US Housing

Charlotte Hidden Gems: The City’s Best-Kept Secrets

Whether you’re considering living in Charlotte, recently rented an apartment in Second Ward, or a rental house in University City, there’s plenty to learn about your new city. Nestled close to the mountains and the beach, North Carolina’s largest city, Charlotte, is a place like no other. The city offers neighborhoods fit for any personality, a spectacular food scene, and great weather – most of the time. But what are Charlotte’s hidden gems? Some stay inconspicuous and off the beaten path, while others exist in plain sight – you just need to know where to look.

Hidden Gems in Charlotte: food and drinks, things to do, and more

Gather with friends at The Goodyear House

The Goodyear House is a neighborhood gathering place in NoDa, built on the support of the community. Stop in and enjoy the pleasures of a laugh, cocktail, and seasonal small plates in the shade of their patios with family, friends, and even Fido.

Check out the confetti hearts wall

“Visit one of Charlotte’s most Instagrammable locations, the confetti hearts wall located in trendy Southend at 1930 Camden Road,” says local dog photographer Kim Hollis of BARKography

It’s Hollis’ favorite location because of its bright colors and positive message. “It’s a must-stop for a quick snap or scheduling a photo session,” shares Hollis. “Designed and created by Evelyn Henson with the messages Love Others, Do Good, and Be Kind inscribed on the hearts.”

Brown lab posed in front Charlotte's hidden gem, the confetti hearts wall, a mural of colorful hearts
Photo Courtesy of BARKography. Confetti Hearts Wall created by Evelyn Henson.

Eat out at Copper Indian

“A favorite Charlotte hidden gem of mine is Copper Indian. They serve a Sesame-Chili Cauliflower Florets appetizer that had me dreaming about it for months,” says Savvy Leigh of Savvy Leigh Photography, a Charlotte wedding photographer. “I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan, but I always get these every time I go. The crispy edges of the fried cauliflower with their sauce – I have a hard time believing anybody could be unhappy with this dish.”

Spend date night at Twigs and Figs

Twigs and Figs is another hidden gem and has one of the best date night activities in Charlotte,” states Leigh. “You can go to build your own terrarium and design it with succulents, colored sand, rocks, and glass structures. They even have a bar so you can sip some delicious drinks while you create.”

They make for great apartment decorations, too. With just a spritz of water and some indirect sunlight exposure – your new terrarium is sure to thrive.

Group of people making terrariums with plants, moss, and dirt.

Get outdoors at the Ribbonwalk Nature Preserve

Just 5 miles north of Uptown, the Ribbonwalk Nature Preserve is a scenic park with trails, wildlife, and a large tree grove, perfect for those wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy some nature.

“The paths are wide and you can see quite a bit of wildlife and gorgeous scenery,” shares Town and Tourist, a blog dedicated to providing informative travel guides. “The trail isn’t crowded, so you can even take your pet here. But make sure to bring your bug spray if you don’t want to leave with mosquito bites.” 

Hit all the food and drink joints

“There are amazing things to do and so many hidden gems in Charlotte. As a native to the city, I’m happy to share some of the best,” says Rachel Brown of Queen City Chic, a lifestyle blog. “Enjoy cocktails with a view at Merchant and Trade, shop around Camp North End, grab a meal or dessert at Optimist Hall, explore the French Quarter in Uptown, or try a local craft brew in South End. Find great coffee shops and art murals in Plaza Midwood or NoDa. Midwood Smokehouse, Noble Smoke, and Haberdish are all a hit for Southern eats.”

Check out North Carolina’s wine country

Boasting stunning backdrops of North Carolina’s lush mountains, rolling landscapes, and beautiful vineyard views, North Carolina’s wine country is one you can’t miss. Explore the non-sweet side of NC Wine Country. Over 75 vineyards are within 1.5 hours of Charlotte. Better yet, do it on a food and wine tour through NC Wine Gals, for example.

