By Rachel Hoeing
I grew up in Charlotte, and I seem to find myself there at least once a month to visit family and friends. I have never written a day trip blog about this city simply because I didn’t know where to begin. There is SO much to see and do that you could literally stay a month and not run out of ideas!
Most of our Day Trip Blogs kind of map out what your family might do over the course of a morning and afternoon in a nearby city. But since I have way too many ideas for you to accomplish in one day, I thought a list format might be best.
Below I have listed some of my family’s favorite venues and ideas. Click on the name to visit each website. Check them out to see what might be best for your family and map out a day or two in the Queen City!
Freedom Park – I remember visiting this park as I was growing up. It has changed drastically over the years, but is still a beautiful spot to spend an afternoon. Tons of baseball and soccer fields, tennis courts, and walking paths. There is a huge lake with a paved walk around it (great for roller skating, biking, etc.). My son loved the NFL60 playzone when he was younger, and my daughter spent hours on the swings and climbing structures on the playgrounds. Depending on the dates of your visit, check the website for the outdoor music series and movie nights! You can easily walk from here to the nature museum, which I will talk about below.
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden – Check their calendar for a list of numerous events going on weekly. This venue sits on the banks of Lake Wylie and includes gorgeous gardens, fountains, and nature trails. They host a conservatory dedicated to the display of tropical plants and orchids, as well as a visitor pavilion and a garden store. * I have also heard that Christmastime here is amazing!!
US National Whitewater Center – This is a full day’s worth of fun. Picture whitewater rafting, kayaking, paddle boarding, zip lines, ropes course and more. They also host plenty of outdoor concert events if you are staying overnight!
Crowders Mountain – This is located closer to Gastonia, but is a fabulous spot for hiking, fishing, canoeing and camping.
Little Sugar Creek Greenway – Beautiful greenway for strolling through the city. It has a stream that little ones will love to play in and cross on the rocks. It is 20 miles long, so you’ll want to just focus on a few sections. You can check the link to see where you may want to hop on the trail!
Carowinds – My son’s favorite amusement park of all time! He is a thrill-seeker, so the abundance of roller coasters keeps him happy for hours. There is also a kids’ section for the younger ones, and a water park with many water slides and pools.
The Lazy 5 Ranch – This can be a day trip all it’s own (see our archived blog here and note that prices may have increased since it is an older blog). This animal park is located in Mooresville (north of Charlotte) and includes a day of fun on a wagon ride, or driving through with your car!
Romare Bearden Park – Get the best view of the Charlotte skyline from this park uptown. You will almost always find music and events at this venue, and if not, the fountains and scenery will be enough to entertain you for a quick visit and possible lunch outdoors! Kids love this spot.
ImaginOn – You might ask why I am recommending a library in another city, but this isn’t just any library. It is a 102,000 sq. ft. building, with professional theatre, educational programs, the “Studio i” makerspace, and many hands-on activities. A quote from their website, “ImaginOn brings stories to life through extraordinary experiences that challenge, inspire and excite young minds.” This is a great spot to visit if you want to ride the Light Rail (more on that below).
Carolina Raptor Center – environmental education center located in Huntersville. They offer day experiences as well as educational programs.
Discovery Place Nature – This used to be called The Nature Museum and is right next to Freedom Park. The exhibits change often, but currently there is a butterfly pavilion, naturalist lab, and Fort Wild – an outdoor imaginative platy area.
Discovery Place Kids – This is a children’s museum located in Huntersville, which is an easy stop on your way to or from Charlotte. This one is great for the littlest of your kids and will provide hours of entertainment and hands-on learning experiences.
Discovery Place Science – This is the original Discovery Place, located in uptown Charlotte. It is a fabulous kids museum with many hands-on learning experiences and imaginative play. It is the perfect spot to hit if you are interested in exploring uptown Charlotte.
Historic Latta Plantation – The Latta Plantation, also known as Latta House, is a historic house located in Huntersville, near Mountain Island Lake. It is an 1800 cotton plantation and living history farm, located within Latta Plantation Nature Preserve. Check the website for behind-the-scenes tours.
Levine Museum of the New South – We have not had the opportunity to visit this museum personally, but my friend with two sons said they thoroughly enjoyed it. The museum has hands-on, interactive exhibits and good learning experiences about civil rights.
