Family Activities in Raleigh, NC
At 40-feet-long, 13-feet-high, the skeletal “Acro” (real name Acrocanthosaurus), stands menacingly in its third-story glass dome inside the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, the state’s most visited museum and largest of its kind in the Southeast. It’s also home to Willo, the first dinosaur ever found with a fossilized heart. Walk under the whale skeletons, check out the live snake wall and 20-foot indoor waterfall with fish below. Programs like “Meet the Animals” and storytime are popular; you might, for instance, pet a live gator. There are enough animals here to qualify as a zoo. Super cool is fall BugFest — spiders and ticks and flies, oh my — with demos, entertainment and Café Insecta because eating bugs is always a hit for the gross-out factor. Make mine ant-chiladas (with real ants) and chocolate chirp cookies (with crickets). Yum (bugfest.org). Museum admission is free. Donations welcome.
Calling all swashbucklers: The pirate ship here seeks a crew, a city bus awaits and the stuffed animals at the pet hospital need some TLC. This super-neat museum – check out the million-marble wall that lights up at night - focuses on the power of play. They emphasize Be Healthy/Be Active, Grow Up Green (kids help in the community garden), Build Your Brain, Go Global and Create/Innovate. Don’t miss the ice hockey rink (wear your socks; they provide the Carolina Hurricanes jerseys), and check out the 50-foot, solar-powered sunflower with spinning petals. Recommended for ages 10 and under. The Wells Fargo IMAX Theatre next door is the state’s only giant screen IMAX (70- by 50-foot screen that’s eight stories high). This is the place for big movie openings like Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter. Yes, there’s 3D. Museum admission is $5 per person age 1 and older. IMAX prices vary: call 919-882-IMAX.
Triangle Glides' Segway tour of downtown, up to 11 in a group, is hip fun for anyone 14 or older. Whiz past historic neighborhoods with gingerbread-trim homes and a historic cemetery featuring Confederate graves plus the Governor’s Mansion, State Legislature, Capitol (some say it’s haunted) and other sites. A new tour covers a western route including the trendy Glenwood South neighborhood with boutiques, dining spots and more. For added awesomeness, Triangle Glides offers Standup Paddleboarding (SUP) lessons on 650-acre Lake Wheeler. The lake has free admission; fee for boat launch and facility rental. Hours: Daily, sunrise-sunset (except October-March, closed Mondays). Segway tours are one, one and a-half or two hours, $40-$65; Stand-Up Paddleboarding, 90 minutes for $60. (Office moves to 321 Blount St. after September 2011.)
Seeing a sleek 747 sky high can evoke wanderlust, but watching one up close from the RDU Observation Park can induce heart-racing exhilaration (RDU is Raleigh-Durham International). The elevated, covered, outdoor deck near the air traffic control tower and Park and Ride 2 Lot makes an excellent perch for any aviation buff. Best of all, it's free. Plaques show types of aircraft that now use RDU and the airport's history. In addition to the sights are the sounds: jet engines, helicopter blades, and the jargon of air traffic controllers and pilots broadcast over a loud speaker. The park is perfect for a picnic with tables, restrooms, a sand-pit, and a mini-runway like the airport’s that beckons kids of all ages to spread their arms and take imaginary flight. Bonus: free parking.
For the family that wants to learn about the history of Raleigh, Mordecai Historic Park is a must. Like a mini-Williamsburg, nine buildings comprise this look back at five generations that occupied Mordecai House (the oldest residence in Raleigh on its original foundation), from 1785 until 1964. The land is considered the birthplace of North Carolina's capital city, because in 1792, owner Joel Lane (dubbed “The Father of Raleigh”) influenced legislators to locate North Carolina’s state government on his land. The park has eight other relocated structures including Cure Barn; Allen Kitchen; Ellen Mordecai Garden; St. Mark’s Chapel; and the birthing place of North Carolina’s native son, Andrew Johnson, the 17th U.S. President. Families can make a day of it with a picnic under the trees, accompanied by walking and trolley tours. And — boo — several buildings are reportedly haunted.