Monday, June 17, 2013

Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

Charlotte – the Queen City

By Anne LaFriniere

Welcome to Charlotte, the Queen City! Charlotte is called the Queen City (and you will see crowns on signs all over the city) in honor of Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III of England. The early colonists thought it might bring them favor from the King.
Charlotte is the biggest little city you will ever visit.  It has all the conveniences, culture and attractions of a big city yet still has maintained its small, hometown feel.  It has southern charm and hospitality yet is very progressive in its style, its economics and its development.  For many years, it was the second largest banking center outside of New York City!  Public transportation has been increasing over the past few years with the addition of a light rail and “green business” is more and more common. City leaders are being elected for higher state positions and even some have been appointed to the White House team in Washington D.C.  You will note that Charlotte does not have a downtown; they have an Uptown thus called because the city center is on a hill.
There is a saying that you only visit Charlotte once because once you have, you move here! There is so much to do, see and experience within Charlotte and a very short drive outside of Charlotte.  Here are the highlights.
Food – Charlotte wooed Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts away from Charleston and it has put this city on the map.  It is now known for the very wide range of
places to eat, the sheer number of restaurants is incredible.  There is everything from typical southern comfort food to barbeque to vegetarian to farm to table concepts. Of course all the big chains are represented, but the real joy is in discovering all the privately owned eateries.  The iconic Penguin Drive-In has been family owned and operated since 1954 with classic diner food. Pikes Old Fashioned Soda Shop is a local favorite with its classic soda shop and apothecary décor (the movie Shallow Hal filmed a scene here). On the other end of the spectrum are the many sushi restaurants like Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar, a trendy, fun place to enjoy fabulous sushi and burgers and Zen Asian Fusion, a blend of Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese.
Cultural Entertainment – Charlotte has a very active theatre and cultural program.  There is the Belk Theatre that has top named Broadway shows. The Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, the Actor’s Theatre, Children’s Theatre and Knights Theatre all add great variety to the offerings in the city.  The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra is also renowned for its high level talent.  Another great opportunity for learning in the city is the many museums available to visit.  The Mint Museum of Art, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Levine Museum of the New South and the Charlotte Museum of History all are within the Uptown Charlotte area. Charlotte is also home to NASCAR and honors that with the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Outdoor Activities – Charlotte was designated a “Fit City” multiple times because of its devotion to health achieved by outdoor activities.  You will notice dedicated bike paths throughout most of the city.  Also, unique to this area is the Greenway system.  It is a strip of undeveloped land near neighborhoods that are paved and set aside for recreation and environmental protection.  These greenways are interconnected and run through almost every area of the city.  Eventually you will be able to ride from one end of the city to another all on the greenways!  The city has spared no expense to provide opportunities for every citizen to become active through walking, running or biking these greenways. They’ve even provided bike rental stands throughout the system that you can pick up at one location and then drop off at another location along the way.  Additionally, there are more than 15 nature preserves within an hour of Charlotte.  These provide hiking, biking and equestrian options along with disk golf courses and dog parks at many.  All of these are free to county residents!  Due to the close proximity of the mountains to Charlotte, many take advantage of a day trip to go exploring the mountain trails and many outdoor activities a short drive away.  Another big draw to the area is the two large lakes at either end of Charlotte – Lake Norman to the north (15 minutes outside the northern limits) with over 500 miles of shoreline and Lake Wylie to the south, crossing over into South Carolina.  Also at the south end is Carowinds Amusement Park, a very large draw for many residents and non-residents alike!
Neighborhoods – Charlotte is divided into many neighborhoods similar to New York City.  All the neighborhoods are still officially Charlotte but are called by the neighborhood names for distinction.  A couple of the up and coming areas are NoDa, which stands for North Davidson and Plaza Midwood.  These areas used to be very run down and crime ridden however in recent years the city has developed new housing, attracted businesses and restaurants and the change is evident. They are very popular destinations with their great eateries, nightlife and casual atmosphere.  On the high end of the neighborhoods is Myers Park, a very old, wealthy area that was one of the original areas to be developed.  It has many nice restaurants and parks and has a very high family appeal.  Another of the great attractions is the 4th ward (the city center area is divided into 4 wards).  Back many years ago, they moved many of the historic homes into one area to preserve them.  It’s quite a treat to walk through and admire the many old Victorian style homes.
After spending a short time here, you will see why Charlotte has become one of the top ten destinations for relocation.  The beautiful year-round weather, the friendly people, the reasonable housing market and access to jobs and all of the food, entertainment and activities make this a must-see destination.  You might love it so much you will only visit once!

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