My parents recently retired to the suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina to the college town of Davidson. While I miss having a reason to visit my home state of Alabama now, the silver lining is that I have an excuse to travel to a new place! When the kids and I visited family in the area again this summer, we knew it was the perfect chance to tour some of the top attractions in the area. Just a few miles away from my family’s new home is Cabarrus County, North Carolina.
While the name Cabarrus County may not ring an immediate bell, chances are you’ve probably heard of its major attraction – the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The area is racing central, chock full of all things NASCAR. Locals like to say it’s “Where Racing Lives.” What I did not fully expect was the many other family-friendly things to do in Cabarrus. There are enough that we are going to need a few more trips to hit them all!
Here’s what you need to know about planning a vacation in Cabarrus County, North Carolina with kids.
Cabarrus County North Carolina Basics
Since Cabarrus County, NC is not necessarily a household name, the basics first. The county is part of the greater Charlotte, North Carolina metropolitan area and is north of downtown. The largest city in Cabarrus County is Concord, which is about 30 miles (or a 35-45 minute drive) from the Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT).
There is also a small regional airport in Concord proper, served by Allegiant Airlines from a half dozen Florida cities and Southeastern destinations.
Other cities and towns in Cabarrus County include Harrisburg, Kannapolis, Midland, and Mount Pleasant.
What to Do in Cabarrus County North Carolina
What attractions in the area are a best fit for families? Here is what we did and enjoyed during our time in Cabarrus County.
Great Wolf Lodge Concord, NC
Great Wolf Lodge Concord is both a place to stay and a major hub of activities and entertainment for families visiting Cabarrus County. It seems like Great Wolf Lodge locations have popping up all over the country the last few years, but the Concord location has been around since 2009.
If you don’t know what the Great Wolf Lodge brand is, it is pretty much kid heaven. The hotel features an enormous indoor water park, with numerous other kid-friendly activities like a bowling alley, ropes course, arcade, character meet-and-greets, and more. The extras can really add up, so I recommend doing your pre-trip research and setting a budget in advance.
Great Wolf Lodge Concord is located at the very same highway exit as most of the major racing attractions, giving it an ideal location. We spent a single night during our visit at the Great Wolf Lodge Concord and found it perfectly positioned to get to the many other places that families would want to visit. The only problem perhaps is that your kids may never want to leave the water park!
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Just a few minutes down the road (also in Concord) is the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The many tracks host racing events year round, with some of the most well-known being the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day Weekend, the Bank of America Roval 400 in September, and the NASCAR All-Star Race.
Even if you can’t time your visit to coincide with a race, you can still feel a few of the thrills with a track tour. My family went on the “Feel the Thrill Speedway Tour,” which lasts about an hour. We did a drive-through tour of several of the tracks then were able to go in our vehicle to the main raceway and experience the banked turns at high speeds. My children definitely felt the thrills! The tour is very reasonably priced at just $12 per person or $10 for seniors/children.
Whenever we travel around the United States and baseball is in season, my family always makes an effort to see a local baseball game. We find that America’s pastime usually provides a pretty authentic window into a destination and its locals.
Since we visited Cabarrus County in June, we naturally made a beeline for the Kannapolis Intimidators to see a double header one night. The team is aptly named for the Intimidator himself – Dale Earnhardt, Sr.
The Kannapolis Intimidators is a Class Low A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, but the stadium is more impressive than one might expect at this level of play in the minors. We found it at least as large and well-serviced as most AA franchises. For parents, there was plenty of Carolina food and craft beer to enjoy. Kids could take a break at the playground adjacent to the outfield or enjoy a taste of the Carolina soda classic Cheerwine. And ticket prices are a steal, making it a great value for families on a budget.
Sea Life Charlotte Concord Aquarium
Sea Life operates a chain of aquariums in many cities in the United States and around the world, and there is a location right in Cabarrus for ocean-loving kiddos to explore. My family visited a Sea Life Aquarium earlier this year during our visit to Legoland California.
Depending on the attention span of your children and the level of their interest in sea life, you can probably tour the aquarium in an hour or two. Sea Life Charlotte Concord has touch pools where kids can interact with some of the creatures. What stood out to me is the creative aquarium design that lets them explore from many different angles. My son especially loved going into tunnels where he could stick his head up into a seabed.
Be sure to order your Sea Life Concord tickets online in advance (even if you are doing it same day), so you’ll save money off the walk-up prices. Look out too for combination tickets for other Concord Mills attractions to save even more.
Concord Mills Mall
After visiting Sea Life, families will likely want to spend more time in and around the Concord Mills Mall. I had no idea until I visited that this mall is actually the largest tourist attraction in the state of North Carolina.
In addition to the aquarium and all the retailers you’d expect at a mall of this size, the mall has 24 screen AMC/IMAX theater, a Dave & Busters location, a Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, and a go-cart track at the Concord Speed Park.
With the North Carolina summer heat, we appreciated that most of it was indoors and air-conditioned!
Lake Norman Water Sports & Dining
Just to the west of Cabarrus County (where Lincoln County, Mecklenburg County, Catawba County and Iredell County meet) is Lake Norman, a major destination for family-friendly activities like fishing, boating, water sports, and hiking. Lake Norman is known as North Carolina’s “inland sea” and was formed by the damming of the Catawba River by Duke Energy.
My family rented a pontoon boat during our visit and went on the lake for a day of swimming and inner tubing. If you plan to go out on your, own just make sure to familiarize yourself with all Carolina boating laws. Luckily, North Carolina is not a state that requires a special boating license if you were born before 1988, so most adults are exempt.
Even if you are visiting the area when it is too cold to swim or enjoy water sports, don’t miss all the lakeside dining in the area. There are many lakefront restaurants with excellent cuisine. My family members are regulars at the North Harbor Club in Davidson and Port City Club in Cornelius.
We only just scratched the surface of all that Cabarrus County and the greater Charlotte area has to offer this trip, but are looking forward to returning to see family and experience even more at our new home-away-from-home!
Disclosure: The Cabarrus County Convention and Visitors Bureau provided complimentary admission to several of the attractions mentioned in this post. All opinions are, as always, my own.