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The Queen City - February 2024

Updated: Jun 30

Our trip to Charlotte was an add on vacation. Our last adventure (other than a camping weekend or trip to visit family) was in July of 2023, and our next big road trip isn't until June of 2024. That is much too long for me between experiences, so we decided to add a long weekend. When choosing Charlotte, we wanted to visit a new state, and Charlotte is recommended for a nice city to spend a weekend in. Since we visited in February the weather was mild to chilly, and with Minnesota having an unusually warm winter we didn't get the warmup we'd hoped for visiting a southern state.

My first impression of Charlotte was that it felt safe and is extremely clean. We saw signs saying "what's with Charlotte's rats" and looked it up learning that it is one of the country's rattiest cities, which honestly surprised us because we didn't see or smell the usual trash you see in other cities. We didn't see any rats luckily! Another thing that was a little unusual was that it wasn't very busy. When we walked the city, it never felt crowded. I know that it isn't the warm time of year, but you see more people walking in sub-zero downtown Minneapolis than we did when the temps were in the mid 50s.

I booked our trip to leave on Thursday and return home on Monday, over President's Day weekend. After booking, I found out that I had to be in Chicago for work Thursday and Friday, so Matthew and Whitney went to Charlotte Thursday, and I flew out to meet them Friday evening after my meetings.

We stayed at the Hilton Charlotte Uptown. The hotel is very nice, and we were on the 21st floor so had a decent view of the Charlotte Skyline. Our bed could have used an upgrade but other than that it was a really nice stay. It is located right downtown so walking to various attractions was a breeze. We did rent a car as well and they have parking onsite for an additional charge.

On Thursday, when Matthew and Whitney arrived, they checked into the hotel and explored the area around the hotel. They visited the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts & Culture, which Whitney really enjoyed. They also found smoothies, some hot chicken and visited the Green.

When I arrived on Friday, my flight didn't land until after 7:00pm and I was exhausted after having meetings all day and then traveling. They picked me up and we went to the hotel. Whitney stayed in the room doing homework while Matthew walked me around to show me a few blocks close to the hotel on our way to CVS to buy some deodorant and Q-Tips before we went to bed.

Saturday, we woke up early and I was ready to start exploring. We started by searching for coffee only to find that the coffee shop next to our hotel in the Wells Fargo building isn't open on weekends. After a quick search we also learned that the coffee shops in the area didn't open before 8am. I ended up getting a cup of coffee at our hotel restaurant which was ok but not great. Whitney wanted a smoothie from Smoothie King (we fell in love with their smoothies when we went to Louisiana), but the one by us was also closed on weekends.

We walked to Amélie's for coffee which is a short walk up the block from our hotel, then to Famous Toastery for breakfast. The food was good and the servers very friendly.

I purchased a CLT pass for the weekend, which included admission to several museums and the Carolina Raptor Center. Our plan for Saturday was to visit museums and walk the downtown area of Charlotte.

We started at the Museum of Illusions. This was a blast but was the busiest place we encountered the entire weekend.

After we had our fill of brain teasers, we went to the Nascar Hall of Fame. None of us are Nascar fans but heard that this is a must do in Charlotte, and we were glad we went. It was a fun experience pretending to broadcast a race, driving a simulated race, learning the history of how the sport began.

Next, we went to the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. This was not our type of museum. The art was mostly paintings that weren't overly inspiring, and hardly anything on display. We walked through in less than 10 minutes.

The Mint Museum was the last included in our pass. Actually, there are two Mint Museums, both of which we had admission tickets to. We visited the one in uptown, leaving the other for Sunday. This museum was where Whitney decided she hates museums. I thought it was pretty cool.

By the time we finished at the Mint Museum, it was late afternoon. Whitney wanted a nap and Matthew and I were ready to sit and relax a bit. We headed back to our hotel, crossing through The Green on our way.

