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Charlotte -> Raleigh

“It’s the coolest city.. you have to go.. I’d move there if I could” These are sentiments I’ve heard about Charlotte, so I found out for myself. My key takeaways: It would be a great city to live in. It’s a fun work trip spot as it’s very walkable. It’s not my ideal vacation destination.. however, Raleigh, I would go back to.

Let’s start with why I was in Charlotte and Raleigh (Apex, NC). My boyfriend had a 2 day conference in Charlotte so, I tagged along. We extended our stay through the weekend to explore the city and visit friends who live just outside of Raleigh. Being that he was working for 2 of the ~6 days, I dubbed this the perfect time for some solo travel exploration. I made a mini travel itinerary but found I didn’t have much alone and so plans were shifted. The weather tried to keep us down at times, but we made the best of it! If you are planning to go to Charlotte, we went the 3rd week of April and I couldn’t recommend this time of year enough. 70-80° each day, flowers blooming… spring had sprung my friends!

DAY 1: Dinner and Dreams

After a long work day, starting at 3am, Tony (my boyfriend) and I’s flights arrived at different times Tuesday, leaving only time for dinner and an early bed time.. which was fine with me. We walked from our hotel at Home 2 Suites Uptown to Caroline’s Oyster Bar for dinner and some ~mocktails. We weren’t in the mood to drink but wanted a little touch of taste with our meal. Frankly, if I’d consumed alcohol it was likely I’d be asleep in the booth before the appetizers arrived.

Dinner: oysters (10/10), crab hush puppies (9/10), the “burnt ends” bbq wagyu brisket (10/10) and burger w/ fries (8/10).

Day 2: Early Risers

Up by 7:30am, we dabbled in the continental breakfast.. which was.. what you’d expect from a continental breakfast. Then began our morning stroll. One of my FAVORITE things about Charlotte, is the landscape. Trees lining the downtown streets, flowers blooming. The fresh nature smell is a nice counter to the tall buildings and cars heading to work. While we were there, SHOUT CLT was going on, this meant lots of street art and free live concerts which was AWESOME. Its free, its something to look at and you can get down and dance if you’d like! (We did in the middle of the street after coffee, it was cutesy lol).
Coffee at Coco and The Director : 10/10 Great atmosphere. Cozy and warm, rustic, gorgeous pastries and coffee roasts that start your day off right.
The Green : If my trip had to be summed up by one spot, it would be The Green. Right across from the Charlotte Convention Center, this green space was littered with art, flourishing landscape that made you forget you were in the middle of a bustling city and families young and old enjoying the splash pad. The design was centered around reading, with giant decorative steel pages of torn books places within the landscape and book stacks as statues at the entrance. I sat here two days in a row, getting a tan and reading my kindle. Such a peaceful place, with several restaurants conveniently situated just steps away.
The Sandwich Club : While reading, I got a green goddess sandwich for a light lunch… again 10/10 and I’m usually not a veggie sandwich gal.
The rest of the evening was dedicated to work events at The Filmore.. another cool venue which is a music hall…I would encourage you to check out a concert there!

