Where to have fun in & around Charlotte | MomsCharlotte.com
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Where to have fun in & around Charlotte

Charlotte is chock-full of fun for kids of all ages. Find something great to do with this comprehensive list of activities, playgrounds, museums and more.


Free Stuff to do with your kids
Stuff to do that's under $10
Indoor fun
Outdoor fun
Animal adventures
Museums

Regionalized list of stuff to do:
West - Northwest Meck - North - Northeast - East- Southeast- South-Southwest- Central Charlotte


FREE STUFF TO DO WITH YOUR KIDS!

Airport Overlook Park. Pack a lunch and come here to watch the planes take off and land at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport. Off Old Dowd Road near the intersection with Besser Drive.

Crowders Mountain State Park. About 25 miles west of Charlotte, this park will challenge the experienced as well as the novice climber. It offers 12 miles of scenic, and somewhat strenuous, hiking trails with a view at the top that’s worth the climb. 522 Park Office Lane in Kings Mountain. 704-853-5375. www.ncparks.gov.

Public spraygrounds. Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation’s five spraygrounds feature sprays, nozzles and spouts that spray water for children to run through and frolic under. Open seven days a week in the summer, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Several have playgrounds next door, making them a perfect place to spend hours. Locations: Nevin Park, 6000 Statesville Road; Cordelia Park, 2100 North Davidson Street; Latta Park, 601 East Park Avenue; Veterans Park , 2136 Central Avenue; and West Charlotte Recreation Center, 2400 Kendall Drive. (704) 336-3854. www.parkandrec.com.

ImaginOn. This uptown magnet of family fun is part children’s theatre, part library, and it’s always free. While Children's Theatre productions require tickets, in other areas kids can put on a puppet show, play with trains, try on costumes, play computer games and, of course, check out books. The facility has lots of free storytimes each week, as well as rotating exhibits in its lobby. 300 E 7th St. 704-973-2780. www.imaginon.org.

Charlotte Museum of History. The museum, which is always free on Sundays, offers a glimpse into colonial life and has rotating exhibits. 3500 Shamrock Drive. 704-568-1774. www.charlottemuseum.org.

The Energy Explorium at Lake Norman. Located at McGuire Nuclear Station, the Explorium features hands-on exhibits and interactive games designed to introduce kids to the wonders of electricity and nuclear power. They can even use the power of a treadmill to operate a TV. The explorium also offers a mile-long nature trail, a picnic area, and a large deck that overlooks Lake Norman, the Cowans Ford dam and two nuclear silos. No admission fee. 13339 Hagers Ferry Road in Huntersville. 704-875-5600. www.duke-energy.com

Northlake Mall kids’ play areas. At Northlake Mall’s Warner Bros. Looney Tunes Play Area (across from Dick’s Sporting Goods on the lower level), kids can climb, crawl and jump on their favorite Looney Tunes characters. The mall also has a kids’ activity area in the middle of its food court. They’ll have fun with distorted mirrors, tic-tac-toe and tabletop sand art while you relax at a nearby table. 6801 Northlake Mall Drive. 704-921-2005. www.shopnorthlake.com

Storytime at the library. Each branch of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg library has dozens of local programs, including weekly storytimes for different age groups and themed special events such as cooking with books programs, “Fancy Nancy” parties and more. www.plcmc.org/programs (Many libraries outside Mecklenburg have similar programming.)

Mecklenburg Park and Rec Programs. From fishing to birding, kayaking to outdoor movies, Mecklenburg’s Park and Recreation department has dozens of fun, free programs and festivals for kids and adults a like. www.parkandrec.com. Click on the “Get Going Guide.”

Art gallery crawls. NoDa holds free gallery crawls where you can hear live music and check out original works by artists in different stages of professional development the 1st and 3rd Fridays of the month. www.noda.org.

Story time. Barnes & Noble and Pottery Barn Kids have weekly free storytimes, crafts and music hours for children. Check out their websites at: www.barnesandnoble.com and http://www.potterybarnkids.com

See a free movie. Some are outside on the big screen; others play weekdays in commercial theaters. Coming soon: MomsCharlotte’s comprehensive list of free movies playing over the summer.

