Inspiration and Adventure Await Families in Coastal Brunswick County

Introduce your inner child to your family at the beach


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The view from the top of Oak Island Lighthouse.

Photo by Micki Bare

Embraced by warm ocean breezes and breathing in the heavy salt air, I curl my toes in the damp sand and magically shed a year’s worth of deadlines, appointments, bills and other adult responsibilities. Then, when the clothes are unpacked and the guidebooks reviewed, I find the child in me and introduce her to my boys. The beach has a similar effect on many parents, which is why it is so often a top family vacation pick. From central NC, the coast’s Brunswick County offers conveniently located, family-friendly venues sans the overly commercialized congestion of the bigger tourist spots up and down the Atlantic Seaboard.

Kindred Spirit Mailbox

What is so special about a mailbox? When it is miles from a postal route and people willingly walk — or ride a bicycle — a very long way along the beach just to reach it, you can bet there is good reason. It’s been nearly 40 years since a local couple erected the Kindred Spirit mailbox on Bird Island. Since then, visitors have filled hundreds of journals with their innermost thoughts and wishes, hopes and dreams.

Be sure to bring a snack and plenty of water as you make your way down Sunset Beach toward the Bird Island Sanctuary. I’d recommend planning a picnic for the outing. As you journey toward the mailbox, you’ll first spy an American flag waving proudly above it. When you arrive, you’ll notice the bench with weatherworn carvings left behind by past visitors. And as picturesque and serene as the area is upon arrival, it is what’s inside the Kindred Spirit mailbox that will amaze and overwhelm you.

At any given time, there are three or four spiral notebook journals and a handful of pens inside. Visitors are encouraged to read the journals as well as write their own, personal entries. Take the time as a family to read aloud some of the entries and then pass out the journals and pens and let everyone add their own inspired thoughts. Let the little ones in the family dictate their contributions.

Whether short and simple or pages long and detailed, every journal entry connects all visitors — from all corners of the world — in a unique way, as they are all kindred spirits who, for a few moments in the same beautiful place, shared glimpses into their souls.

And while you journey to and from this magical oasis, enjoy bird watching — don’t forget the binoculars — and, later in the season, be on the lookout for turtle nests. Just be sure to leave the nests and the majestic sand dunes undisturbed.

Adventure

The slow pace of a beach picnic adventure can be relaxing. But some families demand a little more excitement on their once-a-year getaway. Shallotte River Swamp Park Adventure, a new addition to the offerings in Brunswick County, is for thrill-seeking families. With a focus on ecological education, the park offers a zip line tour, aerial adventure park and swamp boat tours.

Each activity provides visitors views of the beautiful trees, water and animals that make up the swamp ecosystem. Your family could encounter deer, turkeys, raccoons, owls and wild boar amongst the mighty 100-year-old cypress trees and reflective, black, glassy swamp waters.

Since I had never tried a zip line before, I opted to breathe deeply and make my kids proud by sailing through the air between ten stations spanning a mile and a quarter of cable. The butterflies in my stomach became more aggressive with every step we climbed toward the first landing. I was so worried about getting stuck in the middle of the cable and dangling helplessly over the swamp, I came in a little fast on my practice run. Not only do you practice before heading out on the actual tour, the first stop for every group is an instructional and safety class.

My initial fears gave way to sheer excitement by the time I was standing on the third platform. Not only was I proud for not nearly knocking over one of our guides, I realized we were always tethered to cables with our “Y” clips. Flying through the swamps, above and through the trees, the years melted away, and the kid in me kept screaming for more.

Lighthouses

The views from the zip line were extraordinary, so it was time to top the experience. What would a North Carolina beach trip be without a visit to a lighthouse? Brunswick County is home to both Old Baldy and the Oak Island Lighthouse, making it a great place to obtain your NC Lighthouse passport and begin your pilgrimage up the coast to visit them all.

When my boys were little, Oak Island Lighthouse was still off limits to the public. I took a picture of them near the old sign on the public side of the fence that kept visitors away from the semi-retired coast guard facility. Last year, I had the opportunity to climb to the top. Visitors are welcome now, but you may want to give some thought to which family members actually make the trek.

Since the Coast Guard designed it for efficiency, you must climb a series of metal ladders joined by metal grate landings to get to the top. Once there, the views will take your breath away; but the old rails on the lookout deck won’t pass any playground safety inspections. You might want to leave the youngest family members — along with anyone afraid of heights or who suffers from bouts of vertigo — at the base.

After my zip-line adventure, I was able to power through the sweaty palms and a resurgence of angry butterflies to climb to the top. As I kept my back glued to the wall and took in every angle of a coastal view that will be painted in my memory forever, I felt strongly that “Y” clips could make great addition to this attraction.

