Before the California gold rush, there was the Carolina gold rush—the first in the nation, set off by a 12-year-old boy’s discovery of a 17-pound nugget just outside Charlotte, North Carolina. In the 21st century, Charlotte has undergone another economic boom as powerhouse financial institutions have set up shop, emblazoning their names on 60-story skyscrapers in the city’s highly walkable downtown area. Rapid population growth has led to investment in new cultural institutions as well as an influx of craft breweries, art museums, and farmers’ markets, making Charlotte a beacon of New South prosperity.
The weather is pleasant all year long in Charlotte, making it a great place for both indoor and outdoor pursuits.
- World-class arts complex: The recently established Levine Center for the Arts comprises four institutions: Mint Museum Uptown, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, and the Knight Theater.
- NASCAR Hall of Fame: Many famous drivers are from North Carolina, which is home to the famous Charlotte Motor Speedway. This museum honors the sport’s luminaries and has a “Glory Road” home to 18 legendary cars.
- U.S. National Whitewater Center: Paddle through the largest man-made whitewater river in the world via a guided rafting trip or by kayak. You can also bike through 14 miles of trails, climb a rock wall, or go ziplining.
- Discovery Place: In addition to the 3D IMAX Theater onsite, kids will love the hands-on science exhibits—walk across a swinging bridge in the rainforest exhibit to see reptiles, birds, and palm trees; ride a vacuum-powered chairlift; or lay on a bed of nails.
Where to Shop and Dine
- Best neighborhood for dining: NoDa (short for North Davidson Street). The artsy bohemian enclave, once lined with textile mills, now has a booming restaurant scene; try a craft beer at NoDa Brewing Co. or the decadent caramel brownie at Amelie’s French Bakery.
- Best place for shopping: At outdoor shopping center Phillips Place. Walk red-brick pathways past high-end shops and surf ‘n’ turf restaurants; grab an espresso at Dean & Deluca, a European-style market with gourmet international foods, wines, and fresh breads.
- Classic chicken joint: Amid all the development in Charlotte, Price’s Chicken Coop has survived. You can get carefully spiced southern-fried chicken, but don’t be intimidated by the gizzards and livers—they’re local favorites. It’s cheap, too.
- Best newer food institution: 7th Street Public Market, an expansive local farmers’ market opened in 2012. Pure Pizza uses North Carolina wheat to make its crust and tops it with vegetables from nearby produce stands.
Where to Stay
- Near shopping: Hampton Inn & Suites South Park at Phillips Place. The hotel sits directly adjacent to the outdoor mall in downtown Charlotte (also known as Uptown).
- Near museums: Dunhill Hotel. Not only is it close to the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Levine Center for the Arts, but the hotel is a bit of a museum itself—it was built in 1929 and still contains 18th-century period furnishings.
- For a splurge: The Ballantyne Hotel and Lodge. An 18-hole championship golf course and a handful of sophisticated restaurants are onsite at this four-star hotel.