The Ultimate Charlotte Guide – What to Do, Where to Eat, Drink, and Stay in North Carolina’s Queen City
If you’re looking for the perfect blend of southern culture, the faster pace of a city, neighborhoods with personality and an extensive list of places to eat, drink and explore, look no further than Charlotte, North Carolina. As you make your way just south of the Mason Dixon in the Old North State, you’ll find this rapidly growing metropolitan area nestled between the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and the South Carolina Lowcountry and boasting the perfect blend of cultures.
This post is guest written by Katie Jernigan, one of Christina’s best friends, a Charlotte native.
Growing up just north of Charlotte in the state’s triad area, I’ve held a front-row seat to Charlotte’s growth most of my life. From my time in college in Chapel Hill to starting my professional career, the city has taken off with explosive growth. Suddenly, people started to note the attractiveness of the Charlotte area — I mean what’s not to love about a place with four true seasons, proximity to the mountains and the beach, and a decent cost of living?! With this realization came a thriving economy, new jobs, new residents and fortunately a whole slew of new places to dine, drink and entertain. So, our claim that “Charlotte’s got a lot,” is valid, and I’ve got a jam-packed list of recommendations for your next trip to the Queen City. And while the guide below is pretty exhaustive, I did narrow it down and stick to places I would in full confidence recommend to a friend and fellow Jetsetter!
The Different Areas of Charlotte: Where should you stay?
One of my favorite things about Charlotte’s neighborhoods is how each one tends to take on a personality of its own. You can have the hustle and bustle of Uptown on a weekday (FYI – downtown Charlotte is dubbed “Uptown”), find your artistic side in NoDa, hang with the young professionals and their dogs in South End, live a life of luxury in SouthPark, and explore the tree-lined streets and historic homes in Myers Park… all in one weekend. And, when you expand your radius to 20-30 miles outside of the city you can find charming lake towns, outdoor escapes, university life and more. Depending on your mood, find the neighborhood that suits your fancy and there will be no shortage on the list of things to do!
The Best Hotels in Charlotte:
The Duke Mansion (Myers Park)
The Duke Mansion is a gorgeous bed and breakfast with 20 rooms. This southern estate gets its name from its most famous owner, James Buchanan Duke. Even if you don’t stay here, you can enjoy a walk through the gardens as long as the gate on the Ardsley Road side of the property is open.
Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel (Uptown)
This upscale, southern, boutique hotel is located in Uptown and is home to the Merchant and Trade rooftop bar.
A Luxury Collection hotel. If you are looking for a luxurious spot a little outside of the city and a great golf club, snag a room at The Ballantyne. As a local, I enjoy coming here during the holiday season for their afternoon tea and to see the gingerbread houses. They have a great spa as well!
With a more contemporary style, The Ritz is a great luxury option in Uptown. If you want a place with a great spa, their spa is located on the penthouse level and has perfect views of the city!
Grand Bohemian (Uptown) – Opening August 2020
An Autograph Collection hotel. I’ve been to the Grand Bohemian in Asheville and Birmingham, Alabama and I am so excited for the new one to open here in Uptown! If you’ve never been before, they are known for their fancy, artistic decor. Their rooftop bar, Búho, will be complete with firepits and a DJ on the weekends.
The Best Restaurants in Charlotte
Rhino Market (Wesley Heights) – Great spot to swing by and pick up a quick burrito or sandwich for breakfast or lunch. Their grill is amazing and they have an excellent selection of local beer and wine.
Noble Smoke (Ashley Park) – No best restaurants in North Carolina list is complete without a true barbecue restaurant, and the menu here includes Carolina- and Texas-style options. I don’t have the word count for a barbeque sauce debate, but fortunately, this place provides several options to choose from for every type of barbecue lover.
Bossy Beulah’s Chicken Shack (Ashley Park) – Two words: Fried. Chicken. This popular counter-service shop is run by the same folks who started Rooster’s and Noble Smoke and is inspired by the family tradition of Sunday chicken after church.
LuLu’s Maryland Style Chicken & Seafood (Enderly) – One of the best (and largest) crabcakes I’ve ever had and they’re served at market price. They will sell out each day, so I recommend you call in early and take it as carry out!