North Carolina wine country filled with rolling hills of vineyards.

Experience a classic Southern meal at Haymaker

“This hidden gem is tucked away in Uptown Charlotte and is the perfect spot for a date night or dinner with friends,” states food & lifestyle blogger Liz Sneyd of Pretty Plates. “Haymaker’s menu is ever-changing, but you can always expect to find seasonal ingredients and Southern classics with a twist. Haymaker sources ingredients from local farms, so you know everything is fresh. Some fan favorites include the Haymaker breakfast, steakhouse burger, and the house-made pickles.”

Support a local business owner and visit The Packing House just outside the city

“My hidden gem is The Packing House in Monroe,” says Erin Wilwert Photography. “It is a coffee shop owned by a local business owner. My favorite thing is the maple bacon cheddar biscuits and red velvet muffins. This shop is out in the country where only locals see it. They offer specialty coffee drinks; my favorite is the chocolate-covered cherry coffee with half the sweetness. The owner is amazing and super sweet. They also offer adorable gift baskets perfect for teachers, birthdays, and friends.”

Dine at The Artisan Palate

“One of my favorite hidden gems in Charlotte is The Artisan Palate,” shares Christian Mulkey of Memories with the Mulkeys, a motherhood, lifestyle, and travel blog. “Located right down the street from Charlotte’s iconic NoDa art district, The Artisan Palate offers a unique dining experience while merging food, drinks, art, and music into a relaxing vibe. Their back patio is serene and perfect for brunch with family or friends. I recommend trying their honey-glazed bacon-wrapped dates with goat cheese and almonds. Don’t forget to check out the art gallery featuring local artists before you leave.”

The kitchen always tries to prepare food and drink with ingredients from local farmers and providers who use sustainable and humane practices. 

Sip on a custom cocktail at Cotton Room

“Finding hole-in-the-wall spots and hidden gems in Uptown can be a feat, which is why we love Cotton Room so much,” states Lesley Stracks-Mullem, Owner of Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours, a guided walking food tour. “This beautiful craft cocktails speakeasy has a fantastic mixology program. Guests can ask bartenders to create a drink just for them, but folks can never go wrong ordering an Old Fashioned. There’s also an incredible cake shop across the alley called Craft Cakes CLT.”

The Cotton Room opened its doors in 2016, but the name and features of the space is inspired by the history of Brevard Court – an open-air cotton market during the height of the textile industry. Today, the Cotton Room still boasts the original floors, brick walls, skylight, and exposed rafters.

Two cocktails and a whiskey glass with a salt rim

Check out Counter- for an unforgettable dining experience

Counter- is an intimate restaurant featuring themed 10- and 14-course tasting menus created by Executive Chef and Owner Sam Hart. Designed to evoke emotion during the experience by utilizing sound, taste, and art as a vehicle, the menus rotate and are driven by sense-based storylines such as music, modern art, and mental health. The restaurant is designed to mimic a blank canvas and can easily transform to fit the menus, tableware, and art. The wine program, led by Wine Director Bill Cox, is proud to feature a diverse offering that includes female, LGBTQ+, and minority winemakers, alongside a thoughtfully curated non-alcoholic pairing option. Counter- is also home to Pastry Chef Faith Morely.

Visit the Common Market in Plaza Midwood

“There are many great things about Charlotte that you can’t help but love, says Jena Marie, lifestyle blogger of Get Jenafied. “As for hidden gems that tend to keep Charlotte captivating, Common Market in Plaza Midwood is where I know I can find interesting convo, awesome people, and cool tchotchkes. Come here to listen to local music, have a drink, grab a quick bite to eat, or find new friends.”

Get your pizza fix at Benny Pennello’s

“A Charlotte hidden gem would be Benny Pennello’s in NoDa,” recommends Moving Mountains Studios, a photography and videography studio. “The “big as your head” pizza and customer service is phenomenal along with their hipster aesthetic.”

