Charlotte, North Carolina, is one of the most family-friendly cities in America. From parks and farms to rainy-day locales like museums and aquariums, both residents and visitors alike can find activities suited to their children's interests in Charlotte.
Plan your itinerary carefully when visiting Charlotte, as you'll have to pick and chose between all the fun goings-on. Hit the splash park on a hot summer day, pick in-season strawberries at a farm, or go for a sunset paddle on Lake Norman. Then, top off your stay with a milkshake at the town's classic soda stand.
Located in the middle of Uptown, Discovery Place is one of Charlotte's most visited attractions overall; the interactive science and technology museum that's popular with children and adults alike.
Discovery Place has dozens of hands-on exhibits, a huge IMAX movie screen, and things to do for all ages. The museum also regularly hosts large traveling exhibits like Body Worlds. There's also a nice aquarium portion of the museum, plus an actual rainforest that you can walk through featuring plenty of exotic live birds, reptiles, and plants.
While Discovery Place is a kids' museum, it is probably best for children that are at least in third or fourth-grade. Younger children can certainly enjoy things here, but they may find more fun at Discovery Place's counterpart, Discovery Place Kids in Huntersville, a museum that's designed specifically for younger kids with lots of things just for them.
There are live animals to encounter, live shows for education, and lots of hands-on exhibits to discover at Discovery Place Kids. Check out the daily puppet shows and hit the walking trails to get close to nature; markers along the trails let visitors know what they can see along the way. There are live animals to see, a water table, a few examples of animal habitats, and lots of places for kids to really understand nature.
Another park operated by the Discovery Place is the Charlotte Nature Museum, which is focused on children aged 3 to 7. While a little smaller than most, there are plenty of play areas to keep the kids moving and things to see at the museum itself. The Butterfly Pavilion is a favorite, where dozens of free-flying butterflies float around. The Nature Museum is located right next to Freedom Park, making it a great place to spend the day at the museum before stopping over for a picnic in the park.
Carrigan Farms is located a short drive away from Charlotte in Mooresville, North Carolina. Here, children of all ages can spend the spring picking asparagus and strawberries or the fall harvesting fresh pumpkins. Carrigan Farms also hosts a variety of fun events throughout the year including haunted hayrides near Halloween and private swim parties in the summer. Tours are also available throughout the year that introduces kids to every aspect of farm life—from planting crops to harvesting the fields.
There's nothing a kid likes better in the summer months than getting wet, and Charlotte's public park system has several spray-grounds—miniature water parks with jets that shoot water out of the ground. Kids can run, splash, and play, and the ground is usually somewhat padded to prevent injuries.
Here's where you'll find free spray-grounds in Charlotte:
- Veterans Park at 2136 Central Avenue (east of Uptown in the Elizabeth neighborhood near US-74)
- Latta Park at 601 East Park Avenue (just south of Uptown, near Dilworth Elementary School)
- Cordelia Park at 2100 North Davidson Street (just northeast of Uptown, near Amelie's French Bakery)
- West Charlotte Recreation Center at 2400 Kendall Drive (on Charlotte's west side, near West Charlotte High School, just off I-85)
- Nevin Park at 6000 Statesville Rd. (Charlotte's north side, near I-77 and Ribbon Walk Nature Preserve)
The spray-ground at Veteran's park is probably the most popular one in Charlotte because it has a canopy that covers the entire playground, keeping the sun from burning little shoulders. There are also some other water play areas in Charlotte parks that aren't "official" spray-grounds, such as Romare Bearden Park, The Green Uptown, Little Sugar Creek Greenway, and even a nice one located at Birkdale Village.
If you're looking to get your kids outdoors, check out Charlotte's three nature preserves. These are a part of Charlotte's public park system, and they have traditional park elements like playgrounds and picnic areas but also more opportunities to get into nature on walking trails.
- Reedy Creek Nature Preserve: Located at 2900 Rocky River Road (Charlotte, North Carolina, 28215), this preserve boasts an awesome playground made up of natural elements like sand, stone, boulders, and logs.
- McDowell Nature Preserve: Located at 15222 York Road (Charlotte, North Carolina, 28278), this preserve has plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities along numerous walking trails as well as special programming throughout the year including guided nature walks.
- Latta Plantation Nature Preserve: Located at 6211 Sample Road (Huntersville, North Carolina, 28078) this preserve is the county's largest and sits on Mountain Island Lake. Latta has bird feeding stations to watch feathered friends, a discovery hall, a butterfly garden, and more. The preserve here is also home to the Raptor Center, the Latta Plantation, a fully restored working 19th-century farm, and Latta Equestrian Center, a horse riding facility that offers riding trails, pony rides, and more.
