To some, Charlotte, North Carolina may not seem like an obvious addition to a list of must-see places in the United States. Given just a passing glance, this Southern city, nestled in the low, rolling hills of the Piedmont plateau, seems like any other quaint, mid-sized city with a small-town charm. But its surface belies the bustling, steadily growing metropolis that Charlotte has become in recent years. In this top 25 things to do in Charlotte you will learn why the Queen City is a must visit!
Between 2004 and 2014, Charlotte was the fastest growing city in the U.S., exploding in population and becoming a metropolis that is the proud home of dozens of fascinating sites, delicious cuisine, and exciting attractions that have made Charlotte one of the United States’ hidden gems and a vacation destination worthy of even the most seasoned travelers. Here are the places I highly recommend you visit during your time in the Queen City of Charlotte, North Carolina.
What to See and Do
Charlotte, North Carolina is a city with a rich and unique history that can be spotted and explored at nearly every turn, and a hub for fun and adventurous activities for visitors of all ages and experience levels. Here are some of the attractions I highly recommend you check out when you visit the Queen City.
Camp North End
Camp North End is a 76-acre historic industrial site that used to produce Army missiles and Model Ts and is home to Charlotte’s largest assemblage of historic buildings, but is now known as a hub for creativity and innovation in Charlotte.
Some of the notable landmarks at Camp North End include the water tower, The Mount, the Ford Factory, and the boileryard, which hosts Friday Nights in the Boileryard as well as Morning Markets at the Boileryard on the first Saturdays of every month between March and October.
Levine Museum of the New South
A trip to Charlotte is not complete without a deep dive into the rich and often troubled history of the American South between the end of the Civil War to the present day at the Levine Museum of the New South. The museum’s award-winning permanent exhibit the “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” chronicles the region’s progress over the last 150 years.
Museum visitors also have the opportunity to relive a civil rights era sit-in at a lunch counter and experience an array of changing and traveling exhibits that poignantly educate while being interactive and entertaining. This museum, which is the only museum in the country to focus exclusively on the New South, should not be missed.
U.S. National Whitewater Center
The U.S. National Whitewater Center is the world’s premier facility for over 30 outdoor activities, including stand-up paddle boarding, rock climbing, zip lining, mountain biking, kayaking, flatwater kayaking, and some of the best whitewater rafting in the eastern United States. The Center’s Whitewater Race Series invites athletes to compete in different sports including trail running, kayaking, mountain biking, triathlons, and ultra-marathons throughout the year.
In addition to its adventure-themed activities, the U.S. National Whitewater Center offers skill development programs like specialized instruction and certification and summer camps for children and teenagers. The Center even hosts outdoor festivals and live music, including the River Jam concert series, which takes place three times a week during the summer.
Charlotte Rail Trail
Charlotte’s Rail Trail in the South End area is a vibrant public trail that winds through the very heart of the city and connects the Sedgefield, Southside Park, Brookhill, Dilworth, Wilmore, South End, and Uptown communities.
Exploring the Rail Trail is one of the best ways to get a feel for what Charlotte is all about. Along the trail, you can find cafés, bars, art galleries, impromptu concerts, and even take a seat on a bench to people watch and take a break from the bustle around you. There are currently plans in motion to continue improving the Charlotte Rail Trail, and to turn it into a network of gardens, public art, unique spaces, and more.
NASCAR Hall of Fame
The NASCAR Hall of Fame, located in Uptown Charlotte, was built between 2007 and 2010, and officially opened on May 11, 2010, to honor the history and legacy of NASCAR, including drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, broadcasters and other major contributors to the world of NASCAR.
The high-tech hall, which hosts events for racing and non-racing fans year-round, contains about 40,000 square feet of exhibit space, which includes artifacts, hands-on exhibits, a 278-seat state-of-the-art theater, Hall of Honor, Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, Gear Shop, and a broadcast studio. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is part of a larger complex that also includes the 393,000-square-foot, 19-story NASCAR Plaza Office Tower, the 40,000-square-foot Crown Ballroom, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame Parking Garage, which contains over 1,000 parking spaces.
Where to Eat and Drink
Food culture is king in the Queen City, where various types of cuisine, including traditional Southern, low country, Gullah, and Texas- and Carolina-style barbecue are on full display. Charlotte is not the place to visit if you’re on a diet, so be prepared to pack on a few pounds as you enjoy the decadent food stylings of these local favorites.
Along the 3100 block of north Davidson Street in the NoDa arts district, you’ll find Haberdish, a Southern kitchen and craft cocktail bar that dives deep into Charlotte’s past by serving Southern cuisine inspired by North Charlotte’s old mill town, which slowly sank into disuse in the 1950s and ‘60s before it was reinvented and revitalized in the 1980s as the modern-day arts district.
