In June I decided to plan a trip to Charlotte, NC. My cousin Jimmy recently had a baby so it was a good excuse to visit him and have a little summer get away. My trip to Charlotte would also be my first solo trip! By solo trip I mean traveling by myself and exploring a city by myself (outside of the weekend I was spending at my cousin's). I booked an Airbnb in Uptown Charlotte which is basically downtown for any other city; its where all the action happens. I found a great website, charlottesgotalot.com, where I did most of my research for excursions and exploration. I was booked and I was ready! Here are the highlights from my trip.
Weekend with Family
I stayed with my cousin in the outskirts of Charlotte for 3 nights; Friday-Monday. I scheduled my day-to-day for after I would be with my family thinking my cousin Jimmy would have something planned for my time with him; I was wrong. Thankfully Jimmy's wife Jen is a planner and is very adventurous and quickly found things for us to do; and by quickly I mean she has a whole binder of locations and restaurants for any visitors who pop by Charlotte. Also Jimmy and Jen have adorable 4 year-old and 4 month-old daughters, safe to say there was little downtime. On Saturday we took the family out to the. U.S. National White Water Center. This was originally on my schedule however, three weeks prior to my trip I had an unplanned surgery. I couldn't do all the physical things that I had planned including doing the ziplinging tour at the White Water Center. Thankfully there's an outdoor restaurant and picnic tables where you can grab a bite to eat, chill in the shade, and sip on some beers while being a spectator to everyone else's physical activities. For anyone interested in the outdoorsy stuff, in addition to ziplining, they have a giant rock climbing wall and a man made white water rafting course (hence the name) which you can tackle alone in a kayack or with a group in a raft.I actually witnessed one raft tip over and three teenage boys get swepted away in these massive rapids, they survived.
Afterwards we went to this neighborhood called NoDa to eat. NoDa is known as Charlotte's historic arts and entertainment district; it reminded me of the Lower Eastside. There were a lot of small businesses, boutiques, street art, tattoo parlors, a brewery, and plenty of cute restaurants to dine in.
On Sunday, Jimmy and I went to the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden which is a perfect location for my future wedding! I'll let the photos speak for themselves.
Also there was a butterfly room and a woman talked to us about the butterflies that she raises. Literally her only job is to breed and care for butterflies. I jokingly asked her how stressful was her job and she said as long as the butterflies have sex and lay eggs, her job is the least stressful job there is. Note to self, become a butterfly breeder.
On Monday I went to my Airbnb, which was in a neighborhood of Uptown called the 4th ward. The neighborhood is historically preserved with pristine victorian style houses, manicured lawns, and a quaint park. Uptown is where you'll find a lot of financial buildings, expensive restaurants, and the Levine Arts Center. I booked a ghost tour with Carolina History & Haunts for my first night on my own. It was a great way to meet people and easy entertaining way to learn about the city. Our tour guide had a paper boy hat, a pocket watch, and carried a lantern; he was legit and I appreciated his enthusiasm for the job. If you like history and you like cheesy ghost stories, I recommend it.
For the rest of my stay I visited parks and museums, ate a lot of food and had a lot of cocktails (more on that later). Notable museums I would mention are The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts+Culture. Side note, I've decided to visit all African American museums whenever I'm in a new city. This center was more of an art gallery then a museum with only two exhibits open at the time (they typically have four). The first exhibit showed photographs from different civil rights movements that could only be viewed with a flashlight. Taking pictures on my phone couldn't do it justice. The second exhibit was called Question Bridge: Black Males which is a video installation of black men of different ages, asking and answering questions that seek to redefine the black male identity.
The Levine Center of the Arts is like museum row; a series of museums located on the same street. Of those museums I would recommend going to The Mint Museum; admissions is free from 5pm-9pm on weekdays. Again, here are pictures that do it justice.
Food & Cocktails
One of the best parts of traveling are the food and drinks and Charlotte did not disappoint. I was down south so naturally I thought barbecue. I hopped around to different bars and restaurants and asked the locals where I could get the best barbecue and everyone said Midwood Smokehouse which is 10 minutes outside of Uptown. I ordered the brisket with a sausage link that was infused with cheddar and jalapeño. It came with a side of hushpuppies, mac-n-cheese, and collard greens; I had a light breakfast that morning in preparation. If you're going to Midwood Smokehouse, go for the meat not the sides. My brisket and sausage were perfectly smoked and the brisket was nice and juicy. The mac-n-cheese and collard greens were pretty basic.
When preparing for Charlotte, I read that going to a rooftop bar was a must and that Fahrenheit Restaurant on top of the Sky Condos in Uptown was the place to go. One thing I learned about Charlotte is that they're real serious about their cocktails. My ghost tour guide did mention that during prohibition, speakeasies blew up in Charlotte and the culture grew from there. The cocktails at Fahrenheit were delicious and they definitely didn't skimp on the booz. Add to that the beautiful views of Uptown while sitting next to an outdoor fire pit, it makes for a perfect evening.
But when talking about food, I had to save the best for last. If you're in Charlotte, make sure you check out The Cellar at Duckworth's. Its located below Duckworth's Grill and Taphouse which is your typical sports bar; every inch of the place is covered in TV screens with some ball tossing sport playing. But when you venture downstairs and you walk past the heavy wood oak doors, you're transported into a prohibition era speakeasy. The walls an exposed red brick, low lighting, the staff adorned with suspenders and bow ties; cheesy yes but also effective. I sat at the bar and ordered three cocktails. The first was a gin based cocktail mixed with egg whites; gross I know, but when in Rome! The egg whites were only for the frothy effect, the drink itself was sweet and delicious. I followed that up with the Sazerac because that name screamed 1920s. I convinced myself to order a third cocktail because it was my last night in Charlotte and my inner voice was screaming "treat yo self." I asked the waiter what he recommended and he made a Blackberry Mezcal Mule. I don't know what Mezcal is and how it differs from Moscow, but the drink definitely had a bite that hit the back of my throat; a good bite though. I think it was cinnamon.
But that was only the drinks; the food...O....M...G! I mistakenly looked at the menu for upstairs not knowing they differed and I settled on having the salmon. Come to find out they don't serve salmon downstairs, but since I was in the mood for seafood, they recommended the red snapper. I'm Haitian, the red snapper was a no brainer and thank goodness because their red snapper literally brought me back to my home land. The snapper swam in a red tomato based sauce, very creole in flavor. It was like my mom stood in the kitchen and lovingly served this plate to me. I had to refrain from picking up the bowl and drinking this sauce. The manager assured me that this was a judgement free zone, but I refrained, also I was wearing a white shirt. The red snapper itself was perfectly seared and tender and it sat on top of a bed of leaks and cabbage that lended the perfect texture to the dish. I wasted no time eating it; it was embarrassing.
But because I was three coctails deep and I only had fish, and also...treat yo self, I ordered the truffle mac-n-cheese. Bougie, I know, but its also literally the best mac-n-cheese I've ever had! It wasn't a baked mac-n-cheese, which is blasphemous, but still hands down the best mac-n-cheese ever. The truffle was earthy, the pancetta gave a nice salty bite, and the noodles had a light char that gave a smokiness that tied the whole thing together. I took my time with this mac-n-cheese, for fear that I would never taste it again.
All In All...
For my inaugural solo trip, Charlotte was a great choice. The city really has something for everyone. One thing I didn't get a chance to do was go on a hike in the mountains outside of the city and there's also a Treehouse Winery that I really wanted to go to, but I blew my money on all the food and cocktails. I'd even consider living in Charlotte if not for the humidity and mosquitoes. Going to Charlotte was a great experience and I can't wait for my next solo trip.