19 Must-See North Carolina Family Attractions in the Tar Heel State

Written in Partnership with Visit North Carolina

Fun Galore: 19 North Carolina Family Attractions You Can’t Miss

North Carolina, affectionately known as the Tar Heel State, is a treasure trove of family-friendly attractions that cater to visitors of all ages. We had the pleasure of visiting North Carolina for 8 glorious days last month (read about our tip to Raleigh HERE), and we absolutely fell in love with this beautiful state. We travelled from Raleigh/Durham to Rocky Mount, to Scotland Neck, to High Point, to Charlotte, and then we finished off our trip in Cary. And while it was great getting to sample these various destinations, I think it’s best to pick one area to truly take in all the magic.

In compiling this list, I realized how much we missed because we traveled around instead of exploring one particular city fully. We also made sure to limit our excursions to North Carolina family attractions that are suitable for our neurodivergent bunch. We like to keep things relatively calm, so look out below for locations with an asterisk* as these are areas I’ve designated as neurodivergent-friendly.

North Carolina Family Attractions

From its stunning coastline along the Atlantic Ocean to the majestic peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina offers a diverse range of experiences that will delight the whole family. Whether you’re seeking adventure, history, nature, or simply some quality time together, here are 20 must-visit North Carolina attractions for families.

1. Outer Banks*

Visiting the Outer Banks of North Carolina is an absolute must for families exploring this beautiful state. With its pristine beaches, rich history, and abundance of family-friendly activities, the Outer Banks offers a truly unforgettable vacation experience. Families can spend quality time together building sandcastles, splashing in the gentle waves, and soaking up the sun on the wide stretches of soft, sandy beaches.

The natural beauty of the Outer Banks provides the perfect backdrop for beach-combing, shell collecting, and exciting water sports, catering to the interests of children and adults alike.

Beyond the beaches, the Outer Banks is steeped in history and offers numerous educational opportunities for families. Exploring the iconic lighthouses, such as the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, provides insight into the area’s maritime heritage. The Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk offers a fascinating journey through the history of aviation, where families can learn about the Wright brothers’ first flight. Additionally, the region’s historic sites, like the Roanoke Island’s Lost Colony, add a touch of mystery and intrigue to the family’s vacation, making the Outer Banks an enriching and entertaining destination for all ages.

2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park*

Great Smoky Mountains National Park stands as one of the most cherished and captivating family attractions in North Carolina. With its awe-inspiring natural beauty, diverse wildlife, and abundant recreational opportunities, the park offers an unparalleled experience for families seeking adventure and connection with nature. Hiking along the well-maintained trails leads to breathtaking vistas and cascading waterfalls, providing both thrilling challenges and serene moments of tranquility.

Families can bond over picnics amidst the lush forests, and children can engage in junior ranger programs, educational exhibits, and wildlife spotting, enhancing their understanding and appreciation of the environment. Whether camping under a star-studded sky, exploring historic buildings, or simply immersing in the tranquility of the mountains, Great Smoky Mountains National Park promises an unforgettable and educational family getaway in the heart of North Carolina’s wilderness.

3. North Carolina Zoo*

Located in Asheboro, the North Carolina Zoo is a must-visit family attraction in North Carolina due to its impressive size, diverse array of animals, and engaging educational experiences. As one of the largest zoos in the world, it offers families an opportunity to embark on an exciting adventure through its sprawling exhibits, each designed to replicate the natural habitats of the animals.

Families can encounter over 1,600 animals representing a wide range of species from different parts of the globe. From African elephants and gorillas to North American black bears and red wolves, the zoo provides a chance for children and adults alike to connect with the animal kingdom and learn about wildlife conservation.

Moreover, the North Carolina Zoo goes beyond traditional zoo experiences by offering engaging educational programs, interactive exhibits, and behind-the-scenes tours that provide valuable insights into animal behavior and conservation efforts. Families can participate in daily feedings and keeper talks, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation for the importance of preserving these magnificent creatures and their habitats.

