As with our time in Raleigh, on our road trip across North Carolina our stop in Charlotte with kids was much too brief. The Charlotte Motor Speedway is technically in Concord, so we actually spent less than 24 hours in Charlotte but as is our style, we crammed as much as we could into our too-short visit.
We drove in from Concord after sneaking a bit more shopping after breakfast, and made it to “Uptown” Charlotte by lunch. A little stroll to Independence Square — the historic intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets — capped off our visit before we headed to our hotel and onward to the amazing U.S. Whitewater Center.
Our first (and only, really) impressions of Charlotte? This is somewhere we’d like to come back to and stay longer. A good climate means farm-fresh food, active and healthy people, and a great mix of old and new people, places, and things. We liked it a lot.
Where we stayed in Charlotte with kids:
We spent the night at the Hampton Inn & Suites South Park at Phillip’s Place. It is, quite possibly, the nicest Hampton Inn I have ever stayed at. There’s a lovely outdoor pool and garden area, and we were treated to a suite that had a full kitchen and office area. Phillips’s Place is an upscale outdoor shopping centre, with lots of higher end dining options (Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza Bar was just across from the hotel) and great shopping. The dining area and surroundings are so lovely you feel like you are at an upscale boutique hotel, and our room was spacious and comfortable. I really wish our stay in Charlotte with kids was longer just so we could rest at and enjoy the hotel a little more!
Where we ate in Charlotte with kids:
Breakfast at the Hampton Inn & Suites South Park at Phillip’s Place — Charlotte, NC
Hampton Inns are great with kids because the included hot breakfasts start out your day on full tummies, and there’s always lots of snack options to grab for later (pack those ziplocs!). Not only is the dining area at the Hampton Inn & Suites South Park at Phillip’s Place super light and bright and lovely, they had crushed Oreos available as topping options for the do-it-yourself waffles. My kids thought that was just the best. And I lighten up on my family nutrition strictness while we’re traveling, so it was win-win for everyone. A number of options for my gluten-free husband as well (eggs, fruit, and cheese).
7th St. Public Market — Charlotte, NC
I’m more than a little envious of North Carolina’s great climate. And that climate translates to lots of wonderful local and farm-to-table food options. And those options translate to the fantastic 7th Street Public Market in Uptown Charlotte (this was tricky for me, calling an area “uptown” instead of “downtown.” But I digress…)
What I loved so much about the 7th St. Public Market, is it’s exactly the kind of place I’d frequent if we lived in Charlotte. It was bustling but not overly busy when we visited at lunchtime, and the lively crowd was a great mix of business people, hipsters, moms with strollers, and tourists like us who were all enjoying the great mix of fresh and local food options. I was a big fan of my artisanal grilled cheese from Orrman’s Cheese Shop and my kids are still raving about the cupcakes and cookies from Cloud 9 Confections. YUM.
River’s Edge Bar & Grill — U.S. National Whitewater Center
Dudes, after completely conquering my irrational fear of heights (several times) I totally earned my local Sycamore Blonde Peach beer and crab cakes. The U.S. National Whitewater Center never failed to impress, and our meal after our amazing afternoon of ziplining and rope courses way up high in the forest (see below) was equally as impressive in both its deliciousness and affordability. The salads were totally fresh, I very nearly rolled my nine-year-old daughter for her mac and cheese side dish after a little taste, and Bub continued his North Carolinan shrimp massacre. The menu was a total delight for the gluten intolerant, with gluten-free options clearly spelled out, and suggestions for substitutions where necessary. This place was great.
What we did in Charlotte with kids:
U.S. National Whitewater Center — Charlotte, NC
Aside from eating and a little wander, we really only did one thing in Charlotte. And if we could have, we would have gone back at least twice to do everything we couldn’t squeeze in.
Let me first preface this by saying we are becoming more adventurous as a family, and this experience clinched it for us. Kids as young as four can participate in many of the activities here, and it was wonderful to challenge ourselves as a family.
In a word, this place is amazing.
We began our visit at the rock climbing wall. My kids are pretty great at these things, but they were definitely challenged a bit by these walls! The self-belaying ropes meant we could just let them go, and I was pleased to see how encouraging and conscientious the staff were in managing all the climbers. While we were there, they had four routes in operation, each varying in difficulty. We literally had to drag our kids away so we could check out some of the other activities.
With Bub being six, there were some activities we could not participate in. The water sports were out, as were some of the ziplines. So we decided to focus on the fun we could have, and there was still a lot! Our first stop after the rock walls was the zipline. Accessibility to the ziplines is based on weight, not age, so Bub was able to do the Canyon Zip through the forest, but not the Mega Zip. We were ok with this, and in spite of the busy-ness of the place, we zipped through in no time. I was more than a little nervous, and I thought Bub would be too. But off he went across the forest without a hint of nervousness. A lot of that had to do with our prep work. You sit with a staff member who goes over all the gear and the procedures you must follow. Because I did not want to be shown up by my children, I swallowed my fear and off I went. It was really fun!!
Then we were off to the ropes courses. We started with the Adventure Course structures so we could find out bearings while wearing harnesses. What I liked about the beginner structures is that your tether always remains attached to the line. It can be awkward to pull it behind you–Bub struggled with this a bit since he was shorter and his line had more slack–but the idea of having to clip and unclip your tether as you made your way through the course made me feel very uncomfortable.
My kids breezed through their first run through (and so did I!) and the second run was just a bit more challenging. My irrational fear of heights was kept at bay, mostly because I wanted to feel strong and in control in case my kids felt scared or they needed me. Turns out they (mostly) did just fine.
Feeling pretty confident, we set off to tackle the course we watched a lot of people struggle through while we were waiting for our turn on the zipline–the Double Cross. Yes, you are way high up in the forest and yes, it was really, really challenging. Bub went first with my husband behind him for security and moral support. There was one section of the course where his (lack of) height was a real issue. You are literally standing on a wire way up in the trees, and his tether kept sticking and he would lose his balance trying to tug it behind him. We were out there for a long time as he struggled and cried a bit. But with lots of encouragement from us and the staff and everyone there, he managed to cross. He was incredibly proud of himself. I was incredibly relieved. I was also pretty proud of myself, to be honest. Wanting to be strong and be able to help him made me completely lose my anxiety for the time being. I was like Spider-Woman sailing across those wires! And I was totally impressed by my daughter’s strength and courage. She sailed through those courses like she was crossing the monkey bars at our local playground. No biggie.
What did we not have time to squeeze in? Oh, only mountain biking or hiking along over 20 miles of trails, plus more obstacle courses and the full suite of water activities. A good excuse to return!
Admission to the U.S. Whitewater Center is incredibly reasonable. An adult day pass for all activities is $54, $44 for kids 9 and younger. It’s about $10 less to omit the water sports, and a single activity pass is just $20.
What we missed!
Seriously–we can’t wait to one day return to Charlotte to catch up on all the great stuff we had to bypass in order to squeeze our trip into our timeframe.
Since we enjoyed our Charlotte Motor Speedway tour so much, I would have liked to visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Discovery Place is a renowned science and technology museum that I know my kids would love, and the IMAGINON Children’s Library and Theater is definitely the kind of thing we enjoy visiting as a family. See? Good excuse to return 🙂
We visited North Carolina with the assistance of Visit North Carolina, but all opinions are my own.