Cities in the Triangle are frequently mentioned on national lists of the best places to raise a family, and for good reason. I liked Raleigh when I moved here as a 23-year-old single girl, but now, five years later, as a wife and mama, I prioritize being surrounded by awesome playgrounds and solid schools right alongside fabulous restaurants and creative small businesses. I can hardly imagine living anywhere else.
Whether you’re a new parent, just getting to know the activities the Triangle has to offer your little ones, or you’re a longtime resident looking for creative, new-to-you spots to take your kids this summer, this list is for you. Turn off the Disney Channel, grab your sunscreen, and get ready for a summer full of local outdoor adventures!
While it’s a bit of a hike from Raleigh, heading west to the idyllic Fearrington Village is always worth the drive, but especially when it’s for Roost Beer Garden. Open Thursdays-Saturdays from 4-8 PM and Sundays from 3-6 PM, Roost serves up artisanal wood-fired pizzas for the whole family, plus wine/beer for the adults. Grab an outdoor table or set up on a blanket to enjoy the live music (often bluegrass), and then stroll over to the entrance to see the adorable Belted Galloway cows and goats.
County Fare is the type of place that kids and parents alike will want to return to again and again. Heading into their first summer season, this new venue hosts “mini food truck rodeos” daily (they’re open Wednesday-Sunday) at their full-service beer garden. The patio opens up to a kid-friendly lawn, complete with plenty of picnic tables, corn hole, and even a wall where kids can color with chalk. Plus, it’s totally fenced in—we all know how important that is! Check the calendar on their website to see which trucks will be there each day.
When it comes to free activities that suit kids of all ages, it’s hard to beat RDU’s Observation Park, complete with a playground, a picnic area, and a grassy lawn. Older kids will get a kick out of eavesdropping on the pilot/air traffic controller communication, while little ones will love simply watching the planes!
There’s a reason Pullen Park is a local icon: families have been enjoying the park since 1887. Head to the playgrounds free of charge, or spend just $1 per ticket for a kiddie boat ride, a loop around the park on the miniature train, or, perhaps best of all, a spin on the Gustave A. Dentzel Carousel. Delighting Raleigh kids since 1911, the carousel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and makes Pullen Park the fifth oldest operating amusement park in the country.
You’ll find folks of all ages gathering on the North Hills lawn on summer Thursday evenings—they’ve been hosting the Midtown Beach Music series every year for over a decade. Kids can run around on the play mats, cozy up in a folding chair (bring your own!), twirl around on the dance floor, or even pop into nearby Ben & Jerry’s for a sweet treat to enjoy while listening to the live band.
When Wilmington is too far away but you’re craving a taste of the beach (or your little ones are asking for it), set your GPS for Seaforth Recreation Area on Jordan Lake. Just a few miles down the road in Apex, you’ll find a kid-friendly stretch of sand, picnic tables, and a playground overlooking the water. Just a heads up, there’s a $6 per vehicle charge from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
There are too many incredible outdoor exhibits at Durham’s Museum of Life and Science to list, but here’s what you need to know: from the animals to the dinosaur trail to the tree houses, kids of all ages will have a blast exploring this hugely popular museum. Tip: kids two and under are admitted free and may especially enjoy the Sound Garden and Gateway Park.
It’s no secret that Raleigh is home to a top-notch Farmer’s Market, but especially if you can head over on a less-busy weekday, it’s also an awesome place to share with kids. Teach them about unfamiliar produce, pick out ingredients to cook a healthy meal together, and sample fresh fruits from every farmer. Be sure to check their calendar ahead of time for special events like Peach Day (July 12) and Honeybee Day (August 18).
For the days when the temperatures climb into the triple digits and the kids need to burn some energy, lather on sunscreen and head to a local splash pad. Raleigh hosts splash pads at Millbrook Pool, Lake Johnson Pool, John Chavis Community Center, and Ridge Road Pool, while Durham has them at East End Park, the Edison Johnson Sprayground, Forest Hills Pool and Sprayground, and Hillside Pool, to name a few.
U-pick blueberries are a win-win: a fun activity for kids of all ages, a great way to support local farms, and the most cost-effective way to bring home buckets of blueberries to put in everything from pancakes to pies this summer. Herndon Hills Farm in Durham is a favorite for Triangle parents—the 200-year old farm is family-owned and beautifully maintained. Plus, blueberries are certified organic, so you won’t have to worry about little ones sampling them before you get home. U-Pick is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7-noon—don’t forget to check their Facebook page in case of any weather-related closures.
Whether you’re a sports fan or not, every local family should put a Durham Bulls game on their summer calendar. Along with top-notch minor league baseball, the Durham Bulls Athletic Park boasts firework Fridays, food trucks, Locopops, a playground, $1 concession days, fun contests for kids to participate in, and more! Tip: If you’re a frequent visitor, check out the brand new Wool E. Bull’s All-Stars kids club, which offers two membership options ($25 and free) that earn kids birthday gifts, admission to special events (like Wool E. Bull’s birthday party!), discounts on merchandise, and more.
It may be about forty minutes from downtown Raleigh, but you could easily make a whole day trip out of going to Three Bears Acres. This 50-acre facility includes tree houses, toboggan slides, a pond for fishing and paddle boating, a “mud kitchen,” a grafitti wall, a sprayground, an obstacle course, and more. Dress your little ones in their least precious clothes and let their imaginations run wild! Tip: The best deal if you have a younger child is to show up on “Toddler Thursdays,” when admission for a child aged 3-5 plus one parent is $12 total.
Our local libraries are fantastic, but on beautiful days, it’s a treat for parents and kids alike to enjoy storytime on the fabulous rooftop patio of The Durham Hotel. The Durham County Library takes their storytimes to this hot spot one Wednesday morning a month from June through October. Be sure to register ahead of time on The Durham Hotel’s website and stop by the coffee shop on your way to the elevator to grab coffee for you, fresh juice for the kids, and a cookie or pastry to share.
Outdoor movies are certainly an adult summer favorite in Raleigh, but thanks to the Raleigh Little Theatre’s line-up, they can also be a memorable activity for the whole family to enjoy together. Pack up folding chairs and then arrive early to pick up concessions for showings of Frozen on July 5, Labyrinth on July 12, and The Greatest Showman on July 19. Did I mention it’s free?