Log in Newsletter

Big-City Lights | By Cindy Hawkins

For those of us who grew up in or near large cities, we sometimes get the big-city blues – the fever to linger in museums, the ache to see a horizon dominated by skyscrapers. Charlotte, the Queen City, has the cure for your big-city hankerings, and it’s just a few hours away from Fayetteville. You can find everything here from fine arts to NASCAR. The city is home to some of the sport’s biggest racing teams. Visit one of their shops or bone up on your NASCAR history at the Hendrick Motorsports Museum. True fans have already circled 2010 on the calendar, anticipating opening day of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In the meantime, catch an actual race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. cabarruscvb.com Linger in a museum If high-brow pursuits are more your speed, museums abound. Museum hounds should check out The Mint, North Carolina’s first art museum. Housed in an old federal building that served the region as the first branch of the United States Mint, the museum offers a diverse collection of artwork including American, African, Asian and pre-Columbian works, as well as costumes, contemporary art and photography. Nearby is the museum’s sister facility, The Mint Museum of Craft + Design, a must-see for those interested in North Carolina’s well-known heritage in craft work. themintmuseums.org If history is your thing, take in the Levine Museum of the New South. The interactive history museum explores post-Civil War Southern society and the events and people that shaped the region. The main exhibit, “Cottonfields to Skyscrapers,” lets you experience firsthand how to pull the seeds from a cotton boll as you listen to the sounds of the cotton mill. You can see just how small a tenant farmer’s home really was, or listen to the personal stories of local sit-in leaders as you take your place at a lunch counter. Check out the Web site for special exhibits throughout the year. museumofthenewsouth.org The Schiele Museum of Natural History and Planetarium is where the wild things are … the stuffed ones, that is. Exhibits include not only North Carolina wildlife and habitats but also many North American creatures such as bears, bison, moose, elk and other mammals, birds, insects, reptiles and amphibians. But do they have dinosaurs and pre-historic animals? Of course, and when you’ve finished gawking at the sabertooth tiger, visit the American Indian exhibit or find your way to the planetarium. schielemuseum.org Your Charlotte museum trek would not be complete without a trip to the Charlotte Douglas International Airport where you’ll find the Carolinas Aviation Museum. With close to 50 major aircraft and plenty of artifacts, including a reproduction of the Wright brothers’ 1902 glider, the museum focuses on both commercial and military aircraft with ties to the Carolinas. carolinasaviation.org

Nature Lovers Outdoor enthusiasts will love the U.S. National Whitewater Center. An official U.S. Olympic Training Site, the center is the world’s largest artificial whitewater river, offering rafting and kayaking, mountain biking and hiking, and a climbing center and ropes course. Don’t forget your energy bars! usnwc.org For a more leisurely hike, try the Ribbon Walk, a 137-acre botanical forest and environmental education center with four walking trails, three ponds and creeks throughout. Tired of walking? Saddle up your horse at the Latta Equestrian Center for a guided trail ride. Check out Charlotte-Mecklenberg Parks and Recreation for more fun. charmeck.org The weather’s fine, so why not launch your boat at Lake Norman? Catch and release a few largemouth bass or get a bucket of minnows and find a honey hole full of crappie. lakenormancvb.org If you prefer that someone else steer the boat while you relax, look to Queen’s Landing. You might enjoy a romantic dinner cruise on the Lady of the Lake, a 90-foot luxury yacht, or a shorter lunch tour on the Catawba Queen, a replica of a Mississippi River Paddle Wheeler. Even if you’re a landlubber, there’s plenty for you at Queen’s Landing. queenslanding.com Did you know that a vulture has a voracious appetite, eating up to 20 percent of its body weight in one sitting? That’s just one of the fun facts you will learn at the Carolina Raptor Center. The center has more than 100 birds, including various species of eagles, owls, and more.Some are at the center for rehabilitation, while many are permanent residents. carolinaraptorcenter.org For a closer look at wildlife, try your own safari at the Lazy 5 Ranch in Mooresville. It’s worth the drive about 30 miles north of Charlotte to take a horse-drawn wagon through the park feeding buffalo, antelope, deer, llamas and even zebras and giraffes, along the way. lazy5ranch.com

Married with Children And there are plenty of other activities for young travelers. What do you get when you combine the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte with the public library? Imaginon! One of the coolest offerings at Imaginon has to be Tech Central/Studio i, a multimedia production studio. Try your hand at claymation, make a movie, or record a song in the sound booth. imaginon.org Thrill rides, roller coasters, Nickelodeon Central, Boomerang Bay water park and shows and games galore. That’s Carowinds, North Carolina’s premiere 105-acre amusement park. Look for discounted tickets at local grocery stores, banks and credit unions. carowinds.com You won’t find many “do not touch” signs at Discovery Place. The hands-on interactive exhibits are just begging to be touched. Explore the Knight Rain Forest and The Machine Shop or interact with the puppets at the puppet theater. Enjoy the aquarium or take in one of the special exhibits. Discover the secrets behind the big top at “Circus,” running through July 3. You can actually try high-wire walking or harness up with Elastic Acrobatics and swing through the air. discoveryplace.org Shopping! If it’s shopping you desire, you’ll find more than you bargained for in Charlotte. While there’s too many to list here, we’ll get you started with two popular spots. Concord Mills boasts more than 200 stores, including outlets, Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, a 24-screen theatre, Dave and Buster’s, Nascar SpeedPark and so much more. concordmills.com Charlotte’s newest shopping addition is IKEA. Though there’s plenty of furniture in the 365,000 square-foot showroom, it’s so much more than a furniture store. Load your plate with Swedish meatballs and lingonberry sauce at the 350-seat restaurant, fill a basket in the Swedish Market, and relax while your children burn off energy in the play area. And if you came for the furniture, there are 49 room settings and three model homes to inspire you. ikea.com

And if this isn’t enough to keep you busy, visit northcarolinatouristguide.com for a list of 101 Things to Do in Charlotte. CV