I heard a bit on the radio once claiming that once someone has lived in a city for 10 years, he or she can officially say that they are “from” that city. Where this notion came from, and whether or not there’s any validity to it, I don’t know. But at the time I was listening, I was coming up on my ten-year anniversary of living in Charlotte, so I decided to accept it.
And so, embracing this claim, I’m proud to say that I’m from a city whose rich tapestry of art galleries, beer culture, and craft food composes the ideal destination for anyone looking to visit. If you’re planning a weekend trip to our fair Queen City and would prefer to discover its non-touristy side, I hope you find the below itinerary helpful – if so, you're all set from happy hour on Friday through Sunday afternoon. Oh, and trust me on the oyster shooters.
FRIDAY: HAPPY HOUR
Neighborhood: Plaza Midwood
What better way to kick off the weekend than with happy hour drinks? Located in Charlotte’s quirky-cool (see also: hipster) Plaza Midwood neighborhood, Resident Culture Brewing Company tenders hop-forward “beers brewed with a neighborhood funk” and sits on an acre of land that it’s turned into a 4,000-square-foot outdoor biergarten complete with several picnic tables and frequent pop-up shops. Resident Culture’s beer list spans from easy-drinking pilsners to clean, hoppy double IPAs to fruited goses – making sure there’s something for everyone. Personal preference tip: if you like IPAs, try Head Space.
Neighborhood: Plaza Midwood
When it’s time for dinner, walk two-and-a-half blocks (or about five minutes) west of Resident Culture to Krazy Fish. Crispy ceviche tacos, Southern pulled pork with blueberry tamarind chutney, jalapeno cheddar grits, brisket tacos topped with salsa verde … the menu at Krazy Fish is as innovative as it is affordable, with the vast majority of these krazy lunch and dinner dishes falling between $8 and $10. And the creativity doesn’t start and stop with the menu: the restaurant’s eclectic vibe features paint-splattered booth benches, plastic flamingos, surfboards, and flying mermaids hanging from the ceiling. Simply put, Krazy Fish is just downright fun. It also doesn’t hurt that they’ve been featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” as well as Guy Fieri’s “Guy’s Grocery Games.” Personal preference tip: go for the crispy ceviche tacos (side dish, corn maque chou) and ask for a side of pink gold sauce to drizzle on top of your tacos.
FRIDAY: AFTER-DINNER DRINKS & SUCH
Neighborhood: South End
From Krazy Fish, take a 10-minute Uber ride to Craft Tasting Room and Growler Shop in trendy South End, Charlotte’s creative design district. Craft is a dedicated craft growler and bottle shop that keeps nearly 40 different local and regional taps on rotation as well as an assortment of artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, and other agricultural sundries. Beautiful, rustic, and refined, the vibe inside Craft is a sort of “relaxed professional” – think 20- and 30-something-year-old bankers who just got off work. You’ll have fun perusing the grocery section and appreciating the industrial modern look and feel of the space. Check out their real-time tap wall offerings ahead of time here. Personal preference tip: not that you’ll be hungry after Krazy Fish, but if you could stand to snack on something, the Verde Flatbread is a can’t-miss.
Not even a full block down the street from Craft is Seoul Food Meat Co. Custom cocktails; a covered wooden deck bar; a dog park area; and a giant outdoor, adult playground are just a few of the features of Seoul that make it a neighborhood favorite. Have a seat in the calm, relaxing, rope-lit interior to regroup, or keep the momentum going by playing soccer-pool and cornhole outside. Personal preference tip: venture out of the norm and pick a beer off of their Asian Craft Beer list.
Last but not least, end your night at Wooden Robot Brewery, a South End staple renowned for its urban farmhouse style of craft beer and gluten-reduced options. (Fun fact: the name “Wooden Robot” was forged to symbolize the amazing things that can be created by combining tradition with innovation.) Wooden Robot is always buzzing with people, so be aware that you’ll be walking into a crowded area. And it’s crowded for good reason. The beer is tasty, the atmosphere is somehow laid-back and exciting at the same time, the décor is rich and warm, and the bartenders are friendly and helpful – and most if not all of them are certified cicerones. Personal preference tip: try the Good Morning Vietnam, a coffee vanilla blonde ale.