The Green is a park located right in the middle of downtown Charlotte and is the most charming park I've ever seen. It has stacks of books at the entrance with "pages" placed to look like they've blown around the park. If I lived close, I would spend warm days reading in this park.

Once we got back to the hotel, we rested for a bit then hopped in the car and drove to Dilworth. We found a Smoothie King that was open and walked through a gift shop. When researching what to do in Charlotte, I found a list of neighborhoods on the Charlotte's Got a Lot page (where I bought my city pass from), and I envisioned it to be similar to Seattle, where we could drive to the neighborhood and walk around enjoying the neighborhood culture. We did not find that here. We'd drive to neighborhoods, find houses and maybe a few businesses, but not a nice grouping of shops or anything like that.

After the gift shop, we drove to Freedom Park where Matthew and I walked for a bit and Whitney waited in the car. This is a nice park with trails, a creek, a lake, playground, basketball court, volleyball court, baseball fields, and likely more that I missed. It was a little cold and windy, but the short walk was wonderful.

Once we were done at Freedom Park we went back to the hotel, where Whitney decided she wasn't hungry and stayed in the Hotel Room while Matthew and I went to the Coastal Kitchen and Bar, the restaurant within the Hilton. Our food was good but expensive for what it was. During the time we ate, Whitney decided she was in fact hungry and I DoorDashed her McDonald's since she wouldn't eat anything from the restaurant.

After dinner we called it a night and went to bed.

Sunday Matthew walked up to Starbucks to get us coffee and we got croissants and a burrito from Amélie's. Then we drove to the Carolina Raptor Center. We really enjoyed walking through this center, reading about and seeing the different birds.

When we finished at the center we drove to Davidson and Cornelius. Both were said to be charming little lake towns, and both underwhelmed us. Davidson had a cute main street, but when we actually walked it there wasn't a lot to do. I am sure it is a much different experience during the summer when you can enjoy the lake, but we ended up driving back into the city after this.

The next plan was to visit NoDa, but again we drove the area and didn't find anything walkable to just explore. Since we didn't plan anything out of the city area and it was already late afternoon by this time, we didn't really know what to do. We ended up driving to South End where there is a mall and found Roots Cafe to eat a late lunch. Our food was excellent. The mall area was a typical mall, so not anything we needed to do on vacation, though Whitney did talk me into stopping at Sophora to get a couple items.

We decided to go to the second Mint Museum on Randolph after lunch. Whitney reluctantly joined us as a bribe for buying her makeup. This was my favorite museum. The displays were unique and super fun to look at. The one issue here was that the lady at the front desk insisted that my pass was just a discount and wanted me to pay for admission, even though my pass included the cost. Eventually she let us in but I am pretty sure she was tired of arguing with me and didn't actually believe that I had admission passes.

After the museum we drove back to the hotel and walked to Romare Bearden Park where we found gorgeous views of the city.

We walked a bit and stopped for coffee before heading back to the hotel for the night. Whitney and I were still full from our lunch so Matthew ordered a burger from the Coastal Kitchen, and Whitney and I each had a dessert.

Monday was our travel home day. We went to Starbucks again because the coffee place in the Wells Fargo building wasn't open again, likely due to President's Day. Then we grabbed a smoothie from Smoothie King for breakfast. We didn't leave the hotel until around 10:30am, and our flight was at 3:30pm.

We drove to see St. Patrick's Cathedral. You weren't allowed to visit inside the church, so we just snapped a picture from the street.

We drove to Noble Smoke and had phenomenal BBQ. This was a recommended BBQ restaurant, and it did not disappoint. I had the brisket sandwich, Matthew had brisket and pork and we shared Hush Puppies, Brussels Sprouts and Slaw. Whitney had a grilled cheese.

After lunch we went to the airport. If I planned this again, I would have planned one day in the city and one to drive out further and find another location in North Carolina to enjoy. We will be back to the state in a few years to enjoy the coast.

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