Living Here Guide

5 family-friendly places in Charlotte that parents will love, too

At ImaginOn, there are storytimes for the younger crowd and separate activites for older children.
At ImaginOn, there are storytimes for the younger crowd and separate activites for older children.

The kids are bored. You’ve run out of craft ideas and you don’t want to just stick them in front of the TV. Everyone’s getting a little stir crazy – you included. It’s time to find something to do outside of the house.

Charlotte has a ton of options for taking kids on a mini-adventure, from museums to parks to pools. And many of them offer something parents can enjoy, too.

Here are five of Charlotte’s hottest spots to take kids that the grown-ups in their lives will also appreciate.

(1) Ray’s Splash Planet

215 N. Sycamore St., Charlotte. 80-314-4729. $6 for youth Mecklenburg residents. $8 for adult Mecklenburg residents.

Yes, I did say the adults will enjoy this, too. A part of Mecklenburg County Park and​ Recreation​, Ray’s Splash Planet has a ton to offer the whole family. For the bigger kids, there is a water slide and a whirlpool. The little ones can play on the playground equipment inside a shallow pool. Upstairs is a gym overlooking the pool and a nice semi-quiet waiting area if you’ve had enough of the echo-y pool noise. Oh, and it’s indoors, so you can go any time of year.

Ray's Splash Planet. Photo by Todd Sumlin, Observer file
Ray’s Splash Planet offers water play for all ages. Todd Sumlin Charlotte Observer file photo

(2) Discovery Place Admission prices vary.

Charlotte is really upping its museum game, but Discovery Place is one of the longstanding best. Discovery Place Science Uptown (301 N. Tryon St., Charlotte) is geared towards kids of all ages (and adults) with rotating attractions like “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” and “Body Worlds,” as well as an IMAX theater. Inside the museum is a rainforest habitat, aquarium and lots of STEM activities to get those little science brains moving. There are even after-hours events for adults like Science on the Rocks, which combines cocktails with exhibit exploration.

Discovery Place Kids in Huntersville (105 Gilead Road, Huntersville.) is geared toward kids up to about age 10 with lots of fun performances.

Discovery Place Nature (formerly Charlotte Nature Museum, 1658 Sterling Road, Charlotte) boasts an incredible nature-based outdoor play area, a planetarium and featured exhibitions like a butterfly pavilion and nature lab.

Discovery Place_2017 Observer file photo
Discovery Place rotates its exhibitions, such as “The Science of Ripley's Believe It or Not!” Jenna Eason

(3) Freedom Park

1900 East Blvd., Charlotte.

Speaking of Discovery Place Nature, it lies off a portion of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway, which runs through Freedom Park. This park is one of Charlotte’s most popular spots, and it seems like basically everyone has family photos taken here (so grab the camera!). Fields for baseball and soccer abound, along with a modern playground and an agility-training course for kids sponsored by our very own Carolina Panthers and the Play60 campaign. With a lake, amphitheater, trails and plenty of green space, there’s no wonder this is basically every parent’s (and nanny’s) go-to. You may even spot a rollerblader or two, still hanging on to the ’90s.

Freedom Park. Photo by Jeff Siner, Observer file
Freedom Park includes a bridge over the Little Sugar Creek for rollerblading and other adventures. Jeff Siner

(4) ImaginOn

300 E. 7th St., Charlotte. 704-416-4600.

I may never get enough of ImaginOn, Charlotte’s kids-only library. This gigantic and beautiful facility is in the First Ward section of Uptown, right across the street from First Ward Park and next to 7th Street Public Market. Pop in the market and grab some coffee at Not Just Coffee and spend the day with story times for the younger kids, a variety of activities for the older ones -- including a teen-only space and a 10-and-older space -- and leave with a bag full of books from an excellent selection. The Children’s Theatre of Charlotte is housed within this building, so catch a play while you’re there.

Imaginon_2005 Observer file photo
Arlethia Hailstock is working with a Teen Advisory Council, who all told her they don’t see Children’s Theatre of Charlotte shows in ImaginOn, the children’s library, unless they know someone in the show or their parents bring them and their younger siblings. “We want to change that” and attract more teens. Charlotte Observer file photo

(5) Latta Plantation Nature Center and Preserve

6211 Sample Road, Huntersville. 980-314-1000. Admission prices vary.

If you’re looking to leave the city without really leaving the city, land at Latta Plantation Nature Center and Preserve and get your share of nature and reprieve. Upon entering, you will see the Historic Latta Plantation home, built around 1800. Step back in time and get a history lesson with a site tour or attend one of the many events that take place throughout the year.

Farther into the preserve are trails (both foot and equestrian) that border Mountain Island Lake, complete with grills and picnic areas. Stop by the Nature Preserve, an indoor museum with nature activities for children, or the Carolina Raptor Center, a walk-through experience featuring giant birds of prey, complete with overhead "flight shows" and natural science exhibits.

Halloween Family Day at Latta Plantation. Photo by Diedra Laird, Observer file
Latta Plantation holds events such as the All Hallows Eve Family Day, where children can dress in Halloween costumes and trick-or-treat around the grounds while playing games, seeing storytelling and historical demonstrations, and meeting farm animals. Diedra Laird