Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Charlotte, North Carolina: Natural Beauty Nearly Year Around

The largest city in North Carolina, Charlotte is the largest metropolitan city on the eastern seaboard between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Jacksonville, Florida. Nicknamed the Queen City, Charlotte has a population of nearly 675,000 people. The greater Charlotte metropolitan area has an estimated population of 1,675,495 and its wider thirteen-county labor market region or "combined statistical area" has an estimated population of 2,491,650.

National Recognition As A Great Place To Live And Visit

In 2008, Charlotte, NC received recognition from three nationally recognized sources, based on factors including employment opportunities, crime rates, and housing affordability. First, the website Relocate-America.com named Charlotte as the "Best Place to Live in America". Second, CNNmoney.com ranked Charlotte as #8 of the 100 "Best Places to Live" in the United States. And third, Forbes named Charlotte as the third most undervalued real estate markets in the U.S. Simply put, according to the experts, Charlotte North Carolina is one of the most affordable and attractive places to live in the United States.

This kind of recognition also bodes well for the traveling public. Lower real estate prices always tend to ensure lower retail prices as well. Low crime is also a very attractive trait for any location looking to attract tourism dollars.

Prevention Magazine also named Charlotte as the best "Walking City" in North Carolina (4th in the nation in 2007), and Self Magazine named it one of its "Five Cities with Big Outdoor Appeal". The natural beauty of the Charlotte area is legendary, and its beauty adds to the quality of life value that the Queen City delivers residents and visitors.

Lower real estate prices, a lower cost of living, low crime rates, and the high quality of life were all contributing factors to the underlying economy of the Queen City. Both Bank of America and Wachovia have located their company headquarters in Charlotte. Other major brands, including Lowe's, are headquartered in the greater Charlotte metropolitan area.

Charlotte Has Escaped The Worst Of The Recession Pains

While the rest of the country struggles under the weight of the current recession, fueled by high foreclosure rates and hard-to-acquire bank financing, Charlotte is not feeling the same pain. There are four strong pockets around the country that seem to have escaped the credit crunch - Texas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and a few localities in California. These four areas have escaped the credit crunch it seems, because the lenders in those areas did not succumb to the temptation to offer the NINJA loans (No income, no job, no assets) that led to the high loan default rates felt in the rest of the country.

In fact, as the Big Three automakers have been hurt tremendously by the banking industry's inability or unwillingness to loan money for car loans. As I write this, the Big Three automakers - Ford, GM and Chrysler - are in Washington, D.C. with hats in hand, trying to get a taxpayer funded bailout from lawmakers.

Banks in other parts of the country have so many bad loans on their books that they are holding tight to their purse strings, but in these four pockets of prosperity, banks are still eager to loan money. Even in my Oklahoma hometown, local banks are advertising daily that they are STILL loaning money for new cars, encouraging people to come and borrow.

With undervalued real estate, a strong corporate employment base, and available credit, Charlotte's economy continues to expand, while the rest of the country is in recession. If you are looking to move to a city with lots of employers hiring, Charlotte is one of the strongest cities in the country right now in the employment sector.

For the traveler, the strong local economy means that tourist attractions may not be starving for money, in the same way attractions elsewhere might be, but that also means that the places you desire to visit will more likely be open for business, with adequate enough staff to treat you the way you want to be treated on vacation.

For those who like to shop, there are seven shopping malls in the Charlotte metro area.

The Sporting Life

While not a major metropolitan area with numerous professional ball clubs, Charlotte is not a slacker either.

Charlotte has a NFL football team - the Carolina Panthers, and a NBA basketball team - the Charlotte Bobcats.

Charlotte also has an indoor football league team - the Carolina Speed. The Eagles is the name of its mens and ladies soccer teams. Its ice hockey team is the Charlotte Checkers. Its International League baseball team is the Charlotte Knights. Charlotte even has a rugby team and a ladies flat track roller derby squad.

Golf is played nearly year-round in the area, due to the areas' mild autumn and spring seasons. With nearly 20 golf courses in the area, there is plenty of choice and diversity for the golfer to test his or her skills.

If you are a NASCAR fan, you may already realize that the Lowe's Motor Speedway is located just 21 miles to the northeast in Concord, NC. This race track features nearly non-stop events, including NASCAR's All-Star race and the Coca-Cola 600, concerts and other special events. Also featured at the speedway is the occasional opportunity to drive around the track or attend racing school.

