10 Family-Friendly Play Dates Around Charlotte
Discover fun family-friendly things to do around the Queen City.
by Allison Hancin
With a little bit of imagination and a whole lot of adventure, embark on the perfect family-friendly play date in Charlotte with one of these adventures.
The adventure begins aboard your ill-fated pirate ship, which crashed into a deserted island while in search of the lost treasure. Challenge your fearless crew to score the first hole-in-one aboard the 35-foot ship, then set your sights ashore. Surely the treasure lurks among the island’s lagoons and treehouses! You’re off, putter in hand, to find the hidden booty. Challenges await at each of the course’s 18 holes. Can’t get enough of the pirate’s life? High Seas offers families unlimited play with admission. Between rounds, cool off with scoops of local ice cream, flavorful slushies and snacks available on-site.
2. Bilingual Stories & Music at Mint Museum Randolph
Exploring a second language is a fun-filled adventure at the Mint Museum Randolph’s Bilingual Stories & Music program, which, on the second Saturday of every month, celebrates Spanish language and Latino culture in a way that feels like play. During the free community event, childhood classics like the “Hokey Pokey” are performed, first, in English and then in Spanish. Families and future world travelers shake it all about while learning words like “arm” (brazo), “leg” (pierna) and “hand” (mano). Little ones will not only be counting and singing in a second language, but they will also meet friends from different backgrounds.
Ever wonder what it would be like to run off and join the circus? Instead of heading straight to the big top, acrobats-in-training flock to AerialCLT to defy gravity with aerial silks and hammocks. Each private class accommodates up to three kids and begins with a warm-up to ease little ones into idea of spinning and inverting in mid-air. All that hanging, twisting and climbing isn’t just for fun (though it will feel like it!). At AerialCLT, kids build strength while stretching their idea of what it means to move and exercise. AerialCLT also offers a lively option for birthday parties and summer camp. No prior experience is required to test out new skills and create your own high-flying act.
At the NASCAR Hall of Fame, kids feed their need for speed despite being years away from a licenses of their own. Start your engines at Race Week, a behind-the-scenes look into the road to race day. Count the seconds it takes to change a tire as teams battle in a pit crew challenge—11 seconds is the industry standard, and then buckle up behind the simulator wheel to experience a driver’s view firsthand. When it’s time to refuel, pull into Pit Stop Café, where sandwiches, snacks and drinks satisfy roaring appetites. For the youngest drivers, consider the Hall of Fame’s 2nd Saturday events. The monthly program explores racing through hands-on educational activities. Before hitting the road, take a lap by the Gear Shop for a souvenir. After a first glimpse over a dashboard, your driver-in-training may not mind the journey home.
Open year-round, the lodge trades winter blues for the gushing waters of the 80,000-square-foot indoor water park. Here thrill-seekers hold on tight while swirling through the six-story slide Howlin’ Tornado, explorers splash through the Fort Mackenzie treehouse, and little pups howl with joy in the Whooping Hollow playground. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Buckets Incredible Craveables for a poolside picnic. Afterward, kids can tap into their artistic sides with Paws-on-Projects, face painting and balloon twisting, while resident tree climbers get an adrenaline boost on the Howlers Peak Ropes Course. Team up with the whole family during live-action games like MagiQuest, Compass Quest, ShadowQuest and AtomicRUSH, an LED arcade game. With so much fun to pack in, you may want to extend your adventure. Overnight options at Great Wolf Lodge stretch imaginations with themed tent and cave sleeping areas.
Wise Acres Organic Farm features 40 acres of fresh produce, playgrounds and corn mazes. In the spring, families flock here to pick their own strawberries, and in the fall, wagons are filled with pumpkins. Families work together to find their way through the corn maze, brave multiple zip lines or opt for a family hay ride. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Wise Pie Pizza Kitchen, where locally sourced pies are served piping hot from a 900-degree wood-fired oven. Add organic fresh popcorn, apple cider slushies and even cotton candy to your spread for a well-rounded lunch. Stop by the farm stand for seasonal produce and local honey before heading home. You’ll have stories, and organic treats, to last through the season.
At the Carolina Raptor Center, a nonprofit bird conservation and rehabilitation center, curious minds come face to beak with 97 resident birds, from fast-flying falcons to vultures, hawks and owls. You never know who you’ll encounter along the Raptor Trail, where families can collect fun facts about more than 30 different species. In the Eagle Aviary, discover what a bald eagle eats for breakfast, or watch literary and film fowl come to life in Raptors of the Big Screen. The Osprey Observation Deck allows young and old to marvel at these skilled “fishermen” native to North Carolina. Inside The Owl Forest, seek out a Eurasian eagle-owl, the largest owl species, and listen for the call of mysterious barn owls. The center is also home to the largest raptor medical center in the country. Future veterinarians and keepers ages 12 and older can experience the work firsthand through keeper or veterinarian programs, but even a regular day visit will inspire a second look at the sky.
8. Lazy 5 Ranch
At Lazy 5 Ranch, families come face-to-face with more than 750 exotic animals while traversing a one-hour safari route. Friendly cattle, kangaroos and camels approach your car or the ranch’s horse-drawn wagon to say hello, giving little ones the thrill of seeing their favorite animals up close. Time to refuel? Head to the Snack Shack to compare photos over hamburgers and hot dogs, or bring your own picnic, and dine under the covered shelter. Close out the day at the petting zoo, where future zoologists can feed goats and sheep.
9. Kids Run the Bases at a Charlotte Knights Baseball Game
During baseball season, it’s a scene that delights children and parents alike after each Charlotte Knights Sunday home game at BB&T Ballpark. After the last play of the game, kids 12 and under are invited to take to the field to follow in the footsteps of their favorite players. Indulge the whole family in the full ballpark experience. Cheer on the home team from the field box seats or from the lawn, where little ones can roam freely. Introduce yourself to Homer, the Knights' friendly dragon mascot. In the Kids’ Zone, future MVPs can test out their fastball prowess or defy gravity in Homer's inflatable play area before or after the game. You might just have a mini Babe Ruth on your hands.
10. Toys & Co.
Toys & Co.’s 9,000-square-foot shop is filled with imaginative gadgets, games, puzzles and hours of old-fashioned fun. Stocked floor to ceiling with the hottest brands, along with rare and specialty toys, this Carolina-rooted business offers something for all ages. You’ll frequently find the doors perched wide open, inviting both kids and kids at heart to come in and explore. At Toys & Co., curiosity is rewarded, and test runs are encouraged. In demo areas, kids give flight to toy airplanes and speed to race cars. For those looking for a guide to the newest contraption, the helpful staff is on deck to show off the bells and whistles. With the endless options on hand, choosing the right gift or hunting down the season’s newest toy is easy, but, fair warning, ending playtime at Toys & Co. won’t be.
This article has been edited by the Charlotte's got a lot staff.