Kids’ Workshops at Home Depot. Offered the first Saturday of each month between 9 a.m. and noon at most stores, kids will learn to hammer nails, turning screws and sanding wood while they build things such as bird houses and catamarans. Designed to teach kids do-it-yourself skills and tool safety, while instilling a sense of accomplishment. No registration required. http://www.homedepot.com

Lowe’s Build and Grow Clinics. Held twice a month on the second and fourth Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., kids will build things such as a dune buggy, a picture frame and more. Different clinics target children of different ages. Registration is required but can be done online. www.lowesbuildandgrow.com

Concord Mills Mall. Besides all the great shopping, kids will love climbing in the kids' play area, which has a hospital theme, seeing the fish in the huge aquarium at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World and watching employees make candy apples and other treats at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. 8111 Concord Mills Boulevard. (704) 979-3000. www.concordmills.com

Pura Vida Worldly Art Concerts. Hear a wide variety of live music, from bluegrass to folk rock acoustic, for free every Sunday afternoon in the back room of this Plaza Midwood store. 1521 Central Avenue. 704-335-8537. www.puravidaart.com.

FinTastic. Take the kids to a local pet store for some easy free fun, or visit this tropical fish store in Ayrsley shopping center in southwest Charlotte. Kids will gaze in wonder at the clownfish, starfish and other sea creatures. Sometimes the store even has small nurse sharks. 2135-C Ayrsley Town Blvd. 704-525-0049. www.fintastic.us

Reedy Creek Park. Play disc golf, hopscotch, volleyball, basketball or horsehoes at this 116-acre park. Also has a fantastic playground with a “swing garden,” a dog park, a fishing pier and more. 2900 Rocky River Road.704-598-8857. www.parkandrec.com.


STUFF TO DO THAT'S UNDER $10

Dan Nicholas Park. At this amazing park in Rowan County, about 45 minutes from uptown, your kids can ride an old-fashioned carrousel and train, play mini-golf, climb on cool playgrounds, splash in the water play area, ride the paddleboats, pet farm animals and more. The best part? Most of the activities cost less than $2 per person. (Note: one thing does cost more: panning for gemstones. That's $7 for a beginner's bucket, which two kids can share.) www.dannicholas.net

Wing Haven Gardens & Bird Sanctuary. Connect with nature at this nationally-recognized 4-acre sanctuary in the heart of Myers Park. Pick up a map at the Clarkson House then stroll the shaded paths of the gardens and help your kids look for birds, rabbits, turtles, frogs, and chipmunks. Admission is $8 for anyone over 18. 248 Ridgewood Avenue. 704.331.0664 www.winghavengardens.com.

Charlotte Nature Museum: Butterfly Pavilion, Creature Cavern, Insect Alley. Great for young kids. Myers Park. $6 per person. 1658 Sterling Rd. 28209 http://www.charlottenaturemuseum.org/

Space Kidets. Features the coolest inflatables and the latest arcade, video, and carnival games as well as an air hockey table and 6 holes of mini-golf. Free use of the arcade games are always included in admission or private party packages. Open play Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. $8 per child. 1641 Matthews Township Pkwy Matthews, NC 28105 http://www.spacekidets.com

Knights Baseball. Enjoy a summer night out with the Charlotte Knights. Watch a game and let the kids play in the Rookie Play Zone, which has inflatables, slides and more. Single game general admission tickets are only $7 a piece, and the team's schedule is filled with promotional events that offer ways to get two for the price of one, free tickets and half price tickets. http://www.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t494

McDowell Nature Preserve. This 1108-acre preserve along the banks of Lake Wylie in southwest Mecklenburg is a great place to take the kids hiking or on a nature walk. The preserve also has a great playground and a free nature center with snakes, frogs and other creatures. On weekends and holidays, admission is $3 for a car licensed in Mecklenburg county and $5 for all others. (Other days are free.)

McDowell Nature Preserve, Part II - Camping out. For an additional $6 per family, you can pitch a tent on a campsite that has a fire ring, a grill and an electrical hookup, plus nearby bathrooms with hot showers. This summer, the preserve is doing campfire songs and marshmallows for free for campers every Friday night. On Saturdays, they offer free programs for campers including nature hikes, wildlife art, treasure hunts, and even family movie nights. Call 704-588-5224 or go towww.charmeck.org for more information.

Reed Gold Mine. The site of the first documented gold find in the United States is just north of Mecklenburg County in Midland, N.C. Watch an orientation movie about the discovery, check out the museum and take an underground tour for free. But the best part is panning for gold, which costs $2 per person. (Kids 8 and older can pan by themselves; younger children must pan with an adult.) www.reedmine.com

Go tomato picking. Tomato picking season typically runs from early July through October. Check out the Observer's comprehensive list of pick-your-own farms at www.charlotte.com/pickyourown. One of our favorites is Patterson Farm, a third-generation working farm about 30 miles north of Charlotte. The tomatoes are 50 cents per pound or $10 per five-gallon bucket. (Bring a container to bring your tomatoes home.) In addition to picking produce, the farm offers a petting zoo that's open during tomato season. Or, if you're with a group, you can schedule a tour for $7 a person that allows the kids to feed farm animals, take a hayride and plant seeds. (704) 636-4005. www.pattersonfarminc.com

