NORTH CAROLINA, Charlotte with Kids – Unsuspecting visitors should know: Charlotte is more than just race cars, sports, and barbecue. It’s a cultural hub created by locals who love where they live and continuously strive to make it better. As a new resident, I’m learning more about the city every day. Here are four of my favorite family-friendly activities, plus one awesome hotel and one restaurant recommendation for a getaway to Uptown Charlotte with kids.
Activity 1: Travel Back in Time
The Levine Museum of the New South makes history fun. Their permanent exhibit, “From Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” tells the story of Charlotte from post Civil War to today. The exhibit is separated into six eras using artifacts and recordings to recreate the time. My kids immediately ‘got it’.
They don’t know how to read, but the familiar scenes from the unfamiliar times drew them in. In the 1880s one-room farmhouse replica, my kids went right to the old-time music box, pushed the button, and started dancing to the music. They opened a refrigerator from the early 20th century kitchen and took out ingredients to start “cooking” on the stove. They continued their discoveries through each era. And as a bonus, with them entertained, I had time to read about the people and events that shaped Charlotte’s history. www.museumofthenewsouth.org
Please note: Some material may not be suitable for young kids, but the museum gives fair warning.
Activity 2: Formulate and Test a Hypothesis
In the late 1950s when the Soviet Union’s Sputnik program was beating out the U.S. space program, Charlotte locals got a little nervous. They wanted to feel like they were doing something. Their solution? Give local kids more exposure to science. The community agreed, raised funds, and built Discovery Place.
The name, Discovery Place, just fits. It’s a place of discovery. Each exhibit seems to stem from the thought, what have you always wanted to do, but your parents wouldn’t let you? Or, what do you want to try, but couldn’t figure out how to do yourself? It lets you ask, what would happen if…
For my kids this means looking at me to make sure I’m okay with what they’re doing. Yes, you can play with the duct tape. Go ahead, touch the fish. Sure, lie down on a bed of nails. This is the place to do it. www.discoveryplace.org
Activity 3: Read, Play, or Take in a Show
ImaginOn is a children’s library. And it’s a children’s theater. The library part is filled with books and app-loaded iPad stations. The theater section runs frequent professional shows based on the stories and characters children love. Both of these are awesome by themselves, but ImaginOn is more than just a library and a theater.
Their mission is to bring stories to life. They don’t do this by just letting kids be passive observers. They want kids to participate. The free play activities throughout the library encourages kids to use their imaginations. The colorful displays make one thing clear: ImaginOn is fun. It may be hard to leave. www.imaginon.org
Tip: Book tickets to the show in advance on their website. They frequently sell out.
Activity 4: Check Out the Skyline
When it’s time for fresh air, head to Romare Bearden Park. The city often hosts public events there so don’t be surprised if there’s a band playing or vendors selling cotton candy or both. You may get lucky and join a pep rally for a local sports team. On quieter days you’ll still see people playing ball, doing yoga, or just lounging with a book and a snack. Kids run in the grass or get soaked in the splash park. Sit close to the waterfall to up the relaxation factor.
Tip: Romare Bearden is walking distance to BB&T Ballpark. Check their schedule in advance and book tickets to watch the Charlotte Knights Baseball team. See Romare Bearden Park online, and visit the BB&T Ballpark website.
1 Great Place to Stay: Omni Charlotte
When I’m staying in a city with my kids there are two things I look for: location, and kids activities. The Omni Charlotte covers both. Once you leave the hotel it’s only a short walk to most of Uptown’s most popular sites and restaurants. You can even walk to the Epicentre–a central hub of food, entertainment, and shopping–via a connected walkway.
As for kids, they’re covered. The “Omni Sensational Kids” program includes a bag of toys and activities at check in, plus milk and cookies for them on the first night. And for kids who love a view, take the elevator to the rooftop pool. See the Omni Charlotte online and visit the Epicentre website.
1 Great Place to Eat: 7th Street Public Market
The vendors at 7th Street Public Market highlight one thing: Charlotte’s food culture. Based on the meals I’ve had here, that means everything is elevated with fresh, local ingredients. My pick is to share a pizza from Pure Pizza and then get a latte from Not Just Coffee. Order at the vendor’s booth and let them know you’re sitting outside. They’ll bring it to you when it’s ready.
My kids love sitting outside because it’s just next to the last stop for the light rail. Also, the “Touch My Building” exhibit on the building’s first floor exterior. Multiple panels light up and make pleasing sounds when touched. The tables are next to these panels and give the kids something to do while waiting for their food. www.7thstreetpublicmarket.com