By Kristen Moore and Torie Robinette
Charlotte’s sunny summer landscape beckons locals and visitors to get out and explore. From foodie expeditions to fun in the water and everything in between, we’ve put together the ultimate Queen City summer checklist for Charlotte-area adventurers. See how many you can check off the list and share with us on social media using #charlottesgotalot.
1. Rent a boat, Jet Ski, kayak or stand-up paddleboard and spend a day on Lake Norman or Lake Wylie. You’ll find all the gear you need at rental companies like My Aloha Paddle and Surf, Inc., Aquaventure Watercraft Rentals and Boat Club and Pier 88 Yacht Club. Or go all out and throw a party on the water with Sniki Tiki Pontoon or Yachta Yachta Yachta Charters.
3. Get a taste of the city at the three-day Taste of Charlotte food festival in Uptown. After sampling fare from Charlotte-area restaurants, enjoy live music and entertainment, street performances, family-friendly activities and shopping.
4. Experience a different kind of football in the Queen City at a professional or international soccer match. The USL Charlotte Independence take over the turf at the Sportsplex at Matthews, and Bank of America Stadium is a regular host of big-name soccer tournaments.
5. Escape from the heat and immerse yourself in a movie on the largest screen in the Carolinas at The Charlotte Observer IMAX® Dome Theatre at Discovery Place Science. Films explore engaging topics, like animals in their natural habitats and scientific wonders, which seem to come to life on screen.
6. Take a sightseeing tour or dinner cruise on Lake Norman aboard the Catawba Queen Mississippi riverboat or Lady of the Lake luxury yacht offered by Queen’s Landing Sightseeing & Dinner Cruises. You can even burn calories while you tour the lake, thanks to Charlotte Cycleboats. Opening this summer, it will offer boozy pontoon rides with pedal stations for passengers to pull their own weight.
7. Sign up the kids for a unique summer camp, like Chef Alyssa’s Kids Culinary Camp, FC Barcelona Soccer Camp or Survival Camp at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. For the adults, sign up for an adult version of summer camp, like Charlotte Ballet Academy’s Adult Open Division classes or a sports league via SportsLink.
8. Head to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the weekly Bojangles’ Summer Shootout Series. With legends car races, bandolero races, school bus races and more on deck, there’s wheel-to-wheel fun in store for the whole family.
9. Celebrate Independence Day at one of the best fireworks shows in Charlotte. Head to the WBT SkyShow in Uptown, the Fourth of July Celebration at the U.S. National Whitewater Center or the Celebrate America Fireworks Show at Carowinds.
10. Tee off at the newly opened Topgolf, which is kicking off its premiere year with shindigs on Friday and Saturday nights. Starting at 9 p.m., the venue breaks out DJs, patio games, contests and giveaways for a family-friendly event.
11. Hit the links. Sign up for a lesson at Dana Rader Golf School, improve your game with a few rounds at the double-decker driving range at Leatherman Golf Learning Center, and then tee off at one of the 40 public and semi-private golf courses in the region, like Olde Sycamore Golf Plantation.
12. Experience Charlotte by horse. Clip clop through Uptown on a tour with Charlotte Center City Carriage Tours or take a Saturday Sunset Tour by horseback at the Countrytime Equestrian Events in Huntersville. Giddy up!
14. Grab some water and friends (furry friends are welcome, too) and hike to the top of Crowders Mountain State Park for an incredible view of the Charlotte skyline on a clear day.
15. Spend a Saturday afternoon exploring historic aircraft at Carolinas Aviation Museum. For an added bonus, watch planes take off and land at Charlotte Douglas International Airport Overlook. With more than 700 flights taking off from Charlotte each day, it’s fun to guess where they’re headed around the world.
16. Embark on a Friday evening art gallery crawl in South End or NoDa. Admire work by local artists while enjoying live music and refreshments at many of these hopping neighborhoods’ eclectic galleries and shops.
17. Discover the secret gardens of the city. Plan an afternoon walk through McGill Rose Garden in NoDa or the spectacular gardens at The Duke Mansion and Wing Haven Gardens & Bird Sanctuary in Myers Park.
19. Spend a day exploring Charlotte-area wineries. Head north to the Vineyards of Swan Creek, which include six vineyards located only 5 miles apart. Or for an experience like no other, rent a treehouse at Treehouse Vineyards in Monroe.
22. Savor the city’s soul during the annual QC Summerfest, a three-day festival featuring jazz, funk, contemporary R&B and soul artists Uptown. Guests can enjoy midday and evening concerts at the Belk Theater followed by after-parties that boast more live music.
24. Take a kayak, canoe or tubing trip down the Catawba River with Catawba River Expeditions. Who knew you could do this so close to Charlotte?
