People have been flocking to Charlotte since 1799, but it wasn't always for the city's wealth of artistic and adrenaline-fueled attractions. That year, the main draw was a 17-pound gold nugget, a discovery that sparked America's first gold rush and drew waves of settlers to the formerly quiet area. By the 1840s, the gold rush had fizzled, but Charlotte was officially on the map, eventually growing to become North Carolina's largest city. Today, the area's residents are cultivating other gems, such as a vibrant arts scene and a plethora of family-friendly activities, ensuring that anyone who doesn't strike gold will still uncover plenty of things to do in Charlotte.

Delve into the history of the post-Civil War South at the Levine Museum of the New South, where interactive exhibits include a recreated Main Street complete with a Belk department store and a lunch counter where visitors hear stories about civil rights era sit-ins. Works by Picasso, Warhol, Miró, Giacometti, and Ernst line the walls at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, a once-private collection amassed by the Bechtler family over a 70-year period. A work of art in and of itself, the museum building was designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta and revolves around a four-story atrium that bathes exhibits in natural light.

Of course, not all of Charlotte’s attractions are rooted in the past. Several NASCAR teams have long called Charlotte home, and at the Charlotte Motor Speedway’s NASCAR Racing Experience, participants get behind the wheel and race around the track in cars previously driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. The NASCAR Hall of Fame provides further insight into the racing lifestyle with race simulators, tire-changing stations, and a broadcast booth.

The thrills keep coming at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, home of the world’s largest man-made recirculating river. Easily controlled conditions allow families with kids to set out on a gentler whitewater voyage while advanced rafters take on churning rapids. The grounds also feature ropes and obstacle courses, trails for mountain biking, and access to the calm waters of the Catawba River for kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding.

Perhaps the ultimate rush takes place at Carowinds Amusement Park, where 13 rollercoasters whip and flip riders. The wooden rollercoaster called Thunder Road even takes riders across the border from North Carolina to South Carolina and back again. Of course, the park also houses family-friendly rides such as bumper cars, swings, and a log flume.

Discovery Place also caters to families, but here the fun comes with an educational twist. Science comes to life in interactive exhibits—such as the Cool Stuff exhibit, where kids can launch objects into the air, play tug of war, or lie on a bed of nails —and during live experiments performed by the museum’s staff. Parents can also let little ones loose at Freedom Park, sometimes called the “Central Park” of Charlotte. The 98-acre green space features paved trails, playground equipment, and a steam engine that visitors can climb inside.

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