Content Produced in Partnership with Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority
Call it being ahead of the trend or keeping a finger on the pulse, but I like discovering cities right on the verge of their tipping point. Boise is one. Kansas City is another. And Charlotte is right there – on the cusp. Poised to be one of the next great Southern cities like Charleston or Atlanta, residents celebrate its laid-back charm and soulful vibes without the urban sprawl and chaos of being a major tourist hub — yet.
Named after quirky Queen Charlotte, the city is as eclectic as her namesake (and Queenie was pretty out there, known to collect rhinos and giraffes amongst other things). Although she never quite made it across the pond to America, the city does it’s best to fill her royal shoes.
Here’s how to spend a regal 48 hours in North Carolina’s largest city.
Taste the Local Delicacies: 7th Street Public Market
Conveniently located on the light rail station, 7th Street Public Market is Charlotte’s answer to the food hall. A bustling community gathering space, you can find all kinds of palate teasers from a grilled cheese bar to poke bowls at a variety of price points. Wine bottles range from $10-100, and a neighboring vendor boasts over 100 types of cheeses for a DIY pairing. Don’t miss the rainbow acai bowls – they’re as colorful as they are tasty.
Explore on Two Wheels: Try a Segway Tour
You can embark on a bike or walking tour to get a lay of the land, but why not embrace being a tourist? If you’ve never ridden a Segway, they’re a hoot. Once you get over the awkwardness, embrace the funny looks, and stop overthinking how to maneuver, steering the oddly futuristic motor vehicle is fairly intuitive (and that’s coming from an admittedly terrible driver). Starting from Independence Square, you’ll ride through the four wards marked by the four community pillars – statues representing transportation, commerce, industry, and the future. You’ll learn about the significance of the hornet’s nest, a metaphor for the American troops resiliently staving off British invasion, and hear about important milestones in Charlotte’s history like the Gold Rush (which was actually the first in America) and the Wright Brother’s first flight as you zig zag between historic homes and the modern financial district.
Get Gluttonous: Eat Your Way Around the City
If you want to burn some calories while getting a taste of the city’s tantalizing flavors, follow your nose and stomach on an excursion with Tour de Food. The walking tour incorporates seven rotating stops all considered local culinary institutions in Charlotte. It’s a great way to try everything from regional favorites like pimento cheeseburgers and succotash to ethnic bites like cannoli and pizza.
Get Wet and Wild: U.S. National Whitewater Center
An Olympic Training Center, the U.S. National Whitewater Center is a massive, sprawling property deep in the woods. A day pass offers all-inclusive access to a laundry list of outdoor activities from water-based sports like whitewater rafting, SUPs, and kayaking to land-based adventures like mountain biking, rock climbing, zip lining, and challenge courses. You could easily spend all day getting your adrenaline pumping and working up a sweat. The activities are rated green, blue and black by difficulty and everything is first-come-first serve, with no reservations required for anything but the raft tours. If you’re wondering how the rapids compare to a more natural setting, the manmade river is the largest of its kind in the world and I can say first-hand it’s the only place I’ve ever been dumped out of a boat in all my years of rafting (sadly my phone did not live to tell the tale). If you’re thinking it’ll be a cakewalk, don’t underestimate the course.
Overdose on Pastries: Amelie’s French Bakery
Looking like Alice in Wonderland’s tea party brought to life, Amelie’s shabby chic décor is so over the top your eyes won’t know where to look first. The design is appropriately fitting for their lavish desserts, which were actually featured as the “last supper” in the Hunger Games. They also have a Presidential fan in Obama who frequently had their salted caramel brownies shipped to the White House.
Embrace Your Animal Instincts: Carolina Raptor Center
The Carolina Raptor Center is a place to appreciate majestic feathered friends in all their glory. Owls, eagles, vultures, and other rare species call the area home. Walk the trails to see their enclosures or experience one of the riveting flight demos. Primarily a preservation and rehab facility, the center is surprisingly set up much like a human hospital, and on certain days you can even tour the surgery center to see the newborns and injured birds relearn to fly.
Make it a Chicken Soup for the Soul Meal: King’s Kitchen
Upon first glance, Kings Kitchen looks like any other restaurant, but dig a little deeper and you’ll see it’s a place to fill both your belly and your soul. Closed to the public between lunch and dinner during the week and all day on Sunday, the restaurant is actually a non-for-profit food bank with 100% of the proceeds going toward community development and feeding the homeless. They offer on-site job training to teach vital life skills for community members looking to get back on their feet. Plus, it’s just darn good homestyle Southern cookin’.
Put the Pedal to the Metal: the NASCAR Hall of Fame
An interactive museum dedicated to the history and heritage of motorsports, whether you’re fanatical about NASCAR or not, the museum is a unique experience for people of all ages. The sport’s origins may surprise you: born out of moonshine makers trying to outrun the law, it’s a place to pay homage to classic American engineering. Four floors of memorabilia and exhibits are interspersed with a series of challenges designed to test your skills and mettle. It’s a lesson in strategy to begin to understand how to achieve peak vehicle performance. You’ll learn how tire pressure and shocks work symbiotically to optimize speed without sacrificing agility as you practice being pit crew and driving in the race simulator.
Have a Nightcap: Sophia’s Lounge
Leave your inhibitions at the door when you come to Sophia’s. Dark and sultry with a distinct speakeasy vibe, mixology is front and center at this craft cocktail bar. A sexy date spot, you can almost feel the secrets hidden in the walls as you indulge in tasty bites created by Top Chef contestant Jamie Lynch.
The Kimpton’s warm and inviting space is a design-lover’s dream. With Scrabble in the library, free bikes to borrow, a sweet tea bar, epic Italian cuisine at Angeline’s, and swanky rooftop bar Merchant & Trade, it’s hard to leave the hotel, but the killer location makes it easy to explore. The upper floor guest rooms stare straight into the ballpark so you could catch an entire game from the comfort of your bed.
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