Lowe's Motor Speedway. Do the kids love racing? For $5 a person, the "Feel the Thrill Tour" will let them visit areas of the speedway that are off-limits on race days, such as the NEXTEL Cup garage and take a picture in Victory Circle, plus ride along the speedway in a van (Bring a car seat if your child needs one) and feel the full-tilt force of the 24-degree banking. Tours are available on non-event days Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and Sunday 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. 704-455-3204. www.lowesmotorspeedway.com

Ride the trolley. Climb aboard the replica streetcars with your kids and you’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time. A round-trip adult trolley fare is $2.60, youth is $1.30 and kids under 5 are free. Take it uptown, have lunch, visit ImaginOn or Discovery Place, or just walk around and people watch. The trolley currently runs Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. www.charlottetrolley.org.

U.S. National Whitewater Center. Sure, it costs money to raft the whitewater. But for $5 to park, you can sit on rocks next to the rapids and wave to the kayakers and rafters that splash by. This one-of-a-kind center also has a walking trail that hugs the course and large rocks with plastic climbing footholds for young kids to scamper on. 820 Hawfield Road. 704-391-3900. www.usnwc.org.

Schiele Museum of Natural History. American Indian culture, early Piedmont history, interactive permanent galleries, special hands-on exhibits and programs interpreting more than 400 years of Piedmont history. $7 adults, $ 6 children over the age of 4. www.schielemuseum.org

Riverbanks Zoo. From elephants to kangaroos to penguins and koalas, this animal packed zoo is smaller than the N.C. Zoological Park, making it more manageable for little ones. The zoo is located about an hour and a half from Charlotte in Columbia, SC. Adults $11.75, children 3-12 yrs old $9.25. www.riverbanks.org

N.C. Zoo. Located about 90 miles from Charlotte in Asheboro, this zoo offers 500 acres of exhibits, so be prepared to walk. The zoo is home to over 1,100 animals and over 40,000 plants. Adults $12, children 2-12 yrs old $8. www.nczoo.org

Lazy 5 Ranch. Want to go on a safari and not leave the Charlotte area? Check out Lazy 5 Ranch located in Mooresville. You can pet and feed exotic animals including giraffes, buffalo, zebra, and antelope at this privately owned drive-through ranch. Adults $8.50 and children $5.50, add $5 for wagon tours which I highly recommend. Feed buckets are $3 and they only accept cash. www.lazy5ranch.com

Hiddenite. Take your children creeking, sluicing, or even digging for gems in the Emerald Hollow Gem Mine in Hiddenite, NC. Even if you don’t find anything, it’s fun to play in the creek digging for treasure. Sluicing is $5 with bucket options up to $500, creeking is $10 plus $5 rental fee (you get $3 back with return) of screen and shovels, and digging is $20 and $10 rental fee (you get $5 back with return) for tools. http://www.hiddenitegems.com


INDOOR FUN

Discovery Place: Hands-on science and technology museum. Rotating exhibits plus a three-story rain forest, aquarium and The Charlotte Observer Omnimax Theatre showing IMAX movies. 301 N Tryon St. www.discoveryplace.org

IMAGINON: A combined children’s theater and library, this uptown facility has lots to do for kids of all ages. Preschoolers enjoy the revolving exhibits in the lobby and on the second floor; teens get love the scavenger hunts at The Loft, an area especially for teens that offers programs and classes. And don’t miss all the great shows that come to the Children’s Theater. 300 East Seventh St www.imaginon.org

Sports Connection: An indoor sports facility that offers youth and adult sports leagues and clinics, inflatable bouncers, laser tag, rock climbing, bowling, video games, and birthday parties. Every Friday night parents can drop off the kids from 6-10 p.m. for laser tag, bowling, rock climbing, games, sports and bouncing. Cost is $25 per person and includes pizza, chips and a drink. 4 locations including Ballantyne, Northlake, Carmel, and Granite St.. www.sportsconnectionnc.com

Duke Power Energy Explorium. Virtual tours of McGuire Nuclear Station, a nature trail. Located at the McGuire Nuclear Station on Lake Norman. 704-875-5600 http://www.duke-energy.com

Space Kidets. Features the coolest inflatables and the latest arcade, video, and carnival games as well as an air hockey table and 6 holes of mini-golf. Free use of the arcade games are always included in admission or private party packages. Open play Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. $8 per child. 1641 Matthews Township Pkwy Matthews, NC 28105 http://www.spacekidets.com

