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5 fun spots in Gaston

Today's column is the start of an occasional series I plan on five things to do in various counties and towns around the Charlotte area. With pricey gas, it might help you plan some excursions to have fun. I'm starting with Gaston County, because I really like this list of five things. I also remember a few Gaston dates my husband and I have had – once we started at the botanical garden, took a walk and had dinner in downtown Belmont and ended up at the drive-in.

1. Belmont Drive-In Theatre

Double features of current movies and a wider variety of concessions, including hamburgers and hot dogs, than you'll find at regular movie theaters – more reasonably priced too. Admission: $8 a carload. The box office opens at 7 p.m. and sometimes earlier if there are big crowds. Movies start at dusk, so you'll have less of a wait for opening credits if you go later in the season. More info: www.belmont

2. Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, Belmont

The garden boasts beautiful fountains, flowers and plants. And new this year: an 8,000 square-foot orchid conservatory. The conservatory is hosting a special butterfly show from Saturday to Nov. 9. The garden is at 6500 S. New Hope Road, Belmont. It's open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $10; $9 for seniors; $5 for children 4-12. For more info, including events and featured plants:

3. Crowders Mountain State Park, Gaston County

You don't have to go far for mountain hiking. The trails are strenuous, free and at the top offer a glimpse of Charlotte's skyline. You can camp here too. Info, including an interactive park map: www.crowdersmountain .com.

4. Mary Jo's Cloth Store, Gastonia

Like to sew? You need to see this 32,000-square-foot fabric store, a fixture in the Gaston Mall for 22 years. Customers have included novices and pros – even Dolly Parton's seamstress and Disney costume makers. Info, including a virtual tour: www.maryjos .com.

5. R.O.'s Bar-B-Cue, Gastonia

R.O.'s has been around since 1946 and has a faithful and passionate following. But it's the famous slaw, not the meat, that has the big-time reputation. The slaw – made from a secret recipe, of course – is tangy and bright orange. Info:

Now, where should I profile next? E-mail me your suggestions on where to go and what to do there.