Enjoy the outdoors at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. // © 2016 charlottesgotalot.com
Feature image (above): Don’t let Charlotte’s reputation for business fool you — families are welcome here, too. // © 2016 Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority
Charlotte, N.C., is a city that knows how to work hard and play hard. Known as the Queen City, Charlotte is a major Southern business hub that attracts young entrepreneurs — and their families — in droves. For all the thriving businesses that the city fosters, it also provides ample opportunities for families to let loose and spend quality time together on weekends.
Visitors to the destination will quickly find that the city’s residents love the outdoors. Its most beloved activities center on North Carolina’s mild weather and lush natural scenery. From berry picking in spring to checking out foliage at its peak in the fall, there’s always a reason to be outside.
The best way to kick-start a Charlotte vacation is to spend a balmy evening at The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s Biergarten. Set on 8 acres of land shaded by leafy pecan and hickory trees, the brewery is a prime spot for families, friends and even pets to get together. Kids will enjoy tossing bean bags in a game of cornhole while parents mingle with locals over a flight of local beers.
If a client strikes up a conversation with a Charlotte resident, chances are he or she will hear about the beloved U.S. National Whitewater Center. It’s a favorite among families, as it has a huge selection of land and watersports activities to choose from, including stand-up paddleboarding, whitewater rafting, bouldering, mountain biking, canopy tours, an obstacle course and more. One can easily spend a full day here, though keep in mind that some of the more adventurous activities have minimum age requirements.
After an action-packed day navigating rivers, boulders and treetops, a hearty, home-style dinner is definitely in order. For delicious, affordable Southern fare, try The King’s Kitchen and Bakery. The great thing about The King’s Kitchen is that it’s part restaurant, part social mission: The restaurant is a nonprofit organization that gives all its proceeds to help feed the hungry. It’s the perfect place to sample an assortment of elevated Southern cuisine, too. Be sure to order the Southern risotto (inspired by farm-fresh, seasonal ingredients), Aunt Beaut’s pan-fried chicken or fried North Carolina flounder Calabash. Don’t forget a side of cornbread.
For breakfast, locals love Amelie’s French Bakery & Cafe, an atmospheric spot with several locations in town. It’s hard to imagine a better start to the day than Amelie’s flaky, buttery pastry accompanied by the Cafe Marcotter, a house specialty made with vanilla-bean simple syrup, steamed milk, espresso, caramel sauce and sea salt. Kids will love the monkey bread, sticky buns, hot chocolate and house-made French sodas.
Visitors to Charlotte in spring through fall may have a chance to pick strawberries, apples or pumpkins at Carrigan Farms. It’s a great way to connect with the land and learn about local agriculture. Hayrides are offered in the fall, and a grassy expanse overlooking the on-site quarry makes for a perfect picnic spot.
In summer, Carowinds amusement park and waterpark is a major family destination. There’s something for everyone, including 13 world-class roller coasters and Planet Snoopy, a collection of “Peanuts”-themed rides and activities. This year, the park will open Carolina Harbor Waterpark, which is cleverly designed around the North and South Carolina coastline. It includes Blackbeard’s Revenge, a six-story waterslide complex, as well as Myrtle Turtle Beach, a shaded, interactive play area geared toward toddlers and their parents.
Animal lovers should spend some time at Carolina Raptor Center, which fosters and rehabilitates more than 900 birds of prey each year. Kids will be fascinated by the weekend activities, which include “Meet the Raptor” presentations, where kids can see the birds up close on the trainer’s glove. For those who really want to make a day of it, consider the Keeper for a Day program where kids help trainers care for owls, hawks and falcons. (If clients’ kids have been begging for an owl named Hedwig ever since they read the “Harry Potter” books, this is a reasonable compromise.)
The cherry on top of a great Charlotte vacation can be found on a brownie hot-fudge sundae at Pike’s Old-Fashioned Soda Shop. This fun, family-owned spot serves up root beer floats, New York-style egg creams and a variety of tasty diner fare. Snag a stool at the bar or a table on the patio, and enjoy.
WHEN TO GO
North Carolina’s mild weather is at its best from mid-April to October. Summer sees the height of outdoor festivals and family activities, though there are plenty of things to do year-round.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport is an easy 15-minute drive from downtown. Renting a car provides the most flexibility in this city, but the LYNX light rail service is a reliable way to access some of Charlotte’s best parks and attractions.