Let the Queen City Charm You

Southern hospitality, small-town ambiance mixed with big-city amenities, and fun for the whole family are all in store for Charlotte visitors.

By Carol Timblin

You can expect a royal welcome when you visit Charlotte. Named for an English queen, North Carolina's largest city has been hosting visitors since Colonial days and is well prepared to entertain the engineering educators coming to town June 20-23 for ASEE's Annual Conference.

Get set for a great time in this charming city where you can explore Southern culture, visit historic sites, shop for fine antiques, cool off in a water park, or meditate in a quiet garden. There's plenty to do and see, whether you stay close to the Uptown hotel area or rent a car and see the sights beyond the city limits.

illustration by Steve PicaDining And Entertainment

Fresh from your flight in, you'll probably want to grab a bite to eat. When it comes to restaurants and entertainment, Charlotte has grown up in the past decade. Though legendary fish camps and barbecue establishments still flourish, there are sophisticated restaurants, coffeehouses, and nightclubs equal to anything you'll find in any other major city. Morton's of Chicago is here, along with other steak palaces such as The Capital Grille, Alston's, and Sullivan's Steakhouse. Two new spots are also good bets: Palomino Euro Bistro features Mediterranean cuisine; and Reid's Supermarket and Seventh Street Station, a gourmet grocery/deli with a nice cafe, is an ideal place for lunch.

Microbreweries? Check out the Rock Bottom Brewery, Atlantic Beer and Ice Company, or Southend Brewery. If you want imported brews, the place to go is Ri-Ra, a straight-from-Ireland pub in the Uptown area. For sophisticated dining, try The Palm, La Bibliotheque, and Morrocroft's in the SouthPark area, or Bravo's in the Adam's Mark Hotel (where servers sing to guests), or Monticello's in The Dunhill. For restaurant locations near your hotel, see your concierge.

Uptown's entertainment district is concentrated on North College Street between Fifth and Sixth Streets. Here you'll find Bar Charlotte, offering dance music from the '60s, '70s, '80s, and today; Have a Nice Day Cafe, a '70s-style club; and Mythos, a progressive dance club. Swing 1000 on Central Avenue offers Big Band Orchestra music, a huge dance floor, and Spats' Cigar Room. The best place for blues music is the Doubledoor Inn on Independence Boulevard at Elizabeth Avenue.

Exploring Uptown

When you have time for some entertainment, you'll find award-winning museums, trendy art galleries, and historic sites just a few steps or a short drive from your Uptown hotel and the Charlotte Convention Center. If you prefer not to walk, the free Uptown Circuit bus, which runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., provides an easy way to get around.

Make Discovery Place, a hands-on science museum, one of your first stops. Plan to spend several hours wandering through the Knight Rain Forest, interacting with exhibits in the Life Center and Science Circus, and exploring the Challenger Learning Center or the tidal pool. You can also watch films or study the stars in the Charlotte Observer OMNIMAX Theater and Planetarium.

The brand new Mint Museum of Craft and Design is another good choice. One of only three museums of its kind in the United States, it is currently hosting the Harvey J. Reflections glass sculptures and vitreographs exhibit from the Archives of American Art. Located near several art galleries, which have their own treasures to show, the museum is housed in the renovated Montaldo's Building, formerly one of Charlotte's finest department stores.

It is fitting that this museum is located in a city that places so much value on art. You'll also find art inside many office buildings, such as the Bank of America's Corporate Center, which has three magnificent frescoes by Ben Long, a North Carolinian who studied fresco painting in Italy. Outdoor sculptures can be seen on any casual stroll around Uptown, and you can't miss the huge bronze statues flanking each corner of The Square (at the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets). The statues are the work of Raymond Kaskey, who also did the welcoming sculpture of Queen Charlotte at the airport.

The Museum of the New South chronicles the region's history. Featured exhibits include What's New in the South? and Threads of Change: Life in a Cotton Mill Village, which conveys the importance of textiles to the South. If you want to discover some history on your own, wander through the Old Settlers Cemetery, located on Fifth Street behind First Presbyterian Church. A bit of Charlotte at the turn of the century is preserved in the Fourth Ward neighborhood, a treasure trove of restored Victorian homes. Time permitting, stop for lunch at Alexander Michael's on Ninth Street and take time to look at the antiques and art at The Old Firehouse on West Fifth Street. A brochure outlining the walking tour, including interesting points in the center city, as well as information on all area attractions, is available at the InfoCharlotte tourist information center.

You can also ride into history on the Charlotte Trolley, which departs weekends from the trolley stop on Stonewall Street across from the Convention Center and from the Trolley Barn in the Atherton Mill complex in the Southend section of the city.

illustration by Steve PicaAround the City

Charlotte's most significant historic sites are scattered around the city, and you'll need a car to get to them. Tour the city's oldest dwelling (built in 1774) at the Charlotte Museum of History/Hezekiah Alexander Homesite. Other tour homes open to visitors are Historic Rosedale, Historic Latta Plantation on the Catawba River (also a county park offering equestrian trails and a center for injured birds of prey), and the James K. Polk Memorial at Pineville, where the 11th U.S. president was born in 1795.

Don't miss the Mint Museum of Art, a U.S. mint before it became a shrine for paintings, ceramics, gold coins, and other art objects. For the more adventurous, Paramount's Carowinds, a movie theme park that straddles the North Carolina and South Carolina line just off I-77 south, will keep you entertained for hours. You can ride the roller coasters, splash in the water park, take in a concert at the Palladium outdoor arena, and watch the fireworks. And racing fans may want to take the Winston Cup Tour of Lowe's Motor Speedway (formerly Charlotte Motor Speedway), northeast of the city in Concord.

illustration by Steve Pica Outdoor Activities

Charlotte is known for its gardens and trees. For a preview, take a drive through Dilworth or Myers Park, neighborhoods close to Uptown. Better yet, plan to spend some time in a formal garden such as Wing Haven Gardens and Bird Sanctuary in Myers Park or the University of North Carolina-Charlotte Botanical Gardens and Sculpture Garden.

Outdoor lovers will also find plenty of open spaces and opportunities for recreation, including tennis and golf, in Charlotte-Mecklenburg's vast network of parks. Several golf courses, including the brand-new Ballantyne Resort south of the city (which also has great dining), are open to the public. The Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center, located in Uptown, is also a part of the park system, and McDowell Park on Lake Wylie offers boating and camping. The recently renovated Charlotte Nature Museum in Myers Park features nature trails and live animals, and is a perfect place to take the kids for an afternoon of fun. In the adjacent Freedom Park, there's a beautiful lake with ducks, walking trails, playground equipment, and picnic tables.

Shopping

Traditional department stores relocated from Uptown to suburban malls a long time ago, but specialty shops abound in Founders' Hall in the Bank of America building and the Overstreet Mall, accessible from several office buildings. Charlotte's most popular mall is SouthPark, with anchors Belk's, Dillard's, Hecht's, and Sears. Smaller nearby centers include Specialty Shops on the Park, Morrocroft's, and Phillips Place for upscale shopping.

True shoppers should consider making the two-hour drive north on I-77 to several major shopping areas, including Hickory Furniture Mart and High Point's Atrium Furniture Mall, which feature numerous outlet shops, or to the Seagrove area, where lovers of hand-thrown pottery can spend the day poking around the 100 or so shops and kilns.

For more information on what to do in and around Charlotte, see the 1999 Annual Conference home page at www.asee.org/conferences/annual99 ; or during the conference, visit the Information Booth, hosted by the Local Planning Committee, in the registration area at the Charlotte Convention Center.

Carol Timblin is a freelance travel writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

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