Haberdish offers a distinctly modern twist on old Southern favorites, while still staying true to the ingredients and cooking techniques that made the original dishes so beloved in the first place.
Smelly Cat Coffee
It may share its name with a popular song from the television show “Friends,” but the interior of Smelly Cat Coffee, found in North Charlotte’s NoDa arts district, is far more rustic than that of television’s most famous fictional coffee house, Central Perk. Though many people have had a hand in bringing Smelly Cat to fruition since its inception in 1999, one thing that has stayed the same is its focus on community and its local base of support.
This approachable, welcoming coffeehouse roasts their own ethically sourced coffee, crafts in-season, single origin & blend coffees, and has Nitrogenated Cold Brew Coffee on tap.
Another favorite haunt of locals in the NoDa arts district is Amélie’s Bakery and Café, located at 2424 North Davidson Street, which serves delicious pastries, sandwiches, soups, yogurt, and coffee in a whimsical dining space.
Amélie’s curiously, yet successfully, marries French-inspired decor with Bohemian chic, and features an eclectic assortment of mismatched furniture and offbeat chandeliers. Perhaps Amélie’s greatest claim to fame came in 2012, when several of the bakery’s desserts were showcased in the first Hunger Games movie.
Coco and the Director
At 100 W. Trade Street, you’ll find Coco and the Director, a coffee shop that is as eccentric as it is innovative. This unconventional addition to Charlotte’s coffee scene, which is the first independent coffee house in Marriott’s re-branding series, is unique in that, while it serves coffee, pastries, a variety of different types of water, prints, and greeting cards, it also serves as a space that actively promotes connection, community, and collaboration.
Coco and the Director sets out to be a meeting place for local professionals and entrepreneurs who want to meet in a very un-businesslike setting, which includes stadium seating that is accented by plush lamb-print pillows. Some of Coco’s other defining features include its collaborative meeting room, which is available to all of the coffee shop’s patrons; three co-lab spaces that are first-come, first-serve; and board games and thoughtfully curated bundles of up cycled magazines themed around everything from architecture to cooking.
7th Street Public Market
The mission of the 7th Street Public Market is simple: highlight and celebrate the food culture of North and South Carolina while promoting local and regional farmers, food artisans, and entrepreneurs.
This bustling urban food destination in the heart of Charlotte’s Center City provides the local community with fresh, high-quality, and affordable food including fresh produce, meat, seafood, cheeses, coffee, wines, locally made pizzas, and more, straight from regional purveyors and local farms, seven days a week. It’s one of the best places you can visit in Charlotte if you want to support the local food community!
In an old building in the Fourth Ward neighborhood that once housed a grocery store that dates back to the late 1800s, you’ll find Alexander Michael’s, a homey, comfortable, family-owned restaurant and tavern that locals affectionately call “Al Mike’s.”
Al Mike’s commitment to using only the best ingredients is evident in their menu, which includes mouthwatering dishes like their house made quinoa burger patties and their famous spicy crab soup. In addition to their delicious food, Al Mike’s also offers a diverse selection of craft, imported, and domestic beers, a full bar, and a modest wine selection.
Good Food on Montford
The motto of Good Food on Montford, “Taste without borders,” couldn’t be more apt for this small, inviting tapas-style restaurant in the heart of Montford Drive in the Montford neighborhood. The brainchild of award-winning chef Bruce Moffett, Good Food features a small plate, seasonally-driven menu that constantly evolves and uses only local and organic products.
Good Food on Montford’s exposed bricks, wood ceiling beams, and funky light fixtures create a cozy atmosphere that is perfect for any dining experience, and as a James Beard semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant, there is something on the menu for everyone.
Zada Jane’s Corner Café
In the heart of Plaza Midwood is a bright, turquoise-colored building that houses Zada Jane’s Corner Café, an eclectic dining spot whose interior is just as vibrant as its exterior. Its colorful walls and hand-painted art pieces by local artists perfectly exemplify the restaurant’s unique takes on soups, salads, and sandwiches.
One of the Charlotte area’s go-to cafés, Zada Jane’s forte is their breakfast menu, which includes pancakes, French toast, and omelettes, and is served all day. By also offering savory Southern soul-food and a variety of seasonal menu additions throughout the year, it is clear that Zada Jane’s is very serious when it comes to their goal: that no one leaves hungry or thirsty.
Price’s Chicken Coop
A longtime Charlotte institution since it opened along Camden Road in the South End neighborhood in 1962, Price’s Chicken Coop hasn’t changed much on the outside or the inside in that time. This tiny takeout place is cash-only, has no customer seating, and does not deliver, and yet, it receives a steady stream of customers throughout the day.
