By Allison Hancin
What makes a city unique? Man-made wonders offer adventurers and city explorers unparalleled attractions, while hometown spiritâespecially the spirit of discoveryâoften lays the foundation for a metropolisâ future. We sought unmistakably Charlotte experiences and found them in these popular locales.
Conquer the twists, turns and drops aboard the worldâs tallest and fastest giga coaster:Â Fury 325, the 2016 winner ofÂ Amusement TodayâsÂ famed Golden Ticket Award forÂ âBest Steel Coaster.â Thrill-seekers climb to a towering 325-foot peakâthe city is visible in the distanceâbefore dropping sharply at a hair-raising 81 degrees.
Seated on the North Carolina and South Carolina state line,Â CarowindsÂ amusement park is the intersection of family fun and adventure. From record-breaking coasters to unique live shows, the âthrill capital of the Southeastâ has maintained exclusive bragging rights since it opened in spring 1973.
The park is also home toÂ Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 3Z Arena, the worldâs first âintra-activeâ 3-D digital experience, meaning the game allows you to interact with an opponentâs screen. During this shooter video game, guests on opposing teamsâplants or zombiesâbattle it out to capture the ultimate treasure: the Golden Gnome.
Alongside these whirling additions, youâll find a host of Carolina callouts in tried-but-true and new rides alike. With a hurdling track that seems to dive and soar like a fury of bees, Fury 325 serves as a nod to Charlotteâs âhornetâs nest of rebellionâ reputation. TheÂ Carolinas Goldrusherâcomplete with carts designed like mine trainsâhugs turns to mimic the excitement that swept the Charlotte region during the nationâs first gold rush. The sprawlingÂ Carolina HarborÂ waterpark, the largest waterpark in both states, exudes the characteristic charm of the Carolina Coast.Â Tidal Wave BayâsÂ 400,000-gallon wave pool mimics the surf of the Atlantic, whileÂ Blackbeard's Revenge, named for the infamous Tar Heel State pirate, boasts a harrowing six-story waterslide complex. In spring 2017, the park added theÂ County FairÂ attraction, which combines vintage rides, classic festival fare and hearty doses of nostalgia to recreate the feel of an early-era Carolina carnival.
The heart of racing beats at theÂ NASCAR Hall of Fame.Â One of the cityâs exclusive crown jewels, the Hall is dedicated to hailing the sportâs trailblazers and detailing their paths.
Located in Uptown, just 20 miles from Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Hall attracts fans and non-fans alike with a front-seat view into the world of professional racing.Â
Upon entering, guests marvel at the fabled race cars lining the Hallâs signature attraction:Â âGlory Road,âÂ a curved life-size track. To give guests a feel for the different inclines found at NASCAR tracks across the country, the path up âGlory Roadâ showcases a spine-tingling ascent from zero to 33 degrees of banking. Revamped every few years, the exhibitâs current iteration,Â âICONS,âÂ includes 18 cars that have played indelible roles in NASCARâs history. Among the treasures perched on âGlory Road,â youâll find Davey Allisonâs 1989 Thunderbird and Richie Evansâ 1939 Chevrolet Coupe.
In a building filled with fire suits worn by incredible drivers and trophies polished by proud teams, The Hallâs jewel is theÂ Hall of Honorâa space dedicated to the members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Rare artifacts that represent each individual in the latest class take center stage in the display, but spires and audio stations located around the room pay tribute to every Hall of Famer ever inducted. Â
After paying your respects, experience NASCAR from all anglesâas a driver, a member of the pit crew and as a fanaticâat each of the third floorâs hands-onÂ âRace WeekâÂ stations. Put the pedal to the metal through a realistic racing simulator experience, or prepare a vehicle for race day glory in the beat-the-clock pit crew challenge. You can also retrace the sportâs evolution inÂ âHeritage Speedway,âÂ the fourth-floor exhibit that chronologically displays hundreds of artifacts from pre-NASCAR to present day. Donât miss buzz-worthy stops like Junior Johnsonâs moonshine still, also on the fourth floor, and theÂ Whelen Hall of Champions, which details every champion from every series through NASCARâs history.
Home to the world's largest man-made whitewater river and an official Olympic Training site, theÂ U.S. National Whitewater CenterÂ (USNWC) is an outdoor enthusiastâs dream, showcasing endless ways to explore by air, in water and on land.Â
Encompassing 1,300 acres that run along the banks of theÂ Catawba River, the outdoor facility boasts multiple zip lines that will have you clutching your harness as you glide through the air. Overcome your fear of heights by conquering the 60-foot or 100-foot free fall jump. Or put your strength to the test as you travel from platform to platform through the canopy of trees in one of eight ropes courses.
Olympic hopefuls flock to the professional-level rapids to train in whitewater slalom racing. The USNWC was the site of the canoe and kayak slalom trials for the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Some giants of the sport, like Mount Holly resident Casey Eichfeld, even moved to the Charlotte area to be closer to USNWC before competing for their shot at gold. But those without Olympic dreams will still find adventure and thrill aboard the guided whitewater rafting course, which bills experiences to fit every skill level. Walk down a short trail to access the Catawba River, where stand-up paddleboarding and single and tandem kayaking await.
