30 Family-Friendly Activities to Try This Year

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If you’re stuck in a rut when it comes to planning family-friendly outings, this list is sure to dig you out of it

family-friendly activity at OC Aerial
Jasiya Ward,11, celebrated her birthday in January at OC Aerial.

By Sam Annetta | Photography by John Michael Simpson

Up, Up and Away

Jump tickets at Sky Zone give you access to all trampolines, the Foam Zone, Ultimate Dodgeball and Sky Slam, Sky Zone’s trampoline basketball court. The Durham location also offers special events on certain days. On Friday and Saturday nights, the park turns into a glow-in-the-dark, jumping dance club with blacklight, lasers and music. On Saturday mornings, head to Little Leapers, a fun, high-energy play adventure created for parents and their kiddos to enjoy together.

Triangle Rock Club is the largest indoor bouldering space in North Carolina with more than 27,000 square feet of climbing terrain. Not a fan of heights? There’s also a yoga studio, a strength and functional fitness area and a dedicated cardio space. Peruse its calendar, and you’ll find a variety of fitness and yoga class offerings, skills clinics, teen climb nights, parents’ night out events and community get-togethers.

John Coates and Christine Coates, and their son Alex Coates, designed indoor adventure park OC Aerial with the intention to create an enjoyable experience for the whole family, not just for kids. It opened in May 2022 complete with attractions like a ropes course, indoor climbing, zip lining, bouldering, two large slides, a ninja course and a variety of other obstacles and attractions. Family memberships are available, and day passes are good for three hours of fun, along with free coffee, popcorn and frozen yogurt. “We are a destination,” John says. “There is not a park like this in the Southeast.”

Sign your kids up for a class or camp with USA Ninja Challenge, an obstacle course training program for kids ages 2-17. The sport of ninja combines skill sets from gymnastics, climbing, cross-training, and track and field. With six levels to master, the training helps kids build confidence through fitness. Jump, climb and swing on a variety of obstacles, including climb ropes, ladders and warped walls.

Fresh Takes

Duke Performances has a slew of amazing productions, musical artists and ensembles coming up in these next few months, perfect for older kids and teens to discover diverse, future-thinking artists from our region and around the world. Notably, American Ballet Theatre returns to North Carolina for the first time in more than 50 years on March 16-19 with “Giselle,” a romantic tale of love, revenge and forgiveness. Find other upcoming Duke Performances productions, plus many more events, on our community calendar.

Book Harvest hosts a bilingual storytime on Thursday mornings in its newly opened Family Space. “Stories from the Start,” an experience tailored for infants to 2-year-olds, takes place from 9:30-10:30 a.m. and features music, a movement activity and nursery rhymes in English and Spanish. Bilingual storytime “Turning Pages” comes directly after, from 10:30-11:30 a.m., and is designed for 3 to 5-year-olds with a short, guided activity related to the story. Families have the option to use the Family Space before and after storytime, and children may choose books to take home and keep.

Banks Cooper and Tatum Cooper play on the 8-by-6-foot light wall in the children’s area at the Durham County Main Library.

Discover events and programs for the whole family at the newly renovated Durham County Main Library. Check out The MakerLab, a space with 3D printing and modeling, coding, robotics and more, for kids interested in science and technology. Reserve the Multi-Sensory Environment room, a specialized area for kids to manipulate light, sound, smell and touch. Participate in crafting events tailored to your child’s age range. Check out the library’s calendar to see the wide variety of events offered, from book clubs to computer classes. Save the date for the third annual Library Fest on April 24-29, too!

The Wonder Lab is an early childhood STEM play space and learning center that opened in November 2022 as a way to encourage children to explore STEM in a fun and meaningful way. Children from ages 6 months to 6 years old can attend a 90-minute play session featuring an interactive touchscreen withSTEM explorations, 6-foot wind tunnel, wooden climbing structures, kid-friendly robots for screen-free coding play and more. Also check out age-appropriate STEM concept classes for kids ages 1 to 7.

Get out your stress at the Wreck It Rage Room. This experience allows you to completely wreck everything in the room using a bat, sledgehammer, golf clubs or your own two hands. Choose to bring your own breakables (or Wreck It will provide them for you), then spend anywhere from 10 to 35 minutes unleashing your fury. If you’d prefer not to break things, the Splash Room allows you and your family to splatter paint all over the room using water balloons, paint brushes and squirters.

Exit Strategy

Put your code-cracking skills to the test at Bull City Escape, which offers a variety of games ranging in levels of difficulty. Bull City Escape is an hourlong activity fit for the whole family, but probably better suited to older kids and teens.

