Charlotte Essentials

Locals share Charlotte's best places for your everyday needs

Best Place to Buy Groceries

Harris Teeter was founded here, and the original store still stands at Central Avenue and The Plaza in the Plaza-Midwood neighborhood. H-T is widely considered the most upscale of the big chains. Neighborhoods sometimes agree to shopping-center zoning only if the center includes a Harris Teeter. But Trader Joe's has arrived, with two locations, and the cult is growing. (To understand why, try the jasmine rice and the teriyaki chicken.) For helpful advice on wines, visit Reid's Fine Foods uptown.

Best Free Thing To Do

Evangelist Billy Graham was born here, on a dairy farm near what is now Park Road Shopping Center. The new Billy Graham Library is just a few miles away and admission is free. The Mint Museum of Art in the Eastover neighborhood, and the Mint Museum of Craft + Design uptown offer free admission during certain Tuesday hours. Free outdoor concerts by the Summer Pops at Symphony Park at SouthPark draw lots of families. Or, tour all the public artwork, including moving sculptures and towering Ben Long frescoes (hot dogs from street carts aren't free, but enhance the experience).

Best Place to Meet New People

Check out the art gallery crawls in NoDa or South End. In NoDa, or The Arts District along North Davidson Street, gallery crawls are on the first and third Fridays of each month from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. In South End, on South Boulevard just south of uptown, the crawls are on the first Friday of each month from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The crawls are for fun. If you want to meet the most movers and shakers in one place -- and buff your bod -- visit the Dowd YMCA on Morehead Street.

Best Place for Young Couples

A Panthers game at Bank of America Stadium uptown. If you know the other person really well, paint your face blue. If not, just don something in the blue, black and silver colors of the Carolina Panthers, the NFL team. Get there early to tailgate.

Best Place to Grab a Beer

Thomas Street Tavern -- which is actually on Thomas Avenue in the Plaza-Midwood neighborhood. (Street? Avenue? Hey, it's a place that rocks to its own beat. For instance, the front patio is pet-friendly and the back patio features outdoor Ping-Pong.) The joint has been recognized by Esquire magazine as one of the nation's best -- but you'll like it anyway.

Best Spot for a Late-Night Bite

Sir Edmond Halley's, which claims it's "clandestinely" located in the "elbow" of Park Road Shopping Center. For the uninitiated, it's a little harder to find than that. A newcomer looking for the place without a local guide might decide it's, well, in a more remote spot of the center's anatomy. It's in the basement. Trust the signs and the locals and take the stairs down.

Best Place to Enjoy a Latte

Julia's Coffee, on Wendover Road next to Habitat for Humanity's ReStore. Charlotte's Habitat for Humanity chapter is among the most active in the country, and the late Julia Maulden was its first director. The funky coffee shop bearing her name was an instant hit -- and regulars swear the reading material is the best in town. Or, try one of Dilworth Coffee's dozen shops in the Charlotte area, including one uptown at the Chamber's visitors' center. Blends are named for local landmarks; try the Morehead, as in Morehead Street.

Best Place To Do Something "Outdoorsy"

Olympic kayak hopefuls train at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, but you don't have to be a world-class athlete to have a good time. Take a raft or kayak down the artificial rapids, or sit on the restaurant patio. There's a climbing wall and mountain bike trails through the nearby woods. Parking is $5 per car.

Best Spot To Dance

For country line dancing, Coyote Joe's on Wilkinson Boulevard west of uptown. For South Beach-style Latin, visit LaTorre's Restaurant on Fifth Street uptown after the dinner crowd departs. Young newcomers should check out the late-night clubs clustered on North College Street uptown. Older dancers new to Charlotte should be warned that "shagging" doesn't mean what Austin Powers meant. It's dancing to classic R & B oldies by the Drifters, the Temptations and others. If the DJ spins "Stay" by local legend Maurice Williams, everybody in the joint will claim to have run into him at Harris Teeter that very morning.

Best Location for the Kids

Visit the Discovery Place hands-on science museum or ImaginOn, a collaboration of the public library and Children's Theatre. They're uptown, just a few blocks apart. Park near the southern end of the Lynx Blue Line light-rail line. There's a park-and-ride lot at South Boulevard and I-485. Take the kids uptown on the train.

Best Funky Local Business

For a gift for that special someone, visit the Paper Skyscraper on East Boulevard in the Dilworth neighborhood. Or spring for lunch at Price's Chicken Coop, the take-out fried chicken joint on Camden Road just south of uptown. At Price's, you'll stand in line with bank execs and construction workers. If you're lunching with someone from out of town and really want to show off your intimate knowledge of Charlotte, order the fried gizzards.

Best View of the City

The rooftop patio at the Mint Museum of Art + Craft, 220 N. Tryon St. Or, a couple of blocks away, the top of the parking deck at Seventh Street Station, the northern terminus of the Lynx Blue Line light rail. (Be warned: The security guy is friendly but won't let you take pictures.) If you'd enjoy a hike instead of an elevator ride, Crowders Mountain State Park just west of the city. You can't view the city from the top floors of the bank buildings for security reasons, but if you're planning a special dinner for an anniversary or the like, the nighttime view from Bentley's on 27 is stunning and romantic. The restaurant is on the top floor of the Charlotte Plaza building.

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