The best things about Charlotte are the things that are only in Charlotte. Take a break from the everyday and experience some of what makes Charlotte unique. Here’s a list of attractions, events and photo ops. Also: They’re all free (although you will have to pay for parking at some of them).
Go to a concert at the U.S. National Whitewater Center: You can see a concert anywhere, but this might be the only place in the world to see one on an island surrounded by man-made whitewater channels. So while you enjoy the music, you can watch rafters and kayakers battle the current and watch zip-liners soar overhead. Also, the band lineup is superb. www.usnwc.org.
People-watch in Romare Bearden Park: In the heart of uptown, right across from BB&T BallPark, relax and watch Charlotte be Charlotte. Children play in the fountain and make music on large chimes. During the day, office workers enjoy their lunch break here. In the mornings and evenings, fitness-minded locals join together for zumba and yoga classes. In the summer, crowds gather for concerts and festivals. Every night, as the skyline lights up, so does the fountain of Romare Bearden Park. www.charmeck.org.
Yell “Huzzah!” at a Meck Dec Day celebration: If the date May 20 doesn’t mean anything to you, it will after celebrating Meck Dec Day in Charlotte. Every May 20, Charlotte celebrates at the Square (Trade and Tryon) with costumed historical interpreters, speeches and cannons to mark the signing of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence in 1775. Captain James Jack carried the document by horseback to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia … where it was ignored. But don’t feel bad – it just means we were ahead of our time. www.meckdec.org.
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Walk or bike the Little Sugar Creek Greenway: Part of Mecklenburg County’s Greenway system, Little Sugar Creek is a special few miles. It provides a green oasis in an urban environment, as well as some surprises, including a statue of the aforementioned Captain Jack on horseback and some of the best skyline views in town. www.charmeck.org.
Listen and dance at a Gospel Shout Concert: The trombone-led “shout bands” of United House of Prayer for All People were born right here, and once a year the public is invited to experience this high-energy gospel music at the Gospel Shout! concert, usually in the fall. You won’t believe your ears. These concerts are presented by Levine Museum of the New South and Charlotte Center City Partners. www.museumofthenewsouth.org.
Get your picture taken at the Firebird sculpture: This sparkly sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle, covered from top to bottom with mirrored and colored glass, stands outside the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and has become a required photo op for visitors and residents alike. www.bechtler.org.
Get silly at The Green: Directly across the street from the Bechtler Museum is The Green, a small park packed with personality. From the directional signs pointing to all the other Charlottes, to the brick kids climbing the brick sculpture, to the fish fountain (a very popular spot during the summer) this is a park worth exploring. www.charlottecentercity.org.
Decorate your lawn for Yard Art Day: Every year on Labor Day, Charlotte residents put one-of-a-kind art installations in their front yards. The installations range from whimsical to amazing. Yard Art Day is starting to spread across the country, but it started here. Anyone can participate. www.yardartday.org.
Sing along at a Charlotte Folk Society gathering: The Charlotte Folk Society is devoted to preserving and sharing varied musical traditions. Each month, they host a concert at the Great Aunt Stella Center. It’s free to attend, although donations are accepted. After the concert, you can join in a song circle or jam session. www.folksociety.org.
Watch a movie at McGuire Nuclear Station: Or listen to a concert. It may seem an unlikely venue, but the wide-open spaces at Duke Energy’s nuclear plant provide an idyllic spot for enjoying an evening concert or outdoor movie. If you have a boat, you can anchor it in the cove at the southern trip of Lake Norman and watch from the water. And there’s more than movies and concerts going on at the station: EnergyExplorium is a museum that focuses on energy and electricity, and many festivals, camps and community events are held throughout the year. www.duke-energy.com.
Jody, a freelance writer, is founder of www.charlotteonthecheap.com.