I’m an Htown transplant from Charlotte, North Carolina, and I have now been living in Texas for just over a year after spending the better part of the last decade in NC. It’s funny, though – I feel as though I already know some things waaay better about Houston than Charlotte! There’s something about living close to a city as a postgrad that really immerses you in the events, food, and culture. In Charlotte, I was just a teenager living in Charlotte’s south ‘burbs, but in Houston, I’ve been fortunate enough to live in both Midtown and Rice Military over the past year while working downtown.
With this being said, I have 10 years in the NC under my belt. I am more than qualified to give y’all the lowdown on what to do/see/eat during a quick trip to Charlotte! Here’s what I would cram into a day if I got the chance to spend 24 hours in my beloved Queen City:
This French café has a bit of a cult following, and it’s easy to see why as soon as you walk in. It’s quaint and well-decorated, with art hanging from the ceilings, blue striped wallpaper, and more than a few Mona Lisa paintings. There’s more than one location to choose from (NoDa, Charlotte; Old Town Rock Hill, SC; Atlanta, GA; Carmel Commons, Charlotte), but anyone you ask will most likely say that NoDa is their favorite location. NoDa, which stands for “North Davidson,” is Charlotte’s historic arts and entertainment district, and it’s known for art, music, and craft beer…quite the perfect location for this little bakery café. I recommend going for breakfast or anytime you want to get some reading/studying in. I get their crispy croissant with egg, spinach, and cheddar paired with the sugary Café Marcotter, (Amelie’s signature layered latte – vanilla bean simple syrup, steamed milk, expresso, and salted caramel sauce).
Tupelo Honey Café
For lunch, head up to the Historic South End, another trendy part of Charlotte just on the edge of Uptown (our Downtown). Although there are several delicious food options here, I opted for Tupelo Honey Café this time. This homey spot is your new comfort food heaven. Although we waited 45 minutes to get a table, we soon forget the wait because they serve delicious biscuits with blueberry jam on the house right as you sit down. Be sure to get some Carolina sweet tea to drink, or if you’re feeling more adventurous, try the rosemary peach lemonade…as a warning, it drinks like a dessert. After perusing the menu for way too long, I settled on their baked macaroni and cheese topped with Cajun shrimp. If you’re like me and want to feel slightly healthier after all that, add in their shaved brussels sprouts salad with a light honey vinaigrette.
This restaurant, although new to the Ballantyne area, used to be located closer to Uptown. As a resident of South Charlotte, I’m thrilled to now have it in Ballantyne, not too far from my house. I came here on the 4th of July for a festive dinner, and I can tell you Italian food fans that you will not be disappointed. The waiters are so friendly, and I loved every bit of food that I got. I ordered the Queen City martini to start out my meal – a delicious drink comprised of Grey Goose L’Orange, peach schnapps, and cranberry juice. I couldn’t pass up the Penne Quattro Formaggio for my main course, a creamy dish with grilled chicken, penne pasta, parmiagiano, mozzarella, romano, gorgonzola cheese crumbles, cherry tomatoes. My sister even convinced me to get dessert, so we split the crème brulee cheesecake with some sweet Italian wine. OMG food coma. To top it all off, the Ballantyne Country Club fireworks were perfectly visible from our patio table. A+.
TO DRINK (and DANCE):
Like I said earlier, I was a teenager when I lived in Charlotte. I’m not the most knowledgeable of the bar scene…though I could certainly tell you about Houston’s. However, the two bar spots that I have gone a few times are Montford and Uptown. This past weekend, I headed to Uptown’s 5th street, which is lined with several bars. My friends and I barhopped a bit, stopping at Prohibition (we were too early for the dance party, but appreciated the throwback 2000’s hip hop playlist), Dandelion Market (another fun spot to dance, but we hung out in the quieter lower level so we could talk), and Connelly’s on Fifth (an Irish pub where I spent 10 minutes looking for my last name on a map of Ireland…no shame). Overall, it was a very solid night. The people watching is always prime…although I feel that Montford’s people watching can be even more funny (shout out to my CCHS class of 2010 – I literally saw you all there this past Christmas break).
Hike Crowder’s Mountain
Ok, technically this is not Charlotte. It’s in Gastonia…but that’s only like 45 minutes away. WORTH IT. You can pick how long of a hike you want to do, but I recommend the Pinnacle Trail for the view from King’s Pinnacle, the highest point at 1,705 feet. October and November are the best times to visit because it won’t be 10,000 degrees and you can see all the beautiful colors of a Western NC fall.
Catch the sunset over Uptown
This one’s a bit of a local secret – one of the best places to see the sunset over Uptown Charlotte is the Target just outside the city at 900 Metropolitan Avenue. Drive to the top floor of the garage, park your car, and walk to the edge on the city side. You’re welcome. (I hear there are also some other great spots – CPCC parking garage? Let me know if you find one!)
The new Knight’s Stadium (BB&T Ballpark) is framed by the beautiful buildings of Uptown Charlotte. Go for the city views, craft beer in a mason jar, and some good old American baseball. What’s not to love. Last time I went, my friends and I won the trivia contest and got some free Rita’s gift cards…YESSS.
U.S. National Whitewater Center
If you love the great outdoors and a healthy dose of adventure, head up to the U.S. National Whitewater Center! The last time I went, I went on a crazy zipline across the whole property, completed an obstacle course, kayaked on the Catawba River (and maybe jumped out of the boat and swam a little in my clothes), and sucked up the courage to do a high ropes course way up in the trees above a gorge. Obviously, you should also go whitewater rafting on their manmade course. This place is great for an outdoorsy date or an adventure with family and friends!
The Great Smoky Mountains OR The Beach
What’s the best part about Charlotte in my opinion? You’re halfway between the mountains and the beach for any day when wanderlust strikes. Three hours to the west? You could be in the Great Smoky Mountains exploring Sliding Rock, rafting on the French Broad, or catching a concert in Asheville. Three hours to the southeast? You will arrive in Charleston, South Carolina, one of my favorite cities in the whole world, and its many gorgeous lowcountry beaches. If you’re up for a longer drive, you can make it to the Outer Banks to feel like you’re miles and miles away from everything. It’s easy to roadtrip in every direction, so plan to get out and see more of the state (and that other Carolina below us).