Neighborhood: Plaza Midwood
A lot of people seem to agree that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And in Charlotte, breakfast means brunch … and brunch means Bloody Marys (or mimosas) and eggs. The Peculiar Rabbit opens for brunch at 10 a.m., and because I’ve got a pretty jam-packed Saturday planned for you, I’d suggest getting to the Rabbit as early as you can so you can have all the time your heart desires to enjoy the goodness that is their spicy Bloody Mary. Bonus: if you get there at open, there most likely won’t be a wait – which means first dibs on their scenic, skyline-overlooking rooftop deck. When it comes to their food, not enough can be said. Advertised as an American farm-to-fork gastropub, the Rabbit specializes in infusing traditional English fare with southern ingredients from local suppliers. Personal preference tip: select something from the “Peculiars” section of the brunch menu, which is bound to be something you couldn’t easily recreate at home or find at another restaurant.
SATURDAY: EARLY AFTERNOON
Neighborhoods: Plaza Midwood and Dilworth/Myers Park
When you leave the Peculiar Rabbit, walk four minutes down the street to stock up on snacks and grab some coffee at the Common Market, “where an uncommon idea takes root in common ground.” Offering the latest in local craft beer, a diverse wine selection, unique snacks, delicious coffee, funky gifts, vinyl, merchandise, and trinkets, Common Market has won the hearts of many a local. Common Market is Plaza Midwood’s neighborhood living room, and will welcome you as a new friend with open arms. Personal preference tip: grab a cup of their “coffee-flavored coffee” and a humongous Rice Krispies treat (next to the register).
Next, gather up your Common Market goodies and head to Freedom Park. Freedom Park is located between Charlotte’s historic Dilworth and Myers Park neighborhoods, and is 98 acres of paved trails, a pond, tennis and volleyball courts, baseball fields, playground equipment, and an amphitheater. It’s also home to the very well-hidden gem, Charlotte Nature Museum. Admittedly, the museum could do with a bit of a face lift (and in fact, one is in the works) but is still most definitely worth checking out. Park in the Mahlon Adams Indoor Pavilion parking lot and start walking toward the amphitheater. Along the way, you’ll see ducks, fountains, benches, and plenty of beautiful foliage. Have a seat, sip your coffee, and enjoy this nice, peaceful break. When you decide to get on up, saunter over to the Charlotte Nature Museum, which is owned and operated by Discovery Place. To get there, simply walk toward the fountain and look for the wooden signs that say “Nature Museum.” The cost is $8/person and comes with access to the Butterfly Pavilion, Insect Alley, Paw Paw Nature Trail, Peetie’s Place (for the kids), and more. Personal preference tip: try to get to the museum at either noon or 2 p.m. for their live animal feedings, which is included in the price of admission.
saturday: late afternoon & dinner
Neighborhood: Belmont Historic District
The U.S. National Whitewater Center (USNWC) is a 30-minute drive from Freedom Park, but it is well worth it. The USNWC is a non-profit outdoor recreation and athletic training facility on approximately 700 acres of land adjacent to the Catawba River, and is an official Olympic Training Center for whitewater slalom racing. All in all, it’s an experience unlike any other, with offerings like whitewater rafting and kayaking, flatwater kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding, open-water rock climbing, zip lining, ropes courses, canopy tours, and mountain biking – all for between $25 and $59. (A “single activity pass” for $25 lets you choose one single activity whereas the “day pass” gets you access to all available activities for $59.) But hey, if you’re not looking to hold a paddle or strap on a harness, there’s still plenty to do. Hang out at the Pump House Biergarten, take a nice long stroll along the paved trails, check out some merchandise, or listen to the live music that plays every Saturday evening throughout the summer months. The USNWC also has great adventure dining programs like Paddle to Table and Zipline and Dine. Unfortunately, these are most often only offered during the work week. If you can swing it, though, it’s a great experience for a reasonable price, considering all that’s included (about an hours’ worth of an activity along with a chef-curated, fireside dinner at the Ridge Pavilion, complete with craft beer and wine – prices range from $55 to $75). Weather-permitting, the USNWC is open 365 days a year, from dawn until dusk – but the availability of activities varies with the seasons, so make sure to call ahead or check out the online calendar first.
