Charlotte is many things at once. The Queen City—North Carolina's largest—is a haven for bohemian artists and NASCAR fans, university students and suburbanites. You'll find chic uptown shops and laid-back rural parks. Stop at restaurants for fried pickles, sushi or just about anything in between. Gallery crawls, pub tours, sporting events, live music, theater and more give visitors and residents plenty to keep them entertained.
The city of more than 800,000 people ranges from big skyscrapers to wooded parks, from upscale fine dining to mom-and-pop coffeehouses. Charlotte gets its variety from its eight major neighborhoods, each of which has a distinct flavor and feel to it that cannot be represented on a map.
Here is a look at those neighborhoods and what they offer.
Short for North Davidson, the area surrounding the intersection of North Davidson and 36th streets once thrived as the site of the city’s first textile mill village. Decades later, artists transformed the dilapidated village into Charlotte’s premier arts community. This urban neighborhood continues to undergo a complex transition—the lifestyle of bohemian artists remains present, but it is now joined by trendy restaurants and breweries, renovated mill houses, hip lofts and alluring bungalow homes retrofitted for the standards of modern living. Make a trip to NoDa to attend one of its gallery crawls or to see a show at beloved local music venue, the Neighborhood Theatre, or grab a cup of coffee at Smelly Cat Coffeehouse.
Originally the brainchild of Edward Dilworth Latta in the 1890s, Dilworth was Charlotte’s first streetcar suburb. To attract residents and businesses to the area, Latta built a 90-acre park. The community was constructed as a grid that centered on East Boulevard, welcoming families to the turn-of-the-century, colonial-revival and Craftsman-style architecture. Today, a new generation has discovered the charm and neighborliness of Dilworth, with its tree-lined streets, front porches and family-friendly sidewalks. It continues to thrive as one of the city’s most historic and popular neighborhoods, and Freedom Park is a year-round hub for outdoor activity and festivals. Shops and restaurants add to the area’s appeal, especially on East Boulevard, which has earned a reputation as being Charlotte’s boutique row.
Charlotte’s Uptown, which is also known as “center city,” consists of four numbered wards. In the last decade, revitalization efforts have made people flock to the heart of the city to live, dine and play. The skyline’s newer additions include the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the cloud-scraping Duke Energy Center, which lights up in various colors to celebrate holidays and events. First Ward is home to high- and low-rise housing, as well as Time Warner Cable Arena, the Joe and Joan Martin ImaginOn Children’s Learning Center and the Levine Museum of the New South. The EpiCentre, a massive entertainment complex, spices up Second Ward. Third Ward is the site of many museums and the BB&T Ballpark, home to the city’s minor-league baseball team, the Charlotte Knights. And finally, Fourth Ward blends restored Victorian homes, urban apartments and parks.
Once the site of a 3,000-acre farm, south Charlotte’s chic SouthPark neighborhood sharply contrasts any previous rural sentiment. SouthPark Mall and its wide range of high-end retailers is the centerpiece of the many businesses, restaurants and residential areas that conjure an uptown feel. Symphony Park, adjacent to the mall, plays host to summer pops concerts. The mini-villages of Piedmont Row and Phillips Place provide a multitude of upscale dining, shopping and living opportunities for those seeking quality, style and a little exclusivity. Catch a post-dinner movie at Phillips Place Stadium 10. The large homes of the Foxcroft and gated Morrocroft communities cater to families who enjoy privacy with a bonus of easy access to all the area’s amenities.
Starting out as a 1920s streetcar suburb, Plaza Midwood was once home to some of the city’s earliest society elite (including the Van Landinghams) and its very first country club. Now this quirky area just northeast of Uptown is famed for cozy streets lined with unique bungalows, eclectic boutiques and distinct dining. The area’s trolley line once ran along present-day Central Avenue, which still touts the neighborhood’s hip retail and dining district. Indulge in comfort food and fried pickles at the Diamond, Southern classics at Dish, or sushi and other small bites at Soul Gastrolounge. For those who crave a peek into the past, the Van Landingham Estate still holds court at 2010 The Plaza and is now a popular wedding and event destination.
With thriving textile factories up through the turn of the century, this community south of Uptown boasted Charlotte’s first railroad line. Ease of access added to its growth spurt, as houses sprouted up along the tracks. After a decline in the 1970s, as families relocated to outer suburbs, South End underwent a dramatic revitalization in the 1990s. Since then, the neighborhood has re-emerged as one of the city’s fastest-growing, most interesting areas. Established art galleries, such as the Charlotte Art League, draw the area’s eccentric crowds, while staple eateries, such as Common Market and Phat Burrito, set the neighborhood abuzz. Refurbished warehouses house flourishing retail hubs, and the LYNX blue line light rail connects it to other areas with ease.
Anchored by vibrant students enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, home to the 49ers, the University area is an eclectic neighborhood just northeast of Uptown. In the 1960s, visionaries saw past the area’s farm fields and imagined a great university, complete with research facilities and places to live, work and play. Today, with its many hospitals and hotels, shops, restaurants, bars and attractions, such as the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens, that vision is now the reality. The city’s greenway system also boasts one of the best trails in this area of the city, the Mallard Creek Greenway.
An upscale neighborhood in south Charlotte, Ballantyne offers the suburban star treatment. Close to the South Carolina border, the Ballantyne area was once North Carolina governor Cameron Morrison’s family hunting preserve. In the 1990s, Johnny Harris expanded that property to a 2,000-acre spread that Smoky Bissell eventually bought for development. This neighborhood is home to The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge, the exquisite resort and spa that hosts elaborate weddings and PGA Tour players alike. The award-winning Ballantyne Country Club and great shopping and spa options, at such venues as Ballantyne Village, represent the Ballantyne lifestyle. Numerous planned residential communities have made this neighborhood a highly coveted location.