It’s never a bad time to visit North Carolina’s largest city, but lately, Charlotte is on a roll. From a new pro soccer team and groundbreaking Picasso exhibition to the buzzy Camp North End development, the Queen City seems to have something for everyone.
PICASSO AT THE MINT
The Mint Museum is used to being a pioneer. Established in 1936 as the state’s original art museum, it’s making history again as the first of only three U.S. cities (and the only one in the South) to host Picasso Landscapes: Out of Bounds, a collection of 45 paintings spanning the eccentric Spanish artist’s storied career. The exhibition, presented by the American Federation of Arts and drawn from both private collections and international museums, will run from mid-February through late May 2023. This is the only traveling exhibition to explore Picasso’s striking innovations in the landscape genre, and the museum’s Uptown location is a serendipitous canvas: The building, housed in Charlotte’s central business district, employs soaring, boxy architecture that resembles the avant-garde artist’s signature monochromatic cubes. All angles and drama, it draws guests in at first glance. We think Picasso would approve.
“Charlotte is absolutely becoming a destination for public art,” says Matt Olin, co-founder of Charlotte is Creative, a grassroots organization that advocates for artists. Locals use their crafts to make thought-provoking social statements and enchant passersby, including Abel Jackson, who created a giant wall mural on 36th Street. Named Self Love, it depicts three playful young people and is meant to inspire gratitude and hope. For an immersive introduction to the city’s street-art scene, plan to visit during the last week of October for the fifth annual Talking Walls Festival, a citywide event that invites hand-picked muralists from around the world to turn formerly drab walls into vibrant pieces of art. See the metamorphoses happen before your eyes and follow one (or more) of the routes available at Art Walks CLT to discover even more around town.
CAMP NORTH END
Excitement continues to build around Camp North End, a 76-acre development in the heart of the dynamic North End neighborhood. The complex got its start in the 1920s as a Ford factory manufacturing Model Ts; in 1941, it became a quartermaster depot for the U.S. Army. Vestiges of that industrial past are still visible in the collection of repurposed buildings that now house dozens of shops (including Grow, an artsy plant shop), restaurants (such as Babe & Butcher, specializing in charcuterie) and more than 60 murals, each with a QR code for guests to learn more about the artist. Opened in 2017, the development is five years into a 20-year vision that will eventually include residences and hotels. “We’ve only scratched the surface on what it will ultimately become,” says Varian Shrum, the project’s community manager. “Part of the appeal is that every time you visit, there’s something new to see.” She’s not kidding: From farmers markets to local concerts and movie nights, the complex hosts hundreds of events each year.
Just six minutes south of Uptown lies South End, a bustling commercial neighborhood. The area got its start in 1825 when a businessman stumbled upon some gold nuggets in the granite deposits on his farm, kicking off a gold rush. Today, the area is a treasure trove of shops, galleries, restaurants, and breweries connected by a 3.5-mile section of the Rail Trail, a linear path and public park. One draw is the thriving design district, complete with 51 furniture, antique, and decor stores, including Parachute Home and Interior Define, both of which opened this year. While you’ll find plenty of recognizable stores around the neighborhood (Anthropologie, Design Within Reach), visitors looking for something special—and local—can peruse the collection of 14 microshops at the RailYard in the Winnifred apartment community. Together, the shops sell everything from handcrafted leather totes and Mexican paletas to succulents and custom skates. Take your tastebuds on a global tour at eateries such as Ilios Crafted Greek, Rai Lay Thai, and Seoul Food Meat Company, just a few of the more than 120 restaurants and bars. For a touch of whimsy, pick up fresh doughnuts from the world’s only Krispy Kreme vending machine (the company’s global headquarters are in South End).
Challenge your friends to a match at South End’s Puttery, an adults-only mini-golf experience backed by Irish golf superstar Rory McIlroy, a vocal fan of Charlotte (with good reason: He’s won on the city’s Quail Hollow PGA tour stop twice). Choose from two courses—the desert-themed Conservatory or the Library, festooned with giant books—each of which have tricky hazards, a digital scorecard, and themed craft cocktails to dial up the fun factor. Even if you’re not an ace with a club, the immersive experience offers a side of shareable snacks and live DJ-spun tunes, so everyone wins.
