Charlotte, North Carolina: 5 Family Favorites

My family makes its home in Charlotte, North Carolina, which is most well-known for banking and racing. Banking doesn’t hold much appeal for kids, except for the money part. And while NASCAR is hugely popular, I have to admit that it’s never been a draw for my family. So this is just a list of one long-time Charlotte mom. If you came to visit me with your kids (I’ve got space in the basement if you’re not picky) this is where I’d take you to.

1. Weird animal adventure number one
So how does this sound? You go on a wagon ride, and animals like giraffes and buffalo run up to the wagon, stick their heads just inches from yours, shove their impossibly huge tongues into the feed bucket you’re holding, spewing food pellets and slobber everywhere.

I thought that sounded good! Lazy 5 Ranch is just crazy enough to be irresistible. No matter how many times we go there, and no matter how jaded the tweens and teens seem to be, a big ol’ cow tongue in their face loosens them up and they’re simultaneously horrified and delighted. By the end of the visit you can find supposedly cool teens cuddling up to pigs.

2. Stay in a kid paradise
Not that I don’t want you in my basement, but if you can swing it, you’ll make your kids pretty happy at the Great Wolf Lodge. I’d heard about it for years, so when one opened right next door in Concord, North Carolina, we were excited to try it. Holy moly. The indoor water park kept my 11-year-old son and his buddy busy and happy for hours. Then there was Magiquest. If your kid is into video games or magic, you’ve got to try this. It’s like being inside a video game, using a working magic wand. Heaven.

3. Have a wet adventure
Now this is something you probably don’t have in your home town! The U.S. National Whitewater Center is a huge facility where you can raft down man-made, adjustable, whitewater channels.

They’re billed as the largest artificial whitewater channels in the world, but I’m not sure how much competition there is for that title. Serious kayakers train here, but plenty of goofy families bounce around in rafts too. They also have flatwater kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and two amazing zip-lines.

4. Go see a play…or just play
One of the newer Charlotte attractions is ImaginOn, which is a joint project between the library and the children’s theater. It seems weird to think that a library could be a destination, but it really is. First of all, the children’ theater productions are excellent, so if you’re in town pick up a schedule.

While you take your little ones to the show, your teens can hang out in Studio-I, where they can make their own videos and animations, using blue-screen technology, whiteboard animation, or anything else they can think up. Throughout the building are lots of fun things for elementary age and younger kids to do too, like dressing in costumes and acting on a stage, creating scenes from plays with other kids on networked computers, and putting on puppet shows.

5. Weird animal adventure number two
Rat Basketball at Discovery Place. Discovery Place is a state of the art science museum, but despite all the fascinating high-tech exhibits, our loyalty is with the long-standing Discovery Place tradition of Rat Basketball. A couple of times a day they bring out rats, who have been trained to play each other in basketball. The audience chooses a rat to root for, and cheers her on. I say “her” purposely because all the trained rats are female. The boy rats could not be taught.

Rat Basketball from TravelSavvyMom on Vimeo.

In addition to filming sporty rats and hungry cows, Jody Mace writes about Charlotte every single day at Charlotte on the Cheap.

Rafting photo courtesy of t23e.



  1. says

    The cow shot is hilarious. I am thinking even as disgusting as it looks, I wouldl totally go to that place while in Charlotte.

  2. says

    @Sharlene Oh, I totally agree. I can’t believe I haven’t been to Charlotte yet (as awesome and weird as it obviously is). Need to remedy that.

  3. says

    I thought the cow was a statue at first. What a great shot. Definitely want to go there. I’ve seen Rat Basketball. It’s pretty ‘um’ interesting.


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