Monkey Joes: Play center aimed at kids ages 1-10. Includes toddler zone, private party rooms and parents’ lounge. $10 per child. Locations in Matthews, Pineville, University, and on Park rd.. http://www.monkeyjoes.com/Location-Finder.aspx?state=nc

NASCAR Speedpark: Six tracks, laser tag, bumper boats, rock climbing wall and more. Concord Mills Mall, www.nascarspeedpark.com

NASCAR Hall of Fame: 150,000 square feet of fun filled artifacts, 50 interactive attractions, viewing parties and more! $19.95 adults, $12.92 children. 400 East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard http://www.nascarhall.com

Carolina Aviation Museum: Learn about different aircrafts and sit in the cockpit to see what it is like to fly them. $12 adults, $8 children. 4672 First Flight Drive http://www.carolinasaviation.org/

Ray’s Splash Planet: Indoor water park operated by Mecklenburg County’s parks department. Ride the slides, circulate in the current pool, get doused with buckets or do the dousing with squirt guns. $6 day pass. 215 N Sycamore St. http://charmeck.org

Great Wolf Lodge: 84 degree indoor waterpark with rides and slides for all ages. Must stay the night at the lodge to play in the waterpark. They also offer ice cream-themed manicures in Scooops Kid Spa, nightly fireside Story Times, and battle dragons at MagiQuest. http://www.greatwolf.com/concord/waterpark

Bowling

Carolina Lanes, Matthews, 704-841-7606

Centennial Lanes, South Charlotte, 704-527-0333

George Pappas’ Park Lanes, Myers Park; 704-523-7633

Northcross Lanes At The Lake, Huntersville; 704-892-7177

University Lanes, University, 704-596-4736

Sports Connection, Ballantyne, 704-583-1444.

Skating Rinks

Kate’s Skating Rinks: Several area locations offering lessons, camps, private parties and theme nights. Gastonia, 704-864-0201; Indian Trail, 704-821-7465; Rock Hill, 803-329-5283

Starlight Roller Rink: Roller-skating, east Charlotte, www.starlightrollerrink.com Charlotte Sports Center, I-77, Exit 18, Harris Blvd. 704-597-7311. www.CharlotteSportsCenter.com

Ice House Ice Skating: Public skating, skating lessons, hockey leagues and birthday parties. 400 Towne Centre Blvd Pineville NC 28134 704-889-9000 http://www.pinevilleice.com/


OUTDOOR FUN

U.S. Whitewater Center: The center is the world’s largest artificial whitewater river and an official U.S. Olympic training site, the 307-acre facility includes whitewater rafting and kayaking, mountain biking, hiking trails and a climbing center, along with a restaurant overlooking the action. Young kids may enjoy walking around the center while watching kayakers and rafters navigate the rapids, and climbing on some small rocks with toeholds near the entrance. Admission: $5 per car. www.usnwc.org

Airport Overlook Park: Pack a lunch and come here to watch the planes take off and land. One of the best freebies around. Off Old Dowd Road near the intersection with Besser Drive. For maps and other information, visit the airport’s Web site.

Reedy Creek Park and Nature Preserve: 10 miles of hiking trails, as well as picnic shelters, a playground, a fishing pier, an 18-hole disc golf course and a variety of sports facilities off Rocky River Road in northeast Charlotte.

McAlpine Creek Park & Greenway: Charlotte’s original greenway park, it was the first public greenway trail ever built in the western piedmont of North Carolina. It includes 8.9 miles of greenway, cross country trails, and nature trails off Monroe Road in east Charlotte. www.charmeck.org

Jetton Park: 150 acres of beach on Lake Norman in Cornelius that includes a playground, tennis courts, a 1.3 mile bike trail, a 1.5 mile walking.roller blade trail and more. www.charmeck.org

McDowell Park and Nature Preserve: The park serves as the gateway to the 1,108-acre nature preserve, which is mostly forested, rolling terrain along the banks of Lake Wylie. You can rent paddleboats and canoes, fish, hike seven miles of trails, see live animals in the nature center and let the kids play on the playground. Try the rent-a-tent program and spend the night in a 9 x 12 tent with two cots at the campground, which even has with hot showers! Click here for more information. www.charmeck.org

Other local parks: Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation operates 210 parks and facilities on more than 17,600 acres of parkland. To read about some of the others, go to www.parkandrec.com.

