There’s nothing like a global shutdown to make you realize the everyday things that bring you joy — and the people, places and interactions you take for granted: Conversations over coffee at a cherished cafe; cheering on the Knights or Panthers with thousands of devoted fans; grabbing a drink after work at your favorite bar; family fun-days about town. So, in some ways, compiling this list of a few of our favorite things about Charlotte was easy. From everyday simple pleasures to the attributes that make this town special, here are a few of the things we love about Charlotte.
Photo top provided by U.S. National Whitewater Center
PROXIMITY: Charlotte is a hub city, offering direct flights to just about everywhere. But if you’re still wary of travel, you can drive to a number of incredible destinations on just a tank or two of gas, from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west to the Carolinas’ best beaches in the east. For an urban getaway, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Va., are within a day’s drive.
SEASONS: The Queen City is perfectly situated to enjoy at least a few weeks of each season, with blooming dogwoods and azaleas in spring, hot summer nights, fall colors — even the occasional Snowmageddon in winter, which yields a light dusting of snow followed by a disproportionate number of “snow days” for the kids.
TREE-LINED STREETS: Charlotte’s stately tree canopy is most impressive in close-in neighborhoods like Myers Park. The grand oaks along Queens Road provide a lush backdrop for runners, walkers and cyclists. Nonprofits such as treescharlotte.org are working to help the city meet its goal of 50% canopy coverage by 2050.
SKYLINE: It’s the best in the state and a beautiful sight as you’re driving into the city on Interstate 77.
LAKE LIFE: Wedged between Lake Wylie to the south and Lake Norman to the north, there are plenty of ways to get on the lake, from paddleboarding off Ramsey Creek Park to dockside dining at Hello, Sailor: Try the PEI mussels Provençal, above, or Crab Louie Salad paired with a Yacht Club — a refreshing concoction of mezcal, St. Germain, grapefruit, jalapeño and lime.
YMCAS: Charlotte is fortunate to be home to a number of impressive boutique gyms, but the area’s YMCAs are arguably the best in the country. In addition to top-notch fitness facilities, the local Y branches provide an extensive slate of services that extend far beyond the gym, including camps, the popular Y-Guides program for dads and kids, and “life learning” programs such as money-management and babysitter and lifeguard training.
The JCC: Less hectic than the city’s larger YMCAs, the Levine Jewish Community Center has been a valuable community hub in south Charlotte since the 1980s, welcoming people of all faiths who participate in an expansive selection of aquatics, tennis, fitness and arts programs.
FAITH COMMUNITY: Houses of worship remain more relevant in Billy Graham’s hometown than many U.S. cities, providing armies of volunteers that collectively help provide safety nets for the city’s marginalized.
PARADES: Charlotte’s diversity is never more evident than during its big parades on St. Patrick’s Day, Labor Day and Thanksgiving and during the annual Pride festival. High-school bands, step-dance teams, suburban Y-Guide dads, beauty queens and others come together in these spirited celebrations.
FARMERS MARKETS: The large, state-run Charlotte Regional Farmers Market has been a mainstay for decades, but smaller regional and neighborhood markets have popped up in recent years to meet demand for locally grown produce, eggs and honey and homemade baked goods, jams, cheeses and more. Uptown Farmers Market is the newest addition, with vendors setting up each Saturday in the parking lot of First Baptist Church on S. Davidson St.
DIVERSITY: Charlotte benefits from an increasingly diverse population, with blacks and Latinos making up 35% and 14.5%, respectively. There’s also a tendency to welcome newcomers to positions of influence as an old guard of dedicated senior business leaders that dominated civic affairs for years has largely aged out. In 2018, voters elected six first-term council members who ranged in age from 29 to 38. Five of the city’s six mayors elected since 2009 have been female or black.
THE NEIGHBORHOODS: Each one has its own unique personality, from the eclectic vibe of NoDa and Plaza Midwood to the tree-lined streets of Dilworth and Myers Park.
PUP-FRIENDLY: Dogs rule in the Queen City, from canine-friendly breweries and patios to the homegrown dog-walking service Skipper, which soon will open Skiptown, a 24,000-square-foot doggie daycare and boarding center in South End.
INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION: Optimist Hall just north of uptown and Atherton Mill in South End are former textile mills enjoying new life as a food hall and retail center, respectively. Town Brewing, Noble Smoke and sibling Bossy Beulah’s Chicken Shack join other new spots industrial spaces in the Wesley Heights/Freedom Drive area.