Optimist Hall (Optimist Park) – Charlotte’s newest food hall located just outside of Uptown in a redeveloped old mill. One of my favorite food trucks, Papi Queso, has a station here and I also LOVE the dim sum from The Dumpling Lady. Grab a drink at the cocktail lounge, Billy Sunday!
Pinky’s Westside Grill (Wesley Heights) – An eclectic spot known for its burgers and feature on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Come hungry and get the White Trash Burger. I also love the Pimp’n Fries, which are waffle fries topped with melted pimento cheese.
Dilworth Tasting Room (Dilworth) – One of my favorite spots for their lush outdoor patio and pond. This neighborhood wine bar has an extensive wine and craft cocktail selection. I am always coming here with a few girlfriends or for a double date.
RuRu’s Tacos + Tequila (Myers Park) – The perfect spot for the best margaritas in Charlotte! They are always made with freshest ingredients – not a pre-made mix! Also, their menu items are named after quotes from famous, classic movies.
Stagioni (Myers Park) – If you’re looking for Italian, you must go here! An incredible menu selection of every Italian dish you love and the Tuscan-inspired facade makes it feel like you’ve been transported straight to Italy. Perfect for a date night!
Haberdish (NoDa) – Inspired by the mill town history of NoDa, their menu is full of traditional southern dishes including fried chicken and N.C. trout. They describe themselves as a southern kitchen and craft cocktail bar.
Soul Gastrolounge (Plaza Midwood) – Known for their small plates and designed for sharing, this is the perfect spot for a girls night out. I love going with a group of 4-6 so we can try several different things on the menu. The Pork Belly Tacos are a must!
Barcelona Wine Bar (South End) – A great spot for dinner or brunch, this tapas restaurant is the perfect taste of the Mediterranean and South America. They boast an extensive wine list (almost 400), and their Olive Oil Pancakes for brunch will melt in your mouth.
JETSETTERS TIP: fill out the feedback survey at the end for a free tapas token on your next visit!
Futo Buta (South End) – The place to go for ramen. The chef is super passionate about Japanese cuisine, but he also uses locally-sourced ingredients to give it a regional flare. However, the dining area is super small, so be prepared to wait a long time!
O-Ku (South End) – A slightly southern take on Asian fare. I’m a big fan of their sushi and they run a half-priced rolls deal on Mondays and Wednesdays from 5-7 p.m..
Seoul Food Meat Company (South End) – This is an incredible Korean Fusion BBQ restaurant. I highly recommend the Baf Wings. They also have several karaoke rooms you can rent out – great restaurant for large groups in Charlotte!
The Dunavant (South End) – For $25, indulge in steak and bottomless fries. You can customize the steak with one of their sauce options. It makes a great date night spot and their brunch menu is delicious as well!
Reid’s Fine Foods (SouthPark) – Reid’s has several locations in Charlotte, but my favorite is the SouthPark location. This restaurant and wine bar regularly has great drink specials and live music on their outdoor patio.
Foxcroft Wine Co (Dilworth/SouthPark) – One of my favorite spots because you pick your bottle of wine (over $30 to avoid corkage fees) off the shelf to enjoy. No surprise it’s regularly voted the No. 1 wine bar in Charlotte. Their menu is also designed for sharing, making for a perfect small group dinner!
- Others to keep on your list: Taco Mama (Dilworth), Fiamma (Dilworth), Papi Queso (Food Truck), What the Fries (Food Truck), Good Food on Montford (Montford), Flower Shop (Montford), Laurel Market (Myers Park), Luna’s Living Kitchen (South End), Sabor Latin Street Grill (South End), The Waterman Fish Bar (South End), Hawkers (South End), Common Market (South End), Flower Child (South End), Restoration Hardware (SouthPark), Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen (SouthPark), The Palm (South Charlotte), Amelie’s French Bakery & Cafe (Uptown, NoDa, Myers Park), Community Matters Cafe (Uptown)
The Best Breweries and Seltzeries in Charlotte:
Craft Tasting Room and Growler Shop (South End)
The wall above the bar is full of taps with a large selection of craft beer options and a wine list is available for non-beer drinkers. They run specials almost every day of the week outside of Friday and Saturday, but my favorite is the $6 Cheese or Charcuterie Board night on Wednesday.
