Explore Carolina Beaches to Find the Best Fit for Your Family


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Photo courtesy of altanaka/Shutterstock.com

One of the many benefits of living in beautiful North Carolina is the opportunity to visit a variety of beaches within just a few hours' drive. When putting together beach vacation plans, it's a good idea to consider the different activity interests of all members of your family.

With the abundance of sandy spots in both North and South Carolina, you're sure to find beautiful shorelines filled with as much activity (or inactivity) as you desire. Here's an overview of a few of the popular areas to help you make the best choice for your family.

The Outer Banks
www.outerbanks.org

For families looking for uncrowded beaches and plentiful outdoor activities, the Outer Banks of North Carolina is a good pick. Rich with history, the 200-mile string of barrier islands is home to the first flight of The Wright Brothers in 1903, and the large number of shipwrecks that have occurred off the coast of the Outer Banks have earned it the nickname "Graveyard of the Atlantic."

Whether you choose to stay on Bodie, Roanoke, Hatteras or Ocracoke Island, you'll find plenty of sand for building sandcastles, shopping in the charming town of Duck, dunes to climb at Jockey's Ridge State Park in Nags Head and entertainment at The Lost Colony outdoor drama open late May through late August. Look for wild ponies on the beaches of Corolla or Ocracoke (accessible only by ferry). If four-wheeling interests you, take a trip on Carova Beach, a designated beach near Corolla, located in the farthest northeast corner of North Carolina.

What to do when you've had too much sun: Visit the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island, open daily year-round. Or climb to the top of the Currituck Beach and Cape Hatteras lighthouses.

Brunswick Islands
www.ncbrunswick.com

Families also looking for a break from the frenetic pace of their everyday lives head to the Brunswick beaches each year to enjoy good food, shopping, recreational activities and relaxation. Here you'll find eight smaller islands, each unique in their own individual ways.

Once a commercial fishing center in the 1920s, the largest of the islands, Holden Beach, is on 11 miles of beaches. It maintains a commercial-free atmosphere by keeping all buildings smaller than 35-feet tall.

The popular Ocean Isle has eight miles of beaches and is home to the Museum of Coastal Carolina and a fishing pier and arcade at the center of the island. Golf enthusiasts can choose from an array of courses, all within an hour's drive of the Brunswick Islands. Day trips to North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach are 30 minutes to an hour away.

For a serene and private beach vacation, take the ferry from Southport, N.C., to Bald Head Island, where visitors can explore the island only on foot, by bike or golf cart. The island is a safe haven for wildlife and has 10,000 acres dedicated to nature preserves. Other Brunswick Island beaches include Oak Island, Sunset Beach and Caswell Beach.

What to do when you've had too much sun: Plan a visit to the quaint town of Calabash for dinner at one of the local restaurants for "Calabash-style" seafood, which involves a cornmeal batter and hush puppies. Visit Callahan's Calabash Nautical Gifts to pick up everything from souvenir T-shirts to saltwater taffy to yummy fudge in a variety of flavors. The Christmas shop inside the store is the perfect place to stock up on ornaments, with 100 decorated trees and more than 3 million ornaments.

The Crystal Coast
www.crystalcoastnc.org

Whether your family loves historical sites or just spending quality time together on calm, sandy beaches, The North Carolina Crystal Coast offers affordable accommodations in Cape Lookout, Emerald Isle, Atlantic Beach, Morehead City and Beaufort, a popular backdrop for best-selling novelist Nicholas Sparks.

Beaufort, the third oldest town in the state of North Carolina, is home to a popular waterfront historic district that is particularly lively on summer evenings. Emerald Isle, with abundant outdoor activities and water that is often described as more green than blue, is typically the most popular locale for visiting families.

The Cape Lookout Ferry gives passengers the opportunity to explore uninhabited beaches along the Cape Lookout National Seashore as well as a lighthouse. Share the scenery with the wild horses on Shackleford Banks.

The Crystal Coast represents one of the only natural barrier island systems in the world, providing a picturesque coastline edged with maritime forests. Tour Fort Macon, one of North Carolina's most visited state parks. The five-sided service fort was used in both the Civil War and World War II, and also includes a recreation area with lifeguard-protected swimming, a bathhouse and picnic area.

What to do when you've had too much sun: Check out the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort to learn about maritime history, culture and the environment of coastal North Carolina. Or stop by the N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, between Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach. The aquarium hosts family nights during the summer with special evening activities. For more traditional fun, visit Mac Daddy's in Cape Carteret, an entertainment complex with bowling, billiards, a sports bar and grill and the largest arcade on the Crystal Coast.

