Thursday, November 30, 2017

Discover the Magic of McAdenville on Foot

For the month of December, McAdenville, NC, a quintessential small town about 15 miles west of Charlotte, transforms into a twinkling holiday wonderland. Every house, building, light post and tree is draped and wrapped in sparkling lights and Christmas trimmings.

Starting December 1, you can drive through “Christmas Town, USA.” But for the full sensory experience, consider walking instead.

Here’s what you get when you opt for a stroll: Wrap up in your favorite scarf and mittens. Enjoy the fresh air. Linger at your favorite displays. Hear the church bells and holiday music. Stop for hot chocolate at the town fire station. Share a friendly greeting with fellow revelers. And take advantage of abundant photo opportunities.

Here’s how to discover the magic of McAdenville on foot.

How to get there
Park at McAdenville Elementary School (275 Wesleyan Dr, McAdenville, NC 28101) just inside the town limits and conveniently located at one end of the Christmas light route. From there, it’s a 0.75 mile stroll to the Pharr Family YMCA, which makes a good turnaround spot.

To get to the school, take Wilkinson Blvd. (US 74W) away from uptown approximately 15 miles. Turn right on Wesleyan Drive (there’s a Burger King on your left at the intersection). The school will be on your right in 0.2 miles.

The experience
The town lights are on a timer and switch on at 5:30 p.m. seven days a week. They stay on until 9:30 p.m. on weekdays and 11:00 p.m. on weekends. The earlier in the evening you go, the less traffic you’ll encounter. Same goes for weekdays versus the weekend. Admission is free.

The streets throughout town are lined with sidewalks, making it pedestrian friendly (including strollers!). And the cars drive at a leisurely pace, so traffic doesn’t feel overwhelming. To be safe, wear brightly colored, reflective clothing. To be comfortable, wear good walking shoes.

Leaving the school parking lot, follow Wesleyan Dr. toward the lake. You’ll be greeted with your first walking reward at the roundabout. Cars must follow the traffic flow of the main route, while pedestrians can detour to some of the side streets.

Each private home’s displays are impressive. To take them in up close and at your leisure is indulgent. All houses are adorned in string lights, but some play music, have animated decorations or adhere to a clever theme, which can only be fully appreciated when you’re in no rush to move along.

One of the more breathtaking displays comes at the lake just down the hill from the roundabout. The lighted trees and their twinkling mirrored reflections lining the water are resplendent.

At the lake, you’ll cross a bridge and pass McAdenville Fire Station 40 where, on many evenings, you can stop for a cup of hot chocolate.

Next, you’ll approach the town center. Take a left on Main St. The intersection is crowded, but there are police on hand to direct traffic. They will gladly manage the cars to help you across.

Here you’ll amble down the idyllic main street, complete with a town clock, town hall, post office, bakery and shops. Across from the business side of the street is Legacy Park, a lovely gathering area with playground equipment for the kids.

Further up Main Street and around a bend is the McAdenville Baptist Church, which displays a near-life-size nativity scene. And just past the church is the Pharr Family YMCA. The lights continue, but the road is a little less pedestrian-friendly past this point.

Special dates
The lights run nightly from December 1-26, but there are also some special events worth considering.

The Official Lighting Ceremony of Christmas Town, USA takes place Friday, December 1, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. on the plaza in front of the Pharr Family YMCA. A student from McAdenville Elementary School will pull the switch at 6:00 p.m.

The annual Yule Log Parade and Ceremony is on Friday, December 15, 2017, beginning at 5:30 p.m. in front of Pharr Yarns main office on Main Street. During this tradition, which started in 1950, residents and visitors follow the Yule Log, which is pulled on a sled by children through town, in a parade to Legacy Park where the log is positioned in the open fireplace and lighted. Area schools and churches provide music and entertainment throughout the evening. Santa makes an appearance as well.

Fun facts
  • McAdenville decorates 375 trees and hangs more than 200 wreaths through town. 
  • This tradition began in 1956 with the assistance of Pharr Yarns, the largest employer and land owner in the town.
  • The lights are entirely maintained by volunteers from the community.
  • Pharr Yarns pays the electric bill for the event.
Enjoy the stroll and happy holidays!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Uptown CLT: The Holiday Sanity Tour

You're stuffed. The kids aren't the only ones feeling squirrelly. And you're eager to show your out-of-town guests a fun time.

