Recreation & Outdoors

Not Sure You Love Charlotte? You Will After This Tour.


As a lifelong Charlottean, a common complaint I hear from visitors and newcomers is that there’s nothing to do here.  Whether it’s a lack of entertainment and dining options, or educational and sightseeing adventures, transplants and vacationers can’t seem to find what they’re looking for in the Queen City.

Having spent a couple (er, many) years exploring this great city, I know of more than a few spots to enjoy great food, great entertainment and great views.  I could rattle off my favorites here.  But you don’t know me and who knows if we share the same tastes?

square-charlotteSo to circumvent our lack of friendship, I’d like to make a suggestion: take a tour of Charlotte.  Not just any tour, a guided driving tour in an air-conditioned van and hosted by a knowledgeable tour guide.  Just to test it out for you, I took one myself last weekend.

C-Charlotte Tours is a fairly new tour company in town, but their knowledge of the city’s history and attractions is extensive.  Gary, our tour guide, shared more nuggets of information about this city than I’ve read in any welcome brochure. And despite my native status, I learned a thing or two about my hometown. Like, did you know there are capped-off goldmines under Charlotte’s uptown streets?  And did you know that Price’s Chicken Coop is rated by Bon Appétit as one of the 3 best places in America to eat fried chicken?  Or that there are a TON of restaurants within a 5-mile radius of uptown?  (OK, I did know that one, but I definitely found a few more to add to the list.)

The tour started uptown where Gary pointed out every office tower and high-rise condo along the way, offering his inside scoop on the businesses and project timelines for each.  Since the tour is geared toward visiting and relocated professionals, he also gave a nod to the restaurants and bars lining the uptown streets.  And judging from the number of them, the city’s quiet, decade-long nightlife bloom appears to have exploded in the last 18 months.

But this wasn’t just a bar crawl.  It was an all-in-one sightseeing tour, history lesson and neighborhood exploration mission.  We drove north through Biddleville, one of Charlotte’s oldest African-American communities, and an area steeped in southern history.  The regal, brick buildings of Johnson C. Smith University, one of the state’s oldest historically black colleges, line the entrance to the community.  Behind the campus is Elmwood Cemetery, the final resting place for many of Charlotte’s business, cultural and political pioneers, as well as war veterans dating back to the Civil War.

Then it was on to the surrounding neighborhoods:  SouthEnd, Dilworth, Myers Park, Eastover and Elizabeth.  What did we find? Beautiful homes, walkable streets and, you guessed it: more restaurants.  We even made a run through SouthPark, a shoppers’ paradise offering great retail therapy, although not for the economically-challenged.

As we swung by Bank of America Stadium, Bobcats Arena and the much-anticipated, highly-debated future baseball stadium, we were treated to a little Local Sports 101.  I won’t tell you the questions or answers, lest I spoil the surprises.  But I did pick up some good trivia (as well as some juicy rumors).

We finished up back in uptown, and were dropped off within walking distance of a few cafes we had passed during our drive.  In fact, I saw some of my tour companions headed that way as I pulled out of the parking lot.

I’ve always been content with Charlotte.  After all, it’s becoming the jewel of the South (sorry, Atlanta, if it weren’t for the traffic …).  And regardless of the current economic hiccup, it will continue to attract industry and commerce, and thus, more people.  But it was an amazing experience to see all its wonders at once, tied up in a neat little 2-and-a-half-hour package.

So for those of you still questioning your decision to stay in Charlotte, call up C-Charlotte Tours and take the tour.  You won’t be disappointed.

A Walk in the Woods



Growing up in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, I loved being able to bike or jog 10 minutes from the center of town and find myself surrounded by nature far from civilization. Or you could drive a short distance in almost any direction, and there were an endless number of national forests, state parks and trails to explore. Although Charlotte has plenty of shaded streets and pleasant city parks like Freedom and Latta, it’s not quite the same.

To escape from it all in Charlotte, you need several hours or a day to spare for an excursion to Crowders Mountain or western North Carolina. So I was thrilled to discover a place less than 15 minutes from home that offers 2,300 acres of unspoiled natural beauty, including lakes, forests, rolling pastures, tent camping sites and a trail system that’s 35 miles long and growing.

The Anne Springs Close Greenway is a privately-owned recreational area just over the South Carolina line that’s easy to access for Charlotteans – driving south on I-77, you take Carowinds Exit 90 and turn left. Go straight for a few miles and the main entrance is clearly marked on the left side of the road.

My husband and I like to park near the 28-acre Lake Haigler and wear out our hyper five-year-old mutt with a walk around its perimeter, stopping at several points to let him swim (and get even more exhausted).

In other parts of the park, there are trails that crisscross winding creeks over swinging bridges. Setting out from the Dairy Barn entrance, you can walk past log cabins of early Carolinas settlers on the way to see the horses, sheep and goats kept in nearby pastures. You can even trace the path of the original Nation Ford Road, the ancient trading route along the Eastern seaboard that was traveled by the Catawba Indians and later used by colonial settlers and Revolutionary War armies.

Some trails are restricted to hikers while others allow horseback riders and bikers. The daily use fees are reasonable – $2 per person for hiking, $3 for cycling, $10 for horseback riding and $12 per campsite. Down by the lake you can rent kayaks by the half-hour.

Go on the right Saturday and you might just catch a special event, like the upcoming Barbeque & Bluegrass Festival on Saturday, September 19, from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Dairy Barn.

When I need a break from city life, this beautiful greenway is just the ticket. For those of you who have been there, do you have a favorite trail or area of the park?