CAMP NORTH END: This 76-acre former Model T assembly plant is still a work in progress but has added a slew of new tenants this year: Restaurants Leah & Louise and La Caseta (from the team behind Sabor Latin Grill), join newcomers Free Range Brewing, Popbar, Black Moth Bars, That’s Novel Books, and greeting-card studio Good Postage. Expect a big turnout when events resume, including the popular Mistletoe Market in December and Friday Nights at Camp North End.
The 115-acre GOLD DISTRICT is an up-and-comer with less hustle and bustle than neighborhing South End. Grab a Cobb salad for lunch at Pasta & Provisions, or pick up fresh-baked focaccia and a 16-layer take-and-bake lasagna to bring home. Bardo’s complex and creative small plates taste as good as they look (sibling Vana is slated to open this summer). Other spots to check out are Seoul Food Meat Co., Unknown Brewing and 1501 South Mint (previously Max & Lola’s).
These perimeter cities offer a quaint downtown experience contrary to the cul-de-sac-and-strip-center perception of the ’burbs.
The former mill town of BELMONT, just 12 miles west of uptown Charlotte, bustles with restaurants, pubs, coffee shops and more. Modern Southern classic dishes are on the menu at The String Bean bistro, while Estia’s Kouzina serves authentic Greek favorites. For a pick-me-up, pop into Mugshots Coffee & Tea, a coffeehouse started by two former police officers in 2017.
Renfrow Hardware, Santé restaurant and the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market are mainstays in downtown MATTHEWS. The additions of Seaboard Brewing, Brakeman’s Coffee & Supply and The Loyalist Market in recent years have invigorated the town. The tiny courtyard at The Portrait Gallery is an out-of-the-way spot to enjoy cocktails and tapas.
Kindred made DAVIDSON a culinary destination. Stroll through the sculpture garden on the campus of Davidson College, relax at Summit Coffee or Davidson Wine Co. and browse fine stationery and candles at Elisabeth Rose.
PARKS: Freedom Park gets a lot of the glory, and rightfully so, with 90 acres of walking trails, an amphitheater, baseball and soccer fields, a 7-acre lake, and connectivity to the greenway and Discovery Place Nature (formerly Charlotte Nature Museum). It’s also a great place to while away an afternoon on a blanket at “Hippie Hill.” But smaller pocket parks such as Latta Park in Dilworth are also great finds, as is uptown’s Romare Bearden Park. Symphony Park at SouthPark is the perfect place for a concert under the stars, and just outside the city in Fort Mill, S.C., Anne Springs Close Greenway offers 36 miles of trails and a canteen serving beer, wine, salads and sandwiches.
GREENWAYS: It took a pandemic and a citywide shutdown for many to realize how accessible Charlotte’s greenway system really is. Currently 52 miles miles of trails traverse the city, with more being added each year.
U.S. NATIONAL WHITEWATER CENTER: Whitewater rafting might be the main attraction, but the center is also a haven for biking, ropes courses, ziplines, rock climbing, paddling on the Catawba River, or just kicking back with a cold beer and listening to live music. Pandemic aside, the 1,300-acre center also packs a robust events calendar, from festivals to concerts to races and more.
GARDENS: From big (Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Belmont) to small (Wing Haven Garden & Bird Sanctuary and McGill Rose Garden, right), the region has multiple venues for plant lovers. UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens and Glencairn Garden in Rock Hill, S.C., are also worth a visit.
FOOD & DRINK
PASTA IS BACK: After years of carb-free diets, a spate of new eateries are capitalizing on pent-up demand for ravioli, gnocchi, pizza and more. The Italian revival includes quick-fired pizza spots Inizio and Capishe Real Italian Kitchen, chain North Italia’s new RailYard South End location, uptown wine bar Cicchetti (above), Chef Luca Annunziata’s Forchetta, South End’s Indaco and Little Mama’s in SouthPark.
COCKTAIL CULTURE: Cocktail bars and speakeasies have made a comeback, shown by the sustained popularity of Dot Dot Dot at Park Road Shopping Center and newcomers Idlewild in NoDa and Elsewhere in South End. Head to The Crunkleton in Elizabeth for well-executed classics. Haberdish, Bardo and Zeppelin offer some of the city’s more innovative restaurant cocktail programs.
COFFEEHOUSE CENTRAL: Starbucks is fine, but there are a zillion local options to get a cold brew or chai latte. Not Just Coffee (their matcha lemonade hits the spot on a hot summer day), Queen City Grounds, Undercurrent Coffee and Central Coffee have multiple locations around town. Don’t overlook Smelly Cat in NoDa, Café Moka in Waverly and Brakeman’s in downtown Matthews. Pro tip: In addition to great coffee, Not Just Coffee’s Dilworth location has a full food and cocktail menu.