For dinner, do yourself a favor and stick around. The River’s Edge Bar & Grill offers a great variety of food, beer, and wine; and you can sit inside or out on the patio that overlooks the whitewater river. Because the wait can get pretty long, try to time it to where you’re putting your name on the wait list about an hour before you’d like to be sitting down. They’ll text you when your table is ready. Personal preference tip: the pickled pimento burger (with picked green tomatoes) is amazing; if you’re looking for something lighter, you can’t go wrong with the combination of flavors that comes in the blackened salmon salad (brussel sprouts, fig, soy ginger, etc.).
SATURDAY: AFTER-DINNER DRINKS & SUCH
Neighborhood: NoDa Arts District
From the USNWC, head back into the city toward Growler’s Pour House in NoDa. Short for North Davidson Street, NoDa is Charlotte’s historic arts and entertainment district, “a neighborhood where the people are as diverse as the art, live music, craft beers, restaurants, custom gifts, and tattoos that you’ll find here.” And my home for the last seven years.
Most locals hole up in Growler’s because of its award-winning beer selection. Their 14 taps, hand-chosen with an eye for selectivity, run the gamut of style so that patrons can taste the best American craft beers available in the market today, and this keenness has won them a place amongst the Top 100 Beer Bars by Draft Magazine for five years in a row. As for me, I hole up in Growler’s because of its oyster shooters. If you’ve never had an oyster shooter, think a shot glass half-full of Bloody Mary mix, half-full of vodka, with an oyster thrown in. Try it. It might sound weird, but please take my word for it – if you even remotely like oysters or Bloody Marys, you will not be sorry. In fact, you might curse me for having introduced you to your new favorite, hard-to-come-by drink. Personal preference tip: pretty sure I already made that clear.
Following your experience at Growler’s, walk one-and-a-half blocks northeast to Salud Beer Shop. Wondering where to find the graffiti in this blog post’s title photo? Here it is. Originally a small bottle shop crafted to promote local and regional craft beer, Salud continues to grow with now a dozen rotating beers on tap, hundreds of craft beer bottles and cans from around the world, a wide variety of wine, and a bangin’ deli (excuse my language) named Fud at Salud. Additionally, the owners recently opened Salud Cerveceria, a taproom designed to serve the beer brewed by Salud’s brewing department. Salud Cerveceria sits atop the bottle shop and does the arts district proud with its gallery-esque décor, funky murals, and live music. Personal preference tip: if you’re in the mood for dessert, order the You’re Killin’ Me, Smores waffle-wich and wash it down with a breakfast stout if they have one on tap, or a bottle if they don’t.
Finally, end your night one block back toward Growler’s at NoDa 101. By this point, you should be nice and confident in your singing abilities – so why not try your hand (or voice) at karaoke? Always open until 2 a.m., NoDa 101 features karaoke seven nights a week and places a heavy emphasis on fresh local beer as well as its fully stocked bar. Personal preference tip: if you get there before 10 p.m., there’s a good chance you won’t have to wait in line to belt out those lyrics on stage!
Neighborhood: South End
Up and at ‘em! For your morning cup of coffee, and perhaps a pastry or two, back to South End we go. With its fresh, baked-daily artisanal bread and European pastries, Nova’s Bakery has been a staple in Charlotte for more than 20 years. But personally, my favorite aspect of Nova’s Bakery is their coffee. On any given day, they’ll have four drip coffees brewed: two regular, one decaf, and one flavored. Even though I’m typically a no-cream, no-sugar, no-fuss coffee drinker, I absolutely adore their flavored offerings. Chocolate caramel truffle, snickerdoodle, cinnamon hazelnut, toasted macaron, Hawaiian macadamia nut – just to name a few. Personal preference tip: if they have it, try the snickerdoodle coffee … and a butter croissant while you’re at it.