Day 3: 10am hot dog? Don’t mind if I do

Ok, so this was NOT my plan. My PLAN was to attend a Yoga class at Y2 in Cotswold, get a sauna session in there.. and maybe take a run before going back to my sweet spot at the Green and read. Instead, I canceled the yoga class, slept in with the blackout shades pulled (this was not a hangover, this was just vacation mode) and ate a street hot dog at 10am with my coffee, again from Coco and… I’m ok with that.
The day however was not a gluttonous waste I swear.
After the hot delicious dog, I was a coffee repeater and then took another nice long walk through the city with Tony.
Bernardin’s : Grabbed a Caesar salad and diet coke for lunch. It says fine dining, but its a great, chill lunch spot too with a bright atmosphere.. again, right on the green.
Finally, I got some physical activity in, renting a Joy Bike and riding through town to the Little Sugar Creek trail. The bikes can be found around town, I grabbed one outside of Whole Foods, right next to our hotel. Little Sugar Creek Trail was very quiet and had the nice sound of the trickling creek as you rode along it. I felt fairly safe as a woman by myself on the trail. There were other people on the trail, which was nice. It was only about a mile or so that I rode along it before getting back on the main road because of construction. My biking ended back at by self declared “home base” of The Green for some more reading.
Mimosa Grille : This was the next stop for a happy hour cocktail. It is conveniently situated in the downtown plaza where there was a live band. So we enjoyed a drink and a free show! The wine was decent. The brussels, delicious.
Dean’s Italian Steakhouse : We wanted a nice dinner. Several of my boyfriends colleagues had raved about Dean’s. I want to preface this next portion with, I’ve somehow gotten very spoiled with a quality filet, have developed high standards and am not sure if I am ashamed of this trait. 4 of us split a bottle of Super Tuscan wine, which was fantastic. Apps were a crab cake and tuna crudo.. would highly recommend. As for the main dish… it was pricey for a steak of that quality…like $71 for filet Oscar and the filet was a little tough (I order medium) IMHO.. again, I may be getting spoiled. Nevertheless plan on about $130 per person if you’re just lightly boozing with the meal. Atmosphere and service play a big role, and both were wonderful. The patio was perfect after a warm day in the sun, with some shade and a light breeze.

Day 4: Weather woes won’t keep us down!

The conference is done, we’re on our own and we’ve got activities to do! First stop…find a new coffee shop and stop giving all of our attention to Coco.
Water Bean : There are a few of these throughout the city. It wasn’t better than Coco, but it was still really good. (They gave a real straw, not paper, which I enjoyed, save the turtles, but at $6.79 a cup, my iced coffee cannot be drank through a paper straw)
La Belle Helene : IDK why, but I didn’t want to go here for lunch. However, once the meal came, my mind was changed. French bistro atmosphere, which I was underdressed for I’ll admit high ceilings and fragrant florals as you walk in. We indulged in a crispy cheese pull atop the French onion soup. Additionally we split a chicken salad croissant and it was just the perfect amount of food for the start of our day.
NASCAR hall of Fame: I am by no means a NASCAR fan. The races typically infringe upon my show time at work (10 pm news) and I can name 2 drivers, Jeff Gordon (childhood favorite for whatever reason) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. But according to every guy at that conference my boyfriend was at, we HAD to go. So, when in Rome! We really just went for the race car simulator… guys said they were “sweatin comin outta that car, its like you’re really on the track”. It was cool, however I get that same thrill from the movie theatre race game next to Big Buck Hunter (more my forte). If you’re with your dad, or like… if its raining and you have nothing else to do, go, why not, its like $30 and you can get a cute NASCAR shirt from the gear shop… but unless you’re a die hard.. I wouldn’t make this the focal point of your trip.
Rent a car and GO: One of my favorite travel tricks is renting a convertible off TURO wherever I am and exploring. The convertible makes every drive an adventure, an activity, it makes it sexy and bonus you get a tan on the go. Will I be linking the car I got? No, it was not my favorite. But I’ll always recommend TURO, it’s so easy.
US Whitewater Rafting Center : THIS. Run don’t walk if you enjoy adventure and the outdoors. Situated about 45 mins outside of Charlotte. The Whitewater rafting center is like a big kid playground. For $75 you can white water raft in man made training waters, paddle board, kayak, zip line, rock climb and hike through trails. Additionally, there are bars situated next to the waters, and a restaurant. The rain got us this day… we arrived too late ( they close kind of early, this is weather and sunset dependent) and there was a little storm on the way. So instead of ziplining, we grabbed a beer and watched people kayak through the rapids. This was a highlight, its my far one of the coolest facilities I’ve ever seen.
Dinner at Lake Norman: With our zipline dreams scrapped, we continued our journey by car another 30 minutes and headed to Lake Norman to find a dockside bar for some grub. We came across Apps and Taps. Great views, decent bar food and bands most nights of the weekend. We sat, ate on the patio and listened to the rain come down on the tin roof while watching the trees in varying shades of green wave in the wind. Peaceful.
I’m not sure what it was about this trip, but we didn’t make it past 9pm this night. We made the trek 40 minutes back to uptown charlotte, grabbed ice cream from The Golden Cow, which frankly, I wouldn’t recommend. And caught some z’s.

