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Charlotte, Family Style

Charlotte boasts a hearty menu of places to play, explore and eat that are perfect for the whole family.
McMillan Greenhouse at UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens showcases vibrant florals and biodiversity.
McMillan Greenhouse at UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens showcases vibrant florals and biodiversity.

By Leah Hughes

The Queen City is a melting pot of recreational havens, cultural mainstays, historical treasures and intellectual offerings. Whether your family prefers microscopes over Rollerblades or oil paintings over storied artifacts, you’re sure to find your flavor on Charlotte’s diverse menu of family fun. And if the members of your family are as unique and different as the neighborhoods that fill the city, go à la carte and cook up your own daily special.

For the History Hounds
Head Uptown and follow the self-guided Charlotte Liberty Walk. The trail includes 18 points that played a significant role in the city’s American Revolutionary War history. Stand where British troops camped in 1780 and see a statue of the city’s namesake, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Brochures and interactive maps that describe each marker are available at

From a similar time period, the Hezekiah Alexander House is an example of an American Revolutionary War-era home. Built in 1774, it’s the oldest surviving structure in Mecklenburg County. The house sits on the property of The Charlotte Museum of History. Take a guided museum tour and then explore the grounds, imagining what life was like in Charlotte’s earliest days.

The Historic Rosedale Plantation showcases early 19th-century life. Roam the property as you collect evidence for the Treasure Tree Leaf Hunt. Try to identify the property’s six trees, each of which is a designated state or county historic treasure. Rosedale hosts family-friendly events throughout the year, including a Father’s Day dig for artifacts and a tea party in the English basement kitchen.

The plane involved in one of the most famous landings in aircraft history, the Miracle on the Hudson, now resides at the Carolinas Aviation Museum. See that Airbus A320-214 as well as helicopters, military aircraft and a replica of the Wright Flyer at this mecca of aviation history. Adults and kids will enjoy sitting in a cockpit and trying their hands at the controls.

For a lunch or dinner blended with a historical backdrop, scoot up to a table at 300 East, an old home-turned-restaurant in Dilworth, which has been serving casual, eclectic fare for decades. Also on the menu are creative cocktails for adults, specials for kids and desserts for everyone.  For something more low-key, try a famous hot dog from the oldest restaurant in Uptown, Green’s Lunch.

For the Wild Ones
For an all-day, action-filled adventure, the U.S. National Whitewater Center is the ideal destination. Pile into a raft and paddle your way through the rapids. Show your strength on the climbing wall and overcome your fear of heights on a ropes course and zip line challenge. Activity passes bundle the whitewater, flatwater and land options for an all-inclusive experience. The center also hosts a free summer concert series, which invites families to bring a blanket or chairs and dance on the lawn to live music.

Racing fans get in on the action at Victory Lane Indoor Karting Center. The facility houses a 1/3-mile road course and top-notch karts that fly around the track. Specialized karts with adjustable seats, pedals and steering wheels are available for youth racers.  If the track is a hit with the kids, Victory Lane offers a racing school, summer camp and birthday parties.

For a mini vacation, Great Wolf Lodge in Concord is less than 30 minutes from Uptown. The indoor water park is the star here. Explore the water fort treehouse, raft down River Canyon Run and Alberta Falls and race each other on the four-story-high Mountain Edge Raceway. Toddlers can have fun and stay safe, too, in the Cub Paw Pool. Retreat to a cabin-themed room and enjoy all the relaxation of a mountain getaway.

Fuel up at Pit Road Bar & Grill, located at Victory Lane Indoor Karting Center. This version of real-deal Americana on a plate has been featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Try the MoonPie burger with a local draft beer as the little ones dig into macaroni and cheese with a bottle of Cheerwine.

For the Culture Buffs
From its enchanting Firebird sculpture out front to its engaging exhibitions inside, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is a captivating experience for children and adults. The Bechtler offers Family Days throughout the year with hands-on activities and special tours. The museum store is the place to purchase a toy, art supplies or a book to remember your visit.

If you have a special event coming up, Wine & Design offers activities for all ages. The Art Buzz Kids division specializes in family-friendly painting and craft classes. The East Boulevard studio has a designated space for children’s parties. Throwing a party here is a celebration, educational experience and interactive project all in one. Plus, adults can bring their favorite bottles of wine.

Expose the kids to the arts at an early age through Children’s Theatre of CharlotteThey’ll see their favorite storybook characters, such as the Cat in the Hat or the Tortoise and the Hare, leap off of the page and onto the stage. In addition to plays, the theater company offers an extensive lineup of classes and camps.

Even the most difficult family members to please, the teenagers, will enjoy a night out with their parents at The Dinner Detective. The minimum age requirement is 15. The four-course dinner is interspersed with a comedic murder mystery plot. At the end of the night, the person who comes closest to solving the crime receives a prize. The shows take place regularly on Saturday evenings.

Stop by Amélie’s French Bakery for a meal or a sweet treat and cup of tea. The cafe now has three Charlotte locations, and the NoDa original is open 24 hours. Try a cup of Amélie’s locally roasted coffee, a scratch-made soup or a top-selling salted caramel brownie as you admire the whimsical design and art work in any of the locations’ interiors.

For the Brainiacs
Discovery Place is a destination that opens the eyes of early explorers and reinvigorates the imaginations of the more experienced. The not-to-miss “BODY WORLDS & The Cycle of Life” exhibition presents more than 100 real human specimens, preserved through plastination, which demonstrate how the body functions in various life stages and under certain conditions. For children 7 and younger, the “KidScience” exhibition is a place to build with blocks and float boats at the water table.

The McMillan Greenhouse at UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens demonstrates the biodiversity found on our planet. See tropical orchids in brilliant colors, primitive plants surrounding a dinosaur sculpture and Venus flytraps waiting for snacks. The greenhouse is open seven days a week and makes for a convenient morning or afternoon outing.

If you consider yourself a problem-solver, test those skills at Exit Strategy. Collect some family members and friends, lock yourself in a room for 60 minutes and try to escape before your time expires. Each clue or solved puzzle leads you closer to unlocking the door. The rooms have different themes, from a bank heist to a murder mystery, so pick the one that suits your group. The age requirement for most rooms is 12 and older.

Lunch and learn at the Community Café inside Discovery Place, which is centered on locally sourced, healthy foods. Colorful, creative options fill the menu. A teachable moment comes post-meal when you divide your waste between compost and recycling bins.

This article ran in the March 2016 issue of Charlotte Happenings.

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