Stroll: The Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden (www.dsbg.org), near Belmont, is a hard-to-beat way to spend a sunny morning or afternoon. The site includes acres of manicured gardens, a dozen fountains, serpentine paths, wooden bridges, a half-mile woodland trail and an orchid conservatory. In Gastonia, the Schiele Museum of Natural History (www.schielemuseum.org) houses the largest collection of land mammal specimens in the Southeast and offers a stellar assortment of shows at its planetarium. All this is on the inside; outside, the Schiele’s 16-acre Piedmont forest trail includes a recreated Native American village, an 18th-century pioneer farm, a gristmill and a Stone Age heritage site. In Dallas, the Gaston County Museum of Art and History is in the old Hoffman Hotel, built in 1852 to serve town visitors and those attending court sessions. The museum’s major permanent exhibit addresses the importance the textile industry once had to the region. In the carriage house of the museum (www.gastoncountymuseum.org) is the largest collection of horse-drawn vehicles in the state. Vehicles of a different kind are displayed at the C. Grier Beam Truck Museum in Cherryville (www.beamtruckmuseum.com). Showcased: Seven decades of vintage trucks and memorabilia related to Carolina Freight, an N. C.-based carrier that started operations during the Great Depression.
Shop: Downtown Gastonia has undergone a noticeable revitalization in recent years; the facelift includes improved sidewalks and a new convention center. New stores and contemporary restaurants, coffee shops, and pubs have followed. Belmont retains its small Southern town charm, inviting folks to shop and hang out, and was recently named one of the best “Great Main Streets” in North Carolina. Details: www.visitgaston.org.
Hike: Though it provides opportunities for numerous outdoor activities, the main activity for most visitors to Crowders Mountain State Park is hiking to the top of Crowders Mountain or Kings Pinnacle. Two trails head off in opposite directions from the visitor center. Both are popular and offer similar experiences – strenuous uphill climbing along shaded footpaths. At the summit of Crowders Mountain, on clear days, the view includes the Charlotte skyline to the east. Kings Pinnacle offers views to the south and west, including Kings Mountain. Details: www.ncparks.gov (type the park name in the search window).
Bike: Gaston County has paved surface and mountain biking trails galore, including the Seven Oaks Preserve Trail, a natural surface, mixed-use path that connects to the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden’s trail and forms a five-mile loop. The South Fork Trail runs along the Catawba River between the towns of Lowell and McAdenville. Details on bike trails: www.carolinathreadtrailmap.org. Gary McCullough
Occupying a prime piece of real estate along Belmont’s Main Street is the Old Stone Steakhouse (www.oldstonesteakhouse.com). Part of its arresting allure: It occupies a building that once housed the Belmont Police Department. It’s the good food and service, the warm and inviting dining room, and the street-side patio overlooking Main Street and Stowe Park that keeps bringing customers back. The restaurant features a full bar with a large selection of wines, beers and liquors.
For a cool treat, slurp a shake or an ice cream soda at Tony’s Ice Cream in Gastonia. Tony’s (www.tonysicecream.com) has been a Gaston County institution for 100 years. Carmine Coletta started selling his ice cream to area residents from a push cart in 1915. Horse-drawn wagons replaced the carts, trucks replaced the wagons, and in 1947 a permanent location opened on East Franklin. Along with more than two dozen exotic ice cream flavors, Tony’s offers hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches and assorted sides from the grill.