By Regina Lynch Hudson
Charlotte exudes a bustling, cosmopolitan vibe with a down-home feel.
Simultaneously urban and quaint, this hot spot of trade, energy, finance and culture is a New South city that sits firmly on the rock of old southern charm and is too fascinating to be missed. Known as the Queen City, its royal moniker lives up to its rich history, vibrant cultural scene and regal character.
As North Carolina’s most visited destination, the city welcomes more than 20 million visitors each year. The reasons for visiting are plentiful; from the thriving motorsports scene that lays claim to 90 percent of Sprint Cup teams to a booming landscape for business travel with home bases for Chiquita, Bank of America and Duke Energy, among dozens of other major companies. The 2012 Democratic National Convention recently thrust Charlotte into the international spotlight, drawing more than 35,000 media, delegates, elected officials and VIPs.
Today, Charlotte is composed of 16 counties including two counties in South Carolina and is the largest and most accessible city between Washington, D.C., and Dallas, Texas. Charlotte Douglas International is the nation’s sixth busiest airport, moving more than 39 million passengers annually.
The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte, marks the hotelier’s first foray into the environmentally-sound LEED building benchmark for design with its 146-room, 18-story property. Located in the heart of Center City near countless museums and restaurants, the hotel is home to a bevy of refined conveniences including the sweet tooth favorite Bar Cocoa, a green roof with bee hives that produce honey for the venue and a Spa & Wellness Center that serves as a tranquil sanctuary. ritzcarlton.com/charlotte
In addition to the Ritz, there’s the Forbes Four-Star and AAA Four Diamond Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge in nearby Ballantyne with a spa, championship golf course and the Golf Magazine-rated Dana Rader Golf School. The property offers 200 hotel rooms, 14 suites, a 35-room lodge and a four-bedroom cottage. theballantynehotel.com
The Power Palette
Sophisticated and innovative dining options abound in the Queen City. With hip, yet down-home eats, residents and visitors alike can dine like royalty in Charlotte anytime of the day. Charlotte’s food scene spans the globe, but down-home specialties are always a favorite. The King’s Kitchen, situated near the Bank of America Corporate Center, is a hotspot for business lunches in Uptown Charlotte. This upscale “meat and three” restaurant puts a fresh spin on southern cooking with simple yet savory meals like shrimp and grits and pan-fried chicken. Unlike most restaurants however, this kitchen operates as a non-profit that raises funds to help feed the poor while training and equipping those previously unemployable. kingskitchen.org
For a different southern food experience, Harvest Moon Grille offers true farm-to-table fare made with locally grown fixings and seasonal ingredients in every dish. With beginnings as a food cart in Center City, this now brick and mortar establishment was the brainchild of Grateful Growers Farm where many of the ingredients come from.
For the mix of elegant dining with the southern classics, Mimosa Grill brings fresh ingredients and southern hospitality to the table with popular dishes like the lobster and sweet potato gnocchi and pecan crusted trout. The polished design features exposed stone, rich woods and a wood-fired oven as the focal point. An outdoor patio overlooking the Charlotte skyline is an ideal space for enjoying their many happy hour and bar bite specials. harpersgroup.com/mimosa
Footloose & Fancy Free
Attractions in Charlotte embrace the diverse cityscape. Explore the NASCAR Hall of Fame for high octane adventures that encompass racing simulators, pit crew challenges and memorabilia that gives you an insider’s look at the sport’s need for speed. For thrill seekers, there may be a chill in the air, but hiking, biking and zip-lining experiences at the U.S. National Whitewater Center will warm you up at this outdoorsman’s paradise. Discovery Place engages visitors with interactive features like an aquarium, hands-on lab stations, and a 3-D theatre. NASCARHall.com; usnwc.org; discoveryplace.org
For culture mavens, the Levine Center for the Arts, which opened in 2010, is one of the city’s crown jewels. The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art brims with gems by notables such as Picasso and Warhol with a stately terra cotta-tiled façade that’s a work of art itself. Close by, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture hosts permanent and traveling works by prominent African-Americans. Across the street, the Mint Museum Uptown impresses with its premier Contemporary, American, and Craft + Design collections and major traveling exhibitions. Meanwhile just five blocks away, Levine Museum of the New South illustrates Charlotte’s rich history with exhibits like the award-winning “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers.” levinecenterarts.org; museumofthenewsouth.org
Thanks to our friends at the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority for providing helpful and fun facts for this article. crva.com