The Queen City of North Carolina has certainly emerged as one of the crown jewels in the Southeast’s elite stable of cosmopolitan hubs. With a robust economy fueled by an infusion of passionate young professionals and new businesses, Charlotte is a multi-faceted gem offering a wide variety of activities to satisfy every fancy. Foodies, artists, history buffs, adventurers, shopaholics and sports fans convene seamlessly here, where an electric events calendar is a veritable menu for the senses. Forever committed to culture, Charlotte’s social scene runs the gamut of opera, ballet, theater and fine art, of festivals, concerts, entertainment, recreation and nightlife.
U.S. National Whitewater Center
For a jolt of adrenaline, a visit to the U.S. National Whitewater Center (USNWC) should be at the top of your list. Dedicated to promoting healthy and active lifestyles and instilling environmental stewardship, the center is home to the world’s largest man-made whitewater river, offering outdoor adventure in the form of whitewater rafting and kayaking, flatwater kayaking, mountain biking, rock climbing, zip lines, a canopy tour, rope courses and various team building activities. The onsite River’s Edge Bar & Grill, Pump House Biergarten and unique dining events, such as Unwined and Zipline & Dine, offer relaxing experiences after a long day of excursion. The center also hosts the River Jam concert series every Thursday and Saturday evening in the summer in addition to nine full-on festivals staged throughout the year.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR!
June10-12. Taste of Charlotte. Annually the heavens seemingly open in song for Charlotte foodies during this savory celebration of the best in local fare. The three-day festival features more than 100 samples from area restaurants along with live music and entertainment, interactive children’s activities, street performances and shopping. In addition, a variety of local, regional and national sponsors will be onsite to provide inside information, coupons and giveaways. Free admission. Purchase festival coins (onsite or online) to use for restaurant samples, beverages and kid’s activities.
Uptown Charlotte. 101 N Tryon St.
its world-class collection of museums, galleries, theaters, fine dining and an acclaimed underground jazz venue, Blues Boulevard.
To strike an all-encompassing, initial acquaintance with Greenville, we recommend the Historic West End Walking Tour out of Falls Park, where the signature 28-foot natural waterfalls captivated the first colonial settler, Richard Pearis, when he arrived in 1769. Few American cities can claim such natural beauty in the heart of their downtowns and only Greenville can boast a pedestrian walkway like the award-winning Liberty Bridge, the newest icon to emerge in Greenville’s cityscape. Just steps a way, at the foundation walls of an 1816 grist mill, tour goers will learn how this small trading post town rose to become a textile hub. The tour includes visits to some of the oldest buildings still existing along the banks of the river, including the 1882 Huguenot Mill and the Gower, Cox and Markley Carriage factory buildings that are now used for dining and entertainment.
While downtown, be sure to pop in to the Peace Center, located adjacent to Falls Park on the southwest corner of Main and West Broad streets. Home to five resident companies—the Carolina Ballet Theatre, Greenville Chorale, Greenville Symphony, International Ballet and South Carolina Children’s Theatre—the Peace Center is an architectural and acoustic phenomenon featuring a 2,100-seat concert hall, a 400-seat theater, an amphitheater and a patrons’ lounge. Classical, dance, jazz, country, bluegrass, folk, pop and comedy performers, as well as a full calendar of top Broadway shows, are equally spectacular on the Peace Center’s stages. National and international acts have been known to return to the venue because
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June 17-26. Chautauqua History Alive Festival: American Adventures. A 10-day, two-weekend festival of non-stop live history and fun for the whole family. This year’s event celebrates the work and passion of Mark Twain, Amelia Earhart, Matthew Henson and Wernher von Braun. Live shows and other events are performed by nationally acclaimed historical interpreters. A different show outdoors each night and more indoors during the day. Come for a day, a weekend or stay for a week. Free admission. 9 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Various venues. Signature events at Greenville Technical College. (864) 244-1499. For a full schedule of events, visit www.greenvillechautauqua.org.
