Plan a Triangle Family Staycation
Does summer travel conjure images of highway traffic, flight delays or long lines at amusement parks? One way to avoid such hassles and make the most of lazy summer days - while also saving money on hotel and transportation costs - is to plan a "staycation" instead of a vacation.
There are many reasons to spend your vacation in the Triangle, not the least of which is that there are so many things to do with kids. Approach your staycation as you would any other family trip: Research your options, think creatively, and explore new activities and attractions. Here are some suggestions for themed summer staycations that will show you a good time close to home.
Cook up some fun
Summer's bounty makes this a great time to explore local foods. With so many Triangle farmer's markets and farms there are myriad options for sampling, purchasing and picking fresh summer fruits and veggies. The Carrboro Farmer's Market offers regular family events throughout the season, including storytellers and the Tomato Day festival July 13. At right, The Carrboro Farmers Market hosts Tomato Day in July. Photo courtesy of the Carrboro Farmers Market
Molly Gold, Raleigh mom of three, frequently visits the State Farmers Market. "It's fun to time a visit with special activities that they are celebrating, like Watermelon Day, where you might meet the North Carolina Watermelon Princess and get to see prize-winning watermelons weighing more than all the rest," she says. Gold allows each child to pick fresh fruits and vegetables to use in a recipe they will cook together. "We always start with the ingredients for homemade salsa," she says.
Find an extensive list of farmers markets in the Triangle area at in our roundup, Farmers Markets Grow in the Triangle.
You can also go directly to the farm to purchase or pick your own food. Dorette Snover, co-owner of C'est Si Bon cooking school in Chapel Hill, recommends Maple View Farm in Hillsborough, where you can not only see the cows, but purchase milk and ice cream.
Another option is to sign up for a family cooking class at a local cooking school. Snover says she can plan a weekend cooking trip for your entire family. "We'd begin with a family lesson on Friday evening, then send you off to a farm stay and exploring, or cooking with local ingredients," she says.
Snover recommends Fickle Creek Farm in Efland for a bed and breakfast experience that includes seasonal produce, pigs, sheep and livestock.
Explore art for all
If budding Van Goghs live in your house, spend a week exploring and making art. The North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh offers indoor and outdoor viewing opportunities. Browse inside the museum, then head outdoors to Museum Park, which features 160 acres of woodlands and creeks, biking and walking trails, and works of art installed throughout. Take sketchbooks and encourage your children to sketch pictures and sculptures they like.
The North Carolina Museum of Art also hosts free family tours Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 a.m., preschool classes on Thursdays at varying times, and themed Family Fun Saturdays twice a month at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. (Above, at left, The Paperhand Puppets entertain visitors with a parade at the N.C. Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Art; Christopher Ciccone, photographer)
Other art museums in the Triangle, such as the Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, also offer family tours, programs and events.
Another artistic option is to visit the Golden Belt in Durham, a reclaimed mill space where working artists open their studios monthly on the first Wednesday and second Saturday of each month. Jessie Brown, a management assistant at Golden Belt, recommends that parents stroll through the studios first, "to make sure they're comfortable with the work on display. Some pieces may be a little mature for younger audiences, but I think kids can be diverted around the building easily enough."
Golden Belt also offers a free, outdoor, family-friendly concert series on the third Friday of each summer month.
Brown also recommends visiting The Scrap Exchange, a nonprofit, creative use center in Durham that offers a make-and-take room for budding artists, programs and events.
At the end of your art week, host a gallery opening at your house, complete with sparkling grape juice for the kids. Hang a large sheet of white paper on the wall and invite young guests to create a decorative mural.
Get close to nature
Consider a staycation focused on nature. Find field guides at your local library or online (allaboutbirds.org/guide/search) to identify local flora and birds. Go on a scavenger hunt for flowers and trees at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, Coker Arboretum in Chapel Hill or Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham. Snap photos and encourage your children to create their own field notebooks.
Ilina Ewan, Raleigh mother of two, likes to take her school-age boys on hikes along the trail at the Eno River State Park in Durham and Umstead State Park in Raleigh. Go on a hiking expedition at some of the many trails in the Triangle (search Hiking Trails at carolinaparent.com for a list of kid-friendly trails), and throw in a camping "trip" in your backyard. The kids will love it - especially if you make s'mores.
For animal life, visit the black bears, red wolves and lemurs at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, visit the
North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, or schedule a tour at the Duke Lemur Center in Durham or Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro. Public tours are also available at Carolina Tiger Rescue on Saturdays and Sundays.
North Carolina is a cradle of U.S. history. Consider planning a staycation to learn more about the role of the Tarheel State during the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Check out books from the library about both wars and read them together. Visit the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh to explore its Civil War and "Call to Arms" exhibits, which present overviews of the state's involvement in the wars and military heritage.
Learn about the Civil War's history in Durham at civilwardurham.com. Print Civil War trail markers (in the website's "Experience" section) and visit sites such as Bennett Place, where the negotiation for the biggest Civil War troop surrender took place, and Duke Homestead, with the early home, factories and farm where Washington Duke first manufactured tobacco products. Duke (Photo at left shows agrarian re-enactments at Duke Homestead State Historic Site. Photo courtesy of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources) Don't forget Historic Stagville, the site of one of the largest prewar plantations in the South.
In Raleigh, visit the Raleigh City Museum and take a historic trolley tour to learn more about historic sites such as Mordecai Historic Park, the site of Andrew Jackson's birthplace. Stop by the Joel Lane Museum House to learn more about "The father of Raleigh," a Revolutionary War patriot.
Finally, be sure to collect souvenir brochures and maps and take lots of photos during your staycation adventure. Scan printed items and upload pictures to make a scrapbook. It will be just the thing to pull out when you and the kids want to relive warm memories on a cold January day.
Mara Gorman is a freelance writer who blogs about family travel at motherofalltrips.com.
This article was updated July 3, 2013.