Here's a family-friendly, 1.5-mile, 8-stop activity tour of uptown Charlotte that is sure to satisfy everyone in your crowd.

Print this map of Center City Charlotte to help you navigate.

1) Take the trolley

CityLYNX Gold Line is a free ride to uptown on a replica vintage street car. Board the trolley at one of six stops along its route, which runs along Elizabeth Ave./Trade St. from Hawthorne Ln. to the Spectrum Center.

We like to find a parking spot in the Elizabeth neighborhood and jump on at the rail terminus in front of the main entrance of Novant Presbyterian Hospital on Hawthorne Ln. Uptown, the ride ends on Trade St. between the bus station and the Spectrum Center. Visit the LYNX Gold Line site for operating hours and stop locations.

(NOTE: You CAN take a stroller on the trolley. There is a handicap-accessible bench at each end of the trolley that folds up. The conductor can help.)

2) Walk the rail trail

At the final trolley stop uptown, take the Spectrum Center stairs up to the LYNX Blue Line light rail platform. (There’s also an elevator just on the other side of the overpass if you’re pushing a stroller.) A paved pedestrian sidewalk runs alongside the track.

Taking a right will lead you to Imaginon and First Ward Park. Take a left for a 0.3 mile stroll past the Epicenter and toward the Charlotte Convention Center. The trail ends at Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

3) Play on The Green

When you get to Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., take a right and walk one block (0.2 mi.) to College St. Cross at the light and take a left. A block ahead (0.05 mi.) on your right will be The Green, a whimsical green space tucked between College St. and Tryon St.

Solve hidden riddles, walk on the walls, watch the fish fountains or enjoy the many pieces of artwork throughout the park.

4) A stagecoach and a disco chicken

Strolling from one end of The Green to the other puts you on S. Tryon St., directly across the road from the famous-in-Charlotte “Firebird” statue, sometimes affectionately referred to as the "disco chicken." You’ll want to get a photo here.

Before you cross Tryon St., though, duck into the Wells Fargo History Museum (401 S. Tryon St.) on your right to see some interesting relics from the history of banking and gold mining in North Carolina. You can also climb aboard a replica of the signature Wells Fargo coach. The museum is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.

5) Get creative at The Mint 

Just across Levine Avenue of the Arts from the Firebird is the Mint Museum Uptown (500 South Tryon St.). This is a perfect place to take an indoor  break. Yes, even – and especially – for the youngest members of your party.

The Lewis Family Gallery on the main level of the museum, just behind the guest services desk is perfect for kids (and adults) of all ages. Toddlers can plan in a foam block pit in one corner. Preschoolers will love the play kitchen. Older kids will enjoy the building stations. And everyone will appreciate the excuse to get creative in the make-your-own art area.

The Mint Museum Uptown is open Wednesday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m.-5 p.m. It is closed on Monday and Tuesday. Bonus tip: Admission is free every Wednesday 5 p.m.-9 p.m.

6) Eat, play and shop at the Christmas Village

Leaving the Mint Museum Uptown, take Levine Avenue of the Arts toward S. Church St. Take a right on Church and go one block to arrive at Romare Bearden Park (0.15 mi.), where you’ll find the Charlotte Christmas Village, a European-style holiday market with vendors offering homemade goods, food and drinks as well as live performances and special events, including Santa appearances.

The Christmas Village opens November 23 after the Thanksgiving Day Parade and opens daily at 11 a.m. Tuesday-Sunday through Christmas Eve. It closes at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday.

Romare Bearden Park is a destination itself beyond the Christmas Village. It offers amazing skyline views and plenty of space to run, climb and play. If bratwurst and mulled wine aren’t your thing, grab a takeout pizza from Mellow Mushroom across the street and picnic at a table in the park.

7) Carol with the bears

Take 3rd St. back to Tryon and turn left toward center city (0.5 mi.) to end the excursion at Founders Hall, the impressive atrium beneath the flagship Bank of America tower.

From Monday, November 27-Thursday, December 28, the Leonard Bearstein Orchestra (animatronic singing bears) performs all your holiday favorites. This is sure to be a hit with younger children, but is also a festive time for the rest of the family.