In this world-class hiking destination thousands of miles of trails meander along mountain streams and spike up steep terrain. One of the region’s best kept secrets is the Rainbow Falls hike in Gorges State Park, located on the Blue Ridge Escarpment, where the mountains end and the piedmont begins. From the Grassy Ridge parking lot, the Rainbow Falls trail begins as gravel before descending into the valley and through a few creeks toward the Horsepasture River, which ultimately thunders down a 125-foot drop, spraying a diamond mist that sparkles in the sunlight.
For a new dimension of excursion, check in at Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventures, a mountain bike guide service that specializes in professionally guided trips in Pisgah National Forest and Dupont State Recreational Forest, located in Western North Carolina near Asheville and Brevard. These muddy spoke specialists take the hassle out of your route planning (because there really is too much to choose from) and create trips focusing on downhills, single-track, climbing and even night rides. According to your terrain preferences, technical ability and physical condition, they lead customized half-, full- and multi-day trips that include snacks and lunch.
After days of hiking and biking, consider scheduling a more leisurely encounter with nature. Bird watchers will discover that the north-to-south orientation of the Blue Ridge Parkway provides a migratory freeway for hundreds of species of birds. Mount Mitchell, the highest peak of the Appalachian Mountains, not only offers a 360-degree panoramic view at the summit, but its alpine-spruce forests provide a nesting ground for about 90 different species, including the ruffed grouse, red crossbill and pine siskin. Take a midday scenic drive along this mighty mountain’s ridge-topping roads for a chance to spot hard-to-find species and birds of prey.
WCN Nature Center
The Western North Carolina (WNC) Nature Center connects people with the animals and plants of the Southern Appalachian Mountain region by inspiring appreciation, understanding and conservation of the region’s rich biodiversity. With more than 40 acres of Southern Appalachian habitat, the WNC Nature Center is a prime attraction in the Asheville area for families, residents and visitors alike. Home to more than 60 species of animals, including river otters, black bear, red wolves and cougars, the center’s award-winning exhibits provide an intimate encounter with incredible wildlife.
Our journey begins, however, along Dahlonega’s esteemed wine trail. Whether or not you consider yourself a connoisseur, you’ll find the sweeping pastoral settings uplifting and the special events varied. With the highest concentration of wineries and vineyards in Georgia, Dahlonega boasts growing conditions and favorable mountain elevations that produce a wide variety of European, French hybrids and American winegrapes. Each of the five wineries features tours, tastings and impressive views, and hosts special events, festivals, exquisite dinners and concerts throughout the year. In particular, Wolf Mountain Vineyards and Winery has established itself as an East Coast leader in fine wine production with more than 150 medals, including Georgia’s first gold medal in the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles International Wine Competitions.
Just as a trip to Dahlonega would not be complete without wine, it would also not be complete without gold, first discovered by accident in the Dahlonega area in 1828, 20 years before the Gold Rush to California. Visitors can still experience a glimpse into the life of those pioneering fortune seekers by panning in one of the area’s creeks, rivers or mines. We recommend the Gold Fever Package, which offers discounted tickets to local attractions where you can learn about the history of the Dahlonega Gold Rush. The package includes admission to the Dahlonega Gold Museum and Georgia’s only working 126-year-old stamp mill, a 45-minute underground tour at Consolidated Gold Mine and gold panning at the Crisson Gold Mine.
Amicalola Falls State Park
Spellbinding scenery and hiking trails make Amicalola Falls one of Georgia’s most popular outdoor wonders. The main attraction is the park’s 729-foot thundering namesake, Amicalola Falls, the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast. Visitors have choices on how to best view the roaring waters, ranging from an accessible pathway to a challenging trail that zigzags with staircases. A mountain-top lodge is popular with guests who prefer hotel comforts, while cottages and a campground offer more rustic accommodations. The Len Foote Hike Inn, Georgia’s only backcountry lodge, is accessible only by a five-mile hike and is the perfect incentive to lace up your boots and keep trekking until the end.
