Best ways to entertain your kids while visiting Charlotte
Charlotte is often considered one of the best places to live and work in the USA. But you may be surprised to know that it’s also a great place for families to visit with tons of kid-friendly attractions, especially for the younger set.
Photo courtesy: Visit Charlotte/NASCAR Hall of Fame
Discovery Place educates kids through play at its three separate museums. At Discovery Place Science (301 N. Tryon St., Uptown), families can enjoy interactive exhibits, IMAX dome films, and daily programs featuring hands-on experiments. Cost: Youth (2-13) $13; Adults $17.
Discovery Place Nature (1658 Sterling Rd., Myers Park) is all about fun with animals and their environments. Kids can explore in ways that encourages both hands-on and self-directed learning. Cost: Youth (2-13) $8; Adult $8.
Then there’s Discovery Place Kids (105 Gilead Rd., Huntersville) for young children. It has themed areas for play, live shows, and other special events. My 3-year old loves to play house and pretend to go grocery shopping here. Cost: Youth (2-13) $10; Adult $10.
2/ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center
300 E. 7th Street, Uptown
You probably won’t find another place like ImaginOn anywhere in the USA. It’s a collaboration between the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. It has two state-of-the-art theaters and dedicated library spaces for teens and children. Although the library spaces are free to explore seven days a week, the Children’s Theatre has a calendar of shows with the average ticket price starting as low as $12. The theatre even has special shows for those with autism and sensitivity issues or for those who need sign language interpretation.
KidTripster Tip: Parking can be tricky, depending on how long you plan to be at ImaginOn. Check the website for a list of parking options.
3/NASCAR Hall Of Fame
400 E. MLK. Jr. Blvd., Uptown
With the Charlotte Motor Speedway north of metro Charlotte in Concord, NASCAR is big in this area of the country. And nothing brings you closer to the sport and its history than the NASCAR Hall of Fame. But you can still have fun, even if you’re not a NASCAR fan. The venue is both hi-tech and interactive with exhibits, simulators, and a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to get ready for a race. Cost: Youth (5-12) $12.95; Adult $19.95.
KidTripster Tip: The venue hours are variable, so it’s a good idea to check the website before visiting.
Photo courtesy: Visit Charlotte/NASCAR Hall of Fame
4/Carolina Aviation Museum
4672 First Flight Dr., Airport
If you or your kids love planes like my daughter, visiting the Carolina Aviation Museum is a must. The museum has exhibits with commercial, civil, and military aircraft along with various helicopters. You even can sit inside a cockpit to see what it’s like to be a pilot. Among the exhibits, you’ll find the U.S. Airways plane that made that miraculous water landing in New York’s Hudson River back in 2009. Cost: Youth (under 5) Free; Youth (6-18) $8; Adult $12.
KidTripster Tip: There’s no air conditioning. Instead the museum has large fans that circulate air, so dress accordingly.
14523 Carowinds Blvd.
When it comes to playing, Charlotte has quite a few theme parks and indoor waterparks like Ray’s Splash Planet (215 N. Sycamore St., Uptown) and Adventure Landing (10400 Cadillac St., Pineville). But you can’t talk about playing in Charlotte without talking about Carowinds. The amusement park has been around since the 1970s and is pretty much synonymous with family fun around here - rollercoasters, carnival rides, live shows, and games. And let’s not forget about the waterpark! The only drawback is that it’s seasonal, operating from the end of March until the end of October. Cost: Daily Pass $39.99; Admission + Fast Lane $54.99; Two-Day Ticket $59.99.
KidTripster Tip: Always check the Carowinds website for pre-season ticket sales and other discounted offers.
6/Wing Haven Garden & Bird Sanctuary
248 Ridgewood Ave., Myers Park
If you want a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of Center City, head to the Wing Haven Garden and Bird Sanctuary. You can take a self-guided tour of the beautiful gardens. Your entire family will enjoy spotting all the birds and wildlife that you often see along the way. There’s a small children’s garden, where little ones can use spades for digging and rain barrel and watering cans for watering plants. There’s also sensory environments with butterflies and live chickens. Open Wednesdays through Saturdays. Cost: Youth (10 & under) Free; Other $10.
SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord Aquarium is the perfect place to take young children. The small aquarium is built for kids with thousands of creatures and an underwater ocean tunnel. Staffers also give talks, offer feeding demonstrations, and take groups on behind-the-scenes tours every 30 minutes. My daughter loved the interactive touch pool with crabs, sea stars, and urchins. She also filled with excitement when she spotted the play area with a large jungle gym; unfortunately, she needed to be taller to actually enjoy it. No worries if you have to leave to take a walk through the mall with a fussy child or grab something to eat as admission is good for the entire day. Cost: Youth (3-12) $14.95; Adults $19.95.
KidTripster Tip: Buy your tickets online and save $5 off standard admission.
8/U.S. National Whitewater Center
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy.
For more active families, the U.S. National Whitewater Center is the place to go. The center sits on 1,100 acres along the Catawba River and offers everything from whitewater rafting, kayaking, and rock climbing to zipline and ropes courses. There’s also a trail system more than 30 miles long for running, hiking, and mountain biking. And if you’re up for the challenge, the center offers canopy tours that take you on a series of zips, sky bridges, cargo net climbs, and rappels through the woodlands along the Catawba River and portions of the Historic Tuckaseegee Ford and Trail. When it’s time to relax, you can pop into one of the center’s two restaurants or participate in an adventure dining experience. Cost: Single activity pass $25; All-sport pass $49-59; Sport passes without whitewater activities $44-49; Canopy tour $89.
9/Latta Plantation Nature Preserve & Carolina Raptor Center
Sample Rd., Huntersville
Latta Plantation Nature Preserve (6211 Sample Rd.) has over 1,400 acres that would take a family more than an entire day to enjoy. The property features 18 miles of hiking and horseback riding, Segway adventure tours, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and picnicking. Latta Plantation Nature Center features animals, a discovery hall, an outdoor amphitheater, and a habitat garden. Carolina Raptor Center (6000 Sample Rd.) also sits on the property, which is a great place for bird lovers. You can see eagles, hawks, vultures, falcons, and owls. At the Raptor Hospital, your kids can get a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to treat an injured bird. Cost: Youth (5 & older with student ID) $6; Adult $10.
If you want to take a trip back in time, the restored 19th-century Latta Plantation Home and Farm (5225 Sample Rd.) offers tours with interpreters in period costumes. The home is open for guided tours on Tuesdays through Sundays. Cost: Youth (6 & up) $7; Adult $8.
1900 East Blvd., Myers Park/Dilworth
Freedom Park is one of Charlotte’s largest parks. It has 98 acres that include two playgrounds, a lake with a paved trail, a full basketball court, an NFL-kids zone, and concession stand. The park also connects to the Little Sugar Creek Greenway. It could be a great place to picnic or spend some time after a trip to Discovery Place Science which is nearby. But this isn’t the only park you can explore; the city is full of beautiful ones, no matter what part of the city that you decide to visit.
Claresa Smith is a former news producer who grew up in the Charlotte area. These days, she’s happy to be back in her hometown with her husband, exploring the city as the mom of a preschooler and a baby boy on the way.
This writer received some complimentary activities for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.