I recently just got back from Charlotte, NC. I was partly there to attend the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville. Find my tips on attending those fairs here. I was also tagging along as my husband had a work conference in Charlotte. Charlotte is a beautiful, clean city. I was lucky to have arrived when the weather was just warming up.
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Charlotte is a fairly small city so it’s very easy to get around. With the weather so nice, I mainly walked or took the light rail. From the city center, most of the attractions are less than a 1 mile walk. The LYNX light rail crosses the city so you can hop on it and walk the rest of the way. Bike sharing is also pretty big in Charlotte. There are lots of bike lanes and the traffic isn’t so bad that biking is dangerous. Charlotte has dockless bikes, which was strange to me at first because you would find the bikes in random street corners, but they are easy to find and unlock with your phone so another great alternative to travel a bit more green in Charlotte. I definitely cannot see dockless bikes surviving in NYC.
We rented a car the first 2 days since I had to drive out to Asheville which was 2 hours away. I did take the Airport Sprinter from the bus to the city which took less than 20 minutes on a Sunday. Fare for the bus is around $2.20 round trip, same for the light rail. The one-way light rail ticket has around a 2 hour window. You can also purchase a one day unlimited pass for $6.60. One day is 24 hours from time of purchase. Buses require exact change. For the light rail, you can purchase at the kiosks or download the CATSPass on to your phone(Google Play Store or iTunes App Store. One less ticket you'll have to throw away later.
Lyft is also always an option and it is pretty inexpensive, but if all else fails, walk. The city has a lot of walking paths and it's the best way to explore and find new things.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Westin Charlotte as that’s where my husband’s conference was. It is centrally located and most of the major sites are a walking distance. As an SPG member, I love the Westin because the staff is always nice, the rooms are clean and roomy and we’ve never had a bad experience at any of our stays. The Westin Charlotte is also attempting lots of sustainability initiatives. The main ones that stood out to me as a guest was their transition to dye-free, paraben free and phthalates free hygiene products. Though these are still in plastic instead of large reusable dispensers, but a step in the right direction I believe. The Westin also promoted water conservation, energy conservation by giving guests extra SPG points for every night they refused housekeeping. I definitely took the extra points. I mean I don’t even wash my towels every week, why should I need to have them changed every day.
Interestingly too, the Westin Charlotte has a bee hive on the 3rd floor. We found them as we toured the workout facility. It was pretty cool to see these bees in a city. The honey is used for a few of their culinary dishes and cocktails. It can’t get any more local than that.
The other option is at the Ritz Carlton in the Uptown neighborhood which is LEED Gold-certified. I didn’t get a chance to take a look at the hotel, but that’s step in the right direction. I guess I can plan for this in the future now that SPG, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton rewards are coming together into one rewards program.
What to Eat
North Carolina is known for BBQ so you will see lots of BBQ places. Even though I am trying to move towards a more plant rich diet, my husband convinced me to try out a BBQ place – Midwood Smokehouse for our first meal there. It was delicious, not going to lie, but in the back of my mind, I was thinking of this article, so my meat consumption was limited during this NC stay.
I had a great, straw-free margarita at Bakersfield Tacos. We didn’t realize how much the chips and guac made us full because we were only able to eat 3 tacos shared together. Bartender was very nice and the atmosphere is casual. This is very close to Freedom Park so it’s a good stop after you’ve spend the day at the park.
I had a great lunch at Living Kitchen in the South End which serves organic and plant based cuisine. Great mix of food and drinks. I spent my lunch sitting on the outside patio which was perfect.
I also had a chance to dine at Dandelion Charlotte. I was with a big group that ordered the full menu (yes, they had that option) so the food got to be overwhelming at one point, but the dishes were all delicious.
A few other mentions, Fern, Flavors from the Garden and Tupelo Honey. Fern is close to Freedom Park and we wanted to have dinner there, but after the drinks at Bakersfield, just had no room. Fern is known for their vegan and vegetarian dishes. They have a nice patio area for outdoor dining. I also wanted to check out Tupelo because they source all of their ingredients locally. Dishes are prepared in the Southern style so I was really curious about what this meant. but again just did not have time.
Amelie French Bakery and Café is a good spot for coffee and some dessert. They have a few locations and open late so it can be a spot to go to if you want something quick. Standard food though just a heads up in my opinion.