LITTLE ST. SIMONS ISLAND
Aside from the 20-acre lodge compound that includes accommodations for no more than 32 overnight guests, the remainder of the island is undeveloped and consequently considered to be among the highest priority coastal conservation regions in the state. Island naturalists lead a schedule of daily interpretive excursions to introduce guests to the complex ecology of Georgia’s barrier islands. Whether you are bird watching, hiking through the diversity of island habitats, kayaking the tidal waters, bicycling off the beaten path or fishing the surf or tidal waters, these passionate naturalists will help you create a beach vacation memory unlike any other.
After a day in the sun, you’ll appreciate a savory meal and some down time back at the lodge. Every evening before dinner, the staff hosts a lively social hour with wine and hors d’oeuvres, including Friday evening oyster roasts (seasonal when local oysters are available) on the grounds. Regional cuisine is prepared by award-winning chefs, who are an integral part of a seed-to-table program dedicated to the research and demonstration of organic crop methods for coastal Southeast soils. Simple yet flavorful meals include local seafood and fruits, vegetables and herbs from the onsite, USDA-certified organic garden, featuring a half-acre of raised beds, perennial plantings, native items, citrus, blackberries and flowers. Garden walks with the head gardener or a naturalist are a popular guest activity year-round.
Mark your Calendar!
Little St. Simons Island
July 10-15. Shark Days. Special guest shark researchers from University of North Florida, Georgia Department of Natural Resources and NASA provide insight into the life of coastal Georgia’s sharks. In addition to informative talks, you’ll have the opportunity to surf fish with the experts and staff naturalists. You may even contribute to scientific research by applying tracking tags to fish before they’re released. Tagging fish and reporting data on fish that have already been tagged is the main method in which fishermen can aid researchers in collecting information about shark movements, distribution, growth rates and habitat usage.
Amelia Island, Fla.
Fernandina Beach, a colorful, 50-square-block downtown district with boutique shops, ice cream parlors and restaurants, is a throwback to Amelia’s Golden Era. Here many storybook Victorian homes and cottages, with their opulent turrets, gables and gingerbread rick-rack trim, serve as bed and breakfast inns that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. These storied streets and adorning architecture can be experienced via horse-drawn carriage tours or walking tours offered by the Amelia Island History Museum. If you happen to be downtown on the second Saturday of each month, wander into participating galleries that host special events from 5:30-8:30 p.m. as part of Artrageous Artwalk. Photography, pottery, copper, metal, stained glass, watercolors, acrylics, oils and batik are just a few of the varied media that artists will be selling and demonstrating.
A visit to Amelia Island would be incomplete without a tour of its scenic waterways. Amelia River Cruises and Charters provides narrated, historic and wildlife sightseeing tours with views of dolphins, manatees, sea otters, alligators and as well as the wild horses of Cumberland Island National Seashore. The charter also offers a sunset cruise, which is designed especially for adults and one of the best ways to end the day or begin the night. Enjoy a glass of your favorite BYOB beverage and listen to some of Fernandina’s finest local musicians on board. With the wind in your hair and the smell of sweet salt air, you’ll experience total immersion into a tropical paradise, where all of your worries are replaced with a sense of relaxation and appreciation for the island’s natural wonders.
Mark Your Calendar!
June 2-4. Rendezvous Music and Film Festival. Celebrate indie film, music and gaming when the Rendezvous Music and Film Festival kicks off in historic downtown Fernandina Beach. In 2016, the event will feature screenings of more than 40 films from 13 countries, workshops for filmmakers and aspiring filmmakers, after parties, concerts and music videos. The festival is named after the legendary music club on Amelia Island’s American Beach that once hosted famed musicians such as Louis Armstrong, James Brown, Billie Daniels and Ray Charles in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. www.rendezvousfestival.org.
This article appears in the June-July 2016 issue of Augusta Magazine.