By Kaitlin Sheppard
Charlotte is a city that knows how to play. Whether your kids’ idea of fun is riding the rapids, rocketing around a racetrack or standing so still butterflies land on their shoulders, Charlotte will bring out the smiles.
Indoor Family-friendly Fun
Discovery Place Nature – This museum introduces young children to nature through gentle activities. A favorite is the “Butterfly Pavilion,” where kids can see butterflies in all stages of growth. The museum backs up to Freedom Park, which offers a playground, expansive pond and walking trails.
Children's Theatre of Charlotte – Take the whole family to witness the excitement of the performing arts and then inspire them to participate in it themselves at the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. Since 1972, the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte has become one of the top performance and educational organizations for youth in the country. Get the kids involved in one of the creative drama classes or workshops to see why the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte has been nationally recognized for its programs.
Discovery Place Science – One of the most popular attractions in the Charlotte area, this science museum takes “interactive” to a new level. Kids build structures with PVC pipes, solve engineering challenges, create music by breaking light beams with their bodies and launch their own lightweight sculptures into the air. Kids up to age 7 have their own hands-on area with a water table and wind wall, among other attractions. Both kids and adults love The Charlotte Observer IMAX® Dome Theatre and Discovery 3-D Theatre.
Great Wolf Lodge – There’s no debate: Great Wolf Lodge is a favorite hotel for kids. Just minutes from Charlotte, Great Wolf Lodge features themed rooms, an arcade and the interactive MagiQuest, where kids battle dragons and goblins. Most importantly, though, there is an indoor waterpark that includes numerous water slides, a giant wave pool and a toddler area.
ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center – An innovative joint-venture between Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, ImaginOn features a full season of theater for kids, an award-winning children’s library and free activities sprinkled throughout the whimsical building. While preschoolers play dress-up on a stage, teens create animation videos in their own studio.
NASCAR Hall of Fame – Adult race fans appreciate the 40,000 square feet of exhibits celebrating the Piedmont’s homegrown sport, but kids really love the interactive features. They can take part in the pit crew challenge, call a race on the radio and solve an engine puzzle. Fifty hands-on activities will keep them busy.
SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord Aquarium – Get up close and personal with more than 5,000 sea creatures at SEA LIFE Aquarium in Concord Mills mall. The attraction brings you face-to-face with sharks, jellyfish, octopus, seahorses, starfish and more, and teaches visitors about what we can all do to protect our oceans.
Sky Zone Charlotte – The traditional gym may have some new competition. As the self-proclaimed inventors of “fun fitness,” the world’s first indoor trampoline park is redefining the way your family can stay active. Sky Zone has something for everyone, including an open jump, a foam pit, a SkySlam court, ultimate dodgeball and skyrobics classes for the parents.
Sports Connection – If you have an active family with no intention of slowing down, you need a place that has something for everyone. Where else can you find indoor sports, laser tag, a ropes course, bowling and rock climbing all in one place? With three locations in Charlotte, teens can master the bumper cars, arcade games and rock climbing Sports Connection offers, while the younger ones enjoy mini-bowling and jump-n-play.
Outdoor Family-friendly Adventures
Carolina Raptor Center – Stroll the 1-mile nature trail and get to know 25 species of raptors. The Carolina Raptor Center rehabilitates injured eagles, hawks, owls and other birds of prey, which are sure to intrigue and fascinate the whole family.
Carowinds – Boasting major thrill rides, family rides, rides for small children, the sprawling Carolina Harbor waterpark and the throwback County Fair attraction, Carowinds is a theme park that truly does have something for everyone. The major draw, Fury325, is the world’s tallest and fastest giga coaster!
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden – The expansive grounds of these 400 acres of pristine pastures are made for strolling. Whether you’re looking for a family afternoon filled with horticulture education or a weekend exploring the “Wee Houses” exhibition, which is part of the collective “Playhouses, Treehouses and Forts” attraction, little ones of all ages will love stepping into a new world of imagination inside the garden.
Lazy 5 Ranch – Get a bucket of animal food and enjoy face-to-face encounters with more than 750 animals from six continents. Tour the Mooresville animal park in a horse-drawn wagon or your own car.
The Speedpark at Concord Mills – Located at Concord Mills, the SpeedPark offers five go-kart tracks for kids and adults as well as bumper boats, a climbing wall, mini-golf and an arcade.
U.S. National Whitewater Center – Home to the largest man-made whitewater river in the world and the world’s first deep water solo climbing tour, the center’s adventures include rafting, kayaking, climbing, mountain biking, zip lining and more. Kids can’t help but burn off energy here.
This article was updated in May 2017.