Transportation On The Ground

The Queen City is rightfully proud of its transportation network, which includes the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS). CATS operates light rail transit, historical trolleys, express shuttles, and bus service throughout Charlotte and its immediate suburbs.

The Interstate Highway system feeds into Charlotte through I-85 and I-77. I-485, which is slated to be Charlotte's external loop, remains under construction, but when it is completed, it will stretch for 67 miles around Charlotte, connecting its many suburbs. The I-277 loop freeway encircles Charlotte's downtown. Charlotte's mid-loop is Route 4, which links major roads in a loop between I-277 and I-485.

Charlotte/Douglas International Airport is the 30th busiest airport in the world, bringing visitors from around the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and Europe.

Even Amtrak brings visitors into the Charlotte area from distant U.S. cities. Be advised, if you arrive by Amtrak train, you will be safe as long as you are in the train station itself. But it is strongly recommended that you should arrange for transportation to your hotel. It is recommended that you not try to walk to your destination from the train station, as the neighborhood surrounding the train station is not very safe.


Numerous museums and historic sites can be found throughout Charlotte, especially in and near the Uptown district. In the works is a new "museum district", which will be found on the southern edge of the district. Also under development, the NASCAR Hall of Fame is being constructed near the Convention Center.

Currently operating museums include:

* The Mint Museum of Art - Its permanent collection is short on real substance, but it regularly hosts high-quality traveling exhibits from around the world. Its primary objects are American art and ceramics, colonial/pre-colonial art, costumes and other decorative art from many countries.

* Discovery Place is one of the nation's most acclaimed children's museums, featuring natural science and technology exhibits.

* Levine Museum of the New South - Southern culture and history.

* James K Polk Historic Site - Tours and information about the home of U.S. President James K. Polk.

* Carolinas Aviation Museum (near the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport) - Offers historic and restored airplanes, air shows and a research library (by appointment only). It is recommended that if you should want to meet the people working on restoring the airplanes, one should visit on a Tuesday or Thursday. Since 9-11, it is hard to find an airport anywhere in the country where you can get close enough to the airport to view takeoffs and landings, but Charlotte remains one of the best airports in the country to see planes taking off and landing, with a good view.

* Schiele Museum of Natural History - Includes a planetarium, an aviary, and many special events and exhibits. This museum is located 24 miles to the west in Gastonia.

Other Charlotte Area Attractions

* Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden - Located just 15 miles to the west in Belmont, the natural beauty and serenity of the gardens make it a favorite destination for romantic day trips and family outings. Guided tours are offered.

* The Reed Gold Mine is located 25 miles to the northeast of Charlotte in the town of Cabarrus, NC, which is just five miles further than Lowe's Motor Speedway located in Concord, NC. The Reed Gold mine was the first gold mine built in the United States, and today, visitors can pan for gold at the mine. This attraction is very kid-friendly, educational, and lots of fun for children and adults. Depending on traffic, this location can be up to a 45-minute drive from Charlotte proper.

* The Paramount Carowinds Theme Park is 13 miles south of Charlotte at the South Carolina state line. Carowinds is a large theme park with its focus on movies and the movie industry. The park features many roller coasters, including Top Gun, The Hurler, and the beloved Thunder Road. The park also features of large variety of other rides and entertainment. Locals generally recommend that you eat before going to the park - because the concessions are pretty expensive, and to bring plenty of sunscreen.

* An hour to the northeast of Charlotte is Asheboro, NC, which is home to the North Carolina Zoo.

* Located an hour to the west near Asheville, the Chimney Rock Park is recognized around the world as a prime tourism spot in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains in the Appalachian chain. Chimney Rock is one of the region's most visited parks, featuring a wealth of unusual rock formations and waterfalls.

A Great Place To Visit And Live

Charlotte, North Carolina is an ideal place to visit, even if you want to stay for a while.

The natural beauty of this region makes it a favorte destination for people looking for a nice family vacation. And as is so often the case, people who visit the area are drawn back to it again and again, sometimes to stay for good.

If you are looking to move into an area that has great natural beauty, a rich and diverse cultural experience, and holds great hope for a prosperous tomorrow, then you really should consider the Charlotte area for yourself.

Note: This article in its original format, with attraction links intact, can be found at the author's website:

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Chuck Saddler has traveled America most of his life. As a writer for AmericanTravelIdeas.com, he shares detailed travel information about the North American cities he has visited. Each city overview is packed with information of interest to travelers, complete with links to the information resources people want to review.
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