits with Santa are free, but merchandise and photo packages are also available for purchase starting at $24.99 and go up to $49.99. Every purchase includes a free personalized phone call from Santa. For Santa Paws pet photos, Mayfaire advises that “pets must be on a leash or in a carrier, and pet owners are responsible for cleaning up after their pets.” During this time, Covenant Moravian Church is also hosting Dewey’s Bakery known for Moravian cookies, sugar cake, cheese straws, and other goodies perfect for gift-giving and serving at holiday parties.
  • Santa Cares: This event is to be held on Sunday, December 9 inside Santa’s Workshop on 980 Inspiration Dr. Per the website, “Santa Cares is a sensory-friendly opportunity for children with all spectrums of special needs to enjoy the time-honored tradition of the Santa Photo Experience with their family in a calming environment. Accommodations are made to support the sensory, physical, and developmental needs of this special audience. Children will enjoy a day of fun activities. Sensory-Friendly Santa is held in partnership with Autism Society of NC. The Autism Society of North Carolina-New Hanover County Chapter provides support and promotes opportunities that enhance the lives of individuals within the autism spectrum and their families.” Photo packages will be available for purchase.
  • PJ Party with Santa: From 7:30 PM – 9 PM on Saturday, December 1 at Chick-Fil-A at Mayfaire, children can enjoy fun activities and meet Santa. Meals are sold separately.
  • Storytime with Santa: From 9 AM – 10 AM on Saturday, December 8 at Barnes & Noble at Mayfaire, children can gather around Santa as he tells a classic Christmas tale. Admission is free.

Memories of a Child (M.O.A.C)

November 24

6932 Market St., Wilmington, NC 28405 (In Ogden Commons Food Lion shopping center behind the Waffle House)

MOAC, a children’s and maternity resale shop, is hosting visits with Santa from 12 PM – 2 PM on Saturday, November 24. Bring your camera for photos, or they will take it with the store iPad.

Merry Little Christmas Festival

December 7 – December 9 and December 14 – December 16

Poplar Grove Plantation
10200 US Hwy. 17 N., Wilmington, NC 28411

Over the course of the two weekends between Friday, December 7 – Sunday, December 16, families can visit with Santa at Poplar Grove Plantation where the grounds, outbuildings and Manor House will be lit up with four 10-12 foot trees. Each room in the house will be decorated by theme and color inspired by the Foys’ Colonial through Victorian family history and a few contemporary flourishes. There will also be a Winter Bazaar of 60 juried arts and crafts vendors, and family-friendly interactive experiences, including lawn and midway games of the past (ring toss, pitch-a-penny, and Shoot ‘Em Up).

Your $5.00 admission also includes a bonfire for roasting marshmallows, outdoor screenings of holiday favorites such as  “The Polar Express,” “A Christmas Story,” and “Elf.” You may also visit the letter writing stations to send wishes to the North Pole and letters to US soldiers serving abroad. Be sure to check out the Grinch’s Junk Shop in the Blacksmith Studio, as well. You are encouraged to bring blankets and chairs to get comfy and enjoy the day. Dates and Times: Friday, December 7 and 14 from 5 PM – 8 PM, Saturday, December 8 and 15 from 12 PM – 8 PM, Sunday, December 9 and 16 from 12 PM – 5 PM.

Wilmington Railroad Museum

Multiple Dates in November and December

505 Nutt St., Wilmington, NC 28401
  • Polar Express Family Shows

For three weekends in December (Saturday and Sunday, December 8-9, 15-16, and 22-23), two times each day (4:30 PM and 5:30 PM), the museum is offering visits with Santa, a reading of the classic story by WWAY-TV personalities, and hot chocolate. You must call in advance to make and pay for a reservation ($5 each, children under age 2 are free).

  • Christmas Train & Light Spectacular

Enjoy visits with Santa and a walk-through show of festive, synchronized light and sound displays, specially decorated holiday trains, hot cider and cookies from 6:30 PM – 8 PM every Friday and Saturday evening between Friday, November 23 and Saturday, December 29. You may purchase tickets at the door for $5 each (children under age 2 are free).


Carolina Beach & Kure Beach

Christmas By the Sea

Multiple Dates in November and December

The 10th Annual Christmas by the Sea is a winter event series sponsored and organized by the Carolina Beach Downtown Initiative Volunteers of Carolina Beach, NC, and the Town of Carolina Beach. Starting with the lighting ceremony on Saturday, November 24 at approx. 7:30 PM, the Boardwalk area will be decorated and lit up each night until Christmas. On Saturdays, December 1, 8, and 15 from 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM, there will be visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus at the Welcome Center, a fire pit with storytelling, hot chocolate, a puppet show, arts and crafts area, and ornament making activities for kids. Click here for more information.

The Lighting at the Lake Celebration

November 3

Carolina Beach Lake at the intersection of Atlanta Ave. and Lake Park Blvd., Carolina Beach, NC

The Island of Lights Festival kicks off its 25th anniversary on Pleasure Island this year on Friday, November 3 at 7 PM with the Lighting at the Lake Ceremony. The brief opening ceremony features the President of the Island of Lights Committee, Pleasure Island elected officials, and musical entertainment. Local Cub Scouts provide the Honor Guard and display the flag for the singing of the National Anthem. Afterwards, Santa will make a guest appearance under the shelter area. There is parking in the lot at the lake, a lot across the street from the lake, and on Lake Park Blvd where indicated. The annual Island of Lights celebration also includes a Christmas parade, Christmas flotilla, home tour, and New Year’s Eve celebration throughout December.

If we missed any, let us know in the comments!

Where to See Santa Claus in Wilmington NC

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About the Author
Meghan Henderson
Meghan is the Marketing Specialist for The Cameron Team and a published author of two young adult books. She also creates digital and printable planners and trackers, as well as coloring pages for Larkspur & Tea.