Charlotte’s uptown may be brimming with shiny new skyscrapers and alluring entertainment venues, but the neighborhoods surrounding it are where you’ll find the city’s real character.
Whether you’re looking for a family-run restaurant, a laid-back brewery, or a locally owned shop, these five ’hoods are full of opportunities to soak in the city. Ready to explore? Here’s your guide to enjoying the respective flavor of each these booming urban neighborhoods.
To Know: Named for North Davidson Street, which runs through its center, this is Charlotte’s eclectic arts district. Known for its live music venues, popular breweries and creative residents, it’s the kind of lively neighborhood where you’ll find artists and musicians on the sidewalks many evenings. And with the LYNX Blue Line light-rail extension set to start running through it in 2017, the neighborhood is growing quickly – and sure to only increase in popularity.
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To Eat: From Cabo Fish Taco’s tasty Baja fare to the family-friendly brunch at Heist Brewery, these streets are filled with inventive restaurants. Stop in the cozy Crepe Cellar for its sweet and savory takes on the French treat, and be sure to plan a lunch indulging in one of the city’s best burgers at the picnic table at the casual Brooks’ Sandwich House. Amelie’s French Bakery though, with its 24/7 schedule and decadent salted caramel brownies, may be NoDa’s most beloved edible option.
To Drink: Local craft beer. Imbibing in brew is a must in this neighborhood, which is home to NoDa Brewing Company, Birdsong Brewing, Heist Brewery and Free Range Brewing. Enjoy the on-tap offerings at any of the breweries or stop by Growlers Pourhouse for an ever-changing selection of craft beers.
To Do: Catch a live show at the Evening Muse, a small indie music venue at the corner of 36th and North Davidson streets, almost any night of the week. Or buy your tickets for an evening at the iconic Neighborhood Theatre, a restored 1945 movie theater that has hosted performers from Band of Horses to Waka Flocka Flame.
To Know: Just to the east of town, this charming neighborhood is home to historical destinations from Van Landingham Estate and Charlotte Country Club to the original Fuel Pizza gas station location and vintage Dairy Queen. It’s a bohemian mix of old and new, with stylish restaurants and upscale condo developments alongside diners and dives.
To Eat: If you’re looking for trendy tapas and a speakeasy vibe, stop in the fashionable Soul Gastrolounge. In the mood for burgers and beers? Slide into one of the booths at The Diamond diner. Midwood Smokehouse is a local favorite for its tender and tasty barbecue, while Zada Jane’s draws crowds for its eclectic brunch menu. And if you’re craving a slice, you’re in the right place. Pizza Peel, Fuel Pizza and the new Pure Pizza are all serving up some of the best in town.
To Drink: There’s no shortage of nightlife options in Midwood, where Whiskey Warehouse and Peculiar Rabbit offer their sips alongside impressive skyline views from rooftop bars. For a casual night out, join in the games on the patio of Thomas Street Tavern. Or, for a more sophisticated evening, soak in the art on the walls of Gallery Twenty-Two wine bar with glass in hand, before heading upstairs for some of the city’s best cocktails at Soul Gastrolounge.
To Do: Plaza Midwood is one of Charlotte’s most walkable neighborhoods, with antique shops, bakeries, bars, home décor stores, boutiques and music venues all within a few blocks. It’s an easy area to park and walk – whether perusing the shops and restaurants, or taking a stroll down its tree-lined neighborhood streets filled with historic homes.
To Know: This former mill community is one of Charlotte fastest-growing and most vibrant neighborhoods. The LYNX light rail runs through the center of the neighborhood into uptown, making this a favorite for the young professional set. And, of course, the trendy retail, restaurants, bars and breweries haven’t hurt.
To Eat: Locally owned restaurants such as The Liberty, Nan & Byron’s and Futo Buta are popular spots for lunch or dinner. But you can get a little more adventurous in South End. Check out some of the city’s best vegan dishes at Luna’s Living Kitchen or meander down the aisles of the adjacent Atherton Mill market for local fresh fare. For a more nostalgic meal, grab some of the fried chicken at the historic Price’s Chicken Coop then head down the road for a milkshake at the counter at Pike’s Old Fashioned Soda Shop.
To Drink: Breweries reign supreme here, with spots such as Triple C, Unknown and Olde Mecklenburg being among the top picks. But you’ll also find the city’s first cidery, Red Clay Hard Cider, and its only kombucha brewery, Lenny Boy, in South End. Spend an evening at one of the craft beer bars such as Good Bottle Co. to get a taste of it all.
To Do: While South End’s streets are busy most days, the neighborhood is especially lively during its South End Gallery Crawls and Food Truck Fridays. On those evenings, head to the corner of Camden Road and Park Avenue for a family-friendly evening of food truck fare and a peek inside the neighborhood’s many galleries.
To Know: This historic neighborhood is home to two of the city’s largest hospitals, Mercy and Presbyterian, and some its most alluring residential streets. Its central pedestrian-friendly area is Elizabeth Avenue, a stretch of road offering eateries and the popular music venue, the Visulite. And the city’s new streetcar, which travels from uptown down Elizabeth Avenue, is already bringing even more attention to this prestigious ’hood.
To Eat: Some of the city’s most established fine dining restaurants are here, including The Fig Tree, Customshop and Carpe Diem, which all offer upscale American dishes. But there’s plenty of casual dining as well, like fresh-baked breakfasts at Sunflour Bakery, tasty tacos at Sabor Latin Grille, and homemade ice cream at Elizabeth Creamery.
To Drink: For a casual evening out, grab a drink on the deck at Kennedy’s Bar and Grill or on the patio at Hawthorne’s Pizza on Seventh Street. The best spot to indulge in a libation in Elizabeth though may be Earl’s Grocery, a convivial upscale grocery store and restaurant on Elizabeth Avenue. In addition to wine and beer, Earl’s often has pop-up cocktail bars and even mixology classes.
To Do: If just riding the Gold Line trolley streetcar into and out of Elizabeth isn’t enough to keep you entertained, there are a few other options. Both the Visulite Theatre and the Double Door Inn, two of the city’s premier performance venues, draw music-loving crowds to Elizabeth. American Legion Memorial Stadium may be the area’s biggest entertainment draw, though, as the home field for the Charlotte’s Major League Lacrosse team, the Hounds, and its United Soccer League Pro team, the Charlotte Independence.
To Know: Named for the intersection of Freedom and West Morehead, this neighborhood is the latest to take the scene when it comes to urban renewal in Charlotte. In addition to restored historic homes and commercial buildings, the “it” neighborhood is packed with a fresh mix of restaurants and shops – and with plans for a new brewery and greenway underway this spot is only getting hotter.
To Eat: Open Kitchen, a pizza restaurant that’s as old as it looks from the outside, is a Charlotte landmark. But it’s the burgers at Pinky’s Westside and the artisanal dishes at Savor Cafe that are the real standouts here.
To Drink: Keep an eye out for the new Blue Blaze Brewing, opening next year. In the meantime, stop in Rhino Market, where you’ll find a bar stocked with a creative variety of wines and beers, as well as casual bites to complement them.
To Do: FreeMoreWest is still a neighborhood in progress, but you’ll find a few local places that make it worth wandering around these streets. Stop by spots like LaCa Projects, a gallery featuring an impressive selection of Latin American art. Or, for another way to explore, pop into Uptown Cycles, where you can rent a bike for an afternoon of checking out these streets.
Sarah, executive editor of the Observer’s Magazine Division, has lived in Plaza Midwood for three years.