I’ve been to Charlotte, N.C., on business, on a girlfriend getaway and with my husband, but I’ve never been with my kids. Until now. Although I had heard of many of the city’s family-friendly offerings, I usually spent my time in the city pursuing more grownup interests like exploring the extensive culinary scene and enjoying the resort spas. Recently, though, I had the opportunity to visit Charlotte with my kids in tow, so we took time to check out three of the city’s top family attractions.
NASCAR Hall of Fame
My husband and I are sports fanatics, with one of my favorites being auto racing. Since my son loves all things cars, I thought the NASCAR Hall of Fame would be a good fit for us both. It turns out I was right. Upon entering, visitors purchase their tickets and then receive a “hard card.” On this card, you record a personal profile. As you proceed through the facility, there will be many opportunities to use your hard card, which records the information.
For example, you can design your own racecar, input the car set-up information, qualify for a race and even run a race. NOTE: For children 3 and younger, they do not receive an active “hard card,” although they do get one of their own. I let my 3-year-old use my card so he could do the various activities.
During our visit, my kids loved seeing all the racecars and various components that go into making these cars go so fast. Throughout the entire building, there are many interactive exhibits. My kids tried their pit-stop skills by lifting the gas can, jacking up the car and changing a tire.
Their favorite, though, was the race simulator. Essentially, this is a video game played from behind the wheel of a mock racecar. First, you qualify for the race using a steering wheel and pedals in front of a TV. Then, you move on to the car. My kids, ages 3 and 7, were too small to ride alone, so my daughter sat in my lap and my son sat with his grandmother. We raced against seven or so other cars.
I knew if we stayed on the track and out of wrecks, we might be OK, so I controlled the steering and my daughter controlled the gas and brake. To our surprise and her delight, we actually won the race! It was a great way to finish our visit.
Our next stop was Discovery Place, Charlotte’s interactive children’s museum. The facility features exhibits on three levels grouped by theme. My son’s favorite was KidScience, where children engage in activities that teach math and science. There were water tables (the star attractions!) where kids could shoot water at wheel paddles to make them turn, giant air tubes where they could make music, and oversized building blocks.
My daughter liked the second level, home of Project Build. Here she could draw a building design and then try to execute it using various materials. She also liked Think It Up, where she crafted a mushroom using aluminum foil and tried to build a shoe prototype using duct tape.
Other themed areas included THEM, a look at bacteria, microbes and parasites in the human body; Cool Stuff, exhibits that require physical interaction to work (for example, sitting in a seat and pulling the seat up using a rope); and World Alive, a look at biodiversity.
The museum also includes an IMAX Dome Theatre and a Discovery 3D Theatre, although we didn’t have enough time to see those firsthand.
The Mint Museum
Ever since my first visit to Charlotte, I’ve wanted to visit The Mint Museum. Given that its monthly “Sunday Fun Day” was taking place during our time in the city, I thought this was fate. Again, this proved to be a good fit for both my children and me. For this event, the theme was “America the Beautiful.” My kids’ favorite was the arts and crafts, where they constructed a Hudson River sailboat, painted their own Impressionist seascape and created a Colonial tricorn hat (which they insisted were pirate hats!).
After craft time, we explored the museum’s galleries, which included American art on the fourth flour. To keep little ones interested, the museum provided a handout that encouraged kids to find specific paintings in the galleries, an art treasure hunt, if you will. I was quite surprised at my kids’ response to the artwork. Sometimes they loved what they saw, and others they were a bit confused. Overall, they were interested, and that was encouraging to me. I look forward to taking them to more art museums, and, hopefully, helping them nurture an appreciation for various styles of art.
Although our visit to Charlotte was short, I hope to return soon so we can explore further. One aspect that made this visit so successful was our hotel and its location. We stayed at The Westin Charlotte, which is within walking distance of all the sites we visited plus many dining destinations. It was great to park the car and walk everywhere during our stay, something I highly recommend to everyone coming to Charlotte.
Disclosure: Karon and her family visited Charlotte and these sites and attractions as guests of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.