On land, the USNWC offers more than 30 miles of trails for running, walking and biking. The center is also home to one of the largest outdoor climbing walls in the South; at its max, it reaches 30 feet. For those itching for a new challenge, the USNWC features the worldâs first permanent Deep Water Solo Climbing complex. Climbers scale an arched wall without ropes or harnesses, then release themselves into a 20-foot-deep pool.
Born in Charlotte in 1918, renowned evangelist Billy Graham was raised on his familyâs dairy farm, just miles from what is nowÂ Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Throughout his 60-year ministry, Grahamâs all-encompassing message of hope has reverberated throughout the world, reaching millions across the world and making him a household name. Â
The Billy Graham Library, located 4 miles from Grahamâs original childhood homestead, serves as an educational and inspirational haven. The attractions feature 20 acres of tranquil grounds that whisper the story of Grahamâs mission and legacy.
Through interactive exhibits, films and stories, guests retrace the origin and growth of Grahamâs ministry along theÂ Journey of FaithÂ tour. Grahamâs family home, where he lived from age 9 until college, was completely reconstructed and restored in front of the library with 80 percent of materials from his original home. The preserved structure and relics offers visitors an intimate glimpse into Grahamâs upbringing. Other popular activities available on the grounds include spending time in the memorial prayer gardenâwhere Grahamâs wife, Ruth, is buriedâshopping for gifts inÂ Ruthâs Attic Bookstore,Â and polishing off milkshakes, ice cream sundaes and savory bites at theÂ Graham Brothers Dairy Bar.
Since opening in 2007, the library has welcomed more than 1 million visitors from more than 90 countries. As part of its 10th anniversary celebration this year, the library will feature special events and exclusive displays from archived collections.
An annual must-see isÂ Christmas at The Library, which draws crowds from near and far for a live nativity scene (cue real donkeys, lambs and camels), horse-drawn carriage rides, a traditional Christmas dinner with all of the trimmings and readings of favorite holiday stories.Â Destinations MagazineÂ named the event one of the top 100 things to experience in North America via motorcoach.
Deep below the Uptown offices of Charlotteâs banking executives lies an intricate web of mining tunnels that are ultimately responsible for the rise of our banking city.
Twenty-five miles east of Charlotte, in Cabarrus County,Â Reed Gold MineÂ stands on the site of the countryâs first documented gold discovery. It was here in 1799 that a young boy named Conrad Reed stumbled upon a 17-pound gold nugget in a stream bed while fishing. His luck inspired a city intent on finding more treasure, and that meant gold mines sprouting up by the dozen around the areaâmany in now-bustling Center City.
When Reed Gold Mine was founded on the land where Reed found luck, it helped lead the state in gold production until 1848. Today, that mine is a National Historic Landmark, and portions of its old underground tunnels have been restored and are open for the public to explore while they hunt for their own glistening bounty.
The mineâs exhibits feature historic items such as gold mining equipment and a 1890s ore-crushing stamp mill. Experience prospecting life for yourself during a self-guided tour of one of the underground mine tunnels, which date back to the 1830s. Your journey will allow you to appreciate the tedious work required to reap the reward of finding gold.
For an ultimate first-hand understanding of the Queen Cityâs ties to this twinkling treasure, be sure to pan for gold. Donât expect to strike it rich, though; the last large gold nugget (100 poundsâ worth) to be discovered at Reed Gold Mine was unearthed in 1896.
Charlotteâs growing skyline may showcase all things new and shiny, but the cityâs roots run deep. A one-of-a-kind purveyor of the past and present, theÂ Levine Museum of the New South, located in Uptown, celebrates the regionâs storied history and looks to the future through hands-on education and thought-provoking exhibits.
The museumâs cornerstone exhibit,Â âCotton Fields to Skyscrapers,âÂ focuses on the history of the South since the Civil War. Guided by more than 1,000 audio recordings that include fascinating firsthand accounts and sound effects, plus artifacts, exhibits and incredible replicas, visitors explore Charlotteâs many reinventions. Step inside a tenant farmerâs one-room living quarters, hear the churning of a cotton mill or scoot up to a lunch counter that was paramount to the civil rights movement.
Telling other powerful stories, two of the museumâs past exhibits,Â âCOURAGEâÂ andÂ âChanging Places,âÂ were both recognized with Excellence in Exhibition Awards by the American Association of Museums, and portions of âCOURAGEâ appeared in South Africaâs Apartheid Museum, on display in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.
The museum is the recipient of the federal governmentâs highest honor for museums, the National Award for Museum Service, which is awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. In addition to receiving multiple grants, it has received tremendous praise fromÂ The New York Times.
The museum welcomes more than 50,000 visitors every yearâeach of whom leaves eager to help write the next chapter of the cityâs fascinating story.