The show generally runs on the hour every hour from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. for 45 minutes, but there are some exceptions. Check the performance schedule before you go.

8) Call it a day

From Founders Hall, take Trade St. east (down the hill) 0.2 miles to end back at the trolley stop.

As you ride home, I hope you find yourself feeling less stuffed, not-so-squirrelly, and all the more lucky to call Charlotte home.

Happy holidays!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Our Favorite Charlotte Indoor Pool

Let me tell you about our favorite Charlotte pool. When the weather turns unpleasant for outdoor adventures, we're always on the lookout for ways to burn some energy inside. We're members of the YMCA of Greater Charlotte and have visited nearly every indoor and outdoor pool in town. The one we like the most is at the Stratford Richardson YMCA on West Blvd. Here's why.

  1. It's warm! The pool deck is well heated and they keep the pool temperature around 87 degrees, which is comfy for a dip, especially on a cold day.
  2. It's accessible. The pool has a zero-entry section (think beach slope transition into the water) that doesn't get deeper than 3 feet. The littlest of swimmers can splash in inches-deep water, while bigger kids can play games and still touch. Just past the kid area is a bigger, deeper play area, though the entire pool, including two lap lanes, is no deeper than 5 feet.
  3. The staff. The lifeguards are friendly and attentive. And Mr. B, the aquatics director, is jovial, engaged and runs a tight ship.
  4. It's not too crowded. Unless there are camps or swimming lessons going on, you'll find you have plenty of room to play. There are regular adult exercise classes in the lap lanes, but we've sometimes been when we're the only ones playing the rest of the pool.
  5. It's easy to get to. The Stratford Richardson YMCA is on West Blvd., between Remount Rd. and Clanton Rd. There's plenty of parking close to the building.
  6. It's family-friendly. There are men's and women's locker rooms, but also two large family locker rooms adjacent to the pool. The pool is simple, but fun. There are two fountain features in the kid area, but they aren't always on (which I prefer! But you can ask the lifeguard to power them up if you're interested) and a basketball goal in the larger pool area. Life jackets, kickboards and pool noodles are available. 
Some things to know before you go.

The Stratford Richardson YMCA is open 5:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Saturday, and closed Sunday. The pool closes 30 minute prior to the facility closing. Check the latest pool schedule for classes and activities before you go.

Even though it's indoors, the pool will close for 30 minutes in the event of thunder and lightening.

YMCA members can visit the pool for free. If you're not a member, you can tag along with a friend who is a member up to three times a year for free. Non-members who are not visiting as a guest of a member cost $20/per person.

The YMCA has a swim band policy for children. Kids can earn either a yellow or green swim band by participating in a swim assessment. Children 5 and younger with no swim band must remain within arms length of an adult at all times. Children 6-12 with no swim band must remain within arms length of an adult or wear a lifejacket with close adult supervision.

Kids with a yellow swim band can play in areas where they can touch without close adult supervision or a lifejacket. To earn a yellow band, swimmers must float on their back, float on their stomach and swim 15 feet unassisted.

Kids with a green swim band have full access to the pool. To earn a green band, swimmers must swim the entire length of the pool unassisted, jump in deep water and return to the surface, and tread water for one minute with ears and face above water the while time.

It's getting on toward winter, which means cooler temps and gray days. When cabin fever starts setting in, consider a trip to the pool. I guarantee it will help get the wiggles out!

How to get there:
The Stratford Richardson YMCA is located at 1946 West Blvd., Charlotte, NC 28208. You'll see the pool when you enter the building, but will access it through the locker rooms down the hall and to your left.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Swimsuits: No street clothes allowed. Also, if your swimmer is not yet potty-trained, bring a water diaper and rubber cover.
  • Lifejackets or floaties: Approved life jackets are available at the pool, but younger swimmers may prefer their Puddle Jumpers.
  • Towels: The Stratford Richardson YMCA does not provide towel service. There are showers in the locker room if you want to rinse off before heading home.
  • Pool toys: Noodles and kickboards are available, but you might throw in some rings or a ball for games. The YMCA prohibits blow-up floats.
  • Snacks: Nothing like a good swim to work up an appetite!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Morrow Mountain State Park: Fall Mountain Trail

Lingering warmer temperatures mean the leaves have been slower to change colors this year, but it's happening now and you don't have to drive to western North Carolina to enjoy autumn at its finest. Here's one good leaf-gazing option just over an hour east of Charlotte.

