An unexpected challenge of parenting is other parents. You spend a fair amount of time talking to other adults around the swing sets, at birthday parties, and outside classrooms, and it can be harder to find a friend in another parent than it was to find your child’s other parent. But when you do, you plan play dates that are fun for all of youand include a delicious meal for adults and kids that goes beyond the fruit snacks you packed. Whether it’s a birthday celebration, a school holiday, or just a regular Thursday, here are some ideas for a multi-family playdate in the Triangle (best for three or four families max).
Pregame at Monuts. While coffee and donuts are a quick and easy fix, this is a marathon, not a sprint, and you’ll need protein. Fortunately, Monuts offers a diverse savory menulike bagel banh mi or tostadas verdesand maybe you get an egg or a peanut butter biscuit into your child.
Check in for the day at Museum of Life & Science. Whether you have an imaginative indoor kid or a boisterous climber, there’s an exhibit for every kid and family, and every season. Hot days can be spent in the outdoor mist exhibit or piloting a sailboat, cold days are cozy in the butterfly house and running around the Soundspace. (Pro tip: If you need to re-up on caffeine, skip the long cafe line and head back to the gift shop near the entrance, where there’s a coffee bar in the back.)
Pacify the party at Locopops. Comedian (and extreme dad-of-five) Jim Gaffigan calls bribing children with ice cream “the methadone of leaving” any place your kids are having fun, but the promise of a popsicle might avert a meltdown when it comes time to end it at the museum. Locopops has moved to a newer and bigger space, with non-frozen treats and drinks for that weirdo in your crowd who doesn’t like ice cream.
Fill them up and tire them out at Bull City Burger and Brewery. The downtown Durham gastropub is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser with all pasture-raised beef, a play area for “future beer drinkers,” and an Enomatic self-serve wine dispenser. Fact: if you’re celebrating a birthday, it’ll be cheaper (and more satisfying!) to buy a few friends a round and a meal than paying for your kid’s entire class to have a party at Chuck E. Cheese’s.
Friends busy? Regular weekend? Just want to keep it in the family? In Raleigh, start at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Younger kids will enjoy trying on animal costumes in the Discovery Room, older ones can study specimens at the Naturalist Center, and everyone will delight in the butterflies and sloth at the Living Conservatory. It’s also free, so you can spend as much or as little time there as you want without guilt.
Break for lunch at Raleigh Times, whose extensive menu can please all, from fish and chips to tacos to pork belly lettuce wraps, plus an effortless authenticism that can only come from a bar where Barack Obama stopped for a campaign drink in 2008. Save room for a treat at lucettegrace, like a pistachio-dotted baklava croissant or a birthday cake-flavored macaron. Vow to spend more time in downtown Raleigh.
A pub walk is somewhere in between a stroll about town and a mountain hike, just strenuous enough to justify a pint or two for the grown-ups at the end. Start at Hillsborough’s Riverwalk. Park on Nash Street by Hillsborough BBQ Company and enter off Calvin Street or through Gold Park to follow the Eno River toward Churton Street. Pause along the path for a game of hide-and-seek at Patrick Dougherty’s Stickwork house before you exit the park by Weaver Street Market. Order the daily featured burger and a craft beer (the tap specials rotate) at beloved local Wooden Nickel Pub (small and big people love the fries and wings), and buy a round for the kitchen crew before you start the return walk. Before leaving historic Hillsborough, show the kids some relevant relics with vinyl records at Volume and glove clips and cufflinks at Carlisle & Linny Vintage Jewelry. Optional: pick up a growler for home at Mystery Brewing.