4. Tweetsie Railroad

Tweetsie Railroad is a beloved North Carolina family attraction nestled in the enchanting town of Blowing Rock. Embracing a captivating Wild West theme, this amusement park has been captivating visitors since 1957. A highlight of the experience is the historic steam train rides, where families can embark on an authentic journey through the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, offering breathtaking views along the way.

Children and adults alike can delight in the live shows and entertainment, featuring cowboy-themed stunt performances and interactive experiences that transport guests back to the days of the Old West. The park also boasts amusement rides suitable for all ages, a charming petting zoo where little ones can interact with friendly farm animals, and a variety of dining options and themed shops to satisfy everyone’s cravings and shopping desires.

Throughout the year, Tweetsie Railroad hosts special events, adding extra excitement and seasonal magic to the family adventure. With its captivating theme, scenic location, and array of attractions, Tweetsie Railroad promises an unforgettable and fun-filled experience for families seeking an authentic Wild West adventure in the heart of North Carolina.

5. Sylvan Heights Bird Park*

Sylvan Heights Bird Park is a must-visit North Carolina family attraction that promises a unique and unforgettable experience for bird enthusiasts of all ages. Situated on 18 acres of pristine wetlands, this one-of-a-kind park is home to the largest collection of waterfowl in the world.

As Birders, visiting Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck was one of the highlights of our trip. We got to get up close and personal to some of the most beautiful and unique birds in the world. I’m so glad we added this North Carolina family attraction to our itinerary.

Where to Stay and Eat Near Sylvan Heights Bird Park

Iif you’re planning a trip to the Sylvan Heights Bird Park, I recommend staying at one of the River & Twine Tiny Homes in Rocky Mount. The River and Twine Tiny Home community is about 40 minutes outside of Scotland Neck. Our home was surprisingly comfortable for our family of four, but they do have a larger home on the property to accommodate bigger groups. We also had dinner at Lou Reda’s in Rocky Mount and it was delicious. Go for the Brussel Sprouts if you can.

Where to stay and eat near Sylvan Heights Bird Park

More about Sylvan Heights Bird Park

Families can embark on an immersive journey through beautifully landscaped aviaries, where they can get up close and personal with over 2,000 exotic and rare bird species from all corners of the globe. From vibrant flamingos and majestic swans to colorful parrots and rare waterfowl, the park offers a captivating display of avian beauty and diversity.

Beyond its awe-inspiring bird exhibits, Sylvan Heights Bird Park takes the family adventure to new heights with engaging interactive experiences. Children can hand-feed friendly birds, participate in daily bird shows, and even get a chance to meet some feathered friends during special encounters. Educational programs and guided tours provide fascinating insights into avian behavior, conservation efforts, and the importance of preserving natural habitats.

North Carolina Family Attraction, Sylvan Heights Bird Park

With its commitment to wildlife conservation and educational opportunities, Sylvan Heights Bird Park offers families a chance to bond over the wonders of the avian world. Whether exploring its tranquil pathways or engaging in hands-on encounters, this remarkable park promises an enriching and fun-filled day for families, leaving visitors with cherished memories and a newfound appreciation for the fascinating world of birds.

6. Rocky Mount Children’s Museum and Science Center*

The Rocky Mount Children’s Museum and Science Center is an absolute must-visit family attraction in North Carolina due to its captivating blend of education, fun, and interactive experiences. Located in Rocky Mount, this museum offers a stimulating environment that ignites children’s curiosity and fosters a love for learning. The museum’s hands-on exhibits and science-themed activities engage young minds, encouraging them to explore and experiment in a safe and welcoming space.

North Carolina Family Attraction-Rocky Mount, NC

From discovering the wonders of the natural world to unraveling the mysteries of science and technology, the museum’s diverse range of exhibits cater to children of all ages and interests. The interactive nature of the museum allows families to bond over shared experiences and encourages collaborative learning. With its engaging programs, educational workshops, and live demonstrations, the Rocky Mount Children’s Museum and Science Center ensures that families leave with lasting memories and a deeper appreciation for the wonders of the world around them.

