Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina, Hickory is small, bustling city. Whether your family lives in the area, or you're passing through on vacation, your children aren't likely to get bored here. There's plenty to do in this idyllic southern city to keep the little ones busy and happy.
Catawba Science Center
Sure to please a young child's budding senses, the Catawba Science Center is a great bet -- especially if it's rainy and you're trying to determine how to entertain your crew until naptime! Check out the Saltwater Gallery, where your kiddos can see and touch sharks, stingrays, sea stars, urchins, conchs, horseshoe and hermit crabs, and reef fish -- and also view a daily shark feeding. The Freshwater Gallery boasts fish, frogs, snakes, turtles and birds native to the Amazon Basin. The last stop is Explore It! where kids can visit a farm or treehouse, play with puppets, experiment with light, "go fishing," and build an igloo with "ice blocks."
Downtown Hickory Farmers' Market
If you happen to be in Hickory between early April and late November, head over to the Downtown Hickory Farmers' Market where your kids can roam the aisles and soak in the fresh sights and smells. About 30 vendors wide, the market has fresh, locally grown produce, potted plants and herbs, cut flowers, honey, preserves, baked goods and handmade soaps. Mingle with the farmers, artisans, neighbors, and tourists -- and gobble down hot dogs and chips at The Dog House, topped off by yummy chocolates from Confection Heaven. You might have to keep a watchful eye so little fingers don't pull off petals from the flowers, or try to sample what they shouldn't, but all that hands-on learning is priceless!
Hickory Museum of Art
The Hickory Museum of Art is also a fun stop to keep your little ones busy. At the Pint Size Picassos exhibit, which targets ages 3 to 5, kids can hear stories, play games, and make a big ol' mess with all sorts of cool materials. If you're a local, you might want to consider hosting your peanut's next birthday bash at the museum. Choose among several party themes such as Under the Sea in which the "kings" and "queens" decorate a crown and magic wand, as well as make fairy or dragon wings, or Jungle Jamboree, which provides kids with their own safari adventure in which they make lion puppets, snakes and a set of binoculars, or a Musical Madness theme, which gives small revelers the opportunity to make maracas, rainsticks and party hats.
Henry Fork River Regional Recreation Park
If the kids are itching to run around and be wild, look no further than the Henry Fork River Regional Recreation Park. A city park with an 8,000-square foot picnic shelter that has rest rooms, tables, and grills, it's the perfect place to unwind as a family. Little legs can explore 7 soccer fields, 2 playgrounds, and a paved walking trail. If you're feeling especially adventurous, there's even a spot to launch a canoe -- so don't forget to pack the lifejackets! And don't worry if you forget to pack snacks, as this park has a concession stand where you can grab a treat on your way home.
Hickory Dickory Dock
For the ultimate indoor play space, look no further than Hickory Dickory Dock. Little kids will love the friendly mouse mascot and three-story soft play area where they can run, bounce, jump and roll to their heart's content. Older preschoolers might enjoy mini golf and the bumper cars. The best thing about this place is that your kids are going to get so tired out, that they're likely to take an epic afternoon nap, which means you'll get that well-deserved break!