So Much More

Brunswick County is also home to beaches such as Sunset, Ocean Isle, Holden, Caswell and Oak Island, which offer kayaking, fishing and all your typical coastal activities. Bald Head Island, home of Old Baldy Lighthouse, can be seen from Southport, which for decades has served as a backdrop for movies, such as “Crimes of the Heart” (1987), “I Know What You Did Last Summer” (1997) and “Safe Haven” (2013). Historical landmarks and museums abound. And the food, from freshly caught seafood to traditional Southern fare offered at restaurants such as The Provision Company in Holden Beach and Ports of Call Bistro in Southport — two of my personal favorites — will have you planning out your next vacation before you leave because there will be something else on the menu you’ll want to try when you return.

For more information on all that Brunswick County has to offer, visit ncbrunswick.com.

 

Micki Bare is the associate editor for Piedmont Parent. She draws from her early childhood career, parenting and life experiences to feed her passion for writing. In addition to working for Piedmont Parent, she is the author of Thurston T. Turtle children's books, writes a weekly newspaper column and maintains a blog. She lives in Asheboro with her husband, sons, mother and a handful of pets.

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October 2019

The Alliance for Historic Hillsborough and Ayr Mount Historic Site presents a weekend of activities centered around Scottish heritage, colonial history and the wildly popular...

Cost: See website for ticket fees

Where:
Ayr Mount Historic Site
376 St. Mary’s Rd
Hillsborough, NC
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In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary,  play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
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Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
Website »

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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: 24.00

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
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Take part in a 10k, 5k or 1-mile-fun-run to raise funds for local mental health research. Register online. The event also features food and kids' activities. Register online.

Cost: $30-$75. Free for ages 5 and younger.

Where:
The Angus Barn
9401 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27617
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Website »

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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: 24.00

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Website »

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Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

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Make witchy legs for the Halloween season. Ages 6-10. Register online. Choose course #126766.

Cost: $31/resident, $40/nonresident

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
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Website »

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  Join us to celebrate the fall moon! During a full moon in October, the mystical powers of the moon are revealed in many ways, so be on the lookout for live scarecrows, werewolves and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

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Ages 5-8 embrace science and nature while developing skills and knowledge about the natural world. Register online. 

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Ride a bike on the streets of Carrboro. Enjoy bike decorations, giveaways, healthy snacks and more.

Cost: Free

Where:
Carrboro Elementary School
400 Shelton St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Website »

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Activities include large KidZone with fire engine, face-painting, giant games, inflatable obstacle course, and paint-a-pumpkin. Kids can enter their original pumpkin carving in the Carved...

Cost: $10/adult, $5/child. Free for ages 5 and younger

Where:
Commons at North Hills
4321 Lassiter at North Hills Avenue
Commons
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: Midtown Raleigh Alliance
Telephone: 919-606-6068
Contact Name: Tara Robbins
Website »

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In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary,  play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

We are starting the Halloween-time festivities early! Join us for some make-and-take craft time in the park and create a “monster” to take home. We will bring the materials if you bring the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

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Ages 11-17 learn how to make desserts perfect for Halloween. Register online. Choose course #127729.

Cost: $35/resident, $46/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
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Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online. 

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

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In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary,  play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
Website »

More information

Bring your budding naturalist to the park to learn about our eight-legged friends that call the park home. A craft, engaging activity or story and a guided greenway walk through the wetland will...

Cost: $2

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Read the story by Laura Numeroff and make brownies. Register online. Choose course #127716.

Cost: $23/resident, $30/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
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Website »

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In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary,  play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
Website »

More information

It's a Fall Homeschool Day at the JC Raulston Arboretum! Join us for a fun rotation through hands-on stations to learn about a variety of fall topics. Students will have a chance to interact with...

Cost: $5.00 per child for Arboretum Family members, $7.50 per child for nonmembers

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Road
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: 919-513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
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Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary,  play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
Website »

More information

It's a Fall Homeschool Day at the JC Raulston Arboretum! Join us for a fun rotation through hands-on stations to learn about a variety of fall topics. Students will have a chance to interact with...

Cost: $5.00 per child for Arboretum Family members, $7.50 per child for nonmembers

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Road
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: 919-513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Parent and child ages 2-5 water plants in the native wildflower gardens. Register online. Choose course #124908.

Cost: Free

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

This program is designed to move at a toddler’s pace: Run. Stop. Pick dandelions. Run. Climb on a rock. Find an interesting leaf! Join others for an easy-paced hike around the greenway...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

More information

Enjoy dinner with your family on us! On Thursday, October 17th, The School for Creative Studies PTSA will be hosting its 3rd Healthy Eating Tasting Night. Local Chef Carmen Settles of Full Street...

