The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness
Skip to main content
By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
Murals are easy to find while walking the NoDa neighborhood.
Murals are easy to find while walking the NoDa neighborhood.

A local’s guide to Charlotte

Murals are easy to find while walking the NoDa neighborhood.
Murals are easy to find while walking the NoDa neighborhood.
  • By Kristen Wile
  • Photos by Travis Dove

Charlotte has a way of making you want to stay. There’s plenty of green space, Southern charm with a progressive attitude, and booming hospitality and arts scenes. It’s big enough to feel like a real city and small enough that you can still make a difference; affordable housing and economic opportunity have become focal points for change. While many complain that history has been torn down to make way for apartment buildings and skyscrapers, neighborhoods like the historic Fourth Ward reveal an evolution. And the new is on display in South End, the edgy in NoDa and the fun in Plaza Midwood. For anyone, there’s a place to feel at home.

Ask most new residents why they moved to Charlotte, and the answer is often because they visited someone they know and fell in love. Be warned.

Meet Kristen Wile

Kristen moved to Charlotte from D.C. in 2013. She was born in New York and has finally found a city with a proper climate. The former editor of Charlotte magazine, she started a subscription-based website covering food and drink in the city and enjoys working from home with her two rescue pit bulls and pet tortoise.

Want to get in touch?

Read more about KristenChevronDown


It wasn’t long ago that Charlotte’s downtown area was eerily quiet after the 9-to-5 crowd got off work and headed home to the ’burbs. Today, you’ll find Uptown packed with folks heading to restaurants, shows or late-night spots. Explore one of the city’s historic areas, Fourth Ward, or one of the many parks. Curious why we call it Uptown? The most-cited story is that the heart of Charlotte is on a hill, letting you see the skyline even from miles away. Check in to the Ivey’s Hotel, a chic spot in an old department store, for a glamorous vibe. Find this neighborhood.
You’ll need to book an Airbnb to stay on this side of town, known as the artsy neighborhood. NoDa (for “North Davidson”) can be made as high- or low-energy as you’d like, by checking out shops and galleries for a calm day or popping in to see live music at the Evening Muse or Neighborhood Theatre to amp up an evening. Located on the newly opened extension of the light rail, the area offers easy access to Uptown and South End, too. Much of the city’s brewery culture grew out of NoDa, making it a destination for beer drinkers, with several breweries within walking or biking distance. Find this neighborhood.

