Family-Friendly Adventures in Charlotte
There is no shortage of family-friendly experiences in the Queen City, no matter the age of the kids-in-tow.
by Rosa Sprinkle Mar 20, 2023
Anne Springs Close Greenway
This blog is brought to you in partnership with Anne Springs Close Greenway.
Make it a family day with some of Charlotte’s favorite attractions, with some unexpected stops along the way. Many are stroller and wheelchair accessible as well as sensory-friendly, allowing family members of all ages and abilities to have a good time.
Families with Littles
Looking for ways to direct the energy of the 10-and-unders of your group? Try these adventures for younger kids and the grown-ups who love them.
Play the Day Away
With parks, spraygrounds, hiking and nature preserves, there is plenty of space to play and explore throughout the city and beyond.
1. Discover new ways to have fun in the great outdoors at the Anne Springs Close Greenway. The Greenway’s 2,100 acres allow young explorers to experience nature in exciting ways. Try the family-friendly hike around Lake Haigler or a patio lunch at the on-site restaurant. For guided fun, register for a kayaking or mountain biking clinic, Kids’ Nature Trek or even the Earth Day Campout. These events and more can be found on the Greenway’s web calendar.
2. Go for a walk or bike ride around the 7-acre lake at Freedom Park in Dilworth. Kids will love the small, fenced-in playground on the Princeton Avenue side of the park and the larger playground and NFL Play 60 KidZone near the East Boulevard entrance.
4. Grab some cookies at Crumbl Cookies and head over to Big Rock Nature Preserve. There's no worrying about crumbs when kids are climbing all over this surprising patch of gigantic boulders in South Charlotte.
5. Explore the playground and trails at Marion Diehl Park in SouthPark. The soft flooring and surrounding fence make the play equipment area fun and safe; a sensory-friendly children’s playhouse is filled with sensory-play including swings, sensory toys of all sizes, and other activities both inside and outside of the “Tiny House”; and the Braille Trail allows people with visual impairments to walk the paved .25-mile loop without the need for a sighted guide.
6. Picnic at First Ward Park. Attend a storytime at Imaginon, then grab some munchies at The Market at 7th Street. Take your goodies across the street and bask in the sun as the kiddos run around the field and through the sprayground.
Fur and feathers and scales, oh my! Kids will love getting up close at these creature features.
7. Buy a bucket of feed and get eye level with emus, giraffes, zebras and Watusi cattle – just a few of the animals that can be seen on a self-guided, drive-through tour at Lazy 5 Ranch in Mooresville.
8. Head to Troutman for Zootastic Park, walk-around zoo with a drive-through option, to see big cats, kangaroos and primates hanging around.
9. For an underwater adventure, check out SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord Aquarium at Concord Mills. Kids will love going through the ocean tunnel and adults will appreciate the ease and accessibility for those in wheelchairs and strollers. Check dates and times for Sensory-Friendly Sundays. Exhibits are adjusted to reduce sensory triggers and there is a dedicated quiet space for visitors who may need privacy.
Learn Something New
Young children will be engaged and fascinated by the hands-on exhibits at these museums and nature centers.
10. Step back into prehistoric times in The Schiele Museum of Natural History's Dino Safari exhibit. Explore permanent exhibitions taking visitors on a journey through North American wildlife and habitats, then walk down the nature trail to check out the farm and get lost in the twists and turns of the Natural aMAZEment exhibit.
11. Discovery Place Nature taps the curiosity of little animal lovers with its Butterfly Pavilion, Naturalist Lab and Fort Wild. Discovery Place Science in Uptown has exhibits specific to the 10-and-under crowd and in Huntersville, Discovery Place Kids conjures curiosity and activates the imagination through rich play experience with activities geared toward younger children.
12. Quest Center at Latta Nature Preserve features an interactive exhibit hall, a 6,000-gallon aquarium and live, native animals for up-close and tactile learning. And, just down the down, kids will marvel at the close up view of the owls, vultures, hawks, eagles, falcons, corvids and bald eagles at the Carolina Raptor Center.
Families with Middles
Families with kids 10 and older will love these adventures that engage both the bodies and minds of teens and tweens, allowing them to explore and play with a degree of independence, while still spending time with family.
Kids won’t miss their devices when they’re jumping, paddling, zip-lining and racing around the go-cart track at these high octane hot spots.
13. Home to the largest human-made whitewater river in the world, the U.S. National Whitewater Center has activities older kids will love, including rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking and zip-lining. Outside of regularly scheduled activities, USNWC also hosts special events and live music series that families can enjoy together.
14. At Frankie's Fun Park, kids can spend all day riding amusement park rides, playing laser tag, zipping around the go-kart track and battling friends and siblings in arcade games.
15. When the day calls for indoor fun, hop to Sky Zone Trampoline Park in Pineville. Take them to soar to higher heights at iFLY indoor skydiving in Concord. The Concord Mills Mall food court is close by when it’s time to feast.
Engage the Brain
Experimentation, intrigue and competition are the name of the game at these exploration destinations.
16. At Discovery Place Science, kids can design and build projects in Thinker Space, participate in science labs and take in a show in the Charlotte Observer IMAX® Dome Theatre and Discovery 3D Theatre. Discovery Place provides services for visitors who have visual, hearing and/or mobility impairments.
