Charlotte with Kids: A Perfect Family Day

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Charlotte with Kids: A Family Vacation

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Located in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, Charlotte is home to the rumbling engines of NASCAR, noted art museums and Revolutionary-era historic sites... all of which would be completely boring to your young child. But never fear! The Queen City is also home to lots of preschool fun! My two preschoolers and I have scoped the city and we're ready to give you the low down on the "must-do" list for the perfect vacation day in Charlotte with kids. Here is our suggested itinerary:


Morning


Start your day off right in Charlotte, when you have little kids with you. Grab breakfast at the Original Pancake House (4736 Sharon Road;704-553-8364) in Charlotte's upscale South Park neighborhood. As the name implies, this location offers pancakes and if your children like their breakfast traditional, you can order the restaurant's junior pancake plate. If they're more adventurous, share some of the signature apple pancakes or try an ultra fluffy ham and cheese omelet. The orange juice is fresh-squeezed, providing the addition to some yummy eats! For yourself, order some Mandarin crepes with a side of heart-attack-inducing, thick and yummy bacon. Nothing like starting the morning right!

When you're done with breakfast, your next stop is Planet Snoopy, the children's section of Carowinds (14523 Carowinds Blvd.; 704-588-2600). While Charlotte's area theme park has plenty of thrills for the older members of the family, it also has a section geared for your little ones. Take to the skies in the Flying Ace Balloon Race, chug along the train tracks in the locomotive at Snoopy's Junction, and even get some mild roller coaster action on the twisting and twirling Peanuts Pirates ride. When your kids are tired of the rides, take a break at one of the live shows offered throughout the park. All are family friendly and some are especially geared towards children.

Insider tip: Take advantage of the $22.99 special pricing for kids under 48", and if your kids are 2 or younger, they get in free! If you don't feel like an all-day outing, go after 4PM to get the discounted pricing for you and your older children.

Another outdoor attraction is the Latta Plantation Equestrian Center (6201 Sample Road, Huntersville). If you've got a horse-crazed child like I do, the pony rides offered here will be the highlight of your child's day! The rides cost $8 per child (ages 2-7) and the child gets several laps around the ring with a gentle pony and an equally gentle handler. Surrounding the Equestrian Center are several miles of hiking, biking and horse riding trails, so pack a picnic lunch and enjoy some nature!

Feel like a vacation-day cruise? During the summer, take your children sailing on Lake Norman with the Normie Story Time Cruise (1459 River Hwy., Mooresville; 704-663-2628). Your ship will be the Catawba Queen and your destination is fun! Children are served milk, cookies, and stories about the region's version of the Loch Ness monster, Normie. Reservations are recommended as the spaces can sell out very quickly! It is $8 for adults and $5 for children.


Afternoon


After an activity-filled morning in Charlotte with kids, it's time for lunch! For a budget fare, try Charlotte's beloved pizza chain, Fuel Pizza. The pizza is served by the pie or by the slice and several of the stores are brim full of character, notably the original location at 1501 Central Ave. (704-376-3835). If you're looking for a more leisurely sit-down restaurant, stop by the Cajun Queen (1800 E. 7th St.; 704-377-9017) in the historic Elizabeth neighborhood. Serving New Orleans-inspired dishes, the restaurant is located in a remodeled house that dates back to 1918. And it's not only the location that makes this one of the city's top dining spots. Cajun specialties such as red beans and rice, as well as jambalaya fill the menu and will have you eating until every last bit is gone.

When you've finished your lunch, it's time to embark on more adventures. As this is the South, sometimes the weather is just a bit too hot for outdoor excursions. Here are some great options for indoor fun:

  • The Charlotte Nature Museum (1658 Sterling Road; 704-372-6261 ) at Freedom Park. My children could spend hours at this small, but jam-packed center! The museum is geared toward ages 3-7, and includes boatloads of hands-on exhibits and activities. Let them get up close and personal with butterflies of all shapes and sizes in the Butterfly Pavilion, walk through the Creature Cavern to explore the habitats of native animals and go underground with the worms and the rabbits in the Big Backyard. Admission is $6 per guest over the age of 1.
  • The Nature Museum's big brother is downtown Charlotte'sDiscovery Place (301 N Tryon St.; 704-372-6261). Boasting a rain forest and aquarium, the center also contains exhibits that cover everything from molecular science and architecture to physics, with a whole lot in between! It's definitely geared toward the older crowd, but your young children will still have fun tinkering with the many hands-on stations scattered throughout the museum. There's also a special area, KidsScience, that's designed for children 7 and under to explore and learn with toys, experiments and exhibits at just their level. A visit will cost you $12 for the adults and $9 for children 2 and up.
  • If you're looking for something free, try the innovative ImaginOn Children's Library, (300 East 7th St.) also located in downtown Charlotte. This library contains much more than just books (though there are plenty of those!). Rotating exhibits and various festivals allow your young children to experience diverse cultures and learn more about the arts through play. ImaginOn is also home to the world-class Children's Theatre of Charlotte. Plays range from classic novels to preschool favorites and will whisk your child away into a magical world. Check out the upcoming performance schedule for more information.

Evening


It's been a long day and your family is ready to unwind. Head over to Dilworth, the trendy but comfortable neighborhood just south of downtown. Dine on the patio at Brixx Pizza, (225 E. 6th St.; 704-347-2749), devour some inexpensive Greek fare at the locally owned Showmar's (1600 East Blvd.) or partake of some healthy refreshment at Smoothie King (1235 East Blvd).

If your children still have a bit of extra energy to burn, go to the nearby Freedom Park and walk the trails or enjoy the playground and retired locomotive in the park, before you all head back to your hotel for a well-deserved night's sleep with dreams of your perfect family vacation day in Charlotte.

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