Benny Pennello’s uses the highest quality ingredients, sourcing the flour from the Midwest, Olive oil from domestically grown Corto olives, tomatoes from the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, cheeses from Minnesota, and meats from a custom Virginia brand. 

Slice of pizza and a beer.

Escape to Paris at Cafe Monte

This Charlotte hidden gem was founded in 2007 and created to “Escape from the Everyday,” Cafe Monte’s goal is to offer a casual-gourmet experience and French culinary traditions.

“Dining at Cafe Monte in Fairview feels like having a little piece of Paris right here in Charlotte,” says Laura Tompkins of Laurel Belle Photography & Branding. “From the macaroons to the atmosphere, I feel like Emily in Paris. Their gluten-free Belgian Waffles are a buttery treat paired with a Bellini. And for lunch or dinner, I love their Smoked Salmon.”

Explore Charlotte’s haunted past

“Are you ready to take a ghost tour through Queen City’s dark streets for freakish tales of the city’s past and the ghosts that haunt its present? Experience the dark side of Charlotte’s past on a ghost tour and experience one of the most ghost-infested places in Charlotte,” says US Ghost Adventures.

Satisfy your craving at Curry Gate

“My favorite places to dine out in the Queen City are some of our smaller international restaurants, which often fly under the radar,” shares Alyssa of Wayward, a collection of travel tips and guides in Charlotte. “When I’m craving Indian food (which, let’s face it, is always), I’ll call in an order to Curry Gate. This unassuming restaurant serves up the most flavorful curries in generous portions. My go-to is the Chicken Makhani, but I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed every dish I’ve ordered.”

Plate of Indian food.

Get a taste of Ethiopian food at Abugida Ethiopian Cafe

“Charlotte is home to several Ethiopian restaurants, but one that doesn’t always get as much love as it deserves is Abugida Ethiopian Cafe,” says Wayward. “Hands-on dining makes for a fun date night, and the Abugida Feast is the perfect serving size for two. Abugida is also a great dining spot for a group of friends with different dietary restrictions, as the menu offerings include vegan and gluten-free items.”

Indulge in tacos at Tacos El Regio

Wayward also suggests Tacos El Regio if you’re craving authentic Mexican food. “Central Avenue is dotted with restaurants from across the Latin American diaspora, but head a few blocks further to Tacos El Regio for authentic tacos de trompo. Sure, the restaurant may be a little smoky from the pork-and-pineapple roasting on the spit and the tortillas hitting the comal, but it’s the next best thing to booking a flight to Mexico.” 

Check out Windy Hill Orchard during the fall

NicCole Photography, a local family photographer suggests Windy Hill Orchard for a weekend activity. “This Charlotte hidden gem has the absolute best fresh apple cider and doughnuts. Saturday and Sunday evenings include live music, apple picking for families, scarecrow building, hay rides, and hard cider flights. The drive from Charlotte is stunning during the fall season.”

Before Windy Hill Orchard and Cider Mill were founded, the owners were searching for something the entire family could be a part of. In 1978, they were gifted a wooden apple cider press and their desire for a true apple cider doughnut led to the business.

A person holding three freshly-picked apples.

Go horseback riding, jogging, or kayaking at The Dairy Farm

The Dairy Barn is just a short 30-minute drive south to Fort Mill, SC. It was built in 1947 and has since been renovated into a gathering spot for friends and family.

“Thursday evenings include food trucks and a small amphitheater,” says NicCole Photography. “It’s a great outdoor location for family hikes. Along the path, you’ll likely run into folks horseback riding, jogging, or kayaking. There is a great swinging bridge and lots of nature to explore.”

