Finding great spots to visit when you’re vacationing with children is a little different than vacations when you were a childless adult. And family vacations with children of varying ages can be very tricky. While you want to pick places that the older members of your family can enjoy, you also want to be able to hold the attention of little ones. If you’re traveling in the South or if you’re a local and just haven’t stumbled on to these spots yet, here are three great family vacation destinations in and around Charlotte, North Carolina.
Because I’ve lived in the Charlotte are most of my life, I tend to forget that I actually live near a large and interesting city. Charlotte is the 16th largest city in the United States as of 2015. It’s filled with cultural activities, banking and finance centers, museums, parks and recreation opportunities, and more. It’s also located in a great spot. We can drive two hours and be in the mountains or three to four hours and be at the beach, so it’s easy to take a fun, short vacation.
Over the years there have a few places I’ve loved visiting since I was a child and places I’ve taken my children again and again. Some of these have been around a very long time and some are newer vacation destinations.
Discovery Place is an awesome hands-on science museum located in downtown Charlotte. It has permanent exhibits, including an area where kids learn about physics and machines by playing with a variety of different pulley, lever, gears, and other machines; a little kids area where kids under seven can play and explore, a nature exploration room with activities kids can pull out and use, an arts exploration area, and a rainforest complete with a variety of animals. There is also a small 3D theater and a large Imax theater.
The museum also has rotating exhibits. We’ve seen Grossology, an exhibit that featured gross facts about the human body. We’ve explored an exhibit about smells and the sense of smell. A large Egyptian mummies exhibit has come to the museum. And one of the kids favorites was a pirate exhibit years ago. Most of the time the special exhibits are included with museum admission, but occasionally there is an extra cost.
The thing that I- and the kids- love most about Discovery Place is that it is all hands-on. Rarely will they ever have any exhibit that is only for looks. Everything there invites touch and exploration. It’s also a great place for a variety of ages. Some of the activities and exhibits have information better understood by older kids and adults and some have activities specifically for little ones. Other activities can be adapted to a variety of ages and interests.
You can get information about visiting the museum here. If you are a homeschooler, make sure you ask about the homeschool discount that is often offered. And if you have a large family and are planning to visit more than twice in a year, the yearly pass is a great deal!
Although amusement parks are definitely not my cup of tea, a post about family destinations in Charlotte wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Carowinds. Carowinds is a large amusement park, and folks come from all over the world to visit.
Although I don’t prefer the long lines, expensive food, and hot pavement underfoot expected as part of the amusement park experience, I will say that Carowinds has something for the whole family if your family loves rides and rides and shows. There’s also a large water park that is part of Carowinds.
If you are into thrill rides, Carowinds has the worlds largest and fastest giga-coaster- Fury 325. If you have little ones, you can visit the Snoopy area for kiddie rides and fun. Looking for 3D gaming? There’s a brand new Plants vs. Zombies, 3D gaming arena opening. For an educational activity, you can visit the Dinosaurs Alive exhibit. And if you want to cool off, head to Carolina Harbor, the huge waterpark.
Some of my children- unlike me- do enjoy the thrill of Carowinds. They’ve learned to go later in the day to avoid the heat and to visit midweek to have a little bit smaller crowd. Fridays through Sundays seem to be the most crowded times to visit.
If you’re thinking about visiting Carowinds, there are all kinds of deals and specials going on all the time. You can check the website to find out. I’m not sure about a homeschool discount. My children and husband generally have season’s passes. If you visit more than twice in a year, it’s worth the cost of the pass, and the pass includes goodies like free parking and discounts on food and store items.
Cultural and Heritage Museums of York County
A lesser known family destination near Charlotte is the group of Cultural and Heritage Museums of York County. About thirty minutes south of the main cite, the museums are located in and around Rock Hill, South Carolina. There are four main sites. Each has its own pricing and visiting hours.
The Museum of York County is a natural history museum that has artifacts from Africa as well as exhibits about the natural history of the Carolina area. There is a large African hall with an animal collection that came to the museum in the 1950s. The museum also has a hands-on naturalist area, a little kids room with interactive educational activities, an exhibit of animals and culture from the Carolina Piedmont area, and art work by Vernon Grant, a well-known artist who lived in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
The Main Street Children’s Museum in an interactive, educational play museum geared toward children birth through age seven. There is a tree house area, a playhouse, a dress up area, a pirate ship, and a large train table. The museum offers some special story times and events for little ones.
Historic Brattonsville is a living history farm. The Brattons lived in the area during the Revolutionary War, and the site has been restored and recreated to give visitors a look at the time period. Reenactors give visitors a look at life in the 1700s. From the time I was child through today, the site offers a school day for elementary-aged kids to experience a school day in the 1800s. There are also special days that focus on specific events- a sheep shearing day, a day where visitors can learn more about slavery, a spring day on the farm, and other events. Brattonsville is also where part of the movie The Patriot was filmed, and it’s fun to see the exhibits that have memorabilia and information about the movie.
McCelvey Center is a cultural center that hosts a variety of cultural events. It also houses several art and historical archives for York country. There is also a room with historical documents and family information that can help visitors who are researching their ancestry.
I’ve loved taking my kids to all of the Cultural and Heritage Commission sites. I’m always surprised that even some local residents don’t know all these sites have to offer. You can find out more about visiting these sites here.
Charlotte and the surrounding area has much to offer families. It’s easy to find educational sites or just places for family fun.
Leah Courtney is a homeschooling mom of four. Her days are filled with being a mom, homemaker, and teacher. In her (very rare) free time, she enjoys blogging, reading, and reviewing books and curricula. These days she’s learning the joys of being a mom of teens. You can read about her family and homeschooling life at As We Walk Along the Road. You can also visit her on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.