I know how hard it is to get young kids out of the house to go somewhere - even quick outings require you to pack enough snacks, diapers, and toys to make you think you’ll be gone for a week. And who wants to wrestle kids in and out of carseats just to find out that your destination isn’t kid-friendly? That’s why I’ve decided to visit Triangle area sites to see if they’re worth your trip. I won’t use a rating system but I’ll try to describe what you’ll see well enough for you to decide if your kids would find it interesting. I’ll also give you the heads up on bathrooms, stroller accessibility and any other SNAFUs I encounter.


Duke Baseball at Jack Coombs Field - Durham

Duke athletics website  (Use the directions on the website to get there, it can be tricky to find.)

Yes Triangle, there is another baseball team in Durham….one you can even see for free.

               Concessions are provided by a trailer parked by the entrance.

              Bathrooms are located on the rear wall of the stadium. You'll find a door on your left just before you encounter the dumpster. Once inside you'll find a small hall with bathrooms. They're pretty clean especially for a ballpark.

             Free parking is across the driveway from the stadium but it's a small lot. More parking exists by the sports medicine building on the other side of the current construction project.

            There's a grassy hill above one of the dugouts for sitting on or letting the kids play. My kids played out there with some other young spectators. At one point I was worried my very loud son was distracting the batter.

            The net behind home plate protects the stands from foul balls, but off to the sides and the hill is open territory so kids playing on the hill need to keep an eye to the sky for fouls.

            This was a great family outing for an early summer evening - low stress and homey. An intimate sports experience.


Raleigh Road Outdoor Theater - Henderson


      A Mother's Day treat…….

Took the Fam to this drive-in movie theater (one of the last in NC and only an hour from Raleigh).

The website is great and can tell you everything you need to know but I can add a few details.


  • Bathrooms are located inside the concessions shack, be prepared for long lines at intermission between the double features.

  • Concessions are really reasonably priced, much more so than your average cineplex. It's also the main way Raleigh Road recoups operating costs so keep eating to keep em open.

  • You can tell who the regulars are by the way they back their SUVs into the parking spots and pop open their lift gates for recumbent seating. But if you need patio chairs the theater provides them for borrowing.

  • If you're staying for the 2nd feature, enjoy the games at intermission - What's In Your Car, etc. for prizes.

  • You can use your car's radio for movie sound (key turned to accessory position) or, if you're like me and fear draining the battery regardless of the theater's assurances and their charge box and jumper cables, you can bring a battery operated radio which worked great. The theater also has radios for rent.

Playground to the left of the screen - open until movie starts or dusk

If you've become accustomed to the thundering surround sound of an indoor theater, this is a different experience but there's nothing like catching a movie under the stars.


NC Botanical Garden - Chapel Hill


My wife and I visited the Garden a couple of years ago without the kids. I can't say I've ever been during 'peak season' when everything is in bloom.

I thought all 3 of my kids would enjoy this quick trip at the end of Spring Break. It doesn't take long to explore all of the Garden. If you're looking to spend a whole day among plants you should check out Sarah Duke Gardens.

Like Duke Gardens, NC Botanical has an Education Center with a library where you can peruse books (including some offerings for children). There's also a gift shop and a small kids' area with
coloring sheets and crayons.

To make it more enjoyable for the kids I planned an informal scavenger hunt with only one item to find - the cabin.

But there's plenty of other little things you can challenge your kids to find throughout the Garden.

Chess set
By the end of our visit my toddler was going commando. I forgot to bring an extra diaper and I thought he had had a BM because I found a turd smear on my arm after giving him a piggy back ride. Turns out the turd didn't belong to him but he somehow got it on the seat of his pants after sitting somewhere.

Can You Find?


Horseshoe Farm Park - Wake Forest

Raleigh Park's website regarding Horseshoe Farm

Don't confuse this with the House in the Horseshoe, a State Park in Sanford.

This is the first time I've visited a park that's not really a park yet. At the time of this writing, according to the above website, Wake County is accepting bids from contractors to make the proposed plan a reality. You can get a glimpse of the plan on the website and if you want to go into even more depth there's a link to an architectural study of the farmhouse.

If you visit right now you'll find a gravel drive into the 'park,' a small gravel parking lot, a big open meadow that's kept manicured, the closed farmhouse, a kiosk with info on the history of the property, and a sign pointing in the direction of the Neuse River Trail.

The area seems to be very popular with dog owners. And many folks took advantage of the parking to begin their trek on the NRT.

Surprisingly even though the property is surrounded by the River on three sides you'd never know it. A dense wooded area separates the river from the rest of the park. One visitor we talked to said there was an informal trail following the River on the outskirts of the park but to actually see the River you'd have to do some bushwhacking.

The land definitely has a lot of potential. The meadow would be great for picnicking on a blanket while enjoying an evening concert. The area's popularity with the canine crowd makes a dog park on the property a logical step. It would be nice to be able to see the surrounding river, so a minimal and responsible thinning of the woods makes sense. There are some beautiful trees (tulips, firs, and pines) surrounding the farmhouse that should definitely be preserved. A walking trail alongside the river which could connect to the NRT would also be a welcome addition.

