A Triangle Bucket List for Families

Explore 25 must-see/must-do experiences in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area
Photo courtesy of Mandy Howard
Make sure you put the Museum of Life and Science's on your Triangle bucket list — and check out the Dinosaur Trail while you're there.

We all know the concept of a bucket list — things you must do before you “kick the bucket.” These lists often include skydiving, mountain climbing and, if you’re Tim McGraw, riding a bull named Fumanchu for 2.7 seconds.

These activities sound great, but may not be easy to plan with young kids or strollers in tow. So, here we humbly present a Triangle Bucket List for Families. You simply have not lived (in the Triangle with a family, at least) until you’ve checked off a few of these items.

1. Play at Pullen Park.

“Iconic.” That is the word Raleigh native and mom of two Amy Moreau uses to describe a day at Pullen Park in Raleigh. “Especially the train. When my kids were younger, there was just something about that train ride at Pullen that made you feel lucky to live in Raleigh,” she says. A playground, picnic shelters, concessions and the 1911 Gustav A. Dentzel carousel make this park a “can’t miss” destination.

Photo courtesy of Mandy Howard

2. Explore the Museum of Life and Science.

From the dinosaur trail to butterfly house, and climbing trees to learning about the stars, the Museum of Life and Science in Durham has something for everyone. Better yet, consider putting a museum membership on your bucket list. With plenty of indoor and outdoor exhibits, you’ll get your money’s worth the whole year through.

Photo courtesy of Mandy Howard

3. Take a Hike!

William B. Umstead State Park is just one of many fantastic state parks in the Triangle. Throw some sunscreen and water bottles in a backpack and find a trail with the right length and difficulty level for your family of adventurers. Discover some of family-friendly hikes in the Triangle area.

Photo courtesy of North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation

4. See stars at Morehead Planetarium & Science Center.

Take a trip to UNC-Chapel Hill to experience Morehead Plantetarium & Science Center’s GSK Fulldome Theater. You're sure to find a show that will suit your family and expand your imagination. 

Photo courtesy of BryanPollard/Shutterstock.com

5. Root, root, root for the home team at a Durham Bulls or Carolina Mudcats game.

“Every family can find something to do at a Durham Bulls game,” says Durham Bulls Director of Communications Matt Sutor. “Whether it’s enjoying our fireworks shows, $1 concessions night, Kids Run the Bases events or just getting a picture with Wool E. Bull, there’s always a reason to smile at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.” The Durham Bulls are a minor league affiliate team for the Tampa Bay Rays. 

If you're closer to the Zebulon area, check out the Carolina Mudcats, a minor league affiliate team for the Milwaukee Brewers. 

Photo courtesy of Andrea Catenaro/Shutterstock.com

Check out bucket list items 6-10 by clicking on page 2 below. 


6. Shop, play and read at North Hills.

The Triangle offers numerous shopping centers that facilitate the possibility of eating, shopping and playing the whole day away. But there’s something about having Quail Ridge Books right around the corner from Learning Express that makes spending a family day in that corner of Raleigh’s North Hills shopping center so appealing.

7. Pick your own strawberries.

Not much else says spring in the Triangle like picking strawberries with your family. Many local farms specialize in providing a perfect berry-picking experience by offering additional activities.


8. Get swept away at a Carolina Hurricanes game.

This may not be something native Raleighites grew up with, but a Stanley Cup trophy bearing the Carolina Hurricanes’ name and an abundance of special family deals is a pretty good indication that Raleigh has fully embraced all things Caniac.

Photo courtesy of Jeremy R. Smith Sr./Shutterstock.com

9. Pick a pumpkin at Hill Ridge Farms.

While spring may be all about berry picking, fall is when pumpkins take the spotlight. There are many fantastic places in the Triangle to grab a gourd or two, but Hill Ridge Farms in Youngsville also provides a full day of fall fun, including a corrugated pipe slide, giant bounce pillow and tractor ride to the pumpkin patch.

Photo courtesy of Mandy Howard

10. Watch a movie under moonlight.

While most areas of the country said goodbye to outdoor movie experiences when drive-ins went out of vogue, the Triangle boasts several venues that still honor this tradition. Raleigh native Brian Williams, a father of active twin boys, advises that once you find your theater of choice, “Scope out the trees because bringing a hammock makes it especially cool.”