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden: All-seasons gardens on more than 110 acres, featuring 12 fountains and a natural woodland trail. Hosts concerts and special events. $12 adults, $6 children. 6500 South New Hope Road, Belmont. 704-825-4490. www.dsbg.org

Hiddenite. Take your children creeking, sluicing, or even digging for gems in the Emerald Hollow Gem Mine in Hiddenite, NC. Even if you don’t find anything, it’s fun to play in the creek digging for treasure. Sluicing is $5 with bucket options up to $500, creeking is $10 plus $5 rental fee (you get $3 back with return) of screen and shovels, and digging is $20 and $10 rental fee (you get $5 back with return) for tools. http://www.hiddenitegems.com

Carowinds: With over 50 rides, Carowinds is home to the fastest tallest longest coaster in the Southeast. In addition to the coasters, shows, and attractions, Carowinds has a 20-acre waterpark Boomerang Bay. Tickets run from $26.99-$56.99. http://www.carowinds.com


ANIMAL ADVENTURES

Riverbanks Zoo. From elephants to kangaroos to penguins and koalas, this animal packed zoo is smaller than the N.C. Zoological Park, making it more manageable for little ones. The zoo is located about an hour and a half from Charlotte in Columbia, SC. Adults $11.75, children 3-12 yrs old $9.25. www.riverbanks.org

N.C. Zoo. Located about 90 miles from Charlotte in Asheboro, this zoo offers 500 acres of exhibits, so be prepared to walk. The zoo is home to over 1,100 animals and over 40,000 plants. Adults $12, children 2-12 yrs old $8. www.nczoo.org

Lazy 5 Ranch. Want to go on a safari and not leave the Charlotte area? Check out Lazy 5 Ranch located in Mooresville. You can pet and feed exotic animals including giraffes, buffalo, zebra, and antelope at this privately owned drive-through ranch. Adults $8.50 and children $5.50, add $5 for wagon tours which I highly recommend. Feed buckets are $3 and they only accept cash. www.lazy5ranch.com

Carolina Raptor Center: The center rehabilitates injured and orphaned raptors. The center also has programs on strange bird behavior and a behind-the-scenes tour that includes the bird hospital. www.carolinaraptorcenter.org

Tiger World: The Rockwell, NC tiger conservation allows your family to hike around the park exploring the natural wilderness while seeing tigers, monkeys, birds, bears, and more. Tiger World is a non-profit rescue, rehabilitation, preservation, and education center to exotic and endangered animals. During the week there are guided tours that allow you to get up close and personal with the tigers. $12 for adults, $10 for children 2-12. http://www.tigerworld.us/visit.html

Charlotte Nature Museum: Butterfly Pavilion, Creature Cavern, Insect Alley. Great for young kids. Myers Park. $6 per person. 1658 Sterling Rd. 28209 http://www.charlottenaturemuseum.org/

Hollywood Animal Park: A 100-acre park housing close to 500 rare and exotic animals, many of which have starred in commercials and movies including The Big Chill, Prince of Tides, Days of Thunder and Last of the Mohicans. Take the outback safari, the “cool cat express” train ride or feed animals in the close encounters program. About 90 miles from Charlotte in Inman, S.C. $10 for adults, $8 for children over 2. www.hollywild.com


MUSEUMS

Discovery Place: Hands-on science and technology museum. Rotating exhibits plus a three-story rain forest, aquarium and The Charlotte Observer Omnimax Theatre showing IMAX movies. 301 N Tryon St. www.discoveryplace.org

Schiele Museum of Natural History: American Indian culture, early Piedmont history, interactive permanent galleries, special hands-on exhibits and programs interpreting more than 400 years of Piedmont history. 1500 East Garrison Blvd., Gastonia. 704-866-6900. www.schielemuseum.org

NC Transportation Museum: This family-friendly museum is a 57 acre site filled with interesting exhibits and special events relating to transportation. There are 4 exhibit buildings, a ridable train and turntable, and Thomas the Train makes yearly appearances. 411 S. Salisbury Ave. Spencer, NC http://www.nctrans.org/

Carolina Aviation Museum: Learn about different aircrafts and sit in the cockpit to see what it is like to fly them. $12 adults, $8 children. 4672 First Flight Drive http://www.carolinasaviation.org/

Hendrick Motorsports Museum & Team Store: The campus features state-of-the-art facilities and technology, which the organization’s four NASCAR Sprint Cup teams employ in preparation for race day. The museum showcases the many years of Hendrick Motorsports history. Stowe Lane, Charlotte, NC http://www.hendrickmotorsports.com

Charlotte History Museum: It offers a glimpse into colonial life and has rotating exhibits. 3500 Shamrock Drive. 704-568-1774. www.charlottemuseum.org