Give back to our community every time you book your escape room experience at Escape on Purpose. During the checkout process, you will be prompted to choose one of three charities to donate a portion of your booking price. As of press time, you can choose to support the Wounded Warrior Project, Independent Animal Rescue or StepUp Durham, which provides free support services to unemployed and underemployed people in the area. Perfect for groups of three to 10, escape in fewer than 60 minutes from Mission: Submarine Attack!, the (Un)Common Room, (T)Error in the Sky or – new this February – Star Ship Rescue.

Located at Boxyard RTP, Game On Escapes & More offers mini escape room challenges and VR experiences. Grab a meal at one of Boxyard’s several restaurants before or after your reservation at the Cat Burglar escape room, or book later this year for the soon-to-open Container 51 room! Boxyard also hosts game nights on Wednesdays and features live music through the weekend.

Challenge yourself with brainteasers and a thrilling experience at Mission X Escape. Each game features unique sensing technologies and different rooms that correlate to the theme. Mission X Escape currently offers four escape room games: A Hero’s Story, Candyland, Vampire Manor and Hurricane.

NC Escape Room is an immersive escape room experience in downtown. You can choose to help Claire find her lost toys in The Attic escape room, experience a cryogenic chamber in Alien Escape or find your way back home in the Kidnapped! escape experience.

Cool Classics

The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University is meant to inspire arts enthusiasts of all ages. “The Nasher’s collecting strategy emphasizes works by diverse artists who have been historically underrepresented, or even excluded, by mainstream arts institutions, and maintains a particular focus on artists of African descent,” says Wendy Hower, Nasher’s director of engagement and marketing. Admission is free, and families can take a break at the Nasher Museum Café, which offers a seasonal menu and coloring pages featuring current works in the Nasher’s art collections.

Family-friendly activity at Museum of Life and Science
Raelyn Shaw and her cousin, Joey Hodge, run through Into the Mist’s playscape at Museum of Life and Science

Find nature and science experiences at every turn during a visit to the 84-acre Museum of Life and Science. Explore the aerospace area, the TinkerLab and much more inside the museum before heading outdoors to climb and play at Hideaway Woods – “one of our top attractions,” says Matt Pusateri, senior director of marketing and communication – walk through the Magic Wings Butterfly House and insectarium, and see animals like black bears and red wolves, explore wind tunnels, take a ride on the Ellerbe Creek Railway and dig for ancient fossils along the Dinosaur Trail. “It’s a perfect family destination any time of the year,” Matt says. “When it’s cold or rainy, you can explore the science center and the butterfly house for hours. When it’s warm or hot out, guests can enjoy our treehouses, sailboats, train ride or the waterfall at Earth Moves.” Send the little ones to a Kids Night Out, where they can play games, eat pizza, participate in science experiments and check out exhibits. Or plan your visit during one of the Durham Community Days for free admission for the whole family with proof of Durham residency. In early 2023, the Museum will also open an all-new “Play-to-Learn” area for kids ages 5 and younger.

Stroll among 55 acres of beautiful scenery and interesting flora at Sarah P. Duke Gardens on Duke University’s campus. Take a selfguided tour utilizing resources provided on Duke Gardens’ website like observation bingo, scavenger hunts and more. Join in a Family Garden Walk from 9-10 a.m. exploring the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants on March 11 or the Doris Duke Center Gardens on April 8; or read a book, plant a seed, make observation drawings and more during Discovery Drop-In and Storytime every Thursday morning from 10 a.m. to noon through May 25. (Discover more children and family programs here.) When you’re done, grab a bite or a cone of Maple View Ice Cream at the Terrace Cafe and head to the Terrace Shop for souvenirs.

Get crafty at the Scrap Exchange with its vast collection of donated materials, including foam, paper, fabric, zippers and more – whatever you need to make the most interesting projects. Its design studio is also open daily from noon to 5 p.m. and is equipped with machines and supplies for all kinds of creative magic.

Durham Arts Council features four exhibition galleries to explore as well as classes catered to specific age ranges across a wide variety of mediums. Does your teen want to learn guitar? Sign them up for beginner lessons with Josh Zaslow. Perhaps your preschool- or elementary-aged kid is interested in ballet. Register them for a creative movement class with Triangle Youth Ballet in the Rollins Dance Studio. Or get creative with your child and design a ceramic artwork together during a Caregiver/ Child Clay Workshop. Other classes include drawing, calligraphy, photography, theater and more.

Think Outside

Durham has more than 65 parks, including over 50 playgrounds, which makes it a perfect city for a day of play or a scenic family picnic. Take a trip to one of Durham’s two city lakes – Lake Mitchie and Little River Lake – which reopen March 10. Check out Durham Parks and Recreation’s Play More Guide and visit dprplaymore.org to discover programs and activities for all ages, like History Hikes on Durham’s trails or Fourth Friday Fires.

