Five Great Neighborhoods in Charlotte

From urban-chic to traditional, check out these great neighborhoods in Charlotte.

THE ARTS DISTRICT

This is, hands down, the funkiest neighborhood in Charlotte. Bankers and other buttoned-down sorts are following the artists and musicians who first reclaimed homes and storefronts in this former mill village, but they haven't scrubbed away its soul.

If suburbs are beige, the colors here are purple, pink, orange and electric blue -- sometimes on the same front door. Locals know this as North Charlotte, the former mill village, or NoDa, a play on North Davidson Street. If you're searching the local MLS online, it's THE Arts District. The average house here sold for about $260,000 during the first half of 2008. You can still buy a non-restored, 1,000-square-foot bungalow for $150,000, but they're getting hard to find. New loft condos start at approximately $125,000, and new bungalow-style homes are twice that.

You'll find Charlotte's most popular fish taco here at Cabo Fish Taco. Locals brag that you can find live music here almost every evening. Check out the Evening Muse. An old movie theater attracts acts such as Livingston Taylor, James' little brother, who spent part of his childhood in Chapel Hill. Dogs and their owners are welcome at the Dog Bar. On the first and third Friday of each month, NoDa also hosts popular art gallery crawls

CENTER CITY

Some 11,000 people live inside what locals call "the loop," or Interstate 277, which encircles uptown. Don't overlook single-family homes. If you're willing to walk four blocks instead of two, you'll find homes that cost less per square foot than uptown condos. However, most folks drawn to the urban buzz choose lofts, condos and townhouses. Typically you'll find 50 times as many condos and townhouses as single-family homes.

Condos and townhouses start around $200,000 and go through the roof for a penthouse with terrace garden and skyline views. The uptown population is increasingly diverse. When the first condo towers went up, developers sold to hip young bankers moving from New York and San Francisco. They also sold to local baby boomers, who traded their big houses for the urban lifestyle. More recently, the area has started to attract young families and even retirees.

When the 60,000-plus uptown workers spill out of their offices at midday, they share lunch counters with moms pushing strollers. Uptown Charlotte's residential scene, nurtured carefully by the banks three decades ago, has matured to develop distinct urban neighborhoods: The Gateway area on West Trade Street is dominated by Johnson & Wales University and its students. High-end buildings with concierges and penthouse terraces are closer to the bank towers, restaurants, live theater and museums. You'll find sleek lofts in old warehouses near Bank of America Stadium, home of the NFL Panthers.

Check out Alexander Michael's, a popular watering hole amid Fourth Ward's restored Victorian homes, or enjoy a view down on the city from Bentley's on 27 in the Charlotte Plaza building. NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. just opened a new bar called "Whiskey River." The club district along North College Street rocks after midnight.

PLAZA MIDWOOD

Locals know this area as Plaza Midwood, but it's just Midwood if you're searching the multiple listings. It gets its hyphenated name because the Plaza, a leafy boulevard lined by bungalow-style homes, runs through its core. The area was developed in the 1920s as a streetcar suburb. Homes on some streets here are elegantly refurbished -- but others still offer, well, opportunity for the industrious.

Nearby neighborhoods Elizabeth and Dilworth, which date to the same era, are popular but more gentrified. New mixed-use developments, including Morningside Village, offer homes, condos and townhouses. Central Avenue, a main thoroughfare, is the most ethnically diverse slice of Charlotte, with Asian and Hispanic markets -- and a tattoo parlor or two. Nova's Bakery on Central is popular with bread lovers from across the region. Be sure to surf the Internet while you enjoy the chocolate-orange bread. Enjoy a slice at Fuel Pizza, a refurbished service station, or try the fried pickles at The Penguin.

Charlotte Country Club, in the heart of Plaza-Midwood, was formed in 1910 when golf was in its infancy here. Plaza-Midwood enjoys one of the most active neighborhood associations in town. The group hosts a home tour each May, offering an opportunity to peek inside the top restored homes.

SOUTHPARK

SouthPark is the largest shopping mall in the region, and the blocks around it comprise the most upscale shopping in North Carolina. The only Neiman Marcus in the state is located here, along with Nordstrom and Belk's flagship store.

The mall was built on dairy-farm land about 40 years ago. Today, it essentially marks the southern tip of uptown Charlotte and is a mere five miles from the heart of the city. If you've ever been to Atlanta, think Buckhead. Real estate pros tell potential buyers that living in the SouthPark area is a lot like living uptown but with more single-family homes and better parking. In addition to the shopping, restaurants and entertainment, the housing diversity makes this area attractive to buyers.

A few blocks in one direction, homes in Foxcroft average almost $1.5 million, and some new infill homes are much more. A few blocks in the other direction, you can find a split-level in Beverly Woods for $300,000. You'll find condos in bustling Piedmont Row from $250,000 to more than $450,000. Symphony Park, home to the Summer Pops, is tucked behind the mall, but get there early to spread a blanket.

SouthPark is where you're most likely to run into VIPs in Charlotte. When the NCAA regional basketball tournament was held here, UNC coach Roy Williams and his staff dined at McCormick & Schmick. The Palm and P.F. Chang's attract notables to Phillips Place across the street from the mall. If you're feeling flush and want to mingle with the Queen City's beautiful people, enjoy a late-night cocktail on an outdoor sofa at the modern Mediterranean restaurant, M5.

BALLANTYNE

Ballantyne is Charlotte's quintessential suburban development. It's a bustling mix of homes, condos, townhouses, dining, shopping, entertainment and traffic. It was developed about a decade ago on 2,000 acres belonging to the prominent Harris family, on land south of Charlotte used mostly as a hunting preserve. It was an instant hit. Developers vowed early on to offer homes in all price ranges -- then had to turn away investors to keep them from bidding up prices on the first bungalows. Those bungalows in Ballantyne Meadows now average about $235,000.

Around the corner in Ballantyne Country Club, the average is more than $1 million. In a city of newcomers, it's the ultimate newcomer hub, but residents say it's welcoming and involved. The Ballantyne Resort includes the Dana Rader Golf School, with instruction from one of the top teaching pros in the country. Ballantyne has proven so popular that its informal boundaries are ever expanding. Developers of more recent communities have marketed them as in the Ballantyne area. Some of those communities are in fact across the county line and even the state line. The popular Sun City Carolina Lakes active adult community touts its relationship to Ballantyne, but actually is in Fort Mill, S.C.

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