Cheer on the city’s new pro soccer team, Charlotte FC. The inaugural 2020 season kicked off in Bank of America Stadium with a Major League Soccer record-setting attendance of 74,479 fans in the first home game. The expansion team sports Carolina blue, with a four-point crown to honor the Queen City’s four Uptown wards. Fan favorites on the roster include left back Christian Fuchs, who won an against-all-odds Premier League championship with Leicester City; midfielder Brandt Bronico, who had a four-year career at UNC Charlotte and is referred to as the city’s “mayor”; and first-round draft pick Ben Bender, the 21-year-old midfielder who celebrates scored goals with ninja-style moves. The team may be new, but its traditions are already well established. Join in with a pre-game tailgate and parade-like march to the stadium, then lend your voice to the a cappella national anthem, a custom started when the designated performer’s mic cut out during an early game. “It’s been exciting to see the city truly embrace the team,” says Charlotte FC Director of Communications Woody Wilder. “During the games, people are jumping, screaming, and chanting, and the drums are pounding. It doesn’t look like that kind of fever is going to wear off anytime soon.”
If you’re looking for a serious adrenaline rush, Carowinds deserves the top spot on your Charlotte itinerary. The amusement park is home to North America’s longest steel roller coaster, Fury 325. The tallest and fastest giga coaster in the country (giga coasters have drops of at least 300 feet), it stretches a staggering 325 feet in the air, has a scream-inducing 81-degree drop, and reaches speeds of up to 95 miles per hour. Trust us: It’s not for the faint of heart. On select days from November 21 through January 1, you can also enjoy the annual Carowinds WinterFest, complete with ice skating, live entertainment and carolers, specialty shops, and holiday-themed games.
YADKIN VALLEY WINE TRAILS
For an antidote to all that excitement, head to the Yadkin Valley, tucked into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, just 45 minutes northwest of Charlotte. It’s home to more than three dozen wineries, a host of scenic drives, hiking trails, and chef-driven restaurants. North Carolina was the top wine-producing state prior to Prohibition, and the industry’s resurgence in the area started in the early 2000s. Now a multitude of grapes, including cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, syrah, chardonnay, and viognier, thrive here. While you can’t go wrong with tastings at any of the scenic vineyards in the area, consider starting with the winners of the 2022 NC Fine Wines ShowCase: Raffaldini (Best in Show, Best White), Sanctuary (Best Red), and Piccione (Best Sparkling). Hire a driver from Van in Black or SilverFox Limos, or stay the night at cozy cabins at Elkin Creek Vineyard.
There’s always something to look forward to in Charlotte. Here are just a few reasons to visit in the future.
Foodies shouldn’t miss four new Black-owned eateries set to open in 2023 at Camp North End, pioneered by Bay-Haven Restaurant Group owners Greg and Subrina Collier. (Greg, a chef, was a James Beard Award finalist in 2022.) The eateries—Passage Seafood, modern speakeasy the Abyss, chicken-centric Bird Is The Word, and B.A.D. (Beyond Amazing Donuts)—will join the couple’s cult-favorite Leah & Louise restaurant in the same development.
When Cleveland, Ohio, import Saucy Brew Works, a brewery and coal-fired pizzeria, makes its debut in the Dilworth area in late 2023, it will be one of Charlotte’s largest breweries. Stay in the adjacent seven-room Airbnb, built into the restored 1902 Mayes House, for an unconventional lodging experience just steps away from more than 20 rotating taps.
Score cool points with a visit to Rally Pickleball, opening spring 2023. The nearly two-acre entertainment complex will feature eight courts (four indoor, four outdoor), along with a full-service restaurant, live music, and multiple bars to spur some friendly competition.
Save the Date
Time your visit to join one of these Queen City events.
BayHaven Food & Wine Festival, Oct. 19–23
Celebrated restaurateurs Greg and Subrina Collier spearhead this annual culinary festival that draws more than 60 Southern chefs and 2,000 guests to Camp North End.
Biketoberfest, Oct. 30
This charity scavenger hunt invites riders to discover Charlotte’s myriad charms along a bike-friendly route.
Ice Skating, Nov.-Feb.
Lace up your skates as the U.S. National Whitewater Center turns its rivers into a winter wonderland with two ice trails and two free- skate zones.
Undeck the Hall, Dec. 28–29
The NASCAR Hall of Fame hosts its annual post-Christmas event, free for museum guests. Racing fans can select a gift from trees stocked with apparel, gear, autographed memorabilia, and die-cast cars.
This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2022 issue of Southbound.