Eat, drink, and shop your way through Charlotte

Travel site 5 Reasons to Visit recommends spending a day being a tourist to find Charlotte’s hidden gems and to learn about your new city. “Start with shopping at Southpark Mall, anchored by top retailers. Be sure to visit the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, a jewel of Queen City. Next, quench your thirst and curb your hunger at The Goodyear House with farm-to-table comfort food and hand-crafted libations. Strolling the Wing Haven Garden and Bird Sanctuary is a must for a little peace and tranquillity amongst the hustle and bustle. Don’t forget to check out the Fourth Ward of Charlotte’s Uptown, lined with century-old Victorian homes and magazine-worthy courtyard gardens.”

Don’t miss Camp North End for restaurants, murals, and more

Camp North End is one of Charlotte’s hidden gems. Situated on a 76-acre property, the open-air venue is home to over 50 tenants, including restaurants, art galleries, shops, and more.

“As a photographer, I am always looking for unique places to take photos and Camp North End has it all,” shares Ash Nichole Photos. “If you want to see amazing murals and sculptures, unique shops/restaurants, rustic architecture, and a full view of the city, this is the place.” 

Camp North End in Charlotte at sunset.

Spend an afternoon at The McGill Rose Garden

“Tucked away between the edge of Uptown and the Arts District, The McGill Rose Garden is easy to miss,” states real estate agent Julie Coffey CharlotteAreaLiving.com. “But it’s no secret that they offer one of the best venues for nature lovers. The gardens bloom in spring and again in October, so autumn is my favorite time to visit this hidden gem of Charlotte. Stroll the gravel paths, take in the lush gardens, and sip a favorite beverage. Best of all, photography passes are available so you can feel free to snap Insta-worthy shots while you embrace the natural beauty.”

Local photographer Jenn Eddine describes McGill Rose Garden as an industrial take on a charming rose garden. “Grab a beverage of your choice from Rosie’s Coffee and Wine Garden located on the premises, and enjoy a stroll through the gardens with your closest friends or partner.”

Jody Mace of Charlotte on the Cheap, a local resource for freebies, deals, and discounts, also suggests checking out Rosie’s Coffee and Wine Garden. “Meander around the countless varieties of rose bushes while you enjoy a cup of coffee, tea or wine. It’s magical when it’s lit up at night. You won’t believe you’re just a stone’s throw from Uptown Charlotte.”

From upscale dining to whitewater rafting, experience it all in Charlotte

“My absolute favorite place in Charlotte is the White Water Center, particularly the ropes courses and of course the rafting,” says Lisa Pleasant of Lisa Pleasant Events, a wedding and event planner. 

“On the more expensive side, The McNinch House has a cozy setting with preset meals each night, but it is certainly an entire experience so be prepared to relax and hang out for hours with your favorite company. During the day I suggest taking a stroll on the greenway uptown, especially during the spring or fall seasons. For nighttime entertainment, see one of the Blumenthal shows or musicals at the Belk Theater. On the more hip end of Charlotte, you will find spice and creative bites at many of the hidden gem restaurants and breweries in the South End area. Local favorites include Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Barcelona, and my personal favorite the Dilworth Tasting Room.”

Four people white water rafting.

Take a day trip to Waxhaw

Gianna Elden, owner of Natural Bloom Photography recommends heading south of Waverly and to find the essence of Main Street America in Downtown Waxhaw. 

“On Main Street, you’ll find a general store, a couple of antique shops, and some restaurants. Plenty of photo opportunities here,” says Elden. “Look out for the train that rolls through and grab a specialty burger and brew from Maxwell’s Tavern.”

Experience the best seafood in Charlotte

“In the heart of Uptown Charlotte, Sea Level NC is a Charlotte hidden gem and the best place for seafood in the city,” shares Natalie Korda of food blog Foodie on Location. “It is a quaint restaurant with a unique menu and stellar wine and cocktail list. For appetizers, the calabash shrimp melts in your mouth, while the grilled oysters with lemon garlic butter, parmesan cheese, and panko breadcrumbs get you ready for the main course. The ancient grains and salmon bowl are an amazing combination of flavors, which I highly recommend. Top your meal off with their chocolate pot de creme, which will have you craving more.”

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