News Column

For the kids: 50 fun ideas for this summer

June 9, 2014

By Samantha Sabin, The Charlotte Observer

June 09--With the last day of school for kids on Tuesday in Charlotte, you're left with more than 70 days to fill before the start of the next year. Here are 50 suggestions -- including a few off the beaten path -- for having some fun and fulfilling days ahead.

Culture and Arts

1. "Once Upon a Time ... Exploring the World of Fairy Tales," ImaginOn. A hands-on exhibit that celebrates storytelling and features large prints from the pages of "Beauty and the Beast," "Cinderella," "Thumbelina" and others.

2. Latta Plantation, Huntersville. Take a tour of the historic site; hours vary by day. Free for kids 5 and under; everyone else, $6-$7.

3. June 15: Latibah Cultural eXchange Festival, Latibah Collard Green Museum, Wesley Heights. This festival of both African-American and Native American culture will include everything from storytelling to drum circles. www.latibahmuseum.org

4. June 22: Mint Museum's Grandparents Day. As a part of its regular Sunday Fun Day series, enjoy a day of craft-making and family-friendly museum tours. Free for kids, $5 adults.

5. Terrific Tuesdays at ImaginOn. Every Tuesday staffers celebrate summer reading with free performances.

6. Charlotte Symphony Summer Pops Series, Symphony Park. Every Sunday through July 4, the symphony will liven up the SouthPark area with fun summer concerts. Prelude performance at 7 p.m., Symphony show at 8 p.m. Tickets: $10 for the first four nights, $15 for the last night on July 3.

7. Family First Day, Harvey B. Gantt Center. Every Saturday of the first full weekend of the month, take part in a one-hour guided tour of the center and a workshop for children. Free for children 5 and under, $7-$9 for adults and kids older than 5.

8. Charlotte Museum of History. Now open Tuesday-Saturday, it allows visitors to tour the Hezekiah Alexander House. $5-$7, ages 5 and under, free.

9. Levine Museum of the New South. Explore the South's role in U.S. history after 1865. $5-$8, free for children 5 and under.

Fun Stuff

10. Summer Movie Express series, Regal Cinemas. Kid-friendly flicks every Tuesday and Wednesday at 10 a.m. starting June 17. $1.

11. Open Play at Superior Play Systems, Steele Creek. Between 10 and 1 every Wednesday and Friday, it turns the sales floor into an open playground for kids. Free.

12. Craft classes at Lakeshore Learning, Matthews. Every Saturday morning, it offers free crafting classes for kids.

13. Public spraygrounds. Mecklenburg County has five public spraygrounds, which are perfect for a refreshing day out; charmeck.org, search for "spraygrounds."

14. Head over to the Airport Overlook Park (Take I-85 S, exit 32, left on Little Rock, right on Wilkinson Blvd., left on Marshal Drive, right at Old Dowd Road and right on Airport Overlook Drive) and the Carolinas Aviation Museum. Museum: $8-$12, children 5 and under, free. Park lets visitors watch the planes take off and has plenty of picnic benches and seating.

15. Discovery Place, uptown. This hands-on science and technology museum includes rotating exhibits, a three-story rain forest, aquarium and The Charlotte Observer IMAX Dome Theatre. $9-$20.

16. Space Kidets, Steele Creek. Bounce around on inflatables and play games at the arcade. $8 per child for open play.

17. Monkey Joe's, several locations. With a slew of inflatables, the kids will love bouncing around all day. $5-10.

18. Freedom Park, south Charlotte. Enjoy four baseball fields, 12 tennis courts, two playgrounds and more.

19. Ray's Splash Planet, uptown. Take a dip and splash around in the water park. $3-$11.

20. Sports Connection. This indoor sports facility with four locations offers inflatable bouncers, laser tag, rock climbing, bowling and video games. Prices vary. www.sportsconnectionnc.com

21. Free roller skating, Gastonia. Both Kate's Skating Rink locations are participating in the Skate for Free program, which lets kids skate for the day for free. www.kidsskatefree.com

22. Sky High Sports, Pineville. They have a large trampoline, foam pit and a dodge ball arena. $10.50 for the first hour, $8.50 for the second.

23. North Carolina Transportation Museum, Spencer. Just north of Kannapolis, it has 57 acres filled with exhibits. $4-$12.

