North Carolina Exploration for Dummies
February 9, 2012 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Places to stay and things to do with two small children near Raleigh, NC.

My husband and I (late 20's) are headed with our two kids (3 and infant...) to Charlotte, NC for a week in May, Wesnesday to Wednesday, for the wedding of a friend. We are planning on flying into Raleigh-Durham from Boston because it's cheaper than flying into Charlotte and we will be visiting my husband's family in southern VA for the second half of the trip. Essentially, we're flying into a central location that's three hours away from both the wedding and family.

I've never atayed in either Charlotte or Raleigh so I'm not sure how friendly they are to exploring and which would be a better place to spend some time. We really enjoy going to new places and just walking around town, looking at shops and taking in the local vibe, usually with both kids in backpack type setups. We like museums, historical parks and sights, parks in general, really anything cheap and fun to see or do that is kid-friendly, but not necessarily something the kids, themselves, have to be totally engaged in. In other words, no concerts or really fancy restaurants, that sort of thing. We are open to public transportation, but we will have a car as well.

So. Out of Raleigh and Charlotte, which might be a more explorer friendly place to stay for a couple of days, and what are some of the most interesting things to do and see at either? Any recs for inexpensive but not dumpy places to stay? My husband and I explored D.C. last summer and we used an old askme thread as our guide to a place to stay and stuff to do and it was the best vacation we've taken yet, so I'm hoping all you awesome people can give us some good ideas to make this summer equally awesome. Thanks in advance!
posted by takoukla to Travel & Transportation around North Carolina (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In downtown Raleigh, I highly recommend Marbles Kids Museum. In spite of the garish website, it's a very fun place, and you can check out downtown a bit too.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is great, also in downtown Raleigh. Dinosaur skeletons, bugs, sloths (love the sloths!), etc.

If your kids can handle art museums, the North Carolina Museum of Art is top notch -- only a few minutes from downtown.
posted by BurntHombre at 8:48 AM on February 9, 2012

It's a bit of a drive but the Museum of Life and Science in Durham is super fun. They have lemurs, all kinds of cool interactive exhibits and a butterfly house. There is nothing more magical than a butterfly landing on your arm. I always take my nephews there when they visit, but honestly, I think I like it as much or more than they do.
posted by missjenny at 8:54 AM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding Marbles and the Museum of Natural Sciences - my three year old nephew went ballistic in both places. There is a new Sheraton downtown that would put you within walking distance of both, as well as tons of restaurants and shops. Downtown Raleigh also has a free shuttle bus that loops around pretty frequently.
posted by something something at 9:03 AM on February 9, 2012

We went to see the Lemurs out in the woods in Durham. Not sure the name of the place, but my little kids loved it especially after watching Zooboomafoo (sp?)
posted by AugustWest at 9:07 AM on February 9, 2012

Seconding the Museum of Life and Science and Marbles. The lemur place in Durham is the Duke Lemur Center.

In Raleigh, you should also check out Pullen Park.

For other great suggestions on what to do with kids in the area, I highly recommend the Stir Crazy Mom's Guide to Durham.
posted by JuliaKM at 9:10 AM on February 9, 2012

Seconding Pullen Park! Took my young niece there before Christmas and she got a huge kick out of the carousel, train, and boat rides.

Check out the Indy Weekly for events happening on the days you are in town. You can expand out the categories to search for activities for teens and kids.
posted by ejazen at 9:17 AM on February 9, 2012

If you do end up heading out to Durham, Duke Gardens is definitely worth a visit. Kids can run around a bit and there would be places to sit and have a picnic lunch/snack.
posted by tuesdayschild at 9:42 AM on February 9, 2012

Response by poster: These are all terrific! Thank you! Keep them coming if you have them!
posted by takoukla at 9:55 AM on February 9, 2012

I am from Charlotte originally, but Durham is my true love and I would encourage you to go (or just move) there. Folks seem to have covered the Triangle very well, so a few cool Charlotte ideas:

Discovery Place is the kids science museum and it is pretty great.

Depending on the weather, Latta Plantation Park, which has history and also horses and raptors as well as playgrounds and miles of trails for burning off kid energy.

The Mint Museum is the art museum, with two branches. I think the newer, uptown one is more kid-friendly and also includes a craft & design section.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:42 AM on February 9, 2012

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences has these advantages over driving to Durham for the Museum of Life and Science:

1) NCMNS is free.
2) NCMNS has many free and inexpensive activities, and I recommend Meet the Animals.
3) There is a small live butterfly exhibit there, but they actually care about the welfare of the butterflies, unlike the Museum of Life and Science. I (Oh the stories I could tell, but won't.) f you want them to have fun observing butterflies, the room is small enough that you'll definitely get to see them up close.
4) The sloth is a cute guy.
5) There are turtles all over the museum.

However, in general, I like Durham better than I like Raleigh.
posted by Coatlicue at 11:56 AM on February 9, 2012

Are you staying in Charlotte for a night or driving there and back in a day? Because you could spend all day at the NC Zoo. It's just under 2 hours from both Charlotte and Durham according to Google, and I believe there are decent hotels nearby.
posted by K.P. at 12:37 PM on February 9, 2012

Response by poster: K.P, that's kinda what we've been trying to suss out - whether we should make Charlotte a leg of its own on the trip or just drive in for the wedding and back. I know my kid would love the zoo so that's a great thought too. We could definitely do a few days in Charlotte as well as days in the RD area and do both but I didn't want to get hotels in both places and then find ourselves high and dry trying to find something to do in either place. My husband's family lives on a very large farm in VA and life is slow there... we'll have lots of time in the second half of our trip to just kick back and relax, so Id love if our pre-inlaws time in NC was pretty packed full of taking in some good stuff. All of these suggestions have been awesome - we'll definitely be looking in the museums - the NCMNS will be a hard one to beat, it sounds like, because... Well, the turtles. :)

This is all exactly, exactly the kind of stuff I was looking for. Thank you all so much!
posted by takoukla at 2:09 PM on February 9, 2012

If you're going to be in Raleigh on the weekend, check out the flea market at the NC State Fairgrounds. There's so much interesting old junk there and it's pretty family friendly.

And if you're going to be in Raleigh between May 19-20, check out Artsplosure. It's a big arts and crafts festival, with free food and performances and excitement. I can't find a good link for this year's event, but here's last year's Artsplosure for a taste.

If you like history, and the weather's nice, you can take a quick walk around Historic Oakwood. Gorgeous old houses that date back to the 19th Century. Very close to all the museums and parks that others have listed. There's a garden tour in May-- maybe around the time you're visiting?

Thirding Pullen Park. Best. Playground. Ever.

And BurntHombre mentioned the NC Museum of Art. They have a really good collection and a wonderful outdoor sculpture garden. I know they moved locations recently, but I'm pretty sure the main collection is still free and open to the public.

Hope you have a fun vacation!
posted by juliaem at 7:35 PM on February 9, 2012

Response by poster: Artsplosure! Yes! That is actually the weekend we should be in the area and that sounds fab, as does Oakwood! I'm a New England girl, born and raised, so I still get a huge kick out of southern history and architecture. Thank you much!
posted by takoukla at 9:00 AM on February 10, 2012

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