Photo courtesy of Melanie Lemahieu/Shutterstock.com

Check out bucket list items 11-15 by clicking on page 3 below.


 11. Pick a parade.

Raleigh’s parades, especially for Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day, are perfect examples of how the Triangle region maintains a small-town ambiance with big-city opportunities. On parade day, you’ll find yourself immersed in culture, all with affordable and attainable parking.

12. Enjoy turkey legs and pig races.

Oh, yes … all Triangle families must visit Raleigh’s fairgrounds for the North Carolina State Fair in October or the Got To Be NC Festival in May. From rides to live music and deep-fried fun, there is something for everyone to love at both of these down-home annual events.


13. Delight your senses at the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Ever growing, ever innovative … there is always something new and beautiful to view at the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Photo courtesy of Mr. Interior/Shutterstock.com

14. Watch planes land.

Take a trip to Raleigh-Durham International Airport’s Observation Park to watch planes land, hear pilot-tower communication via audio speakers and spend some time on the park’s playground.

15. Discover Raleigh’s hidden theater.

One of Raleigh’s greatest treasures is Raleigh Little Theatre and Raleigh Rose Garden, located not far from North Carolina State University’s campus. 

Check out bucket list items 16-20 by clicking on page 4 below.


16. Drone watch at Dorothea Dix Park.

This 308-acre Raleigh park includes a large public field that many residents use to fly drones, airplanes and kites. Dogs also love the wide, open space.

17. Create art with your family.

The Triangle community loves art, so many businesses and organizations provide guided painting and crafting opportunities for people of all ages. The Scrap Exchange in Durham, for example, is a creative reuse center that recycles everyday items for inclusion in art projects. 

18. Build with giant LEGOs.

Take a trip to Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh for fun exhibits — such as the giant LEGOs in “IdeaWorks” — then head next door to Marbles IMAX to catch a movie such as “Pandas 3D,” which will be showing there throughout the next year.

Photo courtesy of Beth Shugg

19. Go museum hopping.

Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh isn’t the only museum in town. Whether your passion is history, science, art or animals, there’s a museum for you. Choose from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, North Carolina Museum of History and North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh (all of which offer free admission); the Museum of Life and Science and Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in Durham; and Kidzu Children’s Museum and Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill.

Photo courtesy of Eric Knisley

20. Shop fresh at a local farmers market.

From the mammoth State Farmers Market in Raleigh to smaller weekend markets across the Triangle, you’ll find plenty of fresh produce and homemade goodies at a town near you. Many farmers markets also host special events.

Photo courtesy of Beth Shugg

Check out bucket list items 21-25 by clicking on page 5 below.


21. Listen to symphonies and cicadas.

With a blanket of cotton below and starry night above, enjoy North Carolina Symphony’s Summerfest series, which features themed outdoor symphonies, at Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary. Picnic meals are welcome.


22. Rough it at the lake.

Sure, there’s an abundance of outdoor opportunities on this list, but throughout the Triangle there are also many places where your family can get away from the hustle and bustle of life. Falls Lake in Raleigh and Jordan Lake in Apex, for example, offer a variety of family camp sites and marinas. 

Photo of Jordan Lake courtesy of the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation

23. Go on a treetop adventure.

Swing through the trees like Tarzan at TreeRunner Adventure Park or Go Ape! Zip Line and Treetop Adventure, both of which offer exciting ropes course experiences and are located in Raleigh. Be sure to check out the “Glow Night” ropes course option at TreeRunner Adventure Park.


24. Be festive for a cause.

Whether it's saving a river at Festival for the Eno in Durham or supporting local arts at Lazy Daze Arts and Crafts Festival in Cary, there are plenty of reasons for your family to enjoy one of the Triangle’s many philanthropic festivals together.

Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation

25. Watch the acorn drop.

Raleigh is known as “the City of Oaks” so it makes sense that an acorn sculpture stands steadfast in Moore Square year-round. But on New Year’s Eve during First Night Raleigh, that acorn gets transported to City Plaza in order to be lowered slowly by a crane … twice! The acorn drops once early in the evening for families who need to get their kids to bed early, and again as the clock strikes midnight. It’s bizarre, yes… but also kind of amazing. 

Photo courtesy of Brian Fleming

Mandy Howard is a mother of three and freelance writer in Raleigh.


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