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The Zack’s Special is a favorite among the burger joint’s visitors of any age (and stature).
No. 1: Have the “Burger of Burgers” at Zack’s
Plenty of modern restaurants strive to create nostalgia by manufacturing a “throwback” feel. Zack’s doesn’t have to try. The Zack’s Special has fed generations and generations of children. No matter where you’re from, you can’t eat one with your kids without remembering your own hometown haunts.
↝ 4009 South Blvd., 704-525-1720
No. 2: Go on an art scavenger hunt
Keep your hunt in uptown. The Arts & Science Council put together a tour that offers insight on high-profile pieces (“The Sculptures on the Square” at Trade and Tryon streets and “The Firebird” outside the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art) and the often-overlooked pieces (the fresco at Transamerica Square). Here’s a map of the ones to see, including some recent additions that don’t appear on the ASC list (found on artsandscience.org under “Resources”).
If you don’t mind taking this on the road, and you seek Charlotte’s biggest pieces of public art, look for William Puckett’s 14,000-square-foot “Matheson Bridge Mural” in NoDa, the 25-foot-tall, spinning steel sculpture “Metalmorphosis” at the Whitehall Corporate Center (3600 Arco Corporate Dr.), and the several pieces around Charlotte Douglas International Airport (5501 R C Josh Birmingham Pkwy.).
ALSO: If you’re looking for indoor arts experiences with your kids, try the family days at the Bechtler and the Mint, as well as the hands-on activities during McColl Center for Art + Innovation’s Open Studio Saturdays.
1. Cascade (Jean Tinguely, 1991)
Inside Carillon Building, 227 W. Trade St.
2. Sculptures on the Square (Raymond Kaskey, 1994)
Trade and Tryon streets
3. Il Grande Disco (Arnaldo Pomodor, 1974)
Trade and Tryon streets
4 . Ainsa III (Jaume Plensa, 2014)
First Ward Park, 301 E. 7th St.
5. The Writer’s Desk (Larry Kirkland, 2005)
ImaginOn, 300 E. 7th St.
6. Flying Shuttles (Andrew Leicester, 2005)
Spectrum Center, Trade and Caldwell streets
7. Life Is an Open Book (Brad Spencer, 2002)
The Green, 435 S. Tryon St.
8. Fish Fountain (Carolyn Braaksma, 2002)
The Green, 435 S. Tryon St.
9. The Firebird (Niki de Saint Phalle, 1991)
The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, 420 S. Tryon St.
10. Panther Statues (Todd Andrews, 1996)
Bank of America Stadium, 800 S. Mint St.
Jonathan and Jess Jones, Elizabeth Street, (front row) Sierra and Connor Jones.
The Moose family (left) attended the 2017 HeroesCon event dressed as their favorite fast food characters.
No. 3: Strike a pose together at HeroesCon
Three-and-a-half decades after the Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find store started HeroesCon, now the largest independent comic book convention in the country, it’s become a family tradition in June for many comic readers.
Pictured are a few of our favorite costumes from recent years that include parents and children.
Read the essay "Welcome to Heroescon," about the convention and its history, by heading here.
↝ Every June at the Charlotte Convention Center, 501 S. College St.
This year's HeroesCon arrives June 14-16.
No. 4: Find your way out of a room at Escape Kings
Paulette Manis and her husband, Nathan, watched as escape rooms—in which visitors solve puzzles in order to exit a themed space—emerged as a popular outing among adults and corporations looking for team-building exercises. But most were scary, including a few horror-themed rooms with blood and blades and monsters that would likely bring nightmares to tykes.
“For us, part of it was personal,” Paulette says. “My husband and I love escape rooms, but we have a 13-year-old and a nine-year-old. For families who want to have an experience together outside of going to see a movie or something, this is an opportunity to build communication and teamwork and just have a lot of fun.”
King’s Quest is one of the most popular escape rooms here. Visitors act as knights who must figure out how to get out of King Arthur’s “royal planning chamber.” The room is for kids ages seven and up, but for private parties, that requirement can be lowered. Still, Manis doesn’t suggest the room for toddlers without attention spans. “It can be hard for them to focus, and it may just end up not being fun for anyone,” she says with a laugh.
↝ 11333 Granite St., Ste. B, 980-288-5464
No. 5: Get knighted at Carolina Renaissance Festival
Here’s another one for those who like to play dress-up. Carolina Renaissance Festival is an entire village’s worth of Middle Ages-inspired fun. The autumn weekend event is situated on a massive property in Huntersville, where food and weapon vendors in faux castles and 12 stages of entertainment line a winding path.
Magicians and musicians walk the grounds throughout the day, delighting kids with coins pulled from ears and lute performances. And the main event, the elaborate jousts, are best watched with a turkey leg and your knight’s flag in hand.
↝ Every October or November, 16445 Poplar Tent Rd., Huntersville, 704-896-5555
PopBar’s 40 rotating flavors run the gamut, from classic vanilla and chocolate variations to this pistachio popGelato creation.