7. Biltmore Estate

Explore the opulent Biltmore Estate in Asheville, America’s largest privately-owned house, and enjoy its beautiful gardens and family-friendly activities.

Biltmore Estate is a must-visit North Carolina family attraction that transports visitors back in time to a grand and opulent era. This sprawling estate, nestled in the picturesque mountains of Asheville, offers an enchanting blend of history, architecture, and natural beauty.

Families can embark on a fascinating journey through America’s largest privately-owned house, marveling at its 250-room chateau, ornate furnishings, and beautiful gardens designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Children and adults alike will be captivated by the stories of the Vanderbilt family and their Gilded Age lifestyle, providing an immersive history lesson in an awe-inspiring setting.

Beyond the grand house, the estate’s grounds present an array of family-friendly activities. Families can explore the vast gardens, enjoy outdoor picnics, and take part in seasonal events and workshops that cater to all ages. The estate’s Antler Hill Village offers farmyard experiences, craft demonstrations, and delicious dining options, creating a delightful and engaging escape for the whole family.

With its timeless elegance, rich history, and abundance of activities, Biltmore Estate stands as a captivating North Carolina family attraction that leaves visitors with cherished memories and a sense of awe for the beauty and grandeur of this historic treasure.

8. The Lazy 5 Ranch*

The Lazy 5 Ranch is a must-visit North Carolina family attraction that promises a one-of-a-kind and unforgettable animal adventure. Located in Mooresville, this 185-acre exotic animal park offers families a thrilling safari-like experience. We loved it. We chose to pay for a wagon ride through the ranch as it’s not the most gentle on your car, but if you prefer you can, from the comfort of our own vehicle, embark on a leisurely drive-through tour.

You’ll encounter over 750 animals from around the world. Majestic giraffes, towering ostriches, playful zebras, and a variety of other exotic creatures roam freely, providing an up-close and personal encounter with the animal kingdom.

Lazy 5 Ranch, 30 minutes outside of Charlotte, NC

The ranch also features a walk-through section where we were able to interact with and feed smaller animals.

North Carolina Family Attraction, Lazy 5 Ranch

With its unique approach to wildlife encounters and engaging activities for families, the Lazy 5 Ranch is definitely a North Carolina family attraction you’ll want to add to your itinerary.

9. Battleship North Carolina

Battleship North Carolina is a superb North Carolina family attraction that captivates visitors of all ages with its rich history and immersive experience. Situated on the scenic Cape Fear River in Wilmington, this iconic World War II battleship offers a unique opportunity for families to step back in time and explore a living piece of American naval history.

With its vast decks, authentic exhibits, and interactive displays, the Battleship North Carolina provides an engaging and educational adventure for children and adults alike. Families can wander through the ship’s compartments, climb aboard the impressive gun turrets, and gain a deep understanding of the challenges faced by the brave sailors who served on this mighty vessel during wartime.

Additionally, the attraction offers family-friendly programs, events, and guided tours, making it an excellent destination for both history enthusiasts and those looking for an unforgettable and enriching family outing. The Battleship North Carolina stands as a proud testament to the nation’s naval heritage and serves as a compelling reminder of the sacrifices made by those who served to protect our freedom.

10. Museum of Life and Science*

The Museum of Life and Science is a remarkable North Carolina family attraction that consistently delights visitors of all ages with its diverse range of interactive exhibits and hands-on activities. Located in Durham, this museum offers an immersive learning experience that seamlessly blends education with fun.

Visiting the Museum of Life And Science

Families can explore a wide array of subjects, from the wonders of the natural world and fascinating scientific phenomena to the captivating realms of space and technology. My kids had the absolute best time. Check it out here:

The museum’s interactive displays encourage curiosity and creativity, allowing children and adults alike to engage in exciting experiments and discoveries. Moreover, the outdoor exhibits, including the expansive Butterfly House and the adventurous Dinosaur Trail, provide ample opportunities for families to enjoy the beauty of nature and learn about the Earth’s past.

