Jun 30, 2023 - Things to Do

20+ family-friendly activities to check out this summer in Charlotte and beyond

Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

Charlotte Country Day School
Keeping kids entertained during the summer is all about balance. Charlotte Country Day School recommends a healthy mix of structured activities and unstructured play. Get ideas.

There are lots of low-cost ways to keep the whole family busy this summer, from museum trips to urban hikes.

  • Below are 20+ family-friendly activities to check out in the Charlotte region and beyond.

Of note: This list includes activities for kids from babies/toddlers through teenagers. It’s not a comprehensive list of all the fun stuff to do with your family this season, though.

  • Have any go-to spots or hidden gems to add? Reach out: [email protected]. We’ll update this list periodically.
  • Also, many of the places in this roundup have special prices for members and seniors. Be sure to check out their respective websites for the latest pricing.

ImaginOn

Details: ImaginOn is a partnership between the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and the Children’s Theater. The center’s Spangler Library offers a free, 30-minute family storytime for young children (1-5 years old or so) several days a week filled with stories, dancing, music and socializing.

  • Stick around or come early for the interactive exhibits at the library, fitting for kids of all ages.

Location/hours: 300 E. Seventh St. Open Monday-Thursday 9am-8pm; Friday-Saturday 9am-5pm; Sunday 1-5pm.

Cost: Free

Of note: There's a free parking lot off 6th Street.

Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

Evergreen Nature Preserve

Details: Take an urban hike through this 1.8-mile loop in a quiet nature preserve in east Charlotte. It’s not a strenuous hike, and you’ll see plenty of runners and bikers on the trails, too.

Location/hours: 1336 Norland Road. Open 7am-7pm daily.

Cost: Free

Of note: There's a free parking lot — plus restrooms and drinking fountains — at the trail's entrance off Norland Road.

Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

Independent Picture House

Details: On the second Saturday of every month this summer, the Independent Picture House in NoDa hosts an hour of free morning cartoons for the family — with free cookies and milk, too. Cartoons vary by the week.

Location/hours: 4237 Raleigh St. 10:30-11:30am

Cost: Free

Of note: There's a parking lot in front of the theater.

Photo: Emma Way/Axios

Airport Overlook

Details: If your child is into both airplanes and construction, the temporary airport overlook at CLT is the place for you. Bring some snacks and watch airplanes take off from a small gravel lot at the corner of Old Dowd Road and Airport Overlook Drive.

  • Of note: The old airport overlook, which opened in 1989, closed last October for the construction of a new taxiway and runway.
  • A new overlook — complete with playgrounds, food trucks, exhibits and a memorial — will open next year.

Location/hours: 7300 Airport Overlook Dr. Open 8am-10pm daily.

Cost: Free

Of note: The gravel lot is free to park in and has plenty of space. Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

Splash pad at First Ward Park

Details: If you’re looking for an easy, free way to cool off this summer, a splash pad is a great option that kids love. The one in First Ward is sprawling, and nearby there’s a playground area and a grassy area for picnics and lounging.

  • In fact, many public parks around Charlotte have splash pads, including Latta, Romare Bearden and Elizabeth.

Location/hours: 301 E. 7th St., across the street from ImaginOn and 7th Street Public Market. Open 6am-8pm daily.

Cost: Free

Of note: There's paid street parking along Brevard and 8th streets. Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

Seoul Food Meat Company Mill District

Details: Why not combine playtime and happy hour? Seoul Food offers plenty of activities for the kids — from a splash pad to a playground to games — and for the adults, a full menu of craft beer, soju cocktails, wine and mocktails, plus karaoke. It’s a fun spot to meet/hang with other families with kids.

Location/hours: 421 E 26th St. Open 11:30am-11pm Sunday-Thursday; 11:30-midnight Friday-Saturday.

Cost: Varies

Of note: There's a free parking lot out back, but it fills up fast, especially on the weekends. Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

North Carolina Zoo

Details: The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro is in the middle of the state, a roughly 90-mile drive northeast of Charlotte. Easy day trip. The state-supported zoo is home to more than 1,700 animals from around the world, from baboons to lions to African elephants. Animal habitats are divided up by region. Check out the zoo’s website for animal feeding times.

Location/hours: 4401 Zoo Pkwy. Open April thru October 9am-5pm; November thru March 9am-4pm.

Cost: Varies depending on the experience you’re going for. It’s $15 for general admission for adults, $11 for children 2-12. Children under 2 get in free.