25. For the kids and the kids at heart, run through the water at one of the city’s “spraygrounds.” Visit Cordelia Park in NoDa, Latta Park on Park Avenue, Veterans Park on Central Avenue or the Fish Fountains on The Green in Uptown for an afternoon of refreshing fun.
26. Attend the free Carolina Panthers’ Fan Fest at Bank of America Stadium—be sure to reserve a ticket online beforehand—to kick off the football season and celebrate our beloved team. Don’t forget to take a selfie with Sir Purr!
28. Lounge on the nearby 1/2-acre sandy beach at Lake Norman. Reedy Creek Nature Center and Preserve is the site of Mecklenburg County’s first public swimming beach at a county-run park since the 1970s.
29. Nix the dating doldrums by booking one of the U.S. National Whitewater Center’s Adventure Dining packages: Go flatwater kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding or zip lining before enjoying craft beer or wine at a fireside dinner. Then groove under the stars to the tunes of a talented lineup of musical acts at the center’s River Jam concert series.
30. Watch the fireworks light up above BB&T Ballpark after you cheer on the Charlotte Knights at a Friday home game. Enjoy a breathtaking city skyline view and chow down on roasted peanuts, a giant hot dog or a mini helmet full of ice cream.
31. Careen down the tracks of Carowinds’ newest and oldest roller coasters. Your park ticket includes access to the action-packed Carolina Harbor waterpark—an expansion and transformation of the former Boomerang Bay.
32. Beat the heat at Ray’s Splash Planet, an indoor waterpark loaded with fun features, like a double figure-eight waterslide, water squirters, a lazy river and tumble buckets.
34. Treat your taste buds like royalty during Queens Feast: Charlotte Restaurant Week. Held annually in July (and January), the event features countless upscale establishments offering their best appetizers, entrees and desserts for easy-on-the pocketbook prices.
35. Cool down and savor the creamy goodness of freshly churned ice cream packed in a cone and coated in sweet toppings. Local favorites like Elizabeth Creamery, Mr. K’s Soft Ice Cream and La Michoacana should become weekly—if not daily—stops.
36. Answer the call of the wild with a daytrip to surrounding North Carolina towns, where exotic animals roam. Visit Lazy 5 Ranch in Mooresville, Tiger World in Rockwell, Zootastic Park of Lake Norman in Troutman, Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville or Bird Brain Ostrich Ranch in Sherrills Ford.
37. Prepare to have your senses swept away by the natural beauty of Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. The famed mecca of flora and fauna features 380 acres of themed gardens, a dozen sparkling fountains, a spectacular Visitor Pavilion and a striking Orchid Conservatory.
39. Soak up the sun and relish stunning skyline views at Charlotte’s best rooftop restaurants. For killer bites, crafty beverages and unbeatable sightlines, grab a table at Fahrenheit in Uptown or The Peculiar Rabbit in Plaza Midwood. Honorable mentions: The Gin Mill in South End and Rooftop 210 in Uptown.
40. Schedule a private swim party or add Open Swim days at The Quarry at Carrigan Farms to your calendar. Take a cool dip in the boulder-bordered water or paddleboard, canoe or kayak along the currents. Then pick up fresh garden veggies from the farm.
41. Pack your pole and a bucket of bait for an afternoon spent at one of Charlotte’s many public fishing holes. Catch bluegill or largemouth bass at McAlpine Creek Park or catfish at Hornets Nest Park. For a professional fishing charter, book through Fish On! Lake Norman in nearby Denver.
43. Glide through scenic Center City and neighboring historic districts on one of Charlotte NC Tours’ six different Segway Tours. Unique options include restaurant-tasting tours and haunted ghost tours.
44. Sip your way through LoSo (Lower South End), where breweries and distilleries sit just feet apart. Start out with a Belgian brew at Sugar Creek Brewing Company and then head over to The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. Savor a German beer in OMB’s biergarten and then hop across the street for creative spirits at The Broken Spoke and Great Wagon Road Distilling Company, which are adjoined.
45. For knee-slapping fun with a Queen City spin, get a front-row seat to see Charlotte Squawks in full comedic force. Picture “Saturday Night Live” meets Broadway. Add in local and national pop-culture and you’ve got a performance for the books.
46. Count the evening stars and Hollywood stars at one of Charlotte’s outdoor summer movie offerings. Round up the kids and catch your favorite family flick at the Movies Under the Stars series at Symphony Park.
47. Show your pride as you join the city in celebrating its LGBTQ community. Celebrate diversity and unity at Charlotte Black Gay Pride’s annual summer event and at the Charlotte Pride Festival & Parade, each of which draws a diverse lineup of drag, dance, comedy and musical acts to Uptown.
48. Experience life in the wilderness while camping at McDowell Nature Center and Preserve’s 56-site campground, which is set along hundreds of scenic acres. Take shelter at Copperhead Island for more primitive digs.
This article ran in the June 2016 issue of Charlotte Happenings and was updated in June 2017.