True to its tourism slogan, Charlotte’s “got a lot”
STORY: Jill Becker
On lap five, as I was speeding around the Pomona Raceway at more than 150 miles per hour, my crew chief’s voice came through my headset, warning me of a crash on the turn ahead. I was able to miss the wrecked cars, but I slid in the grass as I tried to avoid the mayhem, and my car spun around several times. No damage was done, but the episode slowed me down considerably, and I ended up finishing the race in eighth place.
I’m too chicken to actually drive that fast or that crazy in real life, but experiencing it in the state-of-the art stock car racing simulator at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, complete with the sights and sounds and feel of an actual NASCAR event, was a thrill I won’t soon forget. I could have sat there and pretended to drive that Sprint Cup car all day.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame is one of Charlotte, North Carolina’s top attractions. And it’s one that will surprisingly appeal to folks who aren’t particularly big fans of NASCAR or racing in general. There are a ton of cool cars to look at, dating back to the early days of motor transportation and up through modern racers driven by some of the sport’s biggest names, plus all sorts of interactive exhibits that will have you designing your own car, participating in a pit crew challenge and more. The 150,000-square-foot museum covers four floors, and you can easily spend a couple of hours there.
But there’s plenty else to do in The Queen City, a nickname earned due to the fact Charlotte was named after Queen Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg- Strelitz, the wife of England’s King George III. For example, you can sip some German-style ales and take a tour of the facility at The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery; relive a civil rights lunch-counter sit-in at the Levine Museum of the New South; fire a tennis ball launcher, touch live sea urchins and perform other hands-on activities at Discovery Place Science; or paddle a raft or kayak down some class III and IV rapids at the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
Charlotte is also an up-and-coming foodie city. Winning critics’ raves are spots such as Haberdish, where homespun eats including fried chicken, local trout, charred okra and housemade pickles can be ordered family-style when there are multiple mouths to feed. One of our favorite restaurants was Amélie’s French Bakery & Café. It boasts four area locations, but the charming flagship store on Davidson Street is open 24 hours for those with a late-night craving for flaky chocolate croissants, gooey pecan sticky buns and luscious bread pudding. Also open 24/7/365 is the RedEye Diner, a downtown spot known for its throwback decor and plentiful breakfasts.
Our hotel was the Le Mèridien on South McDowell Street. It’s immediately adjacent to a Sheraton, so you have access to both hotels’ amenities. It offers a nice view of the downtown skyline, and the rooftop bar is the hopping place to be at night. The Evoke restaurant has an enticing menu that includes barbecue pork rinds, maple-glazed cornbread, charred octopus and filet mignon.
To sum up the trip, I found that a weekend wasn’t nearly long enough to discover all that Charlotte has to offer. So I’ll be back. And I’m determined to get the checkered flag in that racing simulator next time!
Photos: charlottesgotalot.com / Kyo H Nam Photography