Cost: Free

Where:
The School for Creative Studies
5001 Red Mill Rd.
Durham, NC  27704
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Sponsor: The School for Creative Studies PTSA
Telephone: 919-560-3535
Contact Name: Tanisha Davis
Website »

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Just in time for your next dress-up event!  Join us to make a tutu.  Kids 8 and up and teens make one for yourself!  Adults make one for yourself or for a child!   Call to register,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
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Homeschoolers of all ages enjoy a day of hands-on activities focused on the history of slavery and freedom in North Carolina. 

Cost: $4/student

Where:
Historic Stagville
5828 Old Oxford Hwy
Durham, NC  27712
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Telephone: 919-620-0120
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In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary,  play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
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Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
Website »

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Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Sip cider and enjoy a cookie while listening to music and a storyteller. All ages. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Weaver Street Market Lawn
101 E. Weaver St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy live German music, traditional Bavarian food and fare, German cars, a "Kinder Platz" zone wiener dog races, nail-driving competitions and more. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $5-$20

Where:
Koka Booth Amphitheatre
8003 Regency Pkwy.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Kids spend a night out in nature making memories and new friends in an old-fashioned, camp-style program. Ages 8-12. Register online. 

Cost: $15/resident, $19/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

We think about bats this time of year for Halloween. Join us as we learn the truth about bats and their importance to the ecosystem. After a wonderful story we will take a walk to some places...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

We think about bats this time of year for Halloween. Join us as we learn the truth about bats and their importance to the ecosystem. After a wonderful story we will take a walk to some places...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Come join us for a party of spooky proportions! We will have classic monster mash games including a mummy wrap, Halloween Fear Factor eating challenge, Tarantula Toss, and other fun party...

Cost: Adults & Kids Over 14 years of age:$44; Kids 13 and under: $39

Where:
TreeRunner Raleigh
12804 Norwood Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27613
View map »


Telephone: 919-410-7347
Contact Name: TreeRunner
Website »

More information

N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

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Join local bird expert Larry Zoller as we explore the different habitats of Harris Lake County Park to look and listen for our resident birds as well as fall migrants that have stopped to rest...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Give rugby a try. Take part in tag rugby pick-up games every Saturday morning at Baileywick Road Park, near the Second Shelter.  No experience necessary. All ages. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Baileywick Road Park
9501 Baileywick Rd
Second Shelter Field
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: Raleigh Redhawks Rugby
Contact Name: denise travis
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Join the Preschool Teachers at Chestnut Ridge for a fun-filled morning of nature inspired activities in the great outdoors at Camp Chestnut Ridge. This event is for anyone interested in learning...

Cost: Free

Where:
Chestnut Ridge Camp and Retreat Center
4300 Camp Chestnut Ridge Road
Efland, NC  27243
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Sponsor: Chestnut Ridge Camp and Retreat Center
Telephone: 919-304-2178
Contact Name: Becky Garus
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The World Beer Festival Durham features a sampling of local, national and international breweries. Adults can also enjoy food and live music. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15-$60

Where:
Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Blackwell St.
Durham, NC  27701
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In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary,  play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
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Make little pumpkins, a black cat and other Halloween creatures with polymer clay. Ages 5-10. Register online. Choose course #127352.

Cost: $19/resident, $25/nonresident

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Cary Arts Center
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Cost: Free

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Make a mini shadow puppet theater out of a file folder and mini shadow puppets. Please bring your own light source such as a flashlight for the full effect. Space is limited, advance registration...

Cost: Free

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Carrboro Library
Inside McDougle Middle School
900 Old Fayetteville Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27516
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Sponsor: Orange County Library
Telephone: 919-969-3006
Contact Name: Jody Smith
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Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Community Family Life & Recreation Center at Lyon Park
1309 Halley St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy live German music, traditional Bavarian food and fare, German cars, a "Kinder Platz" zone wiener dog races, nail-driving competitions and more. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $5-$20

Where:
Koka Booth Amphitheatre
8003 Regency Pkwy.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Sponsor: Crowder County Park
Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
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Cost: $19/child

Where:
Middle Creek Community Center
125 Middle Creek Park Ave.
Apex, NC  27539
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More information

Shop with more than 40 businesses operated by local children ages 6-14.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Commons at North Hills
421 Lassiter at North Hills Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Website »

More information

Discover what's happening as the sun sets and listen to stories around a campfire. All ages with adult. Register online. Choose course #127673.

Cost: $18/resident, $24/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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More information

East Cloud Kungfu hosts a Parent's Night Out event, featuring a safe environment for kids as they about the wide world of kungfu.   Check it out!...

Cost: $25 first child, $20 each additional child

Where:
East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
5655-A Western Blvd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
Telephone: 252-646-7053
Contact Name: Imari Colon
Website »

More information

N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

More information

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The 2018-19 Education Guide offers 678 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools, academic resources and an Exceptional Child special section.

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.