Explore more of Charlotte


LittleSpoon Eatery
This Myers Park brunch-all-day spot has a laid-back vibe, with exposed brick and floor-to-ceiling windows that encourage you to spend a few hours with mimosas and avocado toast. Sourced locally and inclusive of vegan and gluten-free diners, the menu ranges from shared plates to bowls and sandwiches. On the must-order list: the slab bacon to share.
BTW: Spend some time in the Selwyn Avenue area after brunch, checking out nearby wine shop and chocolatier Petit Philippe, boutique KK Bloom, upscale men’s outfitter the Sporting Gent or marketplace Reid’s Fine Foods.
LittleSpoon Eatery, 2820 Selwyn Ave. Suite 180, Charlotte, N.C. 28209
The Yolk
James Beard Award semifinalist Greg Collier and his wife, Subrina, are serving the city’s best breakfast inside Seventh Street Public Market. This small food hall is full of options, including a juice bar and crepes, and is open through dinner, but it’s Collier’s cooking that stands out most. His style is elevated in flavor yet unfussy, and the menu is locally sourced. You don’t want to miss his grits, which are the best in town.
BTW: Orrman’s Cheese Shop and Assorted Table Wine Shoppe are also in the market. Grab a cheese plate and a bottle of wine to take onto your hotel balcony later in the day.
The Yolk, 224 E. Seventh St. Charlotte, N.C. 28202
Sweet Lew’s BBQ
Charlotte has never really stood out among barbecue towns. Sweet Lew’s is looking to change that. After opening his joint in a former mechanic’s garage in an up-and-coming neighborhood, chef and co-owner Lewis Donald serves barbecue cooked over wood and wood alone. His menu includes brisket, ribs, pork and chicken with classic barbecue sides. If you’re a first-timer, a good order is a pulled-pork sandwich or the brisket with mac and cheese and collard greens and a tea. The restaurant serves daily specials, including fried chicken on Sundays. Order it, and dunk each juicy, crispy bite in the house-made Alabama white sauce.
BTW: The sauces for sale by the bottle are a great gift to bring back home.
Sweet Lew’s BBQ, 923 Belmont Ave., Charlotte, N.C. 28205
Hello Sailor
A modern reincarnation of the fish camp, Hello, Sailor is the second effort from the owners of nationally recognized restaurant Kindred. It’s a bit of a drive from the city — about 25 minutes without traffic — but worth it for the lakeside view. Dishes such as fried catfish, hush puppies and Calabash-style shrimp are throwbacks to the days of fish fried to order, while hamachi and crab claws give the restaurant a touch of haute cuisine.
BTW: Order the negroni slushie, a blended version of the classic, bitter cocktail.
Hello, Sailor, 20210 Henderson Rd., Cornelius, N.C. 28031
Fin & Fino
Locals love to say Charlotte is a great place to live because it’s only a few hours from the beach and a few hours from the mountains, but this Uptown restaurant makes the seaside feel much closer. Stellar service and a seafood-focused menu is a welcome break from the heavy eating one tends to do on vacation, especially in the South. Calming blues and subtle nautical touches make the restaurant feel elegant, not kitschy. The attentive and friendly service will make you appreciate Southern hospitality.
BTW: One of the most talented bar staffs is here working under an oyster-shell chandelier. If you’re up for day drinking, sit at the bar and ask for a Barkeep’s Call — or come back for a nightcap later on.
Fin & Fino, 135 Levine Avenue of the Arts, Suite 100, Charlotte, N.C. 28202
The Stanley
North Carolina cuisine is changing. We no longer claim fried chicken and biscuits as our most notable dishes (though both are fantastic). The Stanley shows what “New Southern” is all about. With a seasonal menu that changes almost daily, this restaurant celebrates the farmer as much as the chef. It’s not unusual to find dishes here simply called “Spring,” a medley of the first harvest of the season, or “corn,” one ingredient presented as many ways as the kitchen could dream up. Chef-owner Paul Verica is cooking in a way that takes advantage of North Carolina’s long growing season and dedicated farmers — the way of the New South.
BTW: Even things that sound predictable aren’t what you think. Order a dish that calls back to a memory, like “peas and carrots” or chicken wings, and you’ll be deliciously surprised.
The Stanley, 1961 E. Seventh St., Charlotte, N.C. 28204
Soul Gastrolounge
This no-reservations restaurant has remained a favorite in the city since it opened in 2009. The eclectic menu includes sushi, Southern-tinged tacos, meat skewers and ramen. The interior matches the menu’s quirks: a taxidermy peacock midflight on the wall; comfortable, mismatched furniture that creates a lounge area; antiques that give the feeling that you’re in the home of a well-traveled collector. Prepare for a wait, and be sure to order the pork belly tacos. Glazed with an Asian barbecue sauce and topped with compressed watermelon, they’re sweet, savory, heavy and light all at once. For an indulgent Southern bite, order the Dirty South Nachos — fried chicken skins topped with pimento cheese and pickled okra. They’re so rich, you may not want more than two, but you’ll be glad you tried them.
BTW: Ask for a table on the patio on a nice night, then grab a drink nearby at Legion Brewing or Snug Harbor while you wait.
Soul Gastrolounge, 1500 Central Ave. Suite B, Charlotte, N.C. 28205
Dot Dot Dot
You’ll have to buy a $10 membership for entry into this bar, but in return you’ll find some of the city’s best cocktails. Dot Dot Dot’s slightly hard-to-find entrance at the back of a shopping center in the Montford Park area only enhances its speakeasy vibe. Inside, you’ll be seduced by dark wood, deep reds and a beautifully lighted back bar drawing your eyes to the work of the bartenders. Choose a classic, like a Boulevardier, or go with one of the bar’s tried-and-true drinks, such as the Hot Box, an Old Fashioned smoked in a torched Booker’s box. The food menu makes this place suitable for dinner, too.
BTW: Sunday night is industry night, when Dot Dot Dot sells pours of an interesting spirit at-cost.
Dot Dot Dot, 4237 Park Rd. Suite B. Charlotte, N.C. 28209
(Charlotte illustrator Jesse Diebolt for The Washington Post)
  1. Yes, we have a lot of bankers, but we’re not just a banking town. There are plenty of people working in tech, hospitality and the arts, and, if you look for it, Charlotte has a robust creative scene.
  2. It's illegal to have happy-hour alcohol specials here, so don’t ask. We think it's crazy, too, but that's the reality of an alcohol-controlled state. At least we can order mimosas before noon on Sundays now.
  3. We’re a transplant town, much like Washington. Most people you talk to aren’t from here, but they will say they plan to stay.
(Charlotte illustrator Jesse Diebolt for The Washington Post)


