Charlotte, North Carolina is one of the most family-friendly cities in America. From parks to farms to rainy-day locales like museums and aquariums, both residents and visitors can find activities suited to their children's ages. 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 actually one of Charlotte's most visited attractions overall. It's an interactive science and technology museum that's popular with children and adults. 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's open to walk through (of course with plenty of live birds, reptiles, and plants).
This is a kids museum, but the main Discovery Place museum is probably best for kids that are at least third or fourth-grade ages. Younger children can certainly enjoy things here, but they may find more fun at Discovery Place's counterpart, Discovery Place Kids in Huntersville. This is a museum that's designed specifically for younger kids and has lots of things just for them to do.
If you want to get your kids a little nature, here's where to do it in Charlotte. There are live animals to encounter, live shows to learn from, and lots of hands-on exhibits to learn from. Be sure to check out the daily puppet shows! There are also lots of walking trails to get close to nature, and markers along the trails letting visitors know what they can see along the way. There are live animals to see here, a water table, a few examples of animal habitats, and lots of places for kids to really understand nature.
This museum is owned and operated by Discovery Place, and a companion ticket lets visitors save a little money on a trip to both museums.
One of the favorite things about the Charlotte Nature Museum is the Butterfly Pavilion. In this enclosure, dozens of free-flying butterflies float around, dipping to taste the flowers all around.
Remember that the programming at the Charlotte Nature Museum is focused on kids aged 3 to 7. This museum may be a little smaller than most, but it's intended for younger visitors. There are plenty of play areas to keep kids moving.
The Nature Museum is actually located right next to Freedom Park, making it a great place to spend the day at the museum, then stop over for a picnic in the park.
There's nothing a kid likes better in the summer months than getting wet, and Charlotte's public park system has several five spraygrounds that are free to use.
If you're not familiar with spraygrounds, it's a miniature water park of sorts, 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 spraygrounds 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)
Of course, there are some other water play areas in Charlotte parks that aren't "official" spraygrounds like Romare Bearden Park, The Green Uptown, Little Sugar Creek Greenway, and even a nice one located at Birkdale Village.
The sprayground 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.
If you're looking to get your kids outdoors a little, check out Charlotte's three nature preserves. These are a part of Charlotte's public park system, and they do have traditional park elements like playgrounds and picnic areas, but they also have more opportunities to get into nature with walking trails and other elements.
There's the McDowell Nature Preserve, the Reedy Creek Nature Preserve, and the Latta Plantation Nature Preserve.
- The Reedy Creek Nature Preserve (at 2900 Rocky River Rd, Charlotte, NC 28215) actually boasts a pretty awesome playground made up of natural elements: like sand, stone, boulders, and logs.
- The McDowell Nature Preserve (at 15222 York Rd, Charlotte, NC 28278) has plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities plus public programs available, plus plenty of walking trails to slip away from city life.
- The Latta Plantation Nature Preserve (located at 6211 Sample Rd, Huntersville, NC 28078) 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, plus 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 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 actually been named one of the best kid's libraries in the nation.
It's part of Charlotte's public library system, meaning it's 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, so of course, you'll find plenty of books that can be checked out, plus plenty of spaces to curl up and read. But there are also plenty of educational computer games, interactive toys like building blocks, a pretend dress-up station, and more.
An area called "The Loft" on the third floor is only accessible by teenagers, and has lots of quiet areas for studying, but also features an award-winning sound and animation studio that's free to use, spaces for teens to work on projects together, and lots of DVDs, books, and graphic novels.
ImaginOn even has two theaters on site, the Wells Fargo Playhouse, and the McColl Family Theater.
At the Carolina Raptor Center, visitors can rub wings with one of America's largest collections of birds of prey, many of which are endangered in the wild.
The Carolina Raptor Center is first and foremost an aviary rehab facility, but it's an excellent spot to see some incredible birds that you usually wouldn't be able to see anywhere else.
There is a charge to visit, but children 4 and under are free and students are just $6. 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 you can take that show how the facility actually operates.
Over 20 species of birds are on display along the walking trail. Each one, unfortunately, has been injured in some way, enough so that they can never be returned to the wild. So they'll live out their lives here at the center. 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.
The facility has a mission of bird conservation through education, research, and rehabilitation.