What to Do
Charlotte appears to be a very outdoorsy city. You will see lots of people walking, running and biking. I opted to enjoy the warm weather and get some sun so I didn’t head in a lot of indoor places. The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is close on Tuesdays so I missed seeing the place. The Mint Museum is closed Mondays & Tuesdays so I missed that as well. So definitely check those hours before heading out.
Freedom Park is 98 acres of park facilities. Lots of places to walk, have a picnic, for the kids to run around. This is a bit farther away from the city center so you will need a car or take Lyft to get there.
7th Street Public Market
Check out this market for tasty food and locally made goods. I did not get a chance to eat there, just wasn’t hungry at the times we were there. The goal of the Market is to promote local and regional farmers, food and artisans. This Market is close to Imaginon, a children’s library and activity center so the you can make a whole day of visiting in this area. It's easy to access, either via LYNX or walk. Across the Market is also a small park with a splash area in case you need to cool down. Great place to sit, take a nap, read or chat. Kids will have fun here.
Billy Graham Library
We visited the Billy Graham Library after our Midwood lunch. It’s a beautiful, sprawling complex. It was busy, but not overwhelmingly so. There is a self-paced tour that you can do indoors which explains the life of Billy Graham and his calling as an evangelist and speaker to share the Gospel of God. Access to the grounds, library, and everything else is free. I would recommend visiting the Memorial Prayer Garden where Ruth and Billy Graham are buried. It’s a few feet away from the main library. They have a few wooden benches set up in the wooded area so you can contemplate in silence.
Nascar Hall of Fame
I was reluctant to go in here because I'm not really a Nascar fan or a car racing fan in general, but I found the Nascar Fall of Fame to be informative. Did you know that car racing and Nascar had it's beginning during the prohibition era? I didn't know that. If you've got kids, this is a great place because there's a lot of interactive things to do. My husband and I got the Unlimited Simulator pass and were able to get into the car racing simulation a few times. It was quite fun I have to admit. I also got a chance to change be part of a pit crew and go through an exercise of jacking a car, changing the tires and refueling. Of course, it's simulated, but still interesting and fun to do. Just a heads up, admission includes lunch which is mostly in plastic containers. Unfortunately, there is no way to pay for admission without the lunch and you can't carry it with you in the open so bring an extra bag if you want to get the food, but don't want to eat it right away. We opted to eat because I didn't want to waste my money and the food.
Where to Work
Part of my job whenever I visit new places is also to source out where to work. Since I mainly rely on just a computer and an internet connection, it’s critical that find good spaces to do work. The hotel just sometimes doesn’t work for me.
Parliament Espresso and Coffee Bar
This coffee shop is attached to one of the financial buildings. It was pretty quiet when I was there in the morning at around 9am. There are plenty of seats, tables and outlets to work on. WiFi is free if you check in through Facebook. The coffee is great and they offer reusable options. Check out their water dispenser too for still or sparkling and use the mason jar to promote reuse. There’s a few seating outside if you need a break.
This coffee shop is closer to a more residential area. It’s slightly smaller, but has a few tables to work on. It’s a few blocks from Midwood Smokehouse should you want to stop by coffee after eating.
Not Just Coffee
I’m a sucker for brick walls and skylights. Not Just Coffee has this vibe. Easy going and not busy. Great place to get some quite writing time and some sunlight in the process.
First Ward Park & Romare Bearden Park
Sometimes though I do feel like it’s nice to be disconnected. For that head to First Ward Park and Romare Bearden Park to get your reading on. On the days that I was there, it was especially nice to bask in the warm sunlight, take notes and make progress on my book without being inside a stuffy room. It was pretty quiet, lots of space and lots of shade options too.
Zero Waste Travel in Charlotte
As with anything, do the best you can while traveling. Don't forget your Top 4: bring a reusable bag, opt for reusbable containers for coffee/tea, bring your reusable water bottle and refuse straws or anything that you don't really need like brochures, pamphlets, etc. Charlotte is not yet the most 100% sustainable city when it comes to trash, but you will find plenty of options to avoid and reduce waste while exploring the city.
Check out the map below to see where all of the city's places are located. I'm sure I missed some, so please let me know where to go next time. This map includes some trails an hour or two away from the main city center.