24. Queen's Landing's Cookie Cruises, Mooresville. Geared toward preschool-aged children, this Lake Norman cruise includes an array of juice and cookies and storytelling every Thursday from June 19 to Aug. 14. $7-$10. www.queenslanding.com/

25. Duke EnergyExplorium, Huntersville. Learn more about energy, weather and the environment in this interactive tour at the McGuire Nuclear Station.

26. FinTastic, Steele Creek. This aquarium store has over 10,000 sq. ft. with more than 425 aquariums of fish, corals and plants on display.

27. Metalmorphosis, Steele Creek. Visit the metal sculpture of a face spitting water into a fountain. The animation is controlled by the artist -- in the Czech Republic. 3700 Arco Corporate Drive, Charlotte.

28. Reed Gold Mine, Midland. Dig for gold at the mine, which is the home of the first documented gold find in the United States about 22 miles west of Charlotte. $3 per pan.

Nature

29. Big Rock Nature Preserve, south Charlotte. The oldest landmark in south Charlotte, only a few minutes away from Stonecrest, is a great place for climbing and running around. Go south on Rea Road, turn right on Ballantyne Commons Pkwy., right on Elm Lane, and left on Elmstone Drive.

30. McDowell Nature Preserve, Charlotte. Explore nature with your family near Lake Wylie. There's also camping, with tent rentals, $15-$46.

31. June 27: Birding Basics Class at Reedy Creek Nature Preserve, University City. Free.

32. Schiele Museum, Gastonia. It offers free admission every second Tuesday of the month from 4 to 8 p.m. Explore the museum's exhibits and the planetarium.

33. Lazy 5 Ranch, Mooresville. Spend a day touring this drive-thru animal park with over 750 animals; horse-drawn wagon tours also available. $8-$16.

34. Species Tours, Carolina Raptor Center, Huntersville. Learn about hawks, owls, vultures and falcons. Free for 4 and under; children and adults, $6-$10.

35. Crowders Mountain State Park, Gastonia. About 30 miles west of Charlotte, the park offers 12 miles of scenic hiking trails.

36. Pick your own farm. The Charlotte Observer puts together a list of pick-your-own produce farms, including apples, strawberries and peaches, in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties every year. www.charlotteobserver.com/food

37. N.C. Zoo, Asheboro. Visitors connect with animals from Africa and North America. $8-18.

38. Riverbanks Zoo, Columbia. Home to more than 2,000 animals and a botanical garden. $9.25-$20.

39. UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens. Includes two gardens for exploration and a greenhouse. Kids will love the free butterfly terrace, Asian garden, bridges and ponds with waterfalls. $2 suggested donation.

40. Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens, Belmont. Includes 12 water fountains and 10 acres of themed gardens. $6-$12.

41. Wing Haven Gardens & Bird Sanctuary, Myers Park. It has 3 acres of exploration. $8 for adults, free for 18 and under.

42. Zootastic Park of Lake Norman, Troutman. There are more than 200 animals and numerous attractions at this small zoo near Lake Norman, including a petting zoo and summer camps. $6.50-$8.50.

43. Explore the greenways. Mecklenburg County maintains over 35 miles of developed greenways, which typically run along creeks and are a great place to walk and bike. charmeck.org, search "greenways."

Sports

44. Free bowling. Register your kids at KidsBowlFree.com and your kids will receive two free bowling games per day at participating bowling alleys all summer long. Does not include shoe rentals.

45. Aug. 11: Panthers Training Camp Family Fun Day, Wofford College, Spartanburg. Play 60 Family Fun Day will have face painting, a mini training camp and appearances by TopCat and Sir Purr. This event is a part of the NFL's Play 60 initiative to encourage kids to play outside.

46. Panthers stadium tours. The tours, which are still going on during renovations, give fans an exclusive look at the facilities. $3-$5.

47. Knights baseball game, at the new stadium uptown. The Knights' calendar is filled with promotional events all summer. Tickets starting at $8.

48. Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord. The "Feel The Thrill Tour" visits areas of the track that are off-limits on race days. $10-$12.

49. NASCAR Speedpark, Concord. Six go-cart tracks, laser tag, bumper boats, rock-climbing wall and more. $19.99.

50. Sea Life Aquarium, Concord. On the back side of Concord Mills, this new aquarium includes at least 5,000 sea creatures, including jellyfish, sharks and stingrays. $17-$21.

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