17. Teens and tweens will get a kick out of the mind-bending installations and images at the Museum of Illusions. Take tons of pictures while touring the museum, then discuss the ways the exhibits played with perspective and perception over lunch at nearby Brown Bag Seafood Co.
18. Partake in some friendly competition and card trading at Get Some Game. A 16-and-under Pokémon Tournament takes place every Sunday and Tuesday evenings, while older players can compete in Magic The Gathering Battles at neighboring tables.
Fun On and Off the Rail
There’s so much for kids to see and do while riding on or zipping alongside the light rail. Enjoy the sights, sounds and flavors that appear parallel to this Queen City feature.
19. Walk or ride along the Rail Trail, a 3.5-mile stretch of walkway that runs beside the LYNX Blue Line from South End to Uptown. Older children can appreciate the brightly colored Magic Carpet murals painted along the way and sit and swing on “Edna’s Porch” when they need a rest. Stop for a bite to eat at any of several restaurants in South End. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Two Scoops Creamery, Blaze Pizza or Sabor Latin Street Grill are sure to be favorites. To ride, use the Charlotte Joy Rides bike share program or rent an electric scooter from Lime or Bird. Anyone under age 16 must wear a helmet, so safety first!
20. Have a hop-on, hop-off Light Rail Day! Sorting out the logistics takes some planning, but letting kids help will make for an unforgettable adventure. Starting at any station, purchase round trip tickets heading north or south. Hop on the train to begin and hop off to check out key sights. Some must-see stops and experiences include touring the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens off the UNC Charlotte Main Station, grabbing a milkshake from Ninety’s Milkshake Bar at JW Clay Station, viewing the murals at 3224 Bernard Avenue at the 36th Street Station, shopping at Atherton Mill near East/West Boulevard Station and grabbing some of the best wings in town at Choi’s Korea & Wing by the Arrowood Road Station.
Family-friendly doesn’t just mean kids and parents – it means all family members, including growns, grands and guardians. The following adventures have something to offer every member of the family, regardless of age and ability.
Through walking tours of public art, inclusive museums and historic building revitalization, Charlotte has made art appreciation open and accessible for all.
21. Stroll through Uptown to view the many public sculptures, including ones sponsored by The Art and Science Council, such as “Spiral Odyssey” at Romare Bearden Park and “Balancing Act” at First Ward Park. Younger children will enjoy seeing the water-spurting fish fountains on The Green in Second Ward and a family photo is a must at “Firebird” in front of The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. Almost all sculptures are made easy to access via wide, flat sidewalks.
22. Get a feel for a neighborhoods’ vibes through the murals that adorn buildings and homes. Using the self-guided Art Walks CLT tours, explore and learn about the murals and the artists who created them – from NoDa and Elizabeth to South End and the Gold District.
23. To appreciate public art in a concentrated area, a visit to Camp North End is in order. This collection of historic buildings has been transformed into a hub of art, eateries, activities and events that everyone will enjoy.
24. Charlotte is home to several museums with accommodating features for families with differently abled children and adults who wish to enjoy art, textiles and sculptures. The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art - through the Creative Access program - offers creative programming and classes for adults with intellectual, developmental and other disabilities, as well as programming for adult guests with dementia. Specially designed tours and American Sign Language interpretation are available upon request with advance notice. The Mint Museum Uptown and Randolph offer Explorer Packs containing sensory items that can be checked out and used throughout the museum and Social Narratives resources to utilize for those with developmental disabilities. Single user/all gender restrooms and wellness rooms are also available for those needing privacy and a few moments to refresh. Want to try them all? Pick up and Explore Charlotte pass.
Whether family is in town visiting or everyone is local, planning an all-day adventure is easy with these engaging ideas sure to keep everyone entertained.
25. Spend a day celebrating the rich history and heritage of NASCAR at The NASCAR Hall of Fame and Charlotte Motor Speedway. At the museum, family members of all ages will be able to relive some of racing’s greatest moments and explore more than 50 interactive and inclusive exhibits. By offering adapted hearing devices, courtesy wheelchairs, accessible racing simulators and sensory bags that contain items such as noise canceling headphones and fidget toys, the Hall of Fame aims to provide a full experience for all guests. At the speedway, daily walking and driving tours give enthusiasts the history and a behind-the-scenes look at the speedway. One tour allows families to stay in their own vehicle while listening to tour guides through the radio, allowing visitors who require specialized vehicles to still take part.
26. Plan a relaxing day in nearby Belmont, North Carolina. Grab coffee or hot chocolate from The Everyday Market before spending the morning at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. After taking in the 380 acres of themed gardens, sparkling fountains and the striking Orchid Conservatory, it’ll be time for lunch. Pick up sandwiches from Two Chicks Sandwiches and Scoops. Head over to Stowe Park to let kids run and play, or enjoy the shops along Main Street. Finish up with dinner at family-friendly The Lodge Tavern and Tap or make reservations for The Bottle Tree or Heirloom.
27. For a high-energy adventure, nothing compares to Carowinds. With smaller rides for young children, larger coasters for taller kids and adults, a water park to cool off at and indoor shows when everyone needs a rest, Carowinds strives to provide comfort and access for all guests. Individuals with cognitive impairments or mobility restrictions may use the Boarding Pass Program (providing alternate boarding to applicable rides) and sensory-friendly spaces are available for those who desire quiet, air-conditioned family rooms.