NEIGHBORHOOD PUBS: Alexander Michael’s in Fourth Ward is the quintessential neighborhood tavern, while Selwyn Pub is another mainstay. Other lesser-known spots that attract a loyal crowd without a massive Instagram following include The Lodge in south Charlotte and Comet Grill in Dilworth.
BAKERY BOOM: It wasn’t long ago that you would have been hard-pressed to find a scratch-made cupcake or brownie in Charlotte. Thankfully, bakeries are back. Newcomers Wentworth & Fenn at Camp North End, The Batch House in FreeMoreWest and Swirl in Oakhurst, left, join established bakeshops Suarez Bakery, Amelie’s French Bakery & Cafe and Sunflour Baking Co. You can also satisfy your sweet tooth at Renaissance Patisserie in SouthPark and Villani’s in Chantilly.
MARKET-DELIS: Laurel Market pioneered the market-deli concept when it opened in 1991. Then Common Market on Central Avenue came along in 2002, and a trend was born. Its “Oakwold” location has brought new energy to an up-and-coming part of town. Sip a fresh-brewed local coffee or a draft beer, enjoy a gourmet sandwich, and grab a bottle of wine and a snack to take home. But we have to admit, we’re a little partial to Rhino Market & Deli — its original location on West Morehead Street is a short walk from SouthPark headquarters. The Chicken Torta sandwich — roasted chicken, melted provolone, avocado, jalapenos, lettuce and tomato — is top-notch.
OLD-SCHOOL EATERIES: Not much changes at some of these long-tenured spots, and that’s just the way folks like it. South End mainstays Beef ’n Bottle, Mr. K’s and Price’s Chicken Coop never go out of style. Green’s Lunch has been serving hot dogs uptown since 1926, while The Diamond on Commonwealth started as a soda shop in 1945. The Landmark on Central Avenue serves classic diner fare, and if you haven’t eaten chili at Lupie’s Café on Monroe Road, you can’t call yourself a Charlottean.
The TRIED AND TRUE: They may not garner much social-media attention, but these long-running spots have been consistent local favorites for decades. Cajun Queen serves a taste of New Orleans in a 100-year-old house in Elizabeth; New South Kitchen at the Arboretum was an early adopter of Charlotte’s farm-to-table movement; 300 East packs a lunchtime crowd in its cozy Dilworth spot; other crowd-pleasers include Mama Ricotta’s and Harper’s.
DRINKS WITH A VIEW: Uptown isn’t the only place to take in a rooftop view. Whiskey Warehouse in Plaza Midwood and Unknown Brewing and Lincoln Street Kitchen & Cocktails in South End also offer skyline views. With the recent openings of Cordial atop the AC Hotel SouthPark and the new RH Charlotte, The Gallery at Phillips Place, SouthPark is now home to two rooftop spots for drinks and dining.
PERFORMING ARTS: From opera to ballet to touring Broadway shows, Charlotteans never have to travel far for world-class entertainment. From the 2,400-seat Ovens Auditorium at the BOplex to Children’s Theatre stages at ImaginOn to the intimate Theatre Charlotte on Queens Road, there are plenty of spots to catch live entertainment, including a few unexpected ones: The Charlotte Symphony’s On Tap series brings concerts to local breweries, and you might catch a pop-up performance by Opera Carolina at 7th Street Public Market.
MUSIC VENUES: Charlotte is fortunate to have a variety of places to experience live music, from the intimate, funky Visulite to the medium-sized Neighborhood Theatre to the “Cable Box” (aka Spectrum Center) and everything in between. A low-key newcomer is The Music Yard, located on South Boulevard between Mac’s Speed Shop and SouthBound’s Taco Stand.
MUSEUMS: It’s easy to live here and never set foot in a museum, but with so many cultural institutions packed within a few blocks of each other, you’d be missing one of center-city Charlotte’s best assets. Mint Museum Uptown, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, Museum of the New South and Discovery Place Science are within easy walking distance of each other. Most offer value-packed membership deals that are well worth the investment: For example, a $100 annual membership at The Mint gets you unlimited admission to both locations for two members, a guest and up to six children, plus additional perks.
PUBLIC ART + MURALS: It seems there’s a new mural popping up every week in the Queen City, turning previously blank walls into vibrant works of art.
ART GALLERIES: From the more established dealers such as Jerald Melberg and Hodges Taylor to relative newcomers such as SOCO and LaCa Projects, local art galleries help fill cultural gaps by introducing Charlotteans to creative thinkers from the region and from around the world.
