Whenever I travel, I try to find as many places that fit two requirements: they speak to my love of art, culture, or literature, and they appeal to my toddler. I know that many people don't think they can travel with kids because of a misconception that there just aren't that many attractions for the smaller members of the family. I want to dispel that as much as I can!
Charlotte, North Carolina, the second largest banking center in the U.S. (after New York City!), might seem less-than-kid friendly at first, but there's actually plenty to do with a family in the Queen City. Check out these five places that promise learning alongside fun.
Recommended ages: 6-12 for the main exhibits; 0-7 for Kidscience area
301 N. Tryon Street, Charlotte, NC
Even twenty years after my last visit (and here I'm showing my age!), Discovery Place loomed large in my mind: was it actually as cool as I remembered it being? Had the years inflated my memories of this place?
As soon as I walked in, I knew that my fears had been for naught. While the museum has retained some of what I remember (since some science stuff is so cool that it needs to stay forever!), there were several updated areas that I would've been delighted to experience as a kid.
Britton, who's coming up on two, adored the Kidscience area, which is geared to budding scientists ages 0-7. While her favorite part was the water table, there's also an enclosed play area, a gears exhibit, and several interactive toys that test gravity.
Elsewhere in the museum, there's also an aquarium area, an incredibly cool exhibit on gravity (with levers that allow you to pull your entire body weight up yourself!), an interactive space to learn about building materials, and classroom space for daily demonstrations.
While we were there, two special exhibits were included in the ticket price: one was on illusions and the other was on poison dart frogs. Of the two, the frogs were far more kid friendly with their terrariums and brightly colored information signs. The illusions exhibit was fascinating (we got to use a black light flashlight to read the info panels at each piece!), but it was much less kid-friendly: no touching, lots of strange noises, very dark, and with a big emphasis on modern art styles.
|Time to head off on our next adventure!|
200 East 7th Street, Charlotte, NC
Recommended ages: 2+
|Replica of the local Woolworths where sit ins occurred in Charlotte to protest segregation|
Winding its way through the years immediately after the Civil War, the textile boom, segregation and then integration, and finally the banking era, the museum follows the rise of Charlotte. As we explored each section, there were plenty of things to touch, hear, and see from the different textures of processed cotton to banjo music from the 1920s to a lunch counter where protesters staged sit-ins during segregation.
|Britton testing out the 1980s banking gear in the NCNB-Wachovia banking exhibit|
I liked the layering that the museum offered: my dad and I could read the information cards to discover more, while Britton (and the many other kids in there) were busy testing out the floors in an old farming house or trying on clothes in a 1940s Belk department store.
300 East 7th Street, Charlotte, NC
Recommended ages: 2+
Just down the street from the Levine Museum is this theatre-library-play place combo. After walking around, I was jealous that Charleston doesn't have something similar, as I could see Britton and I enjoying many afternoons here.
We attended Britton's first play in the theatre: a children's group from Canada reimagined three of Eric Carle's stories, including that childhood staple, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Throughout the show, the kids were encouraged to participate by yelling out animal names or numbers. Even for the younger ones who couldn't keep up with the stories perfectly, the bright colors, puppets, and black lights were plenty to keep little eyes focused.
There's a constantly changing line-up of fun children's shows and activities, so if you're in the area, see what's playing.
|All grown up and attending plays!|
There's no charge to use the library or play areas, which is perfect for a rainy afternoon when you're in Uptown Charlotte.
Recommended ages: 1+
8111 Concord Mills Boulevard, Concord Mills, NC
The moment that we walked into the Aquarium, Britton was mesmerized. She just recently figured out what a fish and a dolphin are, and ever since then, she gets super excited when she sees either. At Sea Life, she got to test out that marine life vocabulary throughout our visit--and I don't think she was too upset about that fact.
When I first saw the Aquarium was inside the Concord Mills Mall, I thought, "There's no way this will be big enough to be cool." I need to learn to quell those prejudices since the place ended up being seriously interesting. Sea Life packed 20 exhibits into the space, but it never feels crowded for the animals.
Britton liked the touch pool where we were able to feel hermit crabs and chocolate chip sea stars. She also loved the huge walkthrough tunnel where we were able to see sharks and manta rays gliding above us.
There are behind-the-scenes tours offered as a part of your ticket; they're quick but interesting. You get to see the biggest pool from above, ask questions about the animals, and see how and what they're fed.
Recommended ages: 3+
400 E. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, Charlotte, NC
And it is.
With three floors of displays, movies, interactive exhibits, it doesn't matter if you can name every Winston Cup winner. Your kids will love seeing the progression of cars on Miracle Mile (which starts with a Hudson Hornet--Doc Hudson, for fans of the Cars movie) and feeling the different road finishes on famous raceways. Practice how you'd wave the victory flag up on the fourth floor, and then see how quickly you'd be in the pit crew in the children's area on the third floor.
|Sign her up for the pit crew!|
Disclaimer: I was provided tickets to some of the above events or attractions in order to write this article. All opinions are mine.
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