Written by Sandi
*Read to the end for suggestions on how to spend a day at Pullen Park.
My son is in love with trains. The child-sized locomotive that chugs around the grounds of Pullen Park is his absolute favorite. With this in mind, I decided to throw his fifth birthday party there and, lucky for me, there was a pavilion that was still available for rent for a beautiful Sunday in May. I made the reservations and sent out the invitations, and then it hit me!
I planned his birthday party for Mother’s Day!
After I finished panicking, I realized that there wasn’t much I could do and even if only one kid showed up, it would be a great time*.
*This is how I choose to remember it because I was filled with mom guilt until the day of.
To my surprise, his friends showed up, including several dads (it was mother’s day, after all), and I sent them all home with mimosas for the mamas. Lucky for me, the draw of Pullen Park was enough to make the party special and my son was none the wiser.
Pullen Park is for both kids and adults. So what makes it so great?
The Amusement Park
If you have kids, this is the place for you! (If you don’t have kids, we’ll get to you in a second. Some parents are reading this in haste while their kids are climbing the walls.)
The amusement park is the 5th oldest in North Carolina and 16th oldest in the world! It was made a public park in 1887, but it does not look old! This part of the park is very kid friendly, with a train and boats that ride in a circle, a 100-year-old carousel, a brand new playground, and sand areas. The rides are cheap (a couple bucks each) and the play areas aught to get out all of the wiggles.
It’s easiest to purchase tickets at the entrance and let the kids ride the rides until they are all tuckered out. Tickets are now virtual and any tickets that are left over can be saved for next time because there is always a next time.
The area is also beautifully landscaped with a lovely view of Lake Howell. The lake has pedal boats for rent. These are great for a cute and quirky date or you can let your kids pedal you around for a while. There are plenty of birds, turtles, and fish to peer at while they argue over who is pedaling the fastest.
Getting hungry? Great, they have something for that too. The Pullen Place Cafe has fresh local foods. You can order and eat there, pick up, or have it delivered. They have fresh sandwiches, salads, pizzas, snacks and drinks. There are plenty of kid friendly options and some adult friendly options too.
So What About The Adults?
I’m getting to that! What you may not know is about Pullen Park is that it is more than just an amusement park.
As fun as it is riding the train around the property for the billionth time, it’s also nice to take advantage of the illuminated tennis courts (open until 10pm, btw!), Aquatic Center, Community Center, Arts Center, and Theatre in the Park.
If you’ve been itching to try something new or artistic classes at the Arts Center, including book and printmaking, painting, jewelry, and pottery. I’m not sure what “glass arts” are, but I am so in! Luckily, they accept all skill and experience levels. If you would rather just view the art, they have three galleries that feature upcoming and pro artists.
The Aquatic Center has an enclosed Olympic size pool and a warm therapy pool (they had me at pool). They offer exercise classes, lap swim times, and swim programs and is open to the public year round.
The Perfect (Inexpensive) Day
If you’re entertaining the kids:
Take them to the park when it opens at 10am. Buy tickets online before you get there so you don’t have to worry about it later. Let them ride all the rides, play on the playground, and dig in the sand. It’s all in the same general area so you can keep an eye on all the kids at the same time. Once they are done, get them some lunch at the Pullen Place Cafe because you can never go wrong with chicken fingers. After that, take them to the Aquatic Center to cool off (waiting 30 minutes after eating is at your discretion). By mid-afternoon they should be exhausted and practically falling asleep on the ride home.
If you’re on a date:
Spend some quality time together pedaling around the lake in a pedal boat (life jackets provided). Then get your date a soft pretzel and a soda and take a stroll through the beautiful grounds. Don’t forget the arched foot bridge if you want a selfie to remember the day. Maybe take a playful ride on the carousel and see who’s horse is fastest. Then it’s to the Arts Center to view a gallery or two. End the date with a show at the Theatre in the Park, if all goes well.
Do whatever you want! Try an art class, float in the therapy pool, eat ice cream. You are free to walk, ride, play, learn, or anything else your heart desires. Be free and try all the things!