The last time I made a list of things to do in uptown Charlotte, more than five years ago, I included hot spots like Bar Charlotte, Dixie’s Tavern and Urban Sip. And apparently I backed some lame horses – all three of those places have since gone out of business.
So let’s try this again: Here’s a new-and-improved-for-2018 list of my favorite things to do within the I-277/Graham Street loop, organized so that (if you find yourself with a windfall of free time and extra cash) you could knock out most of them in one day without ever having to get behind the wheel.
1. Start the day by burning off some calories: If you’re on a budget, drop in at the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center (800 E. M.L.K. Jr. Blvd.), where for just $5 county residents can get a day pass to a fully furnished weight room, treadmills, elliptical and step machines, as well as to the 50-meter pool that Olympic champion Michael Phelps has taken a dip in. If high-end group fitness is more your thing, ride to the beat of the music during a “boutique spin class” at CycleSouth (401 N. Tryon St.). There’s not a ton that differentiates it from places like Flywheel or CycleBar, though there’s a big benefit to uptown workers: They won’t have to fight traffic to get to or from the studio. Classes are $23 each, with plans starting at $69 per month; there’s also a $10 class every Friday at 5:30 p.m.
2. Recharge at 7th Street Public Market (224 E. 7th St.): Located at the 7th Street Station of the LYNX Light Rail’s Blue Line, this is a cluster of generally health-conscious places to grab a bite, and gets cranking early enough to stop in before work. Arrive at 7 a.m. for a steaming cup of pour-over joe from Not Just Coffee and one of Local Loaf’s divine Chicken & the Egg sandwiches, which combine hand-breaded chicken tenders, aged white cheddar, a poached egg, microgreens and chipotle Cheerwine sauce on a Southern buttermilk biscuit. At 8 a.m., Hazelnuts Crêperie (crepes), Rico’s Acai (acai bowls) and Viva Raw (cold-pressed juices) open up shop.
3. Go museum-hopping: Exit 7th Street Public Market and turn left, and you’ll immediately run into Levine Museum of the New South (200 E. 7th St.), which expertly explains – through both traditional means and interactive multimedia displays – how Charlotte evolved from “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” (to borrow the title of its award-winning exhibition). Toting young kids who might not have the patience for a local history lesson? Leave the Public Market and turn right, and you’ll find ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center (300 E. 7th St.), one of the best children’s libraries in the country (it also is home to Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, a prolific producer of live professional theater for kids and families). Or walk past the Levine and head a little further up 7th to find Discovery Place Science (301 N. Tryon St.), which is always hosting some sort of fascinating exhibition (currently, that’d be “Da Vinci’s Machines,” featuring more than 75 machines and inventions that the Renaissance man created in his famous codices).
If visual art is your thing, you can pop into the former neo-Gothic church that now houses the McColl Center for Art + Innovation (721 N. Tryon St.) and chat with an artist while he or she creates, then hoof it down Tryon (it’s a little less than a mile) to pick from the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African- American Arts + Culture (551 S. Tryon St.), the Mint Museum Uptown (500 S. Tryon St.), or the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art (420 S. Tryon St.). They’re all within a block of each other, so if your time’s fairly free, you can see all three.
And lest we forget this is the heart of NASCAR country, just two blocks down Stonewall Street you’ll find the NASCAR Hall of Fame, a car-racing shrine with all sorts of high-tech features.
4. Choose from a smorgasbord of different eateries in Brevard Court (off Church Street between 3rd Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard): Try fine Philly cheesesteaks at Clover Joe’s; comfort food with a touch of Cajun at The French Quarter; a taste of Turkey (the country, not the big bird) at Metropolitan Cafe & Catering; Greek-inspired fast-casual at Nefelie’s; Vietnamese soups and sandwiches at Pho Plus; chili burgers at Queen City Burgers & Crafts; rustic bar fare at Valhalla Pub; and funky rectangular made-to-order pizzas at Zablong. The variety should keep you coming back all year long.
5. Get ready for your close-up: This side of uptown also offers three of the best spots for photos, whether they’re selfies or professionally done. First up, there’s Romare Bearden Park (300 S. Church St.), with its stunning, in-your-face skyline vistas (the waterfall fountains are especially picturesque when the lights come on near sunset, before daylight has completely faded – just be aware that county guidelines state that professional photographers must pay a fee to shoot on the property). Cut through Brevard Court and Latta Arcade (during business hours) or Levine Avenue of the Arts (before or after them) to find the iconic Firebird sculpture, which stands 17 feet tall, consists of thousands of pieces of mirror and colored glass, and guards the Bechtler Museum. Finally, right across Tryon Street is The Green (435 S. Tryon St.), a pocket park that is home to the colorful signs showing how far Charlotte is from places like Court House, Va. (214 miles); Amalie, St. Thomas (1,836 miles); and Waters, Australia (9,975 miles).
6. Stroll through uptown’s sprawling Overstreet Mall: Though I most often take it to get from The Green (go up the staircase near those colorful Charlotte signs to a revolving door that puts you inside) to the EpiCentre (210 E. Trade St.), you can actually walk all the way from the Duke Energy Center (400 S. Tryon St.) to the Hearst Tower (214 N. Tryon St.) without ever setting foot on pavement. It’s sprinkled with restaurants, hair salons, flower shops, optometrists, drugstores, jewelry stores, dry cleaners, and more; since no mall directory exists – I’m not even exactly sure “Overstreet” is an official name, to be honest – your best bet is simply to explore. Once you get the lay of the land, it’s a great way to comfortably move between various uptown locales on brutally hot, wet, or chilly days.
7. Catch a movie: The EpiCentre’s food and drink choices all tend to run together, but one place stands out: Studio Movie Grill, mainly because it’s generally(*) the only place in the uptown area to catch a first-run Hollywood film. And each of the five auditoriums is staffed by servers who can bring anything from the “American Grill menu” – plus beer, wine and cocktails – right to guests’ seats. Now, the reason for the asterisk is because every once in awhile, The Charlotte Observer IMAX Dome Theatre at Discovery Place will bump educational fare for something big. For a limited time, for example, the new “Star Wars” movie is being screened there in the extra-large format. No beer or burgers allowed inside this venue, though ...
8. Or, see a different kind of show: Blumenthal Performing Arts hosts theater productions (from local companies to Opera Carolina, national tours of Broadway productions to comedy shows and poetry slams), live concerts (everything from pop to the Charlotte Symphony) and more year-round, across six venues – from tiny Duke Energy Theater at Spirit Square (345 N. College St.) to its crown jewel, the Belk Theater (130 N. Tryon St.). Want to go bigger? The cavernous Spectrum Center (333 E. Trade St.) will host some of the city’s most-anticipated concerts in 2018, including The Eagles, Sam Smith, Alan Jackson and Maroon 5; it also, of course, is home to the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets – who are struggling this year, making it easier to score good seats.
9. Grab a nightcap: Fahrenheit (222 S. Caldwell St.) has $15 specialty cocktails and $14 craft mules, but more importantly, it offers stunning views of the uptown skyline at night, from 21 floors above Caldwell Street. It’s an unwritten rule that if you eat or drink here, you’re required to post a photo of yourself standing on the patio on social media. Over at The Punch Room (201 E. Trade St., on the 15th floor of The Ritz-Carlton), the views are less spectacular, but the drinks are even more expensive – because they’re hand-crafted right before your eyes by Bob Peters, one of Charlotte’s most famous mixologists. Be sure to ask him about his Rooftop Honey.