June 6, 2015

Finding Hidden Gems in the Urban Jungle of Charlotte and the Surrounding Lakes

Photo by MaricrisG

The past Memorial day weekend have presented us with some sort of a dilemma at how to spend our holiday-endowed "free time" in the urban jungle that is our city of Charlotte. We can go uptown but I-77 is one of those we consider "hostile" highways to travel during the holidays. In our "street-smart" minds, cruising close to home - roughly translated, would mean about 5-25 miles radius parameters - that, and away from the craziness of uptown madness, is a must! But living close to the borders can sometimes present an issue on its own - if you don't know where to look. Unplanned escapades can be a real challenge specially when you wanted to do "something" other than bumming off at your couch in front of the TV and yet have no clue where to go. What to do?

Be spontaneous. All it takes is nothing but a little sleuthing and a sense of adventure and your little Maps app. Yes, that little, unexciting Map app that tells you how to get to where you need to go - if the internetz gods works.

The Map app works exactly like Foursquare. Just key in the right keywords and voila! Tons of finds with potential for fun. In our little escapade. I keyed in "Parks" and it showed me all the parks in close proximity. Touching your selection will bring up its details and information including a link to its website. And then the GPS kicks in when you've selected your final destination.

Our spontaneous discoveries:

1- Latta Plantation Park. The park is literally a hidden gem. It is situated at the very end of the plantation where to get there, you have to drive through this long, narrow, tree-laden road, almost resembling going deep into the forest. But at the end of it, you'll find a tranquil park kissed by the active waters of Mountain Island lake.

On this trek, the drive through the windy road seemed like driving through an abandoned planet. The road was quiet, no cars in sight until we got closer and there we saw the Park teeming with life. The parking lot was filled with cars and tons of people either leaving or just arriving. Families had cookouts at the park and some were fishing at the dock or walking the trails. It was the last place on earth I thought people would go to. I was wrong. As it was, we were one of the stragglers. The day was almost ending. But it was worth going to. The 3-seater, covered swing facing the water was indeed a treat!

Things of interest inside the plantation:
Nature Center
Historic latta Plantation
Equestrian Center
Raptor Center
Several Walking Trails

Time for some Ice Cream. From the Park we ventured out to find...

2. Cold Stone Creamery. Check. This is our go-to-Ice-cream shop when we get the cravings. Unfortunately, there is only one shop in the entire Northwest side of Charlotte and it's located in the busy University area. Going there is a bear and being it the only one for miles, a long line inside the shop is a common sight. Be prepared to wait in line for about 10-15 minutes to get your ooey-gooey, delish ice cream.

Some other discoveries outside our parameters for your family's staycation alternatives:

ZimSculpt display at Daniel Stowe / Photo: Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

1. Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens. A great respite from the hustle and bustle of the Urban buzz. Currently on exhibit are the Zimbabwean Sculpture, ZimSculpt. An African exhibition featuring Shona sculptures. Exhibit runs until July 12. Located in Belmont NC. 35 minutes away from the heart of Charlotte.

Photo by MaricrisG

2. Carowinds. The theme park that sits on the border of NC and SC. 29 minutes away from the Gardens. The only theme park in all of Charlotte and the best getaway option for families who love the combination of thrill and adventure and not mind getting wet at the same time. On the spotlight is their new world's tallest Giga Coaster Fury 325!  If you love the thrill of a ride, this is for you. Also, check out their epic makeover. The park is nothing like how it used to look in the past. It's simply full of awesomeness this year.

3. McDowell Nature Preserve and Park. Located in the Southwest side of Charlotte, this is a park that have a lot to offer families wanting to get close to nature. Lake Wylie from both SC and NC sides runs through the park and offers docking stations for boating and fishing access. Camping? You bet!

4. The Speedpark. Have the need for speed? This is your theme park. Located just behind the popular Concord Mills mall in Concord, it's a hop away across the border of Charlotte and a stone's throw away from the NASCAR speedway. Theme park features Go-karting to quench you thirst for speed.

Or  if you'd rather find Nemo and Dory, run over to...

5. Sea Life Aquarium. Just next door inside Concord Mills. Don't expect too much though. It's not as big as Georgia Aquarium but have enough to entertain the kid in you.

Hungry? Try these great finds:

Bad Daddy - They've got the bad-ass-est Frenchie (Turkey burger) and selections for vegetarian daddy's too! Located inside Birkdale Village.

La Unica - Mexican. Tucked far away from the busy main road of Sam Furr Rd. in Huntersville but their food is yummy enough, diners seem to hone on it each time. It's off of Northcross Drive.

Golden Taipei - By far, the best Chinese Restaurant we've come across in the Northwest side. Located inside Davis Lake.

Viva Chicken - Peruvian. Mother of Yummiest chicken of all time. Promise. Try it and be among those converted to the "chicken movement". And their sauces? To die for!

Edomae - Japanese. We can't get enough of their Teriyaki Chicken or their Teriyaki Tofu. Located inside Northcross Shopping Center, Northlake Center Parkway, just across Northlake Mall.

Charlotte not your city? Then, go out and discover the hidden gems in your city. You might just find the greatest discoveries your city have to offer.


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