To know: The Catawba River separates Mecklenburg from Gaston County, which prospered because of a thriving textile industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Gastonia is the county’s biggest city, but small towns like Cramerton and Belmont have thriving downtowns with shops, restaurants and bars.
To eat: Nellie’s Southern Kitchen, owned by the father of the Jonas Brothers, offers locally-sourced Southern food with a rooftop patio overlooking downtown Belmont. Across the street, share tapas, cheese and charcuterie, and wine at Luna Hombre. The String Bean has been a local favorite since 2008. For another traditional feel, head to the old Webb Theatre for dinner at Webb Custom Kitchen.
To drink: Take a tour of the state’s oldest rum distillery, Muddy River. Grab a beer at Rivermen Brewing, which opened in a new location in downtown Belmont. Gastonia’s first brewery, Cavendish Brewing, opened in early 2017 in an old car dealership.
To do: Visit Gaston’s slogan is Gaston Outside, with good reason. The best attractions in the county will connect you with nature, from hiking at Crowders Mountain State Park to exploring Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. Try to understand the natural world at The Schiele Museum of Natural History. McAdenville — Christmas Town, USA — is a must-visit during the holiday season.