No. 6: Get your desserts dipped at NoDa’s Popbar
As soon as the gelato-on-a-stick concept opened this year, people flooded Instagram with photos of kids, ornate pops, and the purple brick backdrop outside the NoDa shop. Charlotte has its share of classic dessert spots, but Popbar’s offerings are novel: gelato, sorbetto, and gelato sandwiches on sticks that can be dipped in nuts, coconut shavings, and other tasty dressings.
↝ 3123 N. Davidson St., Ste. 102B, 980-237-9750
No. 7: Stand under the waterfall at Romare Bearden Park
Uptown’s park game has improved considerably over the past few years. The water jets at First Ward Park (301 E. 7th St.) are worth the trip during the day, but Romare Bearden Park’s (300 S. Church St.) musical and light-filled falls become a magical event at night.
Timing your 40-yard dash is tempting for any visitor to Freedom Park, including this CMS student on a spring field trip.
No. 8: Test your athleticism at NFL Play 60 course at Freedom Park
On the 98 acres at Freedom Park, the NFL Play60 KidZone is the most talked-about spot among aspiring athletes under 12.
While racing teens use a 40-yard dash station to try to get their times down, younger kids move up and down an obstacle course reminiscent of American Ninja Warrior. The classic football training stations are here, too, often prompting parents to jump in to tackle a few dummies or hop through the ropes. And for us indoor kids with the gift of gab, head to the commentator’s booth to offer color on an imaginary game.
↝ 1900 East Blvd.
No. 9: Join the carnival in Matthews
Each Labor Day weekend, the Matthews Alive Festival transforms downtown into a carnival and fair. The free event includes games, rides, arts and crafts, and the most important component of all: funnel cake.
↝ 131 W. Matthews St., Matthews
No. 10: The Carowinds Cheat Sheet
I AM NOT a huge fan of amusement parks, so when I was asked to write about the ideal way to navigate a day at Carowinds, I laughed out loud. However, I like to keep an open mind and embrace a good challenge, so I grabbed my 12-year-old and two of his buddies and headed to the coaster mecca on the state border.
On the way, I called my Carowinds-loving friend for last-minute advice. She suggested I download the Carowinds app. It’s free and provides pricing, maps, and individual ride info (with height requirements and thrill ratings). Great tip. She also warned me about different ways to pay at the front gates, which brings us to my first bit of advice:
If you plan on visiting at least twice this season, there are major bargains to be had versus the standard daily entrance fee. The park has three levels of season passes and, despite the fact that prices can fluctuate, the staff insists that any season pass pays for itself after two visits. A silver pass gets you unlimited access; a gold pass gets you unlimited access plus free parking and entrance to special events at the park, such as the ever-popular Halloween fright fest SCarowinds, and Winterfest; a platinum pass gets you the same thing as gold pass but also for Kings Dominion (Virginia), Cedar Point (Ohio), and other Cedar Fair Parks across the United States. If you’re set on a single visit: Purchase tickets online or go after 4 p.m. for a discount.
What should I eat?
My normal gig is to write food reviews, so this is the toughest category to address. Why? Amusement park fare is usually expensive, mediocre, and the options are limited. I had several parents tell me they bring their own meals and eat in the parking lot. Most teens I asked said they head straight for Chick-Fil-A, but prices are much higher than outside the gates. I skipped the numerous dining plans that are available (check the app) and settled on Chickie’s & Pete’s for a cheesesteak for this visit, which wasn’t even in the same ballpark as the Philadelphia original. My best advice is to fill up on the ultimate fair food, a funnel cake. There is a good one at the Funnel Cake Emporium in Celebration Plaza. Don’t forget to pile on the free toppings.
Dealing with the Carolina heat
If you need to escape the blazing summer sun, head to the foliage-covered tunnel right past Celebration Plaza on the way to the Scrambler (a favorite with the under 48-inchset). It is a welcoming oasis, fully shaded, and lined with benches for weary guests.
Here is one big secret I discovered while I was there: Starbucks has a free ice water station right inside their entrance. When you are hot and parched and don’t want to shell out $6 for a soda, pop in and grab a cup. Shhhhh … don’t tell them I told you.
Go early. I had the kiddos ride the Intimidator within the first hour the park was open, and they were on in 14 minutes. Even better, pass holders can arrive 30 minutes before the park opens to ride the Fury 325, the world’s tallest and fastest giga coaster. New for 2017 is The County Fair area, and it was the least crowded spot in the park. Rides like The Flying Cobras and the Electro Spin are rated “Aggressive Thrill,” and both had minimal lines.
If you decide to invest in a Fast Pass, which allows you to skip the lines for rides, definitely go with the Plus. For about $15 more (as of this writing), it includes the most popular coasters.
Wondering if even I, a theme park-averse mom, bought the season pass? I have to admit, I did. It was too good a value to pass up and I have a kid with a lot of time on his hands this summer. I didn’t, however, muster up the courage to ride the Fury. My open mind will be back. —Jen Lover