Family & Kids
Place to buy birthday cake
Park for kids
Place to go on a rainy day
Place you wish were around when you were a kid
Sweet & Sassy
What little girl doesn't like to dress up or be just like her mother? Well, Sweet & Sassy in Blakeney Village opened last year and offers big and little girls a full-service salon complete with pint-size manicures, pedicures, and hair glitter. It also hosts birthday parties for girls ages three and up complete with dress-up clothes, a team of hair and makeup (think sparkles, not heavy paint) experts, and a runway to show off the birthday girl.
Blakeney Village, 9852 Rea Rd., 704-542-1117
Charlotte Nature Museum
Part of Discovery Place and located in Freedom Park, the Charlotte Nature Museum provides children an opportunity to act like bugs, dig through a “big backyard,” and stand among butterflies. If those aren’t hands-on enough, there’s a dedicated activity center where kids can read, color, play games, and perform a puppet show, all of which focus on the living world around them. The Nature Museum also showcases a monthly Creature Feature during which children learn about an animal, see a puppet show, and do a corresponding craft project.
1658 Sterling Rd., 704-372-6261, ext. 605
The Hickory Tavern
Don't let the sports bar décor fool you. The Hickory Tavern and its five Charlotte locations are as family friendly as they come with the added bonus of great food. Instead of the traditional kids' staples, its menu provides more substantial choices, like chicken-and-cheese quesadillas, grilled chicken breast, or pasta, and side items like sweet potato fries, mandarin oranges, and steamed veggies. If you have smaller children who might not eat a full meal, the friendly staff will split any meal before it hits the table, saving parents a step.
Various locations, www.thehickorytavern.com
Alicia Williams Photography
Too often we parents have taken our kids to a photo studio only to walk away with prints of half smiles and even tears. Alicia Williams is a gifted children's photographer, and her technique is simple: she captures children in their element, not hers. Foregoing use of a traditional studio, she travels to homes, parks, and any location of your choosing to photograph your wee ones as they are. While you do pay for her services, the results are priceless.
Free outing for the family
Veterans Park Sprayground
There is no better way to cool off in the summer than to take a run through the sprayground at Veterans Park. The fun water features will keep your kids, or perhaps you, happy, cool, and entertained for hours. And the best part? Use of the sprayground is absolutely free. So pack up a picnic and enjoy this wonderful activity courtesy of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Parks and Rec.
2136 Central Ave., 704-432-4280
Place to bribe your kids with
A trip to the Sports Connection is an incentive worthy of best behavior out of any child. This one-stop entertainment complex caters to children of all ages, featuring a mini-arcade, bowling, skee ball, laser tag, and a jump-'n'-play room. And its Connection Café has a full menu and Internet access so parents can check e-mail while the kiddies play. Sports Connection also offers several youth sports leagues, including indoor soccer, volleyball, flag football, and even lacrosse.
10930 Granite St.; 11611 Ardrey Kell Rd., 704-583-1444
Place for educational toys
Lakeshore Learning Center
What began as a single California toy store in 1954 has expanded nationwide and opened its first store in the Carolinas in January in Matthews. The spacious store is segmented into learning centers for reading, math, dramatic play, and arts and crafts. And while major brands like Melissa & Doug are carried, 60 percent of the merchandise is Lakeshore's own brand. The store is a playground for teachers and parents and an experience for children, who can partake in free craft activities every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
10005 E. Independence Blvd., Matthews, 704-849-2370
Place for a sweet treat
Polka Dot Bake Shop
Sometimes a piece of cake is just the right reward for completed chores, good grades, or just because. This shop bakes up great cupcakes, which are the perfect size for little hands to hold onto. Any given day the shop offers six or more different kinds of cupcakes such as red velvet, Key lime, cream-cheese filled tuxedo, and your basic—yet unbelievable—chocolate and vanilla.
1730 E. Woodlawn Rd., 704-523-5001
U.S. National Whitewater Center
Charlotte's very own whitewater rafting hot spot, located at historic Tuckaseegee Ford Park, provides children ages eight to eleven an opportunity to learn both rock climbing and kayaking in one of three weeklong sessions or one two-week session. Each day of each session begins at 9:30 a.m. and ends at 4:45 p.m., with the morning spent in the water and the afternoon spent climbing.
820 Hawfield Rd., 704-391-3900, ext. 1
Shopping experience with kids
Lowes Foods to Go
As any parent knows, grocery shopping can be a major drag with the kids in tow. But Lowes Foods makes it painless with its to-go service. Simply order your goods online, schedule a pickup time, and when you arrive your groceries are loaded into your vehicle and your kids receive a cookie and a balloon. Several Lowes Foods locations even offer a delivery service to make this necessary evil that much more tolerable.
Various locations, www.lowesfoods.com
Place to go after school
J-team After School Program
The after-school program at the Levine Jewish Community Center features academic, recreational, and creative activities with quality adult supervision. The J-team provides a bus service that picks up children in grades K-5 from nine Charlotte-Mecklenburg elementary schools and brings them back to the JCC campus to the newly built Mindy Ellen Levine Day Camp.
5007 Providence Rd., 704-366-5007