Price Chicken Coop’s loyal customers from around the Charlotte area don’t come for frills; they come for a cardboard box of food, including arguably the city’s best fried chicken, fries, hush puppies, livers, gizzards, cole slaw, and potato salad, all of which is reminiscent of the dishes lovingly cooked by a Southern grandmother.
Midwood Smokehouse Barbecue, found in the Park Road Shopping Center on Brandywine Road, is strongly rooted in the barbecue traditions of North and South Carolina and Texas. At Midwood, whole hog, beef brisket and other smoked meats are dry rubbed and slow cooked on North Carolina hickory wood.
The mouthwatering items on Midwood’s menu includes a quesadilla filled with your choice of smoked brisket, pork, or chicken along with caramelized onions and poblano peppers; pimento cheese fries topped with either chopped pork or beef brisket; a chuck and brisket burger known as The Roadhouse; and hickory-smoked pulled chicken dressed in a South Carolina mustard sauce. The food at Midwood is top notch, and the cooks created a dazzling flavor sensation I won’t soon forget.
Dot Dot Dot
For a more exclusive culinary-driven bar experience, look no further than Dot Dot Dot, a members-only, first-come first-served speakeasy that offers classic cocktails, an extensive whisky collection, and fresh, delicious cuisine whose ingredients come straight from local farmers and purveyors. Dot Dot Dot has a strict dress code of business or smart casual, and has limited seating, so come early, be patient, and remember to follow the establishment’s rules.
Dot Dot Dot’s award-winning mixologist, Stefan Huebner, is a 25 year veteran of the hospitality industry and has also worked at local haunts including Cosmos Cafe and Heist Brewery. He began his culinary journey at the age of 16 and worked as a baker and butcher before earning a culinary degree and running his own kitchen as chef. His years of experience can be tasted in Dot Dot Dot’s exquisite menu, which includes elegant items such as ricotta gnudi, Prince Edward Island mussels, American waygu beef tartare, vegetable tempura, grilled Spanish octopus, and Ahi tuna poke.
Mert’s Heart and Soul
One of Charlotte’s top dining destinations is a colorful restaurant called Mert’s Heart and Soul, which specializes in soul food, low-country cuisine, and Gullah-inspired dishes, and is run by the husband-and-wife team of James and Renee Bazzelle. The restaurant opened in 1998, and has since become one of Charlotte’s most popular restaurants and has received acclaim from food reviewers, visitors, and even the popular Food Network series “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.”
Mert’s Heart and Soul’s signature dish is the unconventional Soul Roll, an egg roll wrap stuffed with collard greens cooked with adobo, black-eyed peas, seasoned rice, and diced fried chicken. But the restaurant is also well known for its delicious shrimp & grits, Charleston red rice, and its award-winning macaroni and cheese.
Breweries and Wineries
Beer and wine culture in and around Charlotte are nearly as popular and prominent as its food culture, and that’s saying a lot. With two dozen local breweries, and dozens of wineries in the metro area and the nearby Yadkin Valley, the Charlotte area is a haven for local and traveling beer and wine connoisseurs, and the breweries and wineries listed below are some of the area’s absolute best. Of the 25 things to do in Charlotte these were some of the best!
NoDa Brewing Co.
Boasting a knowledgeable staff, popular live music events, and forty beers on tap, it’s no surprise that NoDa Brewing Company, which can be found in the arts district of the same name, is known as one of Charlotte’s best. This barroom, which overlooks a local brewery that offers free tours, is noted for its laid-back atmosphere, tentative staff, and quality service.
The brewing company hosts fun and diverse events several times a week, which run the gamut from their new Dog Walking program, BYOD; a run club that takes participants through the NoDa area; and even Harry Potter trivia nights. NoDa Brewing Company is also noted for its commitment to the city of Charlotte and its people by employing nearly 50 local residents, hiring community businesses and artists when possible, and supporting over a hundred local charities.
Divine Barrel Brewing
At Divine Barrel Brewing, one of the NoDa arts district’s popular breweries, you can feel the team’s passions for community; making and sharing quality, unique beers; and wild and sour beers. You’ll find ten beers on tap in Divine Barrel’s tasting room, all with names as unique and eye-opening as their flavors. After you’ve taken a few sips of a Playing in Traffic or enjoyed a cold, refreshing Willie the Pimp, you’ll be certain there is a little bit of everything, and a beer for everybody, at Divine Barrel Brewing.
Behind the scenes, Divine Barrel’s focus lies in building and developing their barrel and foeder program, which allows the team to share their excitement for wood fermented and wood-aged beers with Charlotteans and visitors from around the world.
Another of NoDa’s popular breweries, Heist Brewery focuses on small batch beer such as traditional IPA’s and Double IPA’s, Belgian Table Beers, Porters, Saisons, and Imperial Stouts. The brewery also boasts an extensive Craft Cocktail program for those who prefer the art of mixology, and over 100 whiskeys.
