Named in honor of Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III of England, the most populous city in North Carolina claims 325 Fortune 500 companies and is second only to New York City nationally as a financial center. Charlotte’s wealth is not surprising when you consider its history.
In 1799, the discovery of a 17-pound gold nugget in the Charlotte area sparked America’s first gold rush. A branch of the U.S. Mint was established here in 1837, and, until gold was found in California in 1848, the city briefly ranked as the nation’s largest producer of that precious metal. A notable attraction in Charlotte, the historic Mint building, seized by Confederate forces when the Civil War broke out, houses the Mint Museum on Randolph Street. No longer tied to gold, today the Queen City counts Bank of America and Wells Fargo among its financial anchors.
City Center and Uptown combine to boast the most significant concentration of the city’s cultural riches. Contained in that lineup are the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, the Levine Museum of the New South, the Mint Museum of Craft+Design, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Discovery Place science center and the NASCAR Hall of Fame. City Center ranks as the core business, arts and entertainment district. At this Charlotte attraction, visitors can attend the theater, visit a host of museums, have a fabulous meal, and retire to a historic boutique hotel at the end of the day.
North of the city core, the neighborhood of NoDa (North of Davidson) likens itself to New York’s SoHo with its artsy array of galleries, jazz clubs and dining hotspots. Both downtown and throughout Charlotte, a thriving restaurant scene owes its existence in part to the presence of Johnston & Wales University, a culinary school that relocated here from Charleston, South Carolina, in 2004. Beyond contemporary cuisine, Charlotte offers find southern staples such as fried chicken and Carolina barbecue, with its signature vinegar-based sauce and cayenne kick.
Sports share equal billing with the arts in the Queen City. NASCAR is king here, bringing more than 1 million auto-racing fans to the region each year. In nearby Concord, just north of Charlotte, the Charlotte Motor Speedway packs in the crowds for races such as the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Bank of America 500 in mid-October. Come fall, football fans cheer the Carolina Panthers NFL team at the Bank of America Stadium in Uptown.
For those who prefer to participate, Charlotte attractions include some 14,000 acres of parks, 40 public golf courses, and the U.S. National Whitewater Center. On the banks of the Catawba River, the Whitewater Center was constructed for the 1996 Summer Olympics and forms part of an outdoor sports complex where thrill seekers can go whitewater rafting, zip-lining and rock climbing. Laid-back activities include flatwater kayaking and an easy hike along the river. If shopping is your game, head to the chic neighborhood of South Park. There, SouthPark Mall and Phillips Place meet upscale shopping needs with merchandise ranging from designer clothing to gourmet goodies.