Levine Museum of the New South: This is an interactive history museum that provides the nation with the most comprehensive interpretation of post-Civil War southern society featuring men, women and children, black and white, rich and poor, long-time residents and newcomers who have shaped the South since the Civil War. 200 E Seventh St http://www.museumofthenewsouth.org/

Mint Museum Uptown: The museum houses the internationally renowned Craft + Design collection, as well as outstanding collections of American, contemporary, and European art. Designed by Machado and Silvetti Associates of Boston, the five-story, 145,000-square-foot facility combines inspiring architecture with cutting-edge exhibitions. 500 South Tryon Street http://www.mintmuseum.org/visit/mint-museum-uptown

Mint Museum Randolph: Opened in 1936, this museum hosts art of the ancient Americas, ceramics and decorative arts, fashion, European and African art, among other historic collections. 2730 Randolph Road http://www.mintmuseum.org/visit/mint-museum-randolph

Bechtler Museum of Modern Art: Modern Art is dedicated to the celebration and analysis of the strongest aspects of mid- century modernism as reflected in the holdings of the Bechtler collection. The collection comprises more than 1,400 works by 20th-century modern artists.420 South Tryon Street http://www.bechtler.org

Charlotte Nature Museum: Butterfly Pavilion, Creature Cavern, Insect Alley. Great for young kids. Myers Park. $6 per person. 1658 Sterling Rd. 28209 http://www.charlottenaturemuseum.org/


REGIONALIZED LIST OF STUFF TO DO


WEST

1. Airport Overlook Park: Pack a picnic and watch the planes come in. Free. Off Old Dowd Road near the intersection with Besser Drive.

2. West Charlotte Recreation Center Sprayground: Let the kids frolic in the water, then hit the playground next door. 2400 Kendall Drive. 704-393-1560. www.parkandrec.com

3. Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden: All-seasons gardens on more than 110 acres, featuring 12 fountains and a natural woodland trail. Hosts concerts and special events. 6500 South New Hope Road, Belmont. 704-825-4490. www.dsbg.org

4. Schiele Museum of Natural History: American Indian culture, early Piedmont history, interactive permanent galleries, special hands-on exhibits and programs interpreting more than 400 years of Piedmont history. 1500 East Garrison Blvd., Gastonia. 704-866-6900. www.schielemuseum.org


NORTHWEST MECK

1. U.S. National Whitewater Center: Kayak or raft on the world’s largest artificial whitewater river, go rock climbing or bike and hike on the surrounding trails. 820 Hawfield Road. 704-391-3900. www.usnwc.org.

2. Northlake Mall Kids Play Area: Kids can climb, crawl and jump on favorite Looney Tunes characters. 6801 Northlake Mall Drive. 704-921-2005. www.shopnorthlake.com.

3. Carolina Raptor Center: Check out the eagles, hawks, owls and other birds of prey while you stroll along a peaceful nature trail. 6000 Sample Road in Huntersville. 704-875-6521. www.carolinaraptorcenter.org

4. Latta Plantation Nature Preserve: At this 1,343-acre preserve, the largest in Mecklenburg, you can hike, canoe, ride horses, see a historic plantaion house, check out live animals in its nature center and more. You can even take a Segway tour. 6211 Sample Road in Huntersville. 704-875-1391. www.parkandrec.com


NORTH

1. Catawba Queen: Take a jaunt along the shores of Lake Norman with a storytime cruise – complete with milk and cookies -- on this replica Mississippi river boat. 1459 River Highway in Mooresville. 704-663-2628. www.queenslanding.com

2. Jetton Park: This park has scenic waterfront bike-riding and hiking trails, one of the few public “beaches” in Mecklenburg County, and a fantastic playground. 19000 Jetton Road in Cornelius. 704-896-9808.www.parkandrec.com

3. Energy Explorium: At McGuire Nuclear Station, it features interactive exhibits to introduce kids to electricity and nuclear power. 704-875-5600. www.duke-energy.com/visitor-centers/energyexplorium.asp13339 Hagers Ferry Road in Huntersville.


NORTHEAST

1. Charlotte’s Asian Corner: Expose your kids to new sights and tastes at the New Century Oriental Food Market at The Asian Corner Mall, where they can wonder over the fish in the aquarium, the bins of shellfish and the tank of frogs. 704-921-1716. 4500 N Tryon Street.

2. Reed Gold Mine: Pan for gold and take an underground tour at the site of the first documented gold find in the U.S. 9621 Reed Mine Road. 704-721-4653. www.reedmine.com.