Hilton Head
www.hiltonheadisland.org

Named one of America's healthiest beaches by Health magazine, Hilton Head Island, S.C., can be described as a fitness enthusiast's dream come true. There are 20 public golf courses to choose from and 200 tennis courts. Even if you normally don't bike, you'll fall in love with cycling on quaint bicycles with your family on more than 50 miles of paved trails. Rent your bikes before your trip and they will be waiting at your cottage or condo when you arrive. Horseback riding, outlet shopping and dolphin cruises are other options.

Hop on a trolley on the grounds of The Sea Pines Resort for an evening excursion through Harbour Town, and enjoy cool breezes, outdoor dining, live music, a lighthouse, quaint shops and a large outdoor playground built right into the existing trees. Popular family restaurants in Hilton Head include The Crazy Crab (with two locations) and the Salty Dog Café. Fun day trip ideas include taking a ferry ride to nearby Daufauskie Island or driving to Savannah, Ga., to take in the rich architecture and mysterious history of the city.

What to do when you've had too much sun: Enjoy a free family movie Wednesday mornings at Coligny Plaza or take the kids to The Sandbox, an interactive children's museum for children ages 8 and younger that also offers weekly parents nights out. www.thesandbox.org.

Myrtle Beach
www.visitmyrtlebeach.com

If your family enjoys soaking up the sun but also wants to balance miles of beaches with plenty of attractions, outdoor amusement parks, sports, shopping and dining, look no further than Myrtle Beach, S.C., also known as "The Grand Strand."

For the adventurous, there is surfing, scuba diving, kayaking and parasailing. A variety of water parks offer a different kind of fun in the sun. Plan to shop and take in a meal at Broadway at the Beach (home of the Ripley's Aquarium) or Barefoot Landing.

You'll find an array of oceanfront resorts to choose from, along with beach homes and other vacation rentals in nearby North Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach and Garden City. In May, the city opened a pedestrian and family-friendly oceanfront boardwalk spanning 1.2 miles in the heart of the Grand Strand.

What to do when you've had too much sun: Dine at Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction or the Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament. At Dixie Stampede, each ticket includes an opening show, the main show in the expansive arena, and a four-course dinner with dessert included. Like Dixie Stampede, Medieval Times is a family-friendly dinner show with four courses served inspired by 11th century medieval battles. www.dixiestampede.com and www.medievaltimes.com.

If your family is itching to explore the Carolina coastline this summer, it's not too late to take advantage of all the beaches have to offer. No matter your budget or desired activity level, you'll find suitable travel options that every member of the family will love, and it could be the start of a new annual vacation tradition.

Renee Roberson is a freelance writer specializing in health, parenting and pop culture. She lives in Huntersville, N.C., with her husband and two children.

This article was originally published on Aug. 2, 2010, and has been updated.

 

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Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
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Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
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Cost: Free

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Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
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Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

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Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
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More information

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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
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View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
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Telephone: 704-391-3900
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More information

Triangle Restaurant Week (January 20-26, 2020) is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants....

Cost: $15-$35

Where:
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Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
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More information

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Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
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Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
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Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
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View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

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Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
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View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

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Cost: $15-$35

Where:
Participating Restaurants
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Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
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Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
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More information

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Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
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Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
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More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
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More information

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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
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Cost: $225

Where:
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Website »

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Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

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Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in February!   This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds...

Cost: Free

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in July! This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds at...

Cost: 0 – $10

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Just in time to keep up with those home improvement resolutions for 2020, the Downtown Raleigh Home Show returns to downtown’s Raleigh Convention Center January 24-26, 2020  with a jam-packed...

Cost: Tickets are $12 for adults and free for children under 12. Advance $9 tickets

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Marketplace Events
Telephone: 904-608-3823
Contact Name: Liz Morgan

More information

Chip, chip, hooray! The first Zambrero in the Southeast is opening on January 24 with zingy, zesty activities! Bodacious Burritos and Bowls: $5 burritos and bowls all day Delicious Drawing: A...

Cost: Free

Where:
1 Glenwood Ave
#105
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: (919) 863-2561
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Triangle Restaurant Week (January 20-26, 2020) is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants....

Cost: $15-$35

Where:
Participating Restaurants
, NC


Sponsor: Triangle Blvd
Telephone: 919-673-5784
Website »

More information

Take a hike after dark and enjoy the sights and sounds of a quiet night along the American Tobacco Trail. We will walk to the Beaver Creek bridge and back (about one mile total). Free for ages 4...

Cost: Free

Where:
American Tobacco Trail
1309 New Hill-Olive Chapel Rd.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park and the American Tobacco Trail
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

Rumpelstiltskin-A Tale of Gold Book by Ellie FaggionMusic and Lyrics written by Brian Shrager and Ellie FaggionProduced by special arrangement with the author.Directed by Beth Wilson...