Day 5 : Off to Raleigh

We packed up and headed to our next destination. No fancy coffee, just a continental breakfast sandwich and the wind in our hair! Our friends live in Apex, just outside of Raleigh. Its a quaint town, where they have BBQ festivals and everyone heads to the one stop light main street on Sunday mornings for coffee and a croissant (we joined in)..think a very southern Gilmore girls.

Lunch at Tap Station Brewery : I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect much from this place. It looks very unassuming and casual and I figured the only good thing on the menu would be something bathed in grease, but the boys wanted to go, so I was down. I really needed a vegetable at this point in the trip and by golly, the bbq chicken salad and O-rings slapped (its called balance). Its all open air. The food is quick, the prices a refreshing notch down from Charlotte’s pricey meals. No muss no fuss.

Hike the American Tobacco Trail : We were in need of a dose of nature, and wanted to go to Jordan Lake but time was short so we hit the Tobacco trail. There is some good history along this trail etched into plaques along the way. There was a heavy rain the day before and we did have too close an encounter to not one but two snakes… the second which turned out to be a poisonous copperhead! I love nature! SO watch for that, but typically the trail is very safe and it runs more than 20 miles all the way through. We ventured through 3 of those miles.

Beers at Vicious Fishes : I mean, imagine a daycare that serves craft beer. That’s it. Its the perfect place for fun hip parents who don’t wanna get a sitter. We didn’t have any kids with us but we did have a dog. Great beer, outdoors has horseshoes and cornhole and children’s play equipment, that looks sturdy enough to hold up the dads when they have one too many and decide to teeter totter themselves.

Dinner with a View at Wye Hill : My favorite place we ate on this trip was in Raleigh. We headed to the city for dinner at Wye Hill, which overlooks the city. Its patio is big, and covered in spots and the food was so inventive but not too off the all that you look at the menu and don’t know what to order because it’s weird.

The Cardinal : We were all in. We basically split apps at Wye Hill and decided that our main course would be hot dogs with a side of IPA’s at **The Cardinal**. Don’t expect a warm greeting when you walk in, but the grungy oldies music and open air beach dock style patio seating lends itself to a great night. Too many hot dogs were put down, and there were some regrets, but a Build-your-own-dog was fitting for the atmosphere.

To close out the night, we had a fire and sat under the Carolina trees while the guys smoked cigars. As I said before, perfect weather this time of year.. no bugs, not too cold or hot and practically no humidity at that point in the night.

DAY 6: Goodbye Carolina

Today is the day we embark on our journey home (sad face), but not before we get a last minute, down home Apex, Carolina experience. So, to the center of town we go!

Common Grounds: Let me just say, my boyfriend are not the couple to restrict ourselves on a vacation, we are part of the “rules are meant to be broken” club. So for breakfast, we ate cheesecake.. don’t you sit there and act like that coffee cake or chocolate croissant these French people coin as “breakfast” is anything but a rebranded dessert. Lemon cheesecake. And it was delicious by the way. It was the type of lemon that hits you in the back of your jaw but is just sweet enough to keep you coming back for more. To balance out our glucose spike, we got coffees, 6.5/10, not bad.
Mission Market: We’re not completely unhinged, so we did get some avo toast to go with the cheesecake. We had a long day ahead of us and we wanted to make it to Jordan Lake before we returned the car and flew out of Charlotte, so we needed to fuel ourselves for the long day ahead.

One of the top things we did was just sit, in nature. We drove around Jordan Lake with the top down, listening to the birds and water, enjoying the damp air. We stopped at a few spots along the lake. A note: many of the trails on the lake require a $6-10 fee to park. There are a few free spots near Farrington Point. It was peaceful and quiet, with few people fishing, kayaking or picnicking with their family. We spent a few hours in these parts, returned the car and headed to the airport for some chips, salsa and tacos to close out our bad eating habits before returning to the real world.

It was a trip with a loose agenda (on my end) filled with much needed sunshine, green trees, long lived friendships and a few surprises! If we do go back to Charlotte and Raleigh, it will be to visit friends and finally try our hand at the White Water Rafting Center.

I hope this was helpful. May you embark on your next journey with a little knowledge about the passions I’m finding, everywhere.

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