7 Best Charlotte Suburbs for Families
Don't overlook these family-friendly communities when choosing where to call home.
With its museums, cultural events, educational attractions and recreational activities, there’s a lot for families to love about living in Charlotte. Having a major airport and being a few hours’ drive from the beach or mountains are major perks, too. But living in the city can have its drawbacks, and it isn’t for everyone. Fortunately, Charlotte’s thriving suburbs have lots to offer, whether you’re looking for a cosmopolitan lifestyle at a more affordable price, or a slower pace and space to spread out. These seven nearby communities are proof that life outside the city can be pretty sweet.
It’s technically inside city limits, but this bustling community close to the South Carolina border is no sleepy suburb. Founded on land that was once the family hunting preserve of former North Carolina Governor Cameron Morrison, Ballantyne offers a suburban lifestyle with city-like amenities just 20 minutes south of Charlotte.
From those nature-minded beginnings comes a community that bursts with green space, including several local parks with greenways and walking trails. The Ballantyne Hotel anchors the mini-city, home to the Dana Rader Golf School, which is consistently ranked among the Top 25 Golf Schools in America by Golf Magazine.
Family-friendly shops and services like Small Hands Big Art, a children’s art studio offering classes, parties, camps and workshops, are plentiful. There is a Whole Foods and Ballantyne Village is a hub of activity with boutiques, a movie theater and restaurants.
Nearby notable towns: Weddington, Pineville, and Indian Land.
INSIDER TIP: 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. One great option is Hall Family Farm, which has been family owned and operated for more than 70 years. The farm offers picking opportunities in the spring, summer and fall, plus hayrides, chickens, picnic tables and activities.
Photo courtesy of Small Hands, Big Art
Small Hands Big Art offers classes for preschoolers to adults at its studio in Ballantyne.
The home of Belmont Abbey College, founded in 1876 by Benedictine monks, picturesque Belmont is the smallest community on this list, with one of the easiest commutes to Charlotte and affordable real estate. The town sits about 14 miles directly west of the city just off I-85. Its crown jewel is 8-acre Stowe Park, which hosts family-friendly events year-round, including summer concerts and a Christmas village.
To capitalize on its location along the Catawba River, the town added Kevin Loftin Riverfront Park in 2016 that includes a large natural playground, walking trail, picnic shelter, and a walkout dock with canoe and kayak launches.
A major draw for both locals and visitors is the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, with its stunning orchid house and expansive grounds. The garden is currently planning the second phase of its Lost Hollow Children’s Garden, a 3.5-acre, kid-friendly expansion with a medieval theme.
Nearby notable communities: Gastonia, McAdenville and Mount Holly.
INSIDER TIP: Fans of the Jonas Brothers — or Southern food — should make a pit stop at Nellie’s Southern Kitchen, the kidfriendly restaurant named for the brothers’ great-grandmother Nellie, who spent her life in Belmont. Music is on the offer here too: the restaurant has a house band that plays live music every evening and frequent performances by special guest entertainers.
Twenty miles north of Charlotte via I-77, Cornelius has swelled to a population of about 30,000. (Its population was just under 12,000 in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.) Founded in 1893 after a cotton-weighing dispute with neighboring Davidson, the town’s surge in popularity might be related to the fact that it has 70 miles on the water — the most shoreline of all the towns along Lake Norman. Its high-rated schools certainly are another added benefit for families. Although the town is just 15 square miles, it has 10 public parks, including the 104-acre Jetton Park, and Ramsey Creek Park, which has a large beach and swimming access.
Nearby notable towns: Davidson, Huntersville and Mooresville.
INSIDER TIP: There are many arts and cultural opportunities for the youngest Cornelius residents, including the Cornelius Art Center, which offers classes that start at preschool age, and the Cornelius Youth Orchestras. One of the best-kept secrets here, however, is the town’s summer camp program. With more than 130 options, there’s no excuse for summertime boredom. cornelius.org. Search for summer camps.
Photo courtesy of visitlkn.com.
Lake life is a big draw for choosing to live in Cornelius.
