2009 BOB Awards: Family & Kids
Dinner out with the Kids
Whether you want a miniburger with pickles, ketchup, and bright-orange American cheese or a whopping two-thirds pounder with your choice of imported cheeses, sophisticated sauces, and other accouterments, you can have it your way at The Counter. The industrial chic décor, free of sound-absorbing materials, creates a noise level high enough that no one -- except you, of course -- will notice your kids screaming.
4310 Sharon Rd., 704-365-1922
At some kiddie outings, it's easy to get lost in a sea of simultaneous parties while your children disappear from your eyesight. But at Space Kidets, parents won't mind turning their kids loose to have the run of the venue. The Matthews birthday party spot serves up one event at a time in its private bounce-house room, which is adjoined by an arcade room and a party room for tasty treats. Parties range from $199 to $299 with additional charges for pizza and other kid-friendly food.
1641 Matthews Township Pkwy., Matthews 704-321-0059
Swimming Pool/Water Park
A part of Mecklenburg County Park and Rec, Ray's Splash Planet offers year-round water play for children of all ages at a price parents can appreciate. At just $6 for children under eighteen, kids have access to water slides, splash pools, inner tubes, and baby pools, which means this kiddie adventure won't break the bank. Ray's also hosts birthday parties and provides swimming classes for all ages and skills.
215 N. Sycamore St., 704-432-4729
Richard Israel Photography
In Midland, just twenty-five miles east of Charlotte, sits Riverbend Farm, Jim and Mary Little's pumpkin farm. The retirees have opened up their private property to school tours and families each October for the last five years, drawing 20,000 visitors a year. At Riverbend, kids of all ages can enjoy silo slides, old-fashioned ice cream cones, and a hayride out to the patch, where pumpkins and gourds are ripe for the picking at just 40 cents per pound, a fraction of the cost at the patches you see in town.
12150 McMans Rd., Midland, 704-888-2891
Nestled in a small wing of the Stonecrest Shopping Center lies the children's hair care mecca that is Doolittle's. The bright salon features unique cutting stations with TVs to keep kids facing forward and a staff that provides the best kids' haircuts in town. Doolittle's caters to entire families, providing everything from baby's first haircut to updos for the prom. Children's cuts cost $17, but Doolittle's offers a Family Club plan for savings of $2 off haircuts and 10 percent off all hair-care products, bows, and accessories.
Stonecrest, 7930-C Rea Rd., 704-341-3884
Competition is healthy, but winning isn't everything. That's the premise at SOAR Sports in Matthews, where children ages three to eighteen are instructed in soccer, baseball, football, and volleyball. In its League of Encouragement, all team members get equal playing time and the emphasis is on learning how to lose -- and win -- gracefully. SOAR has expanded in 2009 to include programs for three- and four-year-olds, too.
Tucked away in the Cotswold Village Shops is Toys & Co., where children are -- gasp! -- encouraged to play. The twenty-year-old company, which operates stores in three other North and South Carolina cities, opened its only Charlotte location in October 2007. The spacious store features unique fixtures, several play stations, and one of the largest offerings of toys—both traditional and educational -- in Charlotte.
Cotswold Village Shops, 242 S. Sharon Amity Rd. 704-365-7890
Kid-friendly Cultural Outing
Whether you're looking for theatrical performances for your kids to watch or workshops in which they can participate, look no further than Children's Theatre of Charlotte. Seeking to provide children with transformational experiences, CTC serves up ten main-stage productions a year at the McColl Family Theater inside ImaginOn, as well as several special-event performances. CTC also provides the best theater-based summer camps in town for your rising stars.
300 E. Seventh St., 704-973-2800
Kids' Shoe Store
The shoes are as cool as the store's name at Kixx, which carries hip brands such as See Kai Run, Umi, and even Michael Kors. If the steep prices give you pause, look for clearance shoes at 50 percent off stacked along the walls.
Parktowne Village Shopping Center, 1730 E. Woodlawn Rd. 704-676-1517
Kids' Clothing Store
The clothes here are so cute you could eat them with a spoon, and the prices are yummy, too, with Chocolate Soup frequently running 50-percent-off sales. This is the go-to place when you need something dressy -- perhaps for a wedding or family portrait -- but don't want to pay more for your kids' clothes than for your own.
Sharon Corners, 4732 Sharon Rd., 704-556-0889
Place to Spend a Saturday Afternoon
Among the greatest public spaces in the city, The Green, a 1.5-acre park built atop a parking garage, is the perfect place to grab a hot dog and ice cream and do some people watching or fountain hopping. A bonus: the park's literary theme will subliminally relay the message to your children that books are cool.
425 S. Tryon St.
You could spend hours here on your own, observing the animals in the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden's carefully re-created natural habitats, but don't miss the scheduled daily events including the sea lion training session and the penguin presentation. Spend a few extra bucks to feed the giraffes and ride the Endangered Species Carousel.
500 Wildlife Pkwy., Columbia, SC, 803-779-8717
Local Parent Web Site
Born in 2002, CharlotteMommies.com spawned The Mommies Network, which operates ninety-seven Web communities nationally. In Charlotte, organizers have managed to create a moms-helping-moms group that's more than 3,000 members strong but still feels close-knit. They discuss everything from pregnancy pains to teenager turmoil, with minimal sponsor interruptions on the nonprofit site.
A wedding photographer for more than twenty years, Richard Israel (pictured) ventured into family photography when he had the first of his three daughters. "I used to be terrified of shooting children," Israel says. "But the secret to shooting children is understanding them, and as a parent I have that."
A session with Israel begins with a $250 sitting fee, which includes a print credit. And unlike many of today's photographers, Israel still uses film in all of his sessions, along with digital photography, which results in a wide selection of photos and finishes and a remarkable attention to detail.
Kids' Book Store
In the age of Amazon, the brick-and-mortar Joseph-Beth Booksellers (pictured) manages to make its children's department a destination for young bibliophiles, providing a sunny spot to play at the train table or a cozy couch to consider a new book. Upstairs, there's a separate young-adult section for the Twilight set.
4345 Barclay Downs Dr., 704-602-9800
- Kids' clothing: Chocolate Soup
- Kids' haircuts: Doolittle's
- Place to buy birthday cake: Edible Art
- Place for a birthday party: Sports Connection
- Family outing: U.S. National Whitewater Center
- Budget outing: Freedom Park
- Park for kids: Freedom Park
- Kid-friendly restaurant: Red Robin
- Place to go on a rainy day: Discovery Place