3. NASCAR Speedpark: Features five race tracks, interactive games, miniature golf, laser tag, a climbing wall, kiddie rides, bumper boats and more. 8461-G1 Concord Mills Blvd. in Concord. 704-979-6770.www.nascarspeedpark.com/concord.html.

4. Monkey Joe’s: Let your kids bounce and slide on the giant inflatables at this new location. 10215 University City Boulevard. 704-549-1588. www.monkeyjoes.com

5. Reedy Creek Park: Play disc golf, hopscotch, volleyball, basketball or horsehoes at this 116-acre park. Also has a fantastic playground with a “swing garden,” a dog park, a fishing pier and more. 2900 Rocky River Road.704-598-8857. www.parkandrec.com.

6. AMF University Lanes: Kids always love to bowl and play arcade games; don’t forget to have them put up bumpers for the littlest ones. 5900 North Tryon Street. 704-596-4736, www.amf.com

7. Lowe’s Motor Speedway “Feel The Thrill” Tour: Race fans can visit off-limits areas such as the NEXTEL Cup garage, take a picture in the winners plus circle, plus ride along the 24-degree banks of the speedway in a van. 704-455-3204. www.lowesmotorspeedway.com

8. Concord Mills: Great shopping for adults, and plenty of stuff to do with the kids, from the NASCAR Speedpark (see above) to the movie theater. Younger kids also love climbing in the kids’ play area, which has a hospital theme, seeing the fish in the huge aquarium at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World and watching employees make candy apples and other treats at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. 8111 Concord Mills Boulevard. (704) 979-3000. www.concordmills.com

9. UNC Botanical Gardens: Consists of the 7-acre Van Landingham Glen, 3-acre Harwood Garden and eight-room McMillan Greenhouse complex. Outdoor gardens open during daylight hours daily. Located on the UNCC campus, at the corner of Mary Alexander and Michael Craver Road. 704-687-2870.http://gardens.uncc.edu


EAST

1. Pura Vida Worldly Art Concerts: Hear a wide variety of live music, from bluegrass to folk rock acoustic, for free every Sunday afternoon in the back room of this Plaza Midwood store. 1521 Central Avenue. 704-335-8537. www.puravidaart.com

2. Kate’s Skating Center: Take the kids roller skating. 14500 Independence Blvd. in Indian Trail. 704-821-7465. www.katesskating.com

3. Inner Peaks Climbing Center: Let the kids try rock climbing in a safe environment. 9535 Monroe Road. 704-844-6677. www.innerpeaks.com

4. Veterans Park Sprayground: One of the largest splash parks in Mecklenburg, it features dozens of sprays for the kids to run through. 2136 Central Avenue. 704-432-4280. www.parkandrec.com

5. Charlotte History Museum: It offers a glimpse into colonial life and has rotating exhibits. 3500 Shamrock Drive. 704-568-1774. www.charlottemuseum.org

6. Extreme Ice Center: Stay cool and test your skills at this ice skating rink in Indian Trail. 4705 Indian Trail Fairview Road. 704-882-1830. www.xicenter.com


SOUTHEAST

1. Monkey Joes: Let the kids jump and bounce on huge inflatables. Parents can take it easy and plug into the free wi-fi. 10101-C East Independence Blvd., Matthews. 704-845-1150. www.monkeyjoes.com

2. Space Kidets: Inflatables, mini-golf and air hockey. And the best part, arcade games are included in admission price! No tokens or quarters. 1641 Matthews Township Pkwy., Suite B, Matthews. 704-321-0059. www.spacekidets.biz

3. AMF Carolina Lanes Bowling Center: Put the bumpers up and let the kids have a blast! 11210 Brigman Road, Matthews. 704-841-7606. www.amf.com/carolinalanes

4. Laser Quest: Use your laser to tag the sensors on your opponent amid the sensory overload of specialty lighting, swirling fog and heart-pounding music. www.laserquest.com

5. Stumptown Park: Throughout the summer, Saturday nights alternate between a free concert or a movie. 120 South Trade St., Matthews. 704-847-4411.www.matthewsfun.com

6. Art in the Park: Each Wednesday, children ages 3-8 can enjoy arts and crafts. Event takes place in a different park each week. www.matthewsfun.com


SOUTH

1. Sports Connection. This family fun center features adult-sized and mini bowling lanes, a two-story laser tag facility, a 7,000-square-foot arcade, inflatables and more. 11611 Ardrey Kell Road. 704-583-1444.www.sportsconnectionnc.com

2. Trader Joe’s: Get healthy grub and let your kids have a fun time hunting down the “animals” hidden throughout the store in Trader Joe’s scavenger hunt. 6418 Rea Road. 704-543-5249. www.traderjoes.com