PARK ROAD SHOPPING CENTER: This 64-year-old center has been a mainstay thanks to longtime retailers such as Great Outdoor Provision Co., Omega Sports and Park Road Books. Blackhawk Hardware — which carries everything from cabinet hardware and tools to gardening and pet supplies — is expected to complete a 12,000-square-foot expansion this summer.
SOUTHPARK MALL: If you grew up in the ’80s, you know the excitement of spending a day at the mall. And SouthPark is the only place in North Carolina where you’ll find high-end retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Tiffany & Co. For back-to-school, holiday shopping or just any given Saturday, grab lunch at Cowfish, Bulla Gastrobar or Arthur’s in the basement of Belk and make a day of it.
SOUTH END: It’s so much more than a millennial enclave: With expansions and a curated mix of retail tenants such as Society Social, right, OMJ Clothing, Twenty Degrees Chocolates, Uniquities and BOEM, Atherton Mill and Design Center of the Carolinas have made South End a destination for more than just breweries and bar-hopping.
ECLECTIC FINDS: Shopping is like a treasure hunt at some local stores, where you’ll find an ever-changing inventory of unique goods. You never know what you’ll stumble upon at Paper Skyscraper on East Boulevard, upscale women’s consignment store J.T. Posh in Dilworth or Boris + Natasha in Plaza Midwood. House of Nomad’s new Myers Park shop has treasures from around the world.
POCKETS OF HISTORY
In a town long obsessed with the shiny and new, it’s taken way too long for widespread historic preservation to catch on. But there are still gems, if you take a closer look.
HEZEKIAH ALEXANDER HOUSE: Tucked off Shamrock Drive behind the Charlotte Museum of History is the oldest surviving structure in Mecklenburg County: The two-story stone house built in 1774 that was the home of Alexander, his wife Mary and their 10 children. Alexander was a Revolutionary statesman and county magistrate who also played a role in the creation of Queens College, now Queens University of Charlotte.
THE DUKE MANSION: Built in 1915, the one-time home of James Buchanan Duke is now a nonprofit inn and meeting center nestled among 4.5 acres in the heart of Myers Park.
THE EXCELSIOR CLUB on Beatties Ford Road became one of the largest private black social clubs on the East Coast after it opened in 1944. Original owner James “Jimmie” McKee, a leading black philanthropist and businessman, conceived the idea after several years working in Charlotte country clubs, creating a similar type of venue for blacks. The club closed in 2016 after falling into disrepair, but a California investor purchased it in December with plans to develop an entertainment venue with a restaurant and hotel.
THE HUGH MCMANAWAY STATUE: Longtime Charlotteans might remember Hugh Pharr McManaway, who used to mimic directing traffic at the confusing intersection of Queens and Providence roads during the 1960s and ’70s. McManaway died in 1989, but he’s memorialized in a statue at the intersection that is frequently adorned with signs, sports jerseys and more during holidays and other occasions.
FOURTH WARD: Residents of this close-knit neighborhood in the northwest quadrant of uptown invite visitors twice a year for a peek at the Victorian homes: The Secret Gardens tour in spring, and the Holiday Home Tour in December, complete with food and cocktail tastings from local restaurants and distilleries.
The stately BIDDLE MEMORIAL HALL at Johnson C. Smith University can we viewed from several vantage points across the city. Built in 1884, the Victorian-style building was the first large structure erected on the current campus. Over the years, it’s housed classroom space, a theater and general-administration offices for the HBCU. Many original features, including the original flooring, remain intact.
THE PROS: With billionaire David Tepper owning the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, Michael Jordan heading the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and developer Johnny Harris delivering major PGA golf events, pro sports are never dull here. The Charlotte Knights’ popularity also makes it among minor league baseball’s most valuable franchises, Forbes says. Fans lamented the recent departures of superstars Luke Kuechly, Cam Newton and Kemba Walker, but the Panthers still boast football’s most exciting running back in Christian McCaffrey. For those fond of roars and speed, Charlotte remains the global center of NASCAR.
Participating is so much more fun than watching, explaining why YOUTH AND ADULT ATHLETIC LEAGUES pack dozens of local parks and gyms on weekends through much of the year. Groups such as Charlotte Soccer Academy, Myers Park Trinity Little League and South Park Youth Association keep players and their parents constantly on the move. No telling when the next Steph Curry will emerge.
COLLEGE: Sports fans who prefer college action have lots of options provided by UNC Charlotte, Davidson, Queens, Johnson C. Smith and other area schools. UNCC’s football team made its first bowl appearance this year, while Davidson and Queens run men’s basketball programs that rank among the nation’s best. Lots of big-time college sports are also close by in the Triangle and in South Carolina in Columbia and Clemson. SP