Free Children’s Entertainment in the Research Triangle

Ever have one of those days? You know the ones, you just want to get out of the house but do not want to blow the weekend budget for a few hours of fun. Or, maybe you’re just tired of doing the same activities with your toddler. The good news is that the Triangle offers lots of choices for a day’s play. Here are some of the favorite, free hang-outs of Triangle parents.

Free Children's Entertainment in the Research Triangle

Kids Together Park in Cary, located off Thurston Dr. Features a variety of play areas with Big Toys for different skill levels. Areas for sand play even have some toys available for those who forgot to pack their shovels and dump trucks. A covered picnic area is available by restrooms as well as benches arranged throughout the site. The park is wonderfully landscaped and even has a dragon sculpture tucked into the hillside. Open from sunrise to sunset. Check out the Town of Cary’s website at for more information.

Barnes and Nobles in Cary, located at the corner of Walnut Street and Maynard Dr. The children’s section features a Thomas The Train table for the children to play with and a stage for comfy reading. Free story times are offered weekly by age group. The café offers Mom and Dad a chance for coffee and snacks while the kids look for a new favorite bedtime story.

J C Raulston Arboretum is stashed among the busy highways of Raleigh on Beryl Rd, near Hillsborough street. The Arboretum is surprisingly large and full of relaxing, shady nooks. Frog ponds and maze-like gardens offer plenty to explore. Most of the programs are oriented toward adult audiences but the grounds provide lots of space for curious kids. This is a great place for a teddy bear tea party or a picnic.

The Streets at Southpoint in Durham. Southpoint is more than just a mall. Inside by the food court there is a great soft sculpture play area for little kids. Small tables are available for child-friendly snacking. The outdoor walkways are decked out with interesting water fountains, including a fountain with jets that children can control by waving their hands over light sensors. There are often strolling entertainers such as jugglers and musicians and sometimes stores host children’s events. Southpoint also has a new kids club for ages 3-6 that features characters from Noggin.

North Carolina Botanical Gardens, Totten Center, located off 15-501. Short but winding trails through forests and gardens make this an ideal retreat for kids. Activity sheets are available in the herb garden. A miniature fairy garden and room to dig are a treat for the imaginative. Oversized chess pieces are fun to push around even if you don’t know how to play the game. Art sculptures are incorporated into the gardens and provide interesting focal points, as well as showing children ways to be creative. This is one of my family’s favorite sites for a picnic.

New Hope Valley Railroad located in Buisal near New Hill. The drive is worth it for any young train fans. Model trains run on tracks outside. Children can get up close and touch a variety of real train cars. A caboose is open for children to climb inside and ogle. A couple of engines run for train rides. Train rides are about an hour long and tickets cost $7. There is plenty to see to keep toddlers and pre-schoolers busy without the ride though, especially if your child won’t sit for an hour long ride! The facility is operated by volunteers and it is worth calling ahead to be sure they are open and on schedule.

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