  • You can alternatively book a ride-and-guide tour, which offers golf cart tours led by professionals who take you around to see the animals in tours of varying durations, from 1.5 hours to half a day.
  • Of note: Parking is free.
For another zoo option only slightly farther, the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden in Columbia is another fun day trip. Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Zoo

Lazy 5 Ranch

Details: The Lazy 5 Ranch in Mooresville is one way to see both farm and exotic animals — from cattle to kangaroos — without driving too far. The family-run ranch is home to over 750 animals from six different continents, and per its website, aims to support the recovery of several endangered species, including the Grevy Zebra, Scimitar Horned Oryx and Ring-tailed Lemur.

  • You can opt to drive-thru (and feed the animals from your car — a messy but exciting activity) or take a wagon ride.

Location/hours: 15100 Mooresville Road. Open Monday-Saturday, 9am until one hour before sunset (arrive by 4pm); Sunday, 12pm until one hour before sunset (arrive by 4pm).

Cost: Depends on your activity. Drive-thru price for adults (ages 12-59): $15, and for children (ages 2-11): $11. Wagon rides for adults: $21 and for children: $15.

Of note: Lazy 5 doesn't accept debit or credit cards. Cash or check only. Photo: Courtesy of Lazy 5 Ranch

Carolina Raptor Center

Details: The nonprofit educational center up in Huntersville features outdoor trails with all kinds of birds, flight shows, STEM-focused educational programming and indoor exhibits. The center, founded in 1981, provides rehabilitation services for injured birds of prey, admitting up to 1,000 birds per year. Most of the raptors taken into the center’s hospital are released back into the wild.

Location/hours: 6000 Sample Road. Open 10am-4pm daily.

Cost: Ages 23-65 $16; ages 3-13 $12; ages 13-22 $14. Under 3: Free.

Of note: There's free parking onsite, plus picnic tables if you want to bring a meal. Courtesy of the Carolina Raptor Center

Tweetsie Railroad

Details: Opened in 1957 as North Carolina’s first theme park, Tweetsie is located about two hours west of Charlotte, between Blowing Rock and Boone. The park has historic steam locomotives that carry passengers around a scenic Wild West-themed three-mile loop. The park also offers live shows, amusement rides, the Deer Park Zoo and dining.

Location/hours: 300 Tweetsie Railroad Lane, Blowing Rock. Open Thursday through Monday (and July 4th; closed Tuesday and Wednesday through Aug. 13). Operating hours are 10am-6pm.

Cost: $60 for adults and $40 for children ages 3-12. Children 2 and under get in free.

Of note: The park is hosting a Fourth of July celebration with fireworks. It'll have Halloween and Christmas-themed events, too. Courtesy of Tweetsie Railroad.

Quarry at Carrigan Farms

Details: Carrigan Farms is a family-owned property in Mooresville that grows fresh produce and opens their natural spring quarry to the public for daily open swims during the summertime. During open swim, you can jump off the rocks, swing off the rope swing, fish in the pond, relax on the quarry beaches or dine at the onsite restaurant. Reservations are required for open swim.

  • All swimmers must wear a life jacket unless they pass a swim test, which is open to people 12 and older.
  • Children under 12 must wear a life jacket at all times.

Location/hours: 1213 Oakridge Farm Hwy. Open daily 10 am-3pm, then 3:45-8:30pm.

Cost: Varies depending on the day. Normally it’s $30 per person for open swim ($5 deposit online; $25 due in cash at the door).

Go deeper: Guide to swimming at the Quarry at Carrigan Farms

The Quarry at Carrigan Farms
Of note: There are lifeguards on duty. Photo: Symphony Weber/Axios

U.S. National Whitewater Center

Details: The Whitewater Center has range, whether your family’s into hiking, listening to music, going whitewater rafting or enjoying a serene stand-up paddleboard ride. Head to the USNWC during cold-weather months for seasonal activities like ice skating.

Location/hours: 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy. Pass hours generally run from 9am-8pm. Check out the center's daily activities schedule for more details.

Cost: Depends on the activity. It's free to just walk in, but parking is $6.

Go deeper: 13 ways to spend a day at the U.S. National Whitewater Center

Whitewater Center
Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Discovery Place Nature

Details: Nature lovers can learn about all sorts of local wildlife — from bees to salamanders to bald eagles — at this museum that backs up to Freedom Park in Myers Park. It's filled with exhibits, interactive displays, toys and a nature pavilion. Tack on a walk on the museum's Paw Paw Nature Trail, or through Freedom Park, which is next to the museum, to round out your visit.

Location/hours: 1658 Sterling Road. Open daily 10:30am-4:30pm; closed Mondays.

Cost: $8 for adults and children 2+; children 2 and under get in free.

Parking: There's a surface lot adjacent to the building.

Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

Freedom Park

Details: One of Charlotte's most prominent and popular public parks, Freedom Park has a large pond, trails that connect to Little Sugar Creek Greenway, baseball fields, tennis courts, soccer fields, volleyball courts, walking trails, an NFL KidZone and two playgrounds — one off Princeton Drive and one near the KidZone. It's another great (and free) option for nature- and sports-loving kids.

Location/hours: 1908 East Blvd. Open 7am-7pm daily.

Cost: Free

Of note: There's free parking off the East Boulevard entrance.

Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

Discovery Place Science

Details: This science and technology museum in Uptown has hands-on labs for children of all ages, science exhibits, live shows and an IMAX theater, which plays films such as “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One,” and “Oppenheimer.”

Location/hours: 301 N Tryon St. Open Monday-Friday 9:30am-4:30pm, Saturday and Sunday 10:30am-4:30pm.

Cost: General museum admission for those 14-59 is $23 and $18 for those 2-13. Kids 2 and under get in free.

Parking: Prepaid daily parking is $14.

Discovery Place Science
Discovery Place Science. Axios file photo

Discovery Place Kids

Details: Another facility in the Discovery Place family, this Huntersville museum is geared toward families with young children. The museum has a kids’ science lab, puppet shows, story time, dance parties and hands-on exhibitions for children of all ages.

Location/hours: 105 Gilead Road. Open daily 9:30am-4:30pm; closed Mondays.

Cost: Adults and children (1-13) $14-$15 online, $17-$18 at the door. Children younger than 1 get in free.

Of note: Free parking is available in the Huntersville Town Center parking deck behind the Museum.

Carowinds

Details: The popular amusement park is open for the summer, featuring more than 50 rides at varying thrill levels. One especially popular warm-weather attraction at Carowinds is the Carolina Harbor Waterpark, which features water slides and two wave pools.

Location/hours: 14523 Carowinds Blvd., straddling the state line. Open 10am-7pm Monday-Thursday; 10am-10pm Friday-Sunday.

Cost: Reservations are required, so book your tickets in advance. Day passes are $44.99, and that gets you into the waterpark; or $37.99 if you arrive after 4pm.

Of note: Parking is $30 if you book online in advance. Parking is included in a season pass.

fury 325 coaster at carowinds
Axios file photo

Greenways

Details: For a free, refreshing way to enjoy the outdoors in Charlotte — walk, bike, skate, scooter or run along Charlotte's greenways.

Location/hours: Varies.

Cost: Free

Go deeper: How to bike from Elizabeth to Pineville on Charlotte's greenways

Irwin Creek Greenway
Irwin Creek Greenway. Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

Wing Haven

Details: A quiet sprawling property in the heart of Charlotte, Wing Haven features two gardens — The Elizabeth Lawrence House & Garden (a world-renowned garden writer's living laboratory) and the Student Environmental Education and Discovery (SEED) Wildlife & Children's Garden, which provides hands-on learning about native plants and animals. Guided tours of the property are available.

Location/hours: 248 Ridgewood Ave. Open Wednesday-Saturday 10am-5pm.

Cost: $10 for non-members. Children get in free.

Parking: There's a free parking lot out front.

Photo courtesy of Stefanie Myer/Wing Haven

A Knights game

Details: You don't have to be a baseball lover to have a ball at Truist Field watching the Knights, a Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. Vendors sell a variety of ballpark fare — from hotdogs and street tacos to local craft beer and wine. Check out the Knights' website for special theme nights like the upcoming 80s' Night and Princess Day.

Location/hours: 324 S Mint St.

Cost: Ticket prices vary. See the Knights' schedule here.

Of note: Parking isn't easy in Uptown. Instead, leave the car at one of CATS' park-and-ride locations, and take the light rail.

Axios file photo

Schiele Museum 

Details: This Gastonia natural history museum features a range of comprehensive visiting and permanent exhibits, from one highlighting the Catawba Indian culture to others showcasing North American wildlife — like bears, bison and elk. This is another great option for a rainy day, and if you’re willing to make the quick drive.

  • The museum has seasonal events, such as an outdoor farm on the weekends.
  • Special programming may require a separate ticket.

Location/hours: 1500 E Garrison Blvd. Open Monday-Friday 10am-4pm, Saturday 10am-5pm and Sunday 1-5pm.

Cost: $7 for adults and $6 for children 4-18. Children 3 and under get in free.

Of note: The museum’s planetarium shows are temporarily canceled because of equipment maintenance.

Additional resources:

21 places to take your kids before they grow up (Visit NC)

25 ideas under $25 for summer fun with kids in Charlotte (Charlotte Parent)

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