By Car: 4 Family-Pleasing Vacation Destinations
Our picks for the best family vacation spots within driving distance of Charlotte.
We rounded up four family-friendly vacation spots that are within driving distance of Charlotte.
FUN TIP: Minimize how many times you hear, "Are we there yet?" by using roadtrippers.com. Just upload your destinations and interesting places pop up on the site's map to make your road trip more entertaining. Choose from a variety of offbeat attractions, scenic points or historic monuments.
Photo credit: ExploreAsheville.com
Tucked in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this lively mountain city offers an active outdoor community and a bustling art and music scene. Asheville possesses a cosmopolitan flair and a laid-back mountain vibe.
A must-see is America's largest home: Biltmore Estate, a French Renaissance-style mansion with 250 rooms. Marvel at the two-story library, gilded elevator, indoor swimming pool and bowling alley. Children can pet baby animals in the estate's farmyard, or drive across obstacles on the Land Rover Kid's Adventure Course.
Go Bellayaking, a new way to travel down a river that was created in Asheville, by paddling while on your stomach using webbed gloves. This provides a great way for beginners to explore a river. Riders advance to their knees, then feet.
Experience a unique aerial obstacle course at Asheville Treetops Adventure Park. Kayaking through the trees or snowboarding on open air are just two of the 50 unique challenges offered, which range from beginner to advanced skill levels. Kids as young as age 7 have tried the challenges.
In nearby Pisgah National Forest, take a slide down Sliding Rock. This 60-foot all natural well-worn rock has delighted young and old for years and offers a great way to cool off on a hot summer afternoon. There is a nominal $1 parking fee.
You'll find 60 species of animals including river otters, bobcats, cougars, and red and gray wolves at Western North Carolina Nature Center. Children can also snuggle up to farm animals and hop on a red tractor.
Roadtrip bonus: A quick two-hour drive from Charlotte, Asheville is a great vacation getaway for families who don't want the expense of long-distance travel. Before crossing into the city limits of Asheville, take a ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway, commonly known as America's Favorite Drive. It's a perfect place to take in stunning vistas and have a relaxing picnic.
For more ideas, visit exploreasheville.com.
2. Charleston, South Carolina
Photo credit: ExploreCharleston.com
Clippity-clop down cobblestones streets atop a carriage ride offered by one of the many carriage tour businesses to learn about the city's history and culture. You'll pass breathtaking antebellum mansions, historic churches and enchanting side streets.
Take a 30-minute tour with a period costumed guide through the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon where George Washington was entertained and American patriots and pirates were imprisoned.
Visit the South Carolina Aquarium on historic Charleston Harbor, home to loggerhead sea turtles, alligators, great blue herons, jellyfish and sharks. The aquarium's largest exhibit, The Great Ocean Tank, extends from the first to the third floor.
Stroll through the Historic Charleston City Market, where individual vendors sell products in open-aired buildings. Browse art, clothing, food products and sweet grass creations.
Grab a swing and enjoy the view from Waterfront Park. Walk to the end of the pier to take in the shores of the Cooper River. On hot days, kids can play under the streaming water at Splash Fountain.
Go on a treetop adventure at Wild Blue Ropes, Charleston's first open-air ropes course. Once the family is tired from a day of activity, hop on a pedicab rickshaw for an exhilarating ride back to your accommodations.
Roadtrip bonus: A trip to Charleston means access to historic attractions, as well as three great nearby beach towns all within three hours of Charlotte. To break up your trip to the lowcountry, take a short drive off Interstate 26 to explore Cypress Garden Ruins in Monck's Corner, S.C. It's a 170-acre preserve and garden that served as a location for many big-screen movies, including "The Patriot" starring Mel Gibson. It's a gorgeous place to take a stroll, so don't forget your camera.
For more ideas, visit charlestoncvb.com.
3. Crystal Coast
Photo credit: Crystal Coast Tourism Authority
The Crystal Coast stretches from Emerald Isle to Beaufort and Cape Lookout. Pristine beaches, laid-back towns and a welcoming atmosphere make this stretch of beach a favorite summertime destination for families.
See wild horses and go shelling with Port City Tour Company. After a 15-minute ferry ride to Shackleford Banks on the Cape Lookout National Seashore, visitors are guided to see wild horses, then given an opportunity to go shelling on one of North Carolina's best shelling beaches.
Located on Bogue Banks, Fort Macon is home to a pentagon-shaped Civil War fort.
Surrounded on three sides by water – the Atlantic Ocean, Beaufort Inlet and Bogue Sound – Fort Macon is free and offers nature trails, opportunities for surf fishing and a protected swim area.
Climb to the top of the 150-year-old Cape Lookout Lighthouse to enjoy the endless ocean views. Nicknamed The Diamond Lady, it's one of North Carolina's most iconic lighthouses.
The infamous pirate Blackbeard lost his flagship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, when it ran aground in Beaufort Inlet. View artifacts from the ship and experience interactive exhibits to learn about Blackbeard at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort.
Get up close and personal with marine life at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. While you're there, check out the 300,000-gallon tank featuring a replica of a sunken World War II German U-boat and a variety of sea life.
No seaside vacation is complete without getting out onto the water. Experience a variety of sailing and fishing excursions available throughout the area for aqua adventures, such as dolphin cruises, sunset sails, moonlight cruises and sport-fishing daytrips.
Roadtrip bonus: The Crystal Coast is for those who love fewer crowds and more natural beauty of North Carolina beaches. Whirligigs Park, a public sculpture garden featuring works from famed folk artist, Vollis Simpson whose whimsical windmills have been featured in museums across the country, makes for an interesting stop-off along the way; or break in Raleigh for a visit to the N.C. Museum of Natural Science or Marbles Kids Museum.
For more ideas, visit crystalcoastnc.org.
Famous for peaches, peanuts, the Atlanta Braves and President Jimmy Carter, Atlanta bustles with activities for the entire family.
Centennial Olympic Park, built for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games, offers plenty of outdoor space for walking and playing. Kids can cool off at Fountain of Rings on hot summer days. Right next door, Georgia Aquarium, the world's largest, offers more than 9 acres and 8 million gallons of undersea exhibits. Don't miss the beluga whales, whale sharks and manta rays.
Quench your thirst at World of Coca-Cola, a museum and interactive experience in one. Try more than 100 Coke flavors from around the world, watch a short film titled Moments of Happiness, and learn about the legend of the secret Coca-Cola formula in the Coca-Cola 4D theater. Purchase an Atlanta CityPass at worldofcoca-cola.com to access the World of Coca-Cola, CNN Studio Tour, Fernbank Museum of Natural History or High Museum of Art, and Zoo Atlanta or the Atlanta History Center and Margaret Mitchell House.
For heart-pounding thrills, Six Flags Over Georgia – the largest theme park in the Southeast – features high-action family fun. Bring your swimsuit so you can enjoy waterpark rides to beat the heat on hot days.
Explore 3,200 acres of preserved land at Stone Mountain Park. Take the Summit Skyride to the top of this 825-foot granite wonder. Ride a train or take a paddlewheel riverboat cruise for a 360-degree view of the mountain.
Roadtrip bonus: Atlanta is a bustling city easily reached in less than five hours from Charlotte's center city via Interstate 85 South. On your way to Atlanta make a stop at Ty Cobb Museum in Royston, Georgia to learn about the greatest baseball hitter of all time.
For more ideas, visit atlanta.net.
Sara Kendall is a freelance writer who loves to travel with her husband and two daughters. She has discovered fun and learning happen together when exploring our beautiful country.