sunday: earn your brunch
Neighborhood: South End
Hopefully you got just enough fuel from Nova’s Bakery for a morning run with Lenny Boy Run Club (LBRC), which is five minutes by car down the street from Nova's. Lenny Boy Brewing Co. is a wonderfully unique addition to Charlotte’s local brewery scene, offering organic kombucha, gluten-free wild ales, gluten-reduced beer, sours, and traditional ales and lagers. Haven’t tried kombucha? Not sure what it is? Kombucha is a fermented beverage made from tea, water, sugar, and a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, and is full of probiotics that work to boost the immune system and stimulate metabolisms. What does it taste like? Try it for yourself (for free) after the run! The run starts at 11 a.m. every Sunday and offers 1.5-, 3-, and 5-mile routes. What’s even better than the kombucha, beer, and run is the people that you’ll meet while you’re there. The runners at LBRC are genuine, welcoming, and a charming representation of Charlotte locals. Personal preference tip: after the run, rehydrate with Wake-Up Call, a blueberry, yerba mate, and green tea kombucha.
Neighborhood: NoDa Arts District
Now that you’ve earned it, head over to Heist Brewery for a feast of a brunch (brunch ends at 2 p.m. but no need to hurry, it's only a 10-13 minute drive from Lenny Boy). In its own words, Heist “offers an array of artisan breads baked fresh daily, shared plates, and wood-fired specialties served up in a renovated, century-old former mill. At Heist, bold and unexpected culinary combinations are the norm, creating an innovative and appetizing dining experience for guests.” And this idea of twisted American cuisine is not lost on their brunch menu. Along their buffet, you’ll find items like caramelized pineapple soaked in Sailor Jerry rum and topped with vanilla bean-scented mascarpone, scratch-made buttermilk biscuits with peppered sausage gravy, white wine garlic butter “drunken mussels,” and an assortment of donuts, meats, cheeses, fruits, flatbreads, bacon, eggs, grits, potatoes, and more. To top it all off, with the $21 you pay for the buffet, you get an “a la carte menu” item – like shrimp and grits or a garden omelette or steak and egg hash. Too full from the buffet? Wrap up you’re a la carte item to-go. One last thing: if you’re feeling like mimosas, for $12 they offer a carafe that comes out to about six champagne flutes’ worth. Personal preference tip: don’t pass up the rum-soaked pineapples.
Neighborhood: NoDa Arts District
To walk off that massive brunch, take a walk down North Davidson Street toward Pura Vida and Ruby’s Gift. Both are delightfully quaint gift and art shops completely unique to Charlotte. At Pura Vida, “you’ll enjoy discovering a variety of treasures from all over the world, from Latin American folk art such as Day of the Dead art to prayer items such as Tibetan singing bowls and prayer flags.” Pura Vida focuses on handmade and organic items, like its boho-chic clothing, toys, soaps, candles, and jewelry. Ruby’s Gift features all-local artisans and one-of-a-kind handmade items: art, jewelry, home goods, pottery, clothing, and accessories. Personal preference tip: take a peek at David French’s Charlotte-famous paintings (one example showcased below) of various scenes around the city – for their incredibly reasonable prices, you just might find one you want to take home.
SUNDAY: WRAPPING UP
Neighborhood: North End
One of the oldest and largest breweries in the city of Charlotte, the crown jewel of any visit to the Queen City is NoDa Brewing Co. (I might be biased in writing that, but hey, since I am the one writing it I get to say what I want.) So, it’s only fitting that NoDa should be your last stop, your last impression of Charlotte before you head out of the city. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, you don’t have to take my word for how great NoDa beer is. “NoDa is one of the Charlotte area’s winningest breweries. Hop Drop ‘N Roll, the ‘beer that started it all,’ earned the Gold Award at the 2014 World Beer Cup; two years before that, Coco Loco won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in the Robust Porter category; and in 2016, my personal favorite NoDa beer, NoDajito, beat out 113 other entries for a gold medal in the GABF’s Herb and Spice Beer category.” Personal preference tip: try them all! Order one or two flights (which come with four beers each for $8) and stay and sip for a while.
See you soon!
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*Photo Credit: NoDa Mural
*Photo Credit: Resident Culture
*Photo Credit: Freedom Park
*Photo Credit: USNWC
*Photo Credit: Ruby’s Gift