The nearby NRT provides nice views including this suspension bridge which is visible from highway 401.


Howell Woods - Four Oaks


Hallelujah NC, our hibernation is over! It's safe to venture outside again. 

And to that end, my two boys (ages 4 and 2) and I visited Howell Woods - a preserve operated by Johnston County Community College. Honestly I mainly came to see the snakes and owls I heard lived here.

The snakes and turtles are kept in a room to the left of the main entrance of the Learning Center (pictured above). If I knew a lot about snakes and turtles I could tell you the different kinds we saw. I do know that one of the snakes had a rattle and was the biggest I've seen in a long time. There's also a Wall 'O Pelts in this room that my kids had fun identifying. Even though he was so excited to see the snakes, my four year-old quickly decided he was scared and wanted out of the room, while the 2 year-old excitedly chatted up a turtle.

Species: Serpentine maximus
The snake/turtle room

Wall 'O Pelts

Continue around the left side of the building to find the raptors - a vulture, 3 red-tailed hawks, a barn owl and a great horned owl. A certain smell told us we were interrupting the vulture's meal and a quick look to the floor of the enclosure confirmed it. The great horned owl hissed at us every time we came close to his/her cage.

The raptor area

The over-burdened stroller
Once we got our fill of the wildlife we decided to see what the hiking trails looked like. The 'best' trails are composed of packed pea gravel and riddled with potholes. The one we were on meandered through a wooded swamp and emerged into plowed fields. Not much to see, but the racket the stroller makes towing all of the ride-on toys the boys insisted on bringing provides an early warning system for the surrounding wildlife.

The trail

At the edge of one of the fields is a 10ft tall observation tower, but there's not much to see at that height. We did spot some deer tracks in the fresh mud. You can hear the nearby thunderings of a firing range and the jets from Seymour Johnson AFB.

A shelter with picnic tables can be found near the Learning Center along with a swing. Besides the woods, port-o-johns provide a place to pee.

If you're going, use your GPS, there's no signage. You could make this trip a two-for by visiting nearby Bentonville where desperate Confederates attempted to stop Sherman's destructive march through NC. Back roads provide a scenic drive to Howell and don't extend the travel time too much.

Howell Woods is fine if you want to see some raptors up close without going all the way to Sylvan Heights in Scotland Neck. If you live in the Smithfield/Garner/Fuquay area it's definitely worth the short drive for a quick wildlife experience.


Neuse River Trail milepost 11.25 (Buffaloe Rd. Aquatic Center) - 9.5


            Another section of the NRT completed!

        This section wasn't exceptionally scenic but it wasn't behind a residential neighborhood either so there was a semblance of being surrounded by nature. That is until you cross under the Buffaloe Rd. and I-540 overpasses.

Looking North towards I-540

        Our trek originated at the Buffaloe Rd. Aquatic Center. (Enter at Buffaloe Road Athletic Park, follow the signs to the Aquatic Center and the trailhead is at the left rear of the parking lot.) The trail from the parking lot is not actually the NRT but a quarter mile paved access to the NRT with adequate signage. There are two steep slopes on this trail right out of the gate which rendered my four year-old on his trike and two year-old on his ride-on out of control. Once you reach the compass rose of the NRT junction go North.

          If you want to begin directly on the NRT there is a very small parking lot and Trail access off of Buffaloe Rd. - just make a left off of Buffaloe immediately after the Neuse River bridge and then make another left behind the water pumping station.

        We brought a small picnic and ate at the 9.5 mile marker. It was MLK Jr. Day and the weather was nice so this section was well traveled. Despite the rotating complaints from the two older children they communicated their enjoyment when we were done. And even though we had to coax, cajole and carry them on the return trip they still had enough energy to play on the Athletic Park's playground. Except my two year-old whose exhaustion is manifested in clumsiness causing him to tumble down the steps of the slide.

My kids named this Dog Poop Bridge for the huge pile of excrement someone left in the center of the bridge.


ROAD TRIP: The Biltmore - Asheville

The Mother of all NC Attractions


            I won a four pack of tickets from a Carolina Parent online contest so we decided to take the kids for their first overnight family vacation.

I discovered that a vacation with young kids =
  • no vacation sex
  • no enjoyment of the hotel cable of which we do not have at home
  • and early bedtimes for parents as well as kids that are essentially futile since the kids giggle and chatter like they're at a slumber party for the next hour
       When we awoke the second morning, my two-year-old was asleep on the floor. Either he got out of bed and put himself to sleep on the floor or he rolled out of bed in his sleep without waking up.

         The following are my recommendations for taking young children to the Biltmore:

Do arrive as early as possible to the Biltmore. Crowds and wait times increase as the day wears on.

Do check your tickets and the ages of your children. Children of certain ages do not require a paid ticket to enter the House.