A bookish, lakeside college town 22 miles north of Charlotte, Davidson is known for its tight-knit community and fiercely protected quality of life. 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. The Davidson College basketball team has elevated the town’s national profile. Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors is an alumnus. It’s also gaining a reputation as a foodie destination. After all, drive-through restaurants are banned here. The local farmers market is one of the area’s best. And in 2015, a restaurant on the town’s main street, Kindred, was named one of the 10 best new restaurants in the country by Bon Appetit magazine.
Nearby notable towns: Huntersville, Cornelius and Mooresville.
INSIDER TIP: Main Street Books, the town’s thriving independent bookstore, hosts book clubs for readers of all ages. Recent offerings include a Harry Potter book club for grades 3 to 5 that meets once a week, with a discussion led by bookstore staff.
Courtesy of Town of davidson
Dressed up for a Halloween march in downtown Davidson.
Capitalize on South Carolina’s lower taxes and cost of living in this South Carolina town. Just 18 miles south of the city, Fort Mill has schools that boast high marks and a small-town feel. It’s home of Carowinds, the amusement park that crosses the state line. But the town’s proximity to Lake Wylie makes it easy to enjoy the water. Anne Springs Close Greenway, a privately operated nature preserve, is the perfect escape from urban life. With 2,100 acres of forests, lakes and picnic facilities, the property includes a dairy barn, nature center and opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, kayaking, fishing and camping. Fort Mill isn’t short on cultural events, either. Fort Mill Community Playhouse offers drama camps for kids and produces musicals, a youth production, and a dinner theater production each year.
Nearby notable towns: Indian Land, Rock Hill and Tega Cay.
INSIDER TIP: Lynwood Equestrian Center is a family-friendly boarding center on 25 acres in Fort Mill. In addition to being an approved facility where Girl Scouts can earn horse-related patches, the center offers horseback riding lessons, equestrian-themed birthday parties, summer camps and yoga on horseback classes.
This quaint town southeast of Charlotte 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, with lots of public art, a calendar full of family-friendly festivals and the McDowell Arts Center, which hosts gallery shows, classes and programs. Launched in 1991, the town’s thriving, year-round farmers market is the oldest in the area, and requires that vendors sell only goods that are grown or created within 50 miles with fish and seafood being the only exceptions. In the summer, Stumptown Park, the nine-acre park in the heart of the town, presents family-friendly events, alternating between a free concert and a movie under the stars each week.
Nearby notable towns: Indian Trail, Stallings and Mint Hill.
INSIDER TIP: Families who want to try their hand at gardening or urban farmsteading should head to Renfrow Hardware. Founded in 1900, this old-school hardware store sells plants, seeds, and other hardware store essentials including baby chicks. Renfrow also offers gardening classes and the knowledgeable staff is always happy to share advice.
Photo courtesy of UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens
The Titan Arum plant’s size, shape and smell captures the attention of visitors at UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens in University City.
Like Ballantyne, University City is technically within city limits. Home to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, more than 20 Fortune 500 companies and more than 25 research, technology and energy-related companies, it’s already thriving. But with the Lynx Blue Line extension set to connect commuters even more easily with uptown, the area is poised for new, explosive growth (and an even more crowded parking lot at Ikea which is located just off I-85 in University City).
The area’s popular greenway system offers lots of stroller-friendly paths for walking, biking or jogging. You can also get off the beaten path at Reedy Creek Park and Nature Preserve, which boasts 850 acres with playgrounds, fishing ponds, disc golf, a nature center and 10 miles of trails, including an easy hike to the Robinson Rock House ruins, an archaeological site with the remains of an 18-century stone home.
Nearby notable towns: Concord, Kannapolis and Harrisburg.
INSIDER TIP: Whether you want an easy afternoon escape or are looking for the perfect backdrop for new photos of your kiddos, the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens on the UNC Charlotte campus have you covered. With more than 10 acres of outdoor garden “rooms” open daily during daylight hours and an eight-room greenhouse complex with more limited availability, it’s excellent, free entertainment.
Aleigh Acerni lives in a neighborhood near the city’s center with her husband and toddler, and enjoys exploring the area's suburbs.