Suffolk Punch (South End)
Conveniently located right off of the light rail, this popular spot has an awesome patio for outdoor drinking. They regularly host live music, workout classes, and more. The space opens in the morning as a coffee bar and transitions throughout the day to provide food, beer and cocktails. You could spend an entire day here and have everything you need, including free wifi and USB charging ports!
Triple C (South End)
Make your way across the street from Suffolk Punch to Triple C, which is one of my favorite places because it is entirely dog friendly. They also host yoga on Thursday nights!
Wooden Robot (South End)
A great urban farmhouse brewery that uses local farm and specialty ingredients. They recently redid their patio space and opened up new seating inside. My favorites are the Pop’s Pilsner and the Pool Pounder.
Olde Mecklenburg Brewery (Collingwood)
OMB is one of Charlotte’s oldest craft beer spots, and their expansive beer garden is the perfect setting for enjoying a beer with friends. Also, dog friendly!
NoDa Brewing Company (NoDa)
Their two most popular beers are the Hop Drop ‘N Roll and Jam Session. Their original taproom recently reopened and has a unique wine bar vibe that feels a little different from your traditional brewery setting.
Summit Seltzery (Wesley Heights)
I could not be more excited about this brand new place set to open this summer as it is the first spiked seltzery on the East Coast! The set up is basically just like a brewery, but with various types of spiked seltzer.
- Others to keep on your list: Lucky Dog Bark & Brew (Ashley Park), Blue Blaze (Smallwood), Lenny Boy (South End), Sycamore (South End), Unknown (South End), QC Pourhouse (South End), Legion (SouthPark), Town (Wesley Heights)
The Best Places to Get Cocktails in Charlotte
Ed’s Tavern (Dilworth) – This longstanding neighborhood bar is a great place for a casual drink or meal. It is also a popular spot for catching a game (Go Heels!) or getting a group together for trivia.
The Crunkleton (Elizabeth) – This popular classic cocktail spot with swanky speakeasy vibes started in Chapel Hill, NC, and chose Charlotte for its second location. You’ll need a $10 membership, but the food and the drinks are definitely worth it. Great for dinner and brunch as well. Reservations book up well in advance, so plan ahead!
Selwyn Pub (Myers Park) – A Myers Park staple known for its Transfusions served in their classic styrofoam cups. The patio is a popular spot for both young professionals and their parents. Their food, especially the pizza, is great as well.
Angry Ales (Montford) – A popular spot for watching a game with a casual neighborhood bar vibe. Their grill has your traditional bar food and their large patio is great for groups.
Jeff’s Bucket Shop (Montford) – Montford nightlife isn’t for everyone, but you can’t beat a night at this karaoke joint. You will need a membership, but vocal talent is not required.
Dot Dot Dot (Montford) – An upscale, members-only speakeasy with incredible cocktails. The entrance is a little difficult to find and you’ll need to purchase the $10 membership, but members can bring up to three guests.
Tattoo (Plaza Midwood) – A new restaurant and cocktail lounge combo made by the same team that created Soul. The seating is minimal but feels very intimate and private. The food at the attached restaurant, KiKi, is French- and Greek-inspired and the small plates are perfect for sharing. You can grab dinner at KiKi before and ask to be put on the list for Tattoo at the end of your meal.
The Workman’s Friend (Plaza Midwood) – A popular Irish pub with a great neighborhood vibe. The perfect spot to grab a beer with a small group. They offer food service as well with several traditional Irish choices!
Lost & Found (South End) – The ultimate Instagrammable cocktail lounge with greenery walls, pink couches and an incredible full-length mirror for group trips to the bathroom. This trendy spot is one of the only places in the South End area that stays open past midnight. While it is technically not a nightclub, you can get a VIP table reservation and cocktail service.
Zeppelin (South End) – While actually described as a restaurant first, bar second. I typically come here for the drinks (but the food is delicious!). If you follow any Charlotte friends on Instagram, you’ve probably seen them post the smoke-filled glass dome drink – The Edison. It’s Zeppelin’s take on the classic Old Fashioned, and while presentation matters, the smell and the taste are great too!
City Lights (Uptown) – If you’re looking for one of the best rooftop bars in Charlotte in a great skyline setting, head to the City Lights Rooftop for a 360-degree view of the city. Located on the 18th floor of Le Meridien Hotel, it’s a great spot for groups and usually has a band or DJ.