The Fall Mountain Trail is a beautiful, moderate 4.1 mile loop through Morrow Mountain State Park. The natural-surface, rolling trail is easy to get to, quiet and rewarding.

It starts at the Morrow Mountain State Park parking lot next to Lake Tillery and winds its way to the top of Fall Mountain, where you'll find nice views of the lake and fall foliage. You'll follow the orange triangle blazes.The biggest obstacles are a handful of fallen trees blocking the path. Though you're climbing a mountain, the going is never very steep.
Following the trail clockwise saves the more scenic parts of the hike for last. After the summit, you'll enjoy some fun overlook panoramas on the way back down, finishing on the banks of the lake, where the fall colors are resplendent reflecting in the water.

Some points of interest along the trail are old grave markers -- some from the 1700s -- of folks who inhabited the land long ago. But you'll have to keep your eyes peeled to spot them; the tombstones lie off the beaten path.

It's a beautiful hike, perfect for getting a taste of fall close to home. Plan to spend a couple hours exploring and strolling. There are bathrooms and water at the parking lot.

Pack a picnic lunch and then reward yourself with a milkshake from The Sundae Shop in Midland on the drive back to town.
How to get there:
Morrow Mountain State Park is located at 49104 Morrow Mountain Rd, Albemarle, NC 28001. Park in the parking lot next to Lake Tillery. The trail begins and ends at the parking lot (consider taking the trail clockwise!).  
Don’t forget to pack:

  • Water: You can refill at the bathroom facilities in the parking lot.
  • Snacks: Throw in a granola bar, trail mix or crackers. It buys you time on the trail when your tank starts running on empty.
  • Backpack or satchel: Something lightweight and comfortable to carry your essentials.
  • Trail map: This is a well-marked trail, but it's always good to have one to reference when you get there. Here's one you can print.
  • Shoes: Comfy walking shoes or hiking boots. 
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: The trail is shady, but there are bright, open spots.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

(Re)discover First Ward Park

This. I thought First Ward Park was cool before. But last weekend we discovered this. A new giant, spherical jungle gym.

If it's been a while since you've visited First Ward Park in the heart of uptown Charlotte -- or if you've never been before -- this novel climbing equipment is one more reason to make it a destination. And there are plenty of other reasons as well.

First Ward Park, a beautiful urban green space, is located directly across the street from Imaginon, a destination in and of itself, and adjacent to 7th Street Public Market, where you can grab tasty dishes and treats. It's also next to a stop on the LYNX Blue Line, so you can ride the light rail train as part of your excursion.

The park sports a number of cool features, including a stretch of stacked concrete blocks that border the spray ground fountains. The kids love to traverse the steps along the wall, playing chase and hide-and-seek. And in warm weather, a splash in the water is irresistible.

Beyond the fountains is an expansive field, perfect for tossing a Frisbee, playing games or running out some energy. The paved paths circling the field are great for skates, bikes and scooters.

If your kids are old enough to entertain themselves without hovering supervision, you can get in your own workout on a comprehensive set of adult exercise equipment.

If you bring snacks or a picnic, there are benches and tables aplenty for taking a break. And, bathroom facilities are available on site.
Throughout the year, especially during the summer, the park hosts music, festivals and events.

And, again, the recent addition of the big, round spider web of a jungle gym. Great for the kids. (And, bonus: It's grown-up size, too!)

How to get there:
First Ward Park is located at 301 E. 7th Street, Charlotte, NC, 28202. On-street parking is available around the park ($0.25/15 minutes; 2 hour limit during business hours on weekdays. Free after 6:00 p.m. and on weekends). If you plan to visit the library, you can park at Imaginon and get your ticket validated. Or, you can park in the Seventh Street Station parking deck (they'll validate your parking ticket if you purchase something in the 7th Street Public Market). Or ride the LYNX blue line light rail!

Don't forget to pack:

  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: It's a wonderful park, but not a lick of shade.
  • Change: You'll need coins for the parking meter during business hours.
  • Picnic blanket, balls, skates, etc.: You can have plenty of fun sans equipment, but a few extras might enhance your visit.
  • Bathing suits and towels: If it's warm enough for a splash in the fountains. They run year-round.