With engaging programs, live demonstrations, and ever-changing exhibits, The Museum of Life and Science offers a family-friendly environment that nurtures a love for learning and fosters unforgettable memories for kids and grown-ups alike.

11. Emerald Isle

Emerald Isle is a fantastic North Carolina family attraction that boasts breathtaking natural beauty and an array of activities for all ages. Situated along the Crystal Coast, this charming barrier island offers miles of pristine, sandy beaches, making it an ideal destination for families seeking a fun-filled beach vacation. Children and parents alike can revel in building sandcastles, collecting seashells, and splashing in the gentle waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

emerald isle north carolina

Beyond the beaches, Emerald Isle provides opportunities for family adventures like kayaking through serene marshlands, exploring nature trails teeming with wildlife, and embarking on thrilling fishing excursions. The island’s friendly atmosphere and family-oriented events throughout the year create a warm and welcoming environment for visitors. Whether it’s playing mini-golf, enjoying local seafood at waterfront restaurants, or simply relaxing with loved ones under the sun, Emerald Isle offers an unforgettable family experience that celebrates the joys of coastal living and creates cherished memories that will last a lifetime.

12. The North Carolina Maritime Museum

The North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort stands out as an exceptional North Carolina family attraction, captivating visitors with its rich maritime history and engaging exhibits. Nestled in the picturesque town of Beaufort, the museum provides a fascinating journey through the state’s nautical past and coastal heritage. Families can explore a treasure trove of artifacts, shipwreck displays, and maritime memorabilia, which offer a glimpse into the seafaring traditions that have shaped North Carolina’s identity.

north carolina maritime museum

Children and adults alike can immerse themselves in interactive exhibits, where they can learn about marine life, coastal ecosystems, and the significance of conservation efforts. Moreover, the museum offers exciting opportunities to participate in hands-on activities, like boatbuilding workshops and sailing programs, which foster a deep appreciation for the sea and its influence on the region’s culture.

With its educational programs, family-oriented events, and stunning waterfront location, the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort presents an enriching and enjoyable experience for families to discover the enduring allure of the state’s maritime heritage.

13. Linville Caverns

Linville Caverns is a captivating North Carolina family attraction that offers a unique and unforgettable underground adventure. Located in the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains, this natural wonder beckons visitors with its mysterious beauty and geological marvels. Families can embark on a guided tour through the ancient limestone caverns, where they will be enthralled by the intricate rock formations, stalactites, and stalagmites that have been sculpted over thousands of years.

The experience is both awe-inspiring and educational, providing an opportunity for children and adults to learn about geology and the fascinating processes that have shaped the earth’s surface. The constant temperature inside the caverns offers a refreshing respite during hot summer days, making it a perfect escape for families seeking to cool off while exploring the wonders of the subterranean world.

With its enchanting natural charm and engaging tour guides, Linville Caverns guarantees an exciting and educational family outing that will leave lasting impressions and cherished memories for everyone to cherish.

14. Oak Hollow Lake*

Oak Hollow Lake is an absolute must-visit family attraction in North Carolina, offering a perfect blend of natural beauty and recreational activities for all ages. Located in High Point, this scenic reservoir provides an enchanting setting for families to unwind and create cherished memories together.

The sprawling lake beckons with its sparkling waters, inviting families to enjoy a day of boating, kayaking, or paddleboarding, and embrace the tranquility of the outdoors. Fishing enthusiasts will find delight in the abundant fish species, providing an excellent opportunity for bonding and friendly competitions.

the best family attractions in north carolina oak hollow lake 8

Oak Hollow Lake’s well-maintained parks and playgrounds offer ample space for children to run and play freely, while the surrounding walking trails present a fantastic opportunity for family hikes and exploration. Whether it’s basking in the sun, sharing a picnic, or simply enjoying quality time in nature’s embrace, a visit to Oak Hollow Lake promises a refreshing and unforgettable experience that will leave families yearning to return for more joyful moments together.