Indoor Climbing & Water Fun
Sky High Sports – Trampoline park that also includes zip line courses and laser tag!
Inner Peaks – Work your “guns out” on these amazing climbing walls. My kids loved this spot, but it definitely gave them a workout!
Kinetic Heights – Choose from High Ropes, auto-belayed climbing, zip lines, Warrior Course and Parkour.
Ray’s Splash Planet – includes a water park with slides, pools, and splash areas. Check out photos here. It is run by Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation, and includes an aerobic & dance room, cardiovascular theater, free weights and resistance equipment.
Charlotte Hornets – If you are visiting during NBA season, check out a game with the kids. Tickets range in prices, but it is always such a fun evening for all!
Carolina Panthers – Another great idea if you happen to visit during the NFL season. If you are there on an off-season, it is still fun to visit the stadium and souvenir shop!
NASCAR Hall of Fame – located in uptown, it’s a great stop for a racing history lesson and plenty of nostalgic items for the true race fans. Check out current events and exhibits on the website link.
Charlotte Knights – Take the kids out to a ballgame with the Charlotte Knights! Tickets available on the website.
The Charlotte Motor Speedway – Always a fun outing for racing fans. Visit the website for schedules and upcoming events.
Charlotte Checkers – enjoy an ice hockey game if you visit during the season which runs from mid-October to mid-August
Light Rail – My kids love riding on the Light Rail. Officially called LynxCharlotte, this mode of transportation has helped reduce traffic over the years, and gives plenty of my family and friends an easy commute to work. For visitors, it’s fun to jump on board in the south Charlotte area and ride to an uptown destination. Tickets are cheap and can be purchased right at any station.
Epicentre – This deserves it’s own category because it’s so much more than just shopping. This uptown venue hosts restaurants, bars, shopping, bowling, movies, and more.
Exit Strategy – If you haven’t visited one of the Triad’s escape rooms, maybe your trip to Charlotte will give you an excuse to give one a try. Exit Strategy is an experience to test your problem-solving skills. You have only one hour to escape the themed rooms. They’re all different, with different age requirements, so visit the website for details.
Blumenthal Performing Arts Center – This is another great uptown venue where you can find amazing productions all year long. Check out their website to find family-friendly day time performances, shows geared more toward adults, and outdoor movie nights!
TopGolf Charlotte – I wasn’t quite sure which category to place this under, because it is sports, entertainment, and indoor/outdoor fun all in one! You do need to purchase a membership to play, but the KidZone is free to sign up. Memberships start as low as $5 and give you access to play all the games, track whose golf ball scored and receive access to exclusive offers throughout the year. There can often be a long wait (especially on weekends), but there is pool, shuffle board, xbox and corn-hole to entertain while you wait.
Cinebarre Arboretum – a full service movie theater, so you can enjoy dinner and a movie all under one roof!
Below are some of my favorite Charlotte shopping spots. These are all fairly self-explanatory, so I simply included a link to their website where you can find the location and details! Most of these are best for those of you with teens, kids who will stay in a stroller, or if you are venturing to Charlotte for a Ladies Day Out! The upside is that a few of these have play areas for kids (malls) and splash pads (Birkdale Village). Ikea also has a child watch center.
Carolina Place Mall
Charlotte Premium Outlets
Nordstrom Rack at Carolina Pavillion
Park Road Shopping Center
SouthPark Mall (If you do have kids with you, it’s worth visiting the American Girl Store)
StoneCrest at Piper Glen
Our Favorite Restaurants
This category could go on and on and on. My list of restaurants that I enjoy in the Charlotte area is almost to the point of embarrassment because I like to dine out so much! I divided these into “upscale” and “casual” restaurants. Basically, you know your children. If they aren’t ones to sit still while going out to eat, definitely steer toward the casual venues. If you have tweens or teens, you are probably safe to visit the upscale locations. Charlotte also has plenty of old stand-by chain restaurants like Chili’s, Red Robin, Mac’s Speed Shop, etc which will be a safe bet for any family!
Cabo Fish Taco
Mama’s Pizza and Pasta
Pike’s Old Fashioned Soda Shop
Red Rocks Cafe
The Pizza Peel and Tap Room
Zeda Jane’s Corner Cafe