Avery Family Farm centers its mission on sharing its farm animals as a source of healing and stress relief. Known for its therapeutic goat yoga and goat and horse snuggle sessions, the farm offers classes on most weekends where you and your family can enjoy the animals and relax your bodies and minds.

March 31 marks the first homestand for the Durham Bulls. The games are “fun and engaging for every fan, regardless of age,” says Eric Topolewski, mascot and community relations coordinator for the Bulls. Bring the young’uns to the bounce houses, slides and interactive games inside the Wool E. World play area of the stadium. Kids can race around the diamonds after home games on Sundays during “Kids Run the Bases,” or find Wool E. Bull in between innings to snap a picture. “Keep an eye out on our social media and our website, because we’ve got a lot of fun and new stuff that we’re going to be bringing out this year,” Eric says.

You’re sure to find an extremely fun time at Xtreme Park Adventures, which features 16 different attractions. Play a round of paintball, airsoft, laser tag or gel blaster. Go rock climbing or zip lining.

Challenge yourself on the outdoor, high-ropes course or crack the code in an escape room. Xtreme Park Adventures also offers educational activities like its Xtreme Reptiles Lab, a History and Math Outdoor Quest Adventure and a Gem Mining Earth Science Program.

Daphne Dodge interacts with a goat during Old Mill Farm’s Fridays at the Farm. Photo courtesy of Jackie Dodge.

Old Mill Farm reopens from its offseason in March. Kids can feed and pet goats, watch alpacas graze, fish in the pond and mine for gemstones while adults can enjoy local craft beer or wine in the beer garden. Old Mill Farm also hosts Fridays at the Farm, a combination of local live music, beer and wine, vintage games, outdoor family fun and food trucks. “Fridays at the Farm has a truly family-friendly feel with something for kids, parents and even grandparents to enjoy,” says owner Alec Moore. “Admission is available per car, and we even have several families who enjoy coming weekly with our season pass option!” Other offerings include summer camps, teacher workday camps, yoga, wilderness classes, baby goat snuggles, special holiday events and more.

Just across the street, My Little Farmer offers more than 40 different farm classes with hands-on animal experiences for kids ages 1-10.

The Duke Lemur Center is home to the most diverse population of lemurs outside of their native country of Madagascar. Although public tours are not available until May, there are still opportunities to learn more about these amazing creatures. Take part in a virtual tour of the Lemur Center, schedule a private Zoom chat with Lemur experts or visit the Lemur Landing Gift Shop. In warmer months, take the family for a Walking with Lemurs or Behind the Scenes tour to learn more and see the lemurs up close.

Durham Central Park offers downtown fun for kids of all ages. Younger children will enjoy the playground at Mount Merrill while older children can hop on their boards or rollerblade at the Skate Park. Visit The Leaf every Tuesday from 10:30-11:30 a.m. in spring and fall for a free family-oriented storytime for preschoolers. Post-storytime activities include visiting with Barnaby D. Troll, Mr. Pickles the Turtle and Rockin’ Reuben the Cardinal and creating complimentary crafts. DCP also hosts family-friendly events throughout the year including the Durham Farmers Market, exercise classes, food truck rodeos and concerts.

Family-friendly activity at Durham Central Park
The 10,000-square-foot custom concrete Skate Park at Durham Central Park features a floating quarter pipe, three stairwells with handrails and more.

Game On

From classic to modern arcade games, air hockey, pinball and more, Boxcar Bar + Arcade will keep you and your kid entertained for hours. Challenge each other to your pick of more than 70 games, then grab a bite to eat at the Neapolitan-style pizza kitchen. Take your food outside to enjoy some fresh air on their outdoor patio and gaming area. Minors are permitted with a parent before 7 p.m. daily.

One of the first esports bars in North Carolina, Bad Machines is perfect for the gamer in your family. Kick back and watch the latest esports tournament on a flat-screen TV or play a game on one of the consoles or arcade machines in the Gamers Lounge. Want to view a live esports tournament? Bad Machines hosts and streams its own competitive matches from a stage complete with lights and fog machines. Adults can enjoy a full-service bar menu of local craft beer and game-inspired cocktails.

Atomic Empire hosts a variety of card and board game nights, as well as gaming tournaments. If you’re a hobby or gaming enthusiast, check out its monthly community days – every other month is a “Learn to Play” day devoted to volunteers teaching and learning new games. While there, browse through its collection of games, comics and toys, while adults can enjoy a beer on tap.

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Durham Magazine Intern

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