Oak Hollow Lake, High Point NC

15. High Point, NC

As a Certified Autism Destination, it is a welcoming and inclusive city for individuals and families with autism. The certification is granted by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), an organization dedicated to providing training and certification for professionals who support individuals with special needs.

16. We spent a few days in High Point and had the opportunity to visit Q’s Corner | Inclusions Not an Illusion, which is an inclusive play gym for kids of all ages.

Q’s Corner, North Carolina Family Attraction

As a Certified Autism Destination, High Point offers various sensory-friendly experiences, such as quiet spaces or designated areas where individuals can take a break if needed.

We also stopped by Stock & Grain Food hall in High Point, which offers so many options in food that anyone, and I mean anyone can and will find something they like to eat. Believe me, my kids and I have quite a few food aversions, so this was a nice treat.

Stock & Grain Food Hall, High Point NC

17. Discovery Place Science

Families looking for an exceptional and engaging attraction in North Carolina should undoubtedly visit Discovery Place Science. Located in Charlotte, this world-class science museum offers an exciting and educational experience for visitors of all ages. Discovery Place Science is packed with interactive exhibits, hands-on activities, and immersive displays that inspire curiosity and spark a love for learning.

Children and adults alike can delve into a myriad of subjects, from space exploration and physics to biology and engineering, all presented in a fun and accessible manner. The museum’s commitment to promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education is evident in its innovative programs and workshops that encourage creative thinking and problem-solving skills. The family-friendly environment at Discovery Place Science ensures that every member of the family can explore, discover, and have a blast together.

18. North Carolina Arboretum

Families in search of a captivating and enriching attraction in North Carolina should not miss the opportunity to visit the North Carolina Arboretum. Located in Asheville, this stunning botanical garden and educational center offer a remarkable experience surrounded by nature’s beauty.

The North Carolina Arboretum boasts a vast collection of plants, including native species and various themed gardens, providing an ideal setting for leisurely strolls and picnics amidst the vibrant flora. Families can embark on guided tours and interactive exhibits that impart knowledge about regional plant life, conservation efforts, and sustainable practices.

Children will delight in the engaging programs and activities designed specifically for young learners, encouraging them to connect with nature and develop a deeper appreciation for the environment.

The Arboretum’s picturesque hiking and biking trails, as well as the scenic bonsai exhibit, offer captivating adventures for all ages. Whether it’s exploring the outdoors, participating in family-oriented workshops, or simply unwinding in the serenity of the gardens, a visit to the North Carolina Arboretum promises cherished moments and a renewed connection with nature for the entire family.

19. Andia’s Ice Cream

Andia’s Ice Cream is a popular ice cream chain located in Cary, North Carolina. Known for their delicious and unique flavors, Andia’s offers a wide variety of ice cream options to satisfy any craving.

Their ice cream is made in-house using high-quality ingredients, ensuring a rich and creamy taste. From classic flavors like chocolate and vanilla to more adventurous options like salted caramel and lavender honey, Andia’s has something for everyone.

In addition to their traditional ice creams, they also offer vegan and dairy-free options, allowing everyone to enjoy their tasty treats. Andia’s also prides itself on using locally-sourced ingredients whenever possible, supporting the local community and creating a fresh and flavorful experience.

Whether you’re in the mood for a classic cone, a mouthwatering sundae, or a refreshing milkshake, Andia’s Ice Cream is the perfect place to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Visit North Carolina!

North Carolina is a family-friendly destination that leaves visitors with cherished memories. With its captivating natural beauty, rich history, and an abundance of attractions designed for families, the Tar Heel State offers a vacation experience that caters to all interests and ages.

placaes to go in North carolina with kids
The Neurodivergent Familys Guide to Travel 700 × 150 px 1

We had the best time visiting last month and can’t wait to really dive into some of the North Carolina family attractions we missed. Have you ever been to the Tar Heel State? What are your favorite places to go with kids in North Carolina? If you like this post be sure to check out some of our other neurodivergent-friendly travels here and here!

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