It's just a 90-minute drive to either Winston-Salem or Greensboro: They're the closest big cities to Charlotte, and each has its own appeal.
Winston-Salem's strong suit is culture, from fine to campy. Walk the grounds of 1700s Old Salem - the city's ancient and preserved heart - for free. Better yet, buy a pass and step inside various buildings to meet re-enactors: $14 or $21; less for kids. ( www.oldsalem.org)
Reynolda House Museum of American Art is full of great works by American artists from Colonial times to modern eras. $10; closed Mondays. Special events are staged throughout the year. ( www.reynoldahouse.org) Reynolda Gardens ( www.reynoldagardens.org), adjoining Reynolda House, is free to see. Take a gander at its greenhouses.
Catch a minor league (Class A) baseball game at Ernie Shore Field and buy a Dash cap or shirt ( http://web.minor leaguebaseball.com/index.jsp?sid=t580 ). Spending the night in Winston-Salem ( www.visitwinstonsalem.com)? There's great music - rock to bluegrass - at The Garage on West Seventh Street. ( www.the-garage.ws)
Fourth of July weekend is prime for Winston-Salem: The Heavy Rebel Weekender ( www.heavyrebel.net) is a wild celebration of youth culture.
Only a half-hour east of Winston-Salem on I-40 is Greensboro ( www.greensboronc.org), which has unusual attractions for all interests.
The kid-pleasing Natural Science Center ( www.natsci.org) has a 36-foot replica of a T-Rex, gem/mineral displays, zoo with monkeys, tigers, wolves, tortoises, etc. $8; $7 for kids; extra charge to see a film in the Omnisphere theater.
The Greensboro Children's Museum ( www.gcmuseum.com) has hands-on exhibits arranged in a Main Street format where youngsters can learn about grown-ups' occupations. $6.
For an outdoor stroll, try the elevated boardwalk at the Bog Garden ( www.greensborobeautiful.org/TheBog.htm) for free. Also free: N.C. A&T University Galleries include 1,500 pieces from more than 30 African nations and Haiti. The masks displayed are awesome. ( www.ncat.edu/~museum; click "Permanent Collection").
No need to go to Italy or California to sample and buy wines where they're made. Just drive north on I-77 for about an hour. Although about 90 working vineyards are found across North Carolina, the largest concentration are in and near the Yadkin River area. With so many to choose from, you can easily craft several wine-tour weekends. The varieties and techniques vary, as do the size, sophistication and ambiance of what you can see and do. Tasting events are plentiful in October. Varieties range from dry to sweet. Perhaps most unusual are wines made from muscadine - the Vitis rotundifolia grape developed over centuries in the Southeast (the renowned N.C. scuppernong is a large bronze muscadine). At www.visitncwine.com, download a brochure about wine-touring the Yadkin area, as well as the Haw River area immediately to the east. There's also information on other N.C. wineries, from Banner Elk to the coast.