Do leave the stroller in the special stroller parking area inside the House on the first floor. It's too hard maneuvering even a folded standard stroller with the crowds, especially when you start using the narrow servants' stairways.

Do visit during Christmas at Biltmore. It's worth it with all the lights and decorations even for a daytime visit (candlelight evening visits are around $70). Christmas decorations usually go up shortly before T-giving and stay up through the first week of January.

Do visit first without the kids. My wife and I went twice before bringing the gang. You need to appreciate it on your own before having to keep the little ones from touching things and charging the velvet ropes. Plus, only you know what will intrigue your kids about the House and where the trouble spots may be.

Don't bother with the audio tour for you or your kids. This is why it pays to visit alone first. You and your spouse can enjoy a leisurely visit with the audio tour which will provide you with the background and stories you will need when introducing your kids to the House. The audio tour requires a lot of time and young children wouldn't sit through it. And the audio player would probably only become a weapon in the hands of my four year-old.

Do find all of the hidden passages. On your first visit to the House sans les enfants, make note of  where all of the oddities and hidden doors are - they make for good distractions when the kids get antsy.

Do printout the Treasure Hunt from the Biltmore website. Even if your child doesn't obsess over solving every single riddle like our 7 year-old did, there's still a dollar coupon on the back good towards merchandise and food.

          Plan to eat lunch on the Estate. There are several options including places that specialize in lunch only. We spent about $50 feeding our family of 5 at the Courtyard Cafe outside the Stable Shops.

       After lunch and visiting the Shops, we went down to the gardens and Conservatory. There are no ramps to take you from the House to the gardens so plan to carry the stroller down the steps. And as much as you may not think your kids will give a rip about a humid building with lots of plants, the Conservatory contains some very exotic plants, including some imaginatively shaped cacti that captivated my previously plant-indifferent four year-old.

         Beyond the Conservatory is a long and meandering walk through the Azalea and Asian Gardens down to the Bass Pond where there is a small boat house. Ms. Cruise Director and I took this walk on our first visit but didn't think we could stand the kiddie complaints this time.

        Do make time to visit Antler Hill Village. On your way there you'll cross the brick bridge featured in the movie Last of the Mohicans. Get to the Estate Farm at Antler Hill before 5pm so your kids have the chance to pet very friendly farm animals. (There's a well-appointed wash station at the barn for cleaning hands after petting.) If your kids are into it, there are plenty of antique farm implements around the stable and try to catch the blacksmith's demonstration if you have time.

        Antler Hill also has a new playground featuring water-play, a slide, and sandbox.

         Ah, and then there's the winery…….
     If you're like us, the tasting has become one of your favorite parts of a visit. I had expected to reluctantly skip it this time due to our wee encumbrances, but Ms. Director had no such intentions and better yet she had a plan. Feeding them candy from her copious stash, she bought herself just enough time for an abbreviated tasting.

      When the candy runs out, you or your spouse can always take the dear ones to see George Vanderbilt's automobile  - a 1913 Stevens Duryea - which is kept in its own room at the Winery.


       We finished our day with dinner at Yoshida Japanese Steakhouse in Asheville. It's a cozy Hibachi restaurant. Our chef was great with the kids - juggling eggs, making an onion volcano, flaming up the grill. My four year-old's review: "It was awesome!"

       On the way home the next day, the video players crapped out again so we decided to take the Blue Ridge Parkway for part of the trip. We had to take a detour around Mt. Mitchell since that part of the Parkway is closed during winter. The GPS had no idea where we were so we had to make like our ancestors and get out a paper map. We were able to get back on the Parkway around Little Switzerland just in time to see the Linn Cove Viaduct and Grandfather Mountain.

Linn Cove Viaduct

Grandfather Mountain


Carolina Hurricanes - PNC Arena, Raleigh


         Ms. Cruise Director won Canes tickets from the school she works at as a teacher (one of very few advantages to teaching in NC). The 2 tickets we won were for the $100/seat section so we had to buy 3 more tickets for the kids at the teacher discounted rate of $30 a ticket (yes, even our 2 year-old was required to have a ticket). Combined with the $15 parking fee for the PNC arena lot which we did not pay - we paid for parking in the form of screaming and crying during the long walk from a nearby office park.

         Overall, everybody had a great time. There was enough music, lights, and activity on the screens to keep all the kids engaged so the wifey and I could actually watch the game. Surprisingly the noise did not bother my 4 year-old who has some sensory perception issues. He spent the time focused on the location of the puck, asking questions about the game, and annoying the drunk guy in front of us.

         My 2 year-old sat happily in his expensive seat, waving and clapping at all the right times. Later he practiced letting the seat fold him in half, and by two hours past his bedtime he already had a finger in his mouth.

         Be advised this is a late-nighter; with a starting time of 7pm, three playing periods of about 18 minutes each, plus two 15 minute breaks for zamboni between the first and second period and again between the second and third.

        Around 9pm, with Mama Cruise Director's ammunition of candy spent, we could tell it was time to wrap it up for home.