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My 3 1/2-year-old daughter can have a blast doing almost anything, but it can be nice to have some activities planned because I am really terrible at playing Barbies.

Out with the kids in Orange County 

Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area, Hillsborough

Photo by Justin Cook

Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area, Hillsborough

I love spending time with my daughter, Amelia. She's 3 1/2 and loves her life. And she is pretty sure Princess Leia will be arriving soon with The Beatles for a sleepover party. She can have a blast doing almost anything, but it can be nice to have some activities planned because I am really terrible at playing Barbies.

Hitting the park is always fun. At Wilson Park in Carrboro you can hang with the other awesomely hip parents, watch a Little League game or hike in the woods. The Chapel Hill Community Center has a beautiful rose garden with a gazebo that's great for eating a snack in the shade, plus an indoor pool and gymnasium with a climbing wall. Southern Community Park has expansive athletic facilities and a great playground, as well as proximity to Market Street at Southern Village. All of these parks have restrooms that are clean and well maintained, definitely a must for any extended excursion.

We live on the south side of town and we don't get to Hillsborough as much as we'd like, but I hear that kids love poking around the dwellings at the Occaneechi Village, rambling around the Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area or taking a lap on the Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail. And we plan on checking out Family Fun Day soon. On the second Saturday of the month between June and September, families participate in a variety of games and attractions all around this historic town. Kids receive a passport to get stamped as they visit each site, and when the completed document is presented at the Orange County library, kids win a prize.

We also love the Morehead Planetarium. If it was good enough for the Apollo astronauts (who trained here in the 1950s), it's good enough for the kids. In addition to programs, the small museum of space exploration has great interactive exhibits: buttons to push, space goop to handle, even a computer link to an actual telescope in Chile that allows visitors to request a snapshot of part of the night sky delivered by email. It's a great place to spend an afternoon for adults and children.

The downtown Carrboro Century Center also has a variety of activities for kids and adults. Amelia and I have spent many a morning at Toddler Preschool Playtime. On Tuesday mornings from 10 to 11:30 they clear out the big ballroom upstairs and put out gym mats, balls, tunnels, puzzles and games. Parents bring their kids for unstructured play in a safe environment with plenty of other youngsters. It's a great opportunity for toddlers and preschool-age kids to be around other kids, and it's a little less intense than the playground so nervous parents can allow their progeny some autonomy.

So if you need a break from Barbies and Dora, don't despair. There's lots to do with your kids in Orange County.

Stephen Murtaugh is a local musician, restaurant manager and bon vivant.

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