NoDa Brewing
With more than 50 breweries, the Charlotte area’s worth putting together an entire tour. If you can make time for only one, swing by NoDa Brewing, one of the oldest in the city after Olde Mecklenburg. The brewery expanded into a larger taproom, and its former space recently reopened with a focus on sours. Year-round releases like pale ale Jam Session, Coco Loco porter, and IPA Hop, Drop ’n Roll, as well as seasonals such as NoDajito, a mojito witbier, have earned it a loyal following among the beer-obsessed.
BTW: On Fridays, a one-off beer is released, called the “NoDable” series.
NoDa Brewing, 2921 N. Tryon St., Charlotte, N.C. 28206
Whitewater Center
The Whitewater Center is named for its rapids, a training ground for some of the country’s elite kayakers. Most locals, though, head here for a hike and a beer. With 1,300 acres, there’s lots of room to explore. Find trails for any level of hiker; entry is free and parking is $6. Rent mountain bikes, try your hand at rafting, scale a climbing wall or go easy on a stand-up paddleboard. When all is done, head to the River’s Edge restaurant for a local beer, glass of wine and quick bite.
BTW: Throughout the summer on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Whitewater Center hosts free concerts (plus the parking fee) with bands on the brink of success.
U.S. National Whitewater Center, 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy., Charlotte, N.C. 28214
Paper Skyscraper
One of the city’s most beloved shops is in the heart of the Dilworth neighborhood, selling wrapping paper and cards, with a selection for the humorist or the sentimental, and all sorts of gifts worthy of beautiful packaging. The selection of trinkets, games, books, home goods, toys and novelties could check off an entire holiday shopping list. You’ll also find Charlotte-themed purchases that even locals want to buy, such as candles or towels showing neighborhood pride or wooden cutouts that hold bottle caps to mark your travels.
BTW: Check out their selection of dog toys and even stop in with your pooch.
Paper Skyscraper, 330 East Blvd., Charlotte, N.C. 28203
Fourth Ward architecture
Many of the city’s most historical homes are in the city’s Fourth Ward, with architecture dating from the 1800s. Charlotte tears down much of its history in favor of the modern, but this 30-block area is packed with nostalgia. Grab a map from Friends of the Fourth Ward’s website to guide you to colorful Victorian homes meticulously restored, then stop for lunch at Alexander Michael’s or dinner at Poplar. Both restaurants are also in old houses.
BTW: Renting one of the plentiful motorized scooters on the street is a quick way to cover more ground.
North Pine Street and West Ninth Street, Charlotte, N.C. 28202
Little Sugar Creek Greenway
Need to forget you’re in a city for a moment? The Little Sugar Creek Greenway winds along the edge of Uptown with quiet, creekside views. A 1.29-mile stretch of the city’s nearly 50 miles of greenways, the Little Sugar Creek Greenway connects the Elizabeth neighborhood with Park Road Shopping Center. Park on Metropolitan Avenue, then rent a bike or take a run in the early morning with many Charlotteans, or explore neighborhoods like Cherry and Dilworth. You’ll find art dotting the walk.
BTW: Make it a five-mile food tour by stopping at restaurants with patios: Grab a late-morning coffee and treat at Earl’s Grocery, then stop for appetizers at, heading south, Dressler’s, Kid Cashew and Sir Edmond Halley’s.
Little Sugar Creek Greenway, 1116 Metropolitan Ave., Charlotte, N.C. 28204
Levine Museum of the New South
The history of the South is complicated and often whitewashed. This museum is dedicated to acknowledging the past and explaining how it affects today. “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” chronicles the transition of Charlotte from after the Civil War up to the present day; temporary exhibits, such as one in summer 2019 collecting oral histories about lynching victims, draw from anecdotes specific to the city.
BTW: Make a day of learning: Discovery Place Science, ImaginOn, the Mint Museum and the Gantt Center are all in Uptown and within walking distance of one another.
Levine Museum of the New South, 200 E. Seventh St., Charlotte, N.C. 28202
Kristen Wile
Kristen moved to Charlotte from D.C. in 2013. She was born in New York and has finally found a city with a proper climate. The former editor of Charlotte magazine, she started a subscription-based website covering food and drink in the city and enjoys working from home with her two rescue pit bulls and pet tortoise.
Travis Dove
Travis is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post based in Charlotte.