Heist’s tapas-style shared plate menu showcases wood-fired specialties (including chicharrones, barbecued jackfruit tacos, quesadillas, parmesan truffle fries, and an array of dips and flatbread sandwiches) with the goal of raising the bar of pub food to the next level. The brewery’s chefs get their meat and produce from local farmers and purveyors to ensure maximum quality and freshness in the foods they serve to their guests.
Free Range Brewing
NoDa’s Free Range Brewing is the life’s work of brothers Jeff and Jason Alexander. The importance of family and community to the Alexander brothers is showcased in their space’s ability to accommodate a variety of gatherings and events, and its openness to welcoming guests and families with small children; there is even a small play area for them to have fun while their families enjoy on-tap beers with names like Holy Cucumbers, Batman!; Bob’s Pure Intentions; Jenny, Set The Field On Fire; and Barracuda Bill’s.
Taps at Free Range Brewing are always rotating with new things for patrons to try, and there are always new things for visitors to experience. On certain days, you can even enjoy your favorite beer while jamming out to the live musicians Free Range hosts through their friends at Maxx Music.
After spending the last decade perfecting their beer recipes, the husband-and-wife duo of Justin and Sarah Brigham set out to brew beers that bring people together. Their dream was realized when they opened the award-winning Sycamore Brewing, which has utilized the freshest ingredients imaginable to brew all-natural, tasty craft beer ever since its establishment in 2013.
At this 15-barrel brewery you’ll find classic styles, seasonals, creative experimental recipes, wine, and cider on tap. When you visit Sycamore Brewing, you have to try their Southern Girl Lager, which won a bronze medal at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival, and the brewery itself was named North Carolina Ale Brewery of the Year by the New York International Beer Competition.
Wooden Robot Brewery
In the South End neighborhood you’ll find Wooden Robot Brewery, which was established by childhood friends Dan Wade and Josh Patton. After earning his MSC in Brewing and Distilling in Scotland and traveling around Europe, head brewer and president Dan brought his passion for Belgian farmhouse beers to Wooden Robot.
The brewery offers seventeen delicious beers with creative names like Good Morning Vietnam, What He’s Having, What She’s Having, and I Funks Wit It, and their passionate and knowledgeable “beertenders” carry a cicerone certification to ensure that they share the brewery’s founder’s commitment to preservation and innovation.
Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery
Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery sits on a 102 acre estate in a picturesque area of the North Carolina countryside known as the Yadkin Valley American Viticultural Area, with the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains serving as a backdrop. In addition to offering group tastings of their award-winning wines and walking tours of their vineyards, Raffaldini also offers a wide selection of local and imported Italian foods that are hand-selected to balance perfectly with their wines, and occasionally hosts local food trucks and pizza ovens.
Six different types of grapes are grown in their vineyard, and the vineyard’s location near the Yadkin River and Blue Ridge Mountains, elevation of 1200 feet, and unique soil conditions give the grapes a certain terroir and helps build their acidity and complexity. Raffaldini has also created an official Certified Wildlife Habitat that is home to birds, butterflies, frogs, and other wildlife and is recognized by the National Wildlife Federation.
Shelton Vineyards, also located in North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley, was founded by brothers Charlie and Ed Shelton in 1999, and is one of the largest vineyards on the east coast of the United States. The brothers envisioned the vineyards as a new agricultural resource for an area that had once been dependent on tobacco farming. The area’s climate and growing season is comparable to that of some of the best wine-growing regions in Europe. All ten varieties of vitis vinifera grapes grown at Shelton utilize bud wood of European origin grafted onto Native American rootstocks to create vines that are more resistant to disease.
Shelton Vineyards uses a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak barrels to give give flavor and structure to the wine. Shelton’s three barrel rooms are temperature controlled, and the temperature in each room can be adjusted separately if needed. Shelton Vineyards produces 52 bottles per minute, or over 2000 cases per day, and are released for sale after a period of bottle aging appropriate to the wine.
I was lucky enough to spend four incredible days exploring Charlotte, North Carolina. It was my first time there and it only took me a matter of hours to fall in love with the city’s exceptional food scene, its wine and beer culture, and of course, its friendly, wonderful people. Charlotte may not yet be the tourist mecca that other, larger cities around the United States are, but with its classy sophistication, broad range of activities for visitors of all ages, and its heartwarming charm, I have no doubt it will soon be considered a must-visit destination that everyone should experience at least once.
Thank you, Queen City, for treating me with so much love and kindness. I can’t wait to come back! If you loved this top 25 things to do in Charlotte article please leave us a comment below!
Big thanks to Charlotte’s Got Alot for hosting me!