Merchant and Trade (Uptown) – Another great rooftop bar with amazing views of the city. Indoor seating and the outdoor terrace provide plenty of spaces for groups to gather and private areas can be reserved for large parties. Many of their cocktails are made with spirits local to North Carolina!
Roxbury Nightclub (Uptown) – Take a trip back in time with this 80s and 90s themed nightclub. There is a large dance floor, outdoor patio and the walls are lined with memorabilia from the two decades. Come ready to dance and the music videos will keep you entertained all night.
Sophia’s Lounge (Uptown) – Located in The Ivey’s Hotel, this craft cocktail and small plates spot has a unique vintage ambiance in honor of Queen Sophia Charlotte. The set up is a mix of sofas and high-backed chairs. A great spot for a date-night or small girls night out.
The Best Shopping & Day Spas in Charlotte:
Paper skyscraper (Dilworth) – This is a cute, local shop if you need fun, small gifts or want to pick up a unique Charlotte-themed item. I love to come here for hostess gifts and coffee table books.
Woo Skincare + Cosmetics (Myers Park) – With locations in Nashville, Atlanta and Charlotte, this makeup and skincare store is all about giving women a fun and papering environment. All of their stores are locally owned and bring a high level of expertise to the experience.
Toska European Spa (Dilworth) – If you have time to see one of the world’s leading experts in skincare, visit Toska for a facial. Toska Husted has built a pretty renowned reputation in facial skincare. She and her staff take a very individualized approach, and her past client list looks more like a list for the next red carpet event!
Toccare Day Spa (Myers Park) – Swing by here for a little self-care at this small, green beauty spa.
Shop Capitol and Poole Shop (SouthPark) – This luxury clothing boutique founded by Laura Vinroot Poole features many of the top designers and has led the way in cultivating Charlotte’s fashion reputation. An item from Capitol will run you a high tab, but you can head upstairs to Capitol’s sister store, Poole Shop for more contemporary and emerging designers.
SouthPark Mall (SouthPark) – An upscale shopping mall with hundreds of your favorite retailers.
The Best Things to Do in Charlotte:
See a show at Neighborhood Theater – This local venue in NoDa has previously been an adult film theater, an African American Baptist church and is now a staple for independent music shows. They would have over 20 shows a month before being shut down due to COVID-19. We are all hoping they are able to open up again soon, as many big-name musicians made stops here in their early years!
Hike Crowders Mountain and Visit Veronét Vineyard – This makes for a great day trip in the fall when the leaves start to change. Pick a half-day trail at Crowders Mountain and then pack a picnic to enjoy while you taste the wines at Veronét Vineyard. They allow you to bring food in and often have a food truck if you don’t want to bring your own.
U.S. National Whitewater Center – If you like being outdoors and active, the Whitewater Center has a long list of things to do. The best deal is to purchase a day pass so you have unlimited access to anything you want to do from whitewater rafting, kayaking, paddle boarding, ropes course, deep water solo climbing and more. They also host events throughout the week including yoga on the lawn and an outdoor concert series, River Jam.
Float the Catawba River – Ask any North Carolinian and most all of them will have floated a river in their lifetime. Bring your own innertube (and one for your cooler) and grab your friends for a fun, simple water day. Drop in at the Lake Wylie Dam and float to The Pump House at Riverwalk Carolinas for about a 3.5-hour float, depending on the water level.
Only 20 minutes outside of the city, Lake Norman is a popular spot for a day out on the water, or to rent a lakeside airbnb ( like this or this )one for a weekend. Rent a boat, kayak or paddle board if you want to get out on the water. Many of the state parks (Lake Norman State Park or Ramsey Creek Park) have beaches and swimming areas, fishing piers and trails. Grab lunch at Hello Sailor in Cornelius while you’re there!
Attend a Sporting Event – Charlotte is home to the Carolina Panthers NFL team, the Charlotte Hornets NBA team and the Charlotte Knights MiLB team. We also just announced a new MLS soccer team coming to the city! Depending on the time of year you are in town, grab tickets to a game. Additionally, Charlotte has played host to several of the top professional golf events. The Wells Fargo Championship PGATour event is regularly held at Quail Hollow Country Club. The club will also host the 2021 Presidents Cup and welcome the PGA Championship back in 2025.