Ask any parent in Charlotte about one thing their kid loves to do, and you'll hear ImaginOn mentioned frequently. Located Uptown, ImaginOn is a library geared towards kids and teens that's been named one of the best kids' libraries in the nation. In fact, it even has two theaters on site: the Wells Fargo Playhouse and the McColl Family Theater.
Part of Charlotte's public library system, ImaginOn is completely free. The library is broken down into several different areas, each focusing on a certain age group.
The main Spangler Library is a traditional children's library that's geared towards kids from infants to fifth grade. You will find plenty of books that can be checked out plus plenty of spaces to curl up and read, but there are also lots of educational computer games, interactive toys like building blocks, a pretend dress-up station, and more to enjoy here as well.
An area called "The Loft" on the third floor is only accessible to teenagers. This space has lots of quiet areas for studying but also features an award-winning sound and animation studio that's free to use as well as spaces for teens to work on projects together and lots of DVDs, books, and graphic novels.
The Carolina Raptor Center is first and foremost an aviary rehab facility, but it's also an excellent spot to see some incredible birds that you usually wouldn't be able to see anywhere else. Here, visitors can rub wings with one of America's largest collections of birds of prey, many of which are endangered in the wild.
There is a charge to visit, but children 4 and under are free and students are admitted with a reduced ticket price. Since the center is a working hospital, it's open most days (closed only on major holidays). One of the best things about visiting the Raptor Center is that there are several shows throughout the day, and they're all included in the price of admission.
At the center, you can visit with owls, eagles, hawks, vultures, and dozens of other birds. If you're really interested in seeing how things operate, there are a few additional "behind the scenes" tours that show how the facility functions on a daily basis.
The facility has a mission of bird conservation through education, research, and rehabilitation, and over 20 species of birds are on display along the walking trail through the center. Each bird, unfortunately, has been injured in some way, enough so that they can never be returned to the wild. As a result, they'll live out their lives in captivity. At each station, visitors can read each bird's name and the story of how they came to the center along with overall information about that species.
Feed Sea Creatures at the Aquarium
The SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord Aquarium is a great place to take the kids for an afternoon of education and fun. Children will enjoy attending talks and feeding times for a variety of aquatic creatures as well as a series of special events like the LEGO Sea Explorers build-and-play event in June each year.
The aquarium also features behind-the-scenes experiences, an interactive touch pool filled with sea stars and crabs, and an ambassador animal program that brings aquatic animals to local schools. The SEA LIFE Aquarium is open daily throughout the year. Check the official website for more information on feeding times and for a schedule of special talks and events.
If you want to teach your kids how to take to the water standing atop a paddleboard, head out to Lake Norman in Cornelius, North Carolina, where you can enjoy a day on the water.
Aloha Paddle Sports has two locations on Lake Norman—one in Cornelius and one at North Harbor—both of which offer kayak and paddleboard rentals as well as special tours of the lake and lessons on stand up paddleboarding. For a special treat, stick around for sunset paddle tours throughout the summer or head out to the lake on the night of a full moon for a special moonlight paddle tour.
Featuring world-class rides, authentic Carolina cuisine, coastal thrills, and seasonal events and entertainment throughout the year, Carowinds is North Carolina's premier amusement park and a great destination for kids of all ages. Located on the border of North and South Carolina just southwest of Charlotte, Carowinds is easily accessible from the city.
Don't miss the Harbor Waterpark in the summer to make a splash against the heat, and be sure to ride the Coperhead Strike, the Carolinas' first double-launch coaster, which opened in 2019.
Pike's Soda Shop on historic Camden Road in the Brookhill neighborhood of Charlotte is a great place to take your kids for a sweet treat any time of year, but it's especially popular for its milkshakes and retro-themed diner. Pike's Old Fashioned Soda Shop is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays with extended hours on Fridays and Saturdays and brunch on Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Located between the historic Dilworth and Myers Park neighborhoods, Freedom Park is a 98-acre park centered around a seven-acre lake that's full of activities that are perfect for kids—including feeding the resident ducks. Freedom Park also hosts a variety of family-friendly events throughout the summer.
Featuring dozens of family-friendly productions throughout the year, the Children's Theatre of Charlotte is a great destination for an afternoon of entertainment. Additionally, you can enroll your kids in educational programs throughout the year (especially in the summer) or get them involved in the Kindness Project, which engages kids with community-building projects and activities all year long.
If you're looking to get out of Charlotte, you could also check out the Carolina Renaissance Festival.