7 Best Charlotte Suburbs for Families
Nearby communities that prove life can be just as fun outside the city.
From great weather and plenty of cultural offerings to a major airport and an easy day’s drive to the beach or the mountains, Charlotte has a lot to offer. But urban life has its challenges. Fortunately, for those considering a move to a slower-paced lifestyle, Charlotte’s suburbs don’t disappoint.
Shopping and new neighborhoods can be found in Ballantyne.
While it’s technically within city limits, Ballantyne actually is closer to South Carolina than it is to the heart of uptown Charlotte. This growing community 20 minutes south of the city sprung up on land that was once the family hunting preserve of former North Carolina Gov. Cameron Morrison. High-scoring schools, plenty of restaurants and shopping, and young neighborhoods make the area a big draw for families looking for a suburban lifestyle with city-like amenities.
Several local parks include greenways and walking trails, ball fields, disc golf and playgrounds. Kids of all ages can learn to swim at Charlotte Aquatics, where the water is chlorine-free. And with lots of farmland still close by, there are plenty of places for little hands to pick berries in the summertime and pumpkins in the fall.
Insider tip: Budding Picassos can hone their skills at Small Hands Big Art, a children’s art studio that teaches fine art principles fused with contemporary trends and offers camps, classes, parties and workshops. smallhandsbigart.com
Belmont Abbey College is a landmark in Belmont.
Aust across the Catawba River in Gaston County I-85 is picturesque Belmont. The home of Belmont Abbey College, founded in 1876 by Benedictine monks, the town has a leafy charm and sleepy feel. Its crown jewel is Stowe Park on more than eight acres, featuring a playground, walking track, picnic tables, athletic fields and a natural amphitheater. The park is a family-friendly destination — from summer concerts to a festive Christmas village. Families who enjoy water activities will find a lot to love in Belmont; Lake Wylie, the Catawba River and the South Fork Catawba River are nearby. And Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is a gem for all ages, and included the Lost Hollow Children’s Garden.
Insider tip: History buffs will enjoy a visit to the Millican Pictorial History Museum on Catawba Street. The small museum is a treasure trove of local historical photographs, from photographs of cotton mills and churches to historic homes, automobiles, events, and more. millicanpictorialhistorymuseum.com
Main Street is a hub of activity in Davidson.
If the slow movement ever founded a town, it probably would feel a lot like Davidson. This small, bookish college town 22 miles north of Charlotte has a reputation for resident pride and sense of community. Davidson takes quality of life seriously. Drive-through restaurants are banned here. When budget cuts threatened the closure of the town’s only public library, residents rallied to save it, also funding a new engraved-brick patio on the town green in the process. Main Street Books, an independent bookstore, thrives on Davidson’s Main Street. More than 12 miles of greenways and bike lanes crisscross the town, and the new, 200-acre Fisher Farm Park is Davidson’s latest green space. Here you’ll find lots of wildlife, plus four miles of mountain bike trails for beginners to more advanced cyclists.
Insider tip: Active families can find plenty to do at Fisher Farm, a 200-acre park in Davidson that’s just getting established. Head there for a walk with the family (and the dog!), to ride the mountain bike trails, or bring a picnic to one of the tables (or just plop a blanket down on the grass). 21215 Shearer Road, Davidson.
The Carolina Raptor Center is a special attraction in Huntersville.
Just 20 minutes from uptown, a straight shot up I-77, Huntersville claims some of the area’s best public schools, affordable homes and easy access to one of the major draws of the Charlotte area: Lake Norman and its 520 miles of shoreline. Given these facts, it isn’t surprising that this ’burb also is one of the most popular — a residents’ guide on the town’s website boasts Huntersville is the 46th fastest growing suburb in the country, exploding from a population of just 3,000 in 1990 to more than 46,000 by the 2010 census. In 2009, Forbes magazine gave Huntersville the No. 2 spot in its list of “America’s Best Places to Move.” It is home to Discovery Place Kids, the Carolina Raptor Center, the Carolina Renaissance Festival (seasonally) and Historic Latta Plantation.
Insider tip: Take the kids on a private horseback ride at Latta Plantation Equestrian Center, where you can saunter along miles of trails. Or just go admire the Shetland ponies, Arabians, American Quarter horses, and other breeds visitors can ride. lattaequestriancenter.com
With some 29,000 residents and growing, Matthews is just 12 miles southeast of Charlotte. The quaint town is big on historic charm: 10 buildings in the downtown area are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Matthews has an artsy vibe, offering lots of public art, a calendar full of family-friendly festivals and the McDowell Arts Center, which hosts gallery shows, classes and programs. Kids can learn about where their food comes from with a trip to the town’s thriving year-round farmers market. Next to Renfrow Hardware — where residents have shopped for supplies since 1900 — the Matthews Community Farmers Market is the oldest in the Charlotte area; every item for sale was grown, produced or made within 50 miles of the market. Good schools and plenty of green space, from parks to a network of greenways, make this a well-rounded suburb.
Insider tip: When there’s a perfect Carolina blue sky and you just can’t stand to be indoors another second, soak up the sunshine at Squirrel Lake Park. This park offers a fishing pond with pier, horseshoe pit and 12-hole disc golf course and connects to the the Four Mile Creek Greenway. There is also a large playground area designed for children ages 2 to 12. 1631 Pleasant Plains Road, Matthews.
Rock Hill, S.C.
Having fun at a festival in downtown Rock Hill.
At 30 miles from uptown, Rock Hill is the farthest suburb from the city on this list. But with South Carolina’s lower taxes and cost of living, great schools and a straight drive up I-77 to Charlotte, it’s worth the commute. This thriving community is big on green space, with more than 30 parks and dozens of trails, and it has plenty of unique offerings for young residents, from the Main Street Children’s Museum to the bounce areas at Baxter’s Bunch Playhouse. If your child is a gymnastics fan, many local facilities offer classes — most notably Thomas Gymnastics Training Center, which was established in 1991 and claims to be the largest gym in the Carolinas. Rock Hill’s Winthrop University gives the town a dose of culture, regularly hosting theater, dance and live music performances, as does the McCelvey Center.
Insider tip: Fountain Park at 300 E. Main Street opened in December 2014 and is worth a visit. The park’s centerpiece is its fountain — one of the tallest in the world — reaching more than 100 feet high. The best time to go? Food Truck Friday, a regular food truck festival the third Friday of the month April through early September.
Aleigh Acerni lives in a neighborhood near the city’s center with her husband and toddler, but after writing this story, she’s seriously considering a move to one of Charlotte’s beautiful suburbs.