10 Family-Friendly Play Dates Around Charlotte
Discover fun family-friendly things to do around the Queen City.
by Cassie Townsend
Per a COVID-19-related Mecklenburg County health directive issued Jan. 12, 2021, please note that some businesses may have modified their hours of operation and changed procedures in order to comply with CDC and Mecklenburg County Health Department guidelines. Please wear a mask, limit any non-essential activities and refrain from gathering with anyone outside of your household.
Charlotte is a city that knows how to play. Whether your kid's idea of fun is riding the rapids, rocketing around a racetrack or standing so still butterflies land on their shoulders, Charlotte will bring out their smiles.
1. Enter a World of Discovery
The Discovery Place museums take “interactive” to a new level. At Discovery Place Science, kids can create music with light beams, build PVC pipe structure or take in a show in the The Charlotte ObserverIMAX® Dome Theatre and Discovery 3D Theatre. Discovery Place Nature aims to inspire curiosity and a love of nature in young children with interactive activities to keep toddlers and kids engaged for hours. A favorite is the “Butterfly Pavilion,” where kids can see butterflies in all stages of growth. And in Huntersville and Rockingham, Discovery Place Kids conjures curiosity and activates the imagination through rich play experiences.
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 and an award-winning children’s library with free activities sprinkled throughout the whimsical building. While preschoolers play dress-up on a stage, teens create animation videos in their own studio.
3. Make a Splash
Open year-round, the Great Wolf Lodge is home to an 80,000 square-foot indoor water part that includes numerous water slides, a giant wave pool and a toddler area. Complimentary towels and life jackets are provided and multiple lifeguards are on duty. The lodge also features themed rooms, an arcade and the interactive MagiQuest, where kids battle dragons and goblins (ideal for kids 5 and up).
4. Rev Up Your Engine
Adult race fans appreciate the 40,000 square feet of exhibits celebrating the Piedmont’s homegrown sport, but kids really love the interactive features at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. They can take part in the pit crew challenge, call a race on the radio and solve an engine puzzle. For a more on-the-track experience, head north to The SpeedPark 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.
5. Experience an Underwater Adventure
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.
6. Take Fun to New Heights
Traditional gyms have nothing on Charlotte’s indoor, family-friendly sports centers. Redefine the way your family stays active at Sky Zone Charlotte where you can jump from a foam pit, a SkySlam court and ultimate dodgeball. At Sky High Sports Charlotte, kids 6 and younger have a Kids Court all their own. some new competition. And if you’re looking for a full body workout that's high-flying fun, give Sky High's signature fitness program, AIRobics, a try.
7. Release Your Wild Side
Come face-to-face with exotic animals at Lazy 5 Ranch in Mooresville while traversing a one-hour safari route. Zootastic Park in Troutman is a full walk around zoo offering big cats and wagon rides around the park. Both spots sport a menagerie of animals including giraffes, camels, kangaroos and ostrich. If fast-flying falcons are more your speed, soar over to the Carolina Raptor Center where 97 residents birds call home. The center is also home to the largest raptor medical center in the country. Future veterinarians and keepers ages 12 and older can get a closer look at the largest raptor medical center in the country through the center’s keeper or veterinarian programs.
8. Go on a Thrill Ride
Boasting major thrill rides, family rides, rides for small children and the sprawling Carolina Harbor water-park, Carowinds is a theme park that truly does have something for everyone. The top attraction, Fury325, is the world’s tallest and fastest giga-coaster. Take the little ones to Planet Snoopy for family-friendly fun, visit County Fair to experience 1950s fanfare or race into Victory Lane on the Intimidator, an 80-mph coaster inspired by racing legend Dale Earnhardt.
9. Smell the Roses
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden features 380 acres of themed gardens, a dozen sparkling fountains, a spectacular Visitor Pavilion and a striking Orchid Conservatory. Current seasonal exhibitions include the Butterfly Bungalow, a 2,100 square-foot enclosure where caterpillars, chrysalides and butterflies are the stars of the show and Pollinator Putting, the Garden’s first mini golf course of 18 playful, pollinator-themed holes.
10. Conquer Land, Sky and Sea
U.S. National Whitewater Center is 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, ziplining and more. Kids can’t help but burn off energy here. Before you go, check the USNWC’s calendar of events for special events and offers.