3. Dish It Out: Choose from more than 800 ceramic pieces to decorate with paints, beads, metal art. Stonecrest Shopping Center, 7828-C Rea Road. 704-544-4848. www.dishitout.net

4. Davie Park: Fabulous playground, plus ball fields, horseshoe pits, hopscotch courses and a lake! 4635 Pineville-Matthews Road. 704-554-0402. www.parkandrec.com


SOUTHWEST

1. Monkey Joe’s: Fun on inflatables. 601 N. Polk Street, Pineville. 704-889-1211, www.monkeyjoes.com

2. Pineville Ice House: Ice-skating facility that offers figure skating and hockey lessons, as well as camps and open skating. 400 Towne Centre Blvd. 704-889-9000. www.icehouserinks.com/pville

3. Zuma Fun Center: Go-karts, miniature golf, batting cages, bumper boats and train rides. 10400 Cadillac St., Pineville. 704-552-7888. www.zumafuncenters.com

4. James Polk House: Includes a reconstructed log house and kitchen with 18th-century furnishings and a museum with film, exhibits and displays representing the life and times of James K. Polk, 11th president. Free. 12031 Lancaster Hwy., Pineville. 704-889-7145. www.nchistoricsites.org

5. Light rail: What kid doesn’t love a train? Ride Charlotte’s LYNX Blue Line from 1-485 in southern Meck to the end of uptown. Your kids will love the speed. www.charmeck.org/Departments/CATS/LYNX

6. McDowell Nature Preserve: Take the kids on a hike in this 1108-acre preserve along the banks of Lake Wylie, then check out the snakes, frogs and other creatures in the newly remodeled nature center. 15222 York Road. 704-588-5224. www.parkandrec.com

7. FinTastic: At this tropical fish store in Ayrsley shopping center, kids will gaze in wonder at the clownfish, starfish and other sea creatures. Sometimes they even have small nurse sharks. 2135-C Ayrsley Town Blvd. 704-525-0049. www.fintastic.us/

8. Carowinds: 105-acre theme park straddling the North Carolina/South Carolina border off Interstate 77 with 60 rides, attractions and shows, including a water park and a Nickelodeon theme park. Season generally runs from March to November. 800-888-4FUN. www.carowinds.com

9. Rivergate Shopping Center: Hosts free concerts every Saturday night through summer, starting at 7 p.m. 12807 S. Tryon Street, 704-343-4385. www.shoprivergate.com

10. Renaissance Park Golf Course: Take the kids over to hit a bucket of balls. 1525 W. Tyvola Road. 704-357-3373. www.renaissanceparkgolfcourse.com


CENTRAL CHARLOTTE

We all know about Discovery Place and ImaginOn. Here are a few of our favorite out-of-the-way spots in Central Charlotte.

1. The Green: This charming park tucked in the middle of uptown features giant stone fish spouting water (bring your bathing suit and get wet!), “insects” that chirp as you walk amid the park’s paths and a lovely spot of green to play chase. Located between on Tryon Street, between Stonewall and Second streets. www.thegreenuptown.com

2. Charlotte Trolley: Light rail has gotten all the attention lately, but it’s worth checking out the vintage trolleys for a slow and easy ride from South End into Uptown. It runs only on weekends. www.charlottetrolley.org

3. Charlotte Knights: Baseball has hit the Queen City at the BB&T Ballpark in the heart of Uptown. This Minor League team is a AAA affiliate for the Chicago White Sox and plays over 70 home games each season. Sundays kids can run the bases after the game, and if you go on Fridays, you get a fireworks show, too. Look for daytime games during the summer. 324 South Mint Street Charlotte, NC 28202 704-357-8071. www.charlotteknights.com

4. Mint Museum Uptown: The museum houses the internationally renowned Craft + Design collection, as well as outstanding collections of American, contemporary, and European art. Designed by Machado and Silvetti Associates of Boston, the five-story, 145,000-square-foot facility combines inspiring architecture with cutting-edge exhibitions. 500 South Tryon Street http://www.mintmuseum.org/visit/mint-museum-uptown

5. Levine Museum of the New South: This is an interactive history museum that provides the nation with the most comprehensive interpretation of post-Civil War southern society featuring men, women and children, black and white, rich and poor, long-time residents and newcomers who have shaped the South since the Civil War. 200 E Seventh St http://www.museumofthenewsouth.org/

6. Romare-Bearden-Park: This 5-acre park offers open green space, a children's play area with interactive digital chimes, and several water features that kids will love. There are cultural and music events throughout the summer for the entire family. 300 South Church St www.charmeck.org.

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