Cost: varies

Where:
Spiritual Twist Productions
1250 Aversboro Road
Garner, NC  27529
View map »


Sponsor: Spiritual Twist Productions
Telephone: 919-977-1976
Contact Name: Kathy MacDonald
Website »

More information

David Burney, lead singer for the acclaimed Johnny Cash tribute band Johnny Folsom 4, brings his one-man show to The ArtsCenter for three shows, January 24-26, 2020.  In “Hello, I’m...

Cost: $15 to $20

Where:
The ArtsCenter
300-G East Main St.
300-G East Main Street.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Sponsor: The ArtsCenter
Telephone: 919-929-2787
Contact Name: Patrick Phelps-Mckeown
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in July! This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds at...

Cost: 0 – $10

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Join the Museum and the Raleigh Astronomy Club to help you see the big picture — of the Universe! From comet crafts to solar observing, lectures to rocket launches, space enthusiasts of all ages...

Cost: Free

Where:
NC Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in February!   This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds...

Cost: Free

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Family Wildlife Series: Tricky Tracks Saturday, January 25 10-11 a.m. Come dressed for the weather so you can roam the park learning the fine art of “tracking”.   Make a cast of an animal...

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Road
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Telephone: 919-870-4330
Website »

More information

RALEIGH (Jan. 16, 2020) – The North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools will host its first school fair during National School Choice Week on Saturday, Jan. 25. The fair will take...

Cost: Free

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: NC Association of Public Charter Schools
Telephone: 336-669-9996
Contact Name: Rhonda Dillingham
Website »

More information

Just in time to keep up with those home improvement resolutions for 2020, the Downtown Raleigh Home Show returns to downtown’s Raleigh Convention Center January 24-26, 2020  with a jam-packed...

Cost: Tickets are $12 for adults and free for children under 12. Advance $9 tickets

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Marketplace Events
Telephone: 904-608-3823
Contact Name: Liz Morgan

More information

Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Spanish Alive is providing Family Spanish classes starting in January! Join us to learn Spanish as an entire family in an immersive, fun environment. Our teachers are trained Spanish educators and...

Cost: $75-$216

Where:
Spanish Alive
156 E. Chatham St
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Rumpelstiltskin-A Tale of Gold Book by Ellie FaggionMusic and Lyrics written by Brian Shrager and Ellie FaggionProduced by special arrangement with the author.Directed by Beth Wilson...

Cost: varies

Where:
Spiritual Twist Productions
1250 Aversboro Road
Garner, NC  27529
View map »


Sponsor: Spiritual Twist Productions
Telephone: 919-977-1976
Contact Name: Kathy MacDonald
Website »

More information

Winter days find many animals curled up in their dens. They sleep warmly, awakening in spring ready to enjoy the renewed Earth. Discover how animals deal with cold weather and which ones hibernate...

Cost: For all ages; FREE. Registration is required for all family members,& childre

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Triangle Restaurant Week (January 20-26, 2020) is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants....

Cost: $15-$35

Where:
Participating Restaurants
, NC


Sponsor: Triangle Blvd
Telephone: 919-673-5784
Website »

More information

Join us in Arendelle for Frozen-inspired STEAM activities for the whole family! Included in the ticket cost is dinner and dessert for the whole family, make your own sock Olaf and Frozen bouncy...

Cost: $35 per family

Where:
Kidzu Children's Museum
201 S. Estes Dr.
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
View map »


Sponsor: Kidzu Children's Museum
Telephone: 919-933-1455
Website »

More information

AML Wrestling presents our 5th Anniversary Celebration! WHEN: Saturday, January 25th, 2020WHERE: Winston-Salem Fairgrounds in theHome & Garden Building 408 27th Street NW/Gate #9 Winston-Salem, NC...

Cost: $5

Where:
Winston-Salem Fairgrounds
408 27th Street NW/Gate #9
Winston-Salem, NC  27105
View map »


Sponsor: AML Wrestling
Telephone: 336-831-0646
Contact Name: Tracy Myers
Website »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

David Burney, lead singer for the acclaimed Johnny Cash tribute band Johnny Folsom 4, brings his one-man show to The ArtsCenter for three shows, January 24-26, 2020.  In “Hello, I’m...

Cost: $15 to $20

Where:
The ArtsCenter
300-G East Main St.
300-G East Main Street.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Sponsor: The ArtsCenter
Telephone: 919-929-2787
Contact Name: Patrick Phelps-Mckeown
Website »

More information

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Education Guide

The 2019-20 Education Guide offers 718 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.