With jewel-toned foliage and crisp weather beckoning you to head outside to explore, North Carolina’s Queen City–the third fastest growing city in the U.S.–is especially resplendent in the fall months. It also offers loads for those who prefer to pass an autumn afternoon with inside pursuits (think: sipping craft beer, snuggling at a boutique hotel or filling up on culture while meandering a museum). And in autumn– the high season for festivals, breweries and more–the city’s offerings are as popping as the foliage. Read on for 10 cozy ways to experience Charlotte’s legendary Southern hospitality for yourself this golden season.
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Hotels with Hygge
You can start getting into the fall spirit before your plane even touches down—it all starts with figuring out the perfect hotel to make your base. Charlotte has plenty of hideaways that make for a soothing antidote to days spent exploring its buzzy restaurants and bars, museums and more. The Ivey’s Hotel exudes the city’s quintessential old-world charm with a glamorous, contemporary spin—the chic retreat has 47 opulent rooms in a century-old building in the heart of Uptown. Also in Uptown, Kimpton Tryon Park overlooks Romare Bearden Park—and you can gaze out over the city in all its majesty from the sleek rooftop cocktail bar with sweeping views from the 19th floor.
This year, North Carolina’s fall foliage is expected to peak the week of Nov. 2. Luckily, you don’t need to venture very far to see it: Charlotte boasts one of the best urban forests in the country, with a lush tree canopy unfurling over more than half of the city and elegant boulevards lined with magnolias, willow oaks, crepe myrtle, and more. What this means for fall: when the weather begins to turn, all of Charlotte looks like it’s slipped on a gilded wreath.
Charlotte is home to sweeping parks and preserves where you can detour to fully immerse yourself in the outdoors—after all, the region has 840 miles of creeks and streams, and 50 miles of developed greenways for you to explore. Admire the foliage up close on a jog through Freedom Park, a hike on one of the many trails at the Reedy Creek Nature Center and Preserve, mountain biking or golf in Renaissance Park, bird-watching at the Carolina Raptor Center at the Latta Nature Preserve, or leaf-peeping at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.
It’s Hayride Season
What would fall be without a trip to the apple orchard or pumpkin patch? Follow your apple-picking session at Windy Hill Orchard & Cider Mill in Fort Mill with a hard cider tasting and a hayride, and keep an eye out for events with live music, farm stands, apple-butter making, and more. And every October, the 170-acre Carrigan Farms in Mooresville transforms into Scarrigan Farms—hit the haunted trail to get your spook on.
Picassos and Beyond
Need some respite from all the outdoorsy time? Get your culture fix by ducking into one of Charlotte’s world-class museums. Browse Picassos, Mirós, Warhols, and more at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. Take a few minutes to admire Niki de Saint Phalle’s Firebird–a soaring 1991 statue covered in mirrored and colored glass–on the Plaza before or after your visit. You’ll find works by Lillian Blades, DeShawn Dumas, J. Eugene Grigsby Jr., and others at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture. Also check out the Mint Museum Uptown, five floors of galleries housed in a five-story, contemporary building. Be sure to see the Studio Drift exhibition, running through April, a Dutch exploration of the connection between humanity, nature and technology.
Everything you’ve heard about Southern food is true: it’s decadent, delicious, and just the thing to defrost after a brisk day. Charlotte has one of the most inventive dining scenes in the country these days: The gleaming new Optimist Hall, set in an old mill building dating back to 1892, was just transformed into a hotly anticipated food hall this summer, with stalls like Bao + Broth for steam buns and ramen, Zukku Sushi, and Honeysuckle Gelato; NC Red is where the South meets the East as Southern classics and quintessential New England seafood converge, courtesy of chef-restaurateur Bruce Moffett, who hails from Rhode Island; and head to Southpark to dine at Peppervine, a progressive American restaurant serving shareable helpings of zucchini tomato pupusas, Thai-spiced fried chicken, and fried gulf oysters.
Charlotte’s craft breweries are revered far beyond North Carolina’s borders. But where to begin? Start in the historic South End district at the award-winning Sycamore Brewing, which has a lively beer garden. Next, head to the artsy enclave of NoDa—short for North Davidson—to sample beers like the Gordgeous pumpkin ale at NoDa Brewing Company or to try a range of local and regional brews at Salud Beer Shop, which was named best beer bar in the country by USA Today readers. Then make your way to the suburb of Pineville, where you’ll find the expansive Middle James Brewing Company—in what used to be a golf clubhouse—with eight house beers on tap and a playful menu with dishes like Pulled Duck Tot-chos and the Phatty Melt sandwich.
Does anything feel more fall than clutching a soul-warming tumbler of cider? Red Clay Ciderworks is something of a Charlotte institution, and you can taste the Bradish family’s passion for sharing their small-batch ciders with the world in every sip. Drop by for free cidery tours on the weekend, or head over any time to sample their wares in the taproom—Red Clay is best-known for their Queen City Common, but don’t miss their seasonal special: a chai-spiced pumpkin cider. The next stop on your cider crawl should be GoodRoad Ciderworks—their Cranberry Crossroads is a seasonal staple.
Get Your Coffee Fix
If you prefer something a little less strong in your cup, warm up from your meanderings through Charlotte on a self-styled coffee crawl. Cozy joints to get your caffeine fix include: the Sunflour Baking Company (start your day with a cappuccino and a hazlenut orange roll); Not Just Coffee in the Dilworth neighborhood; and Central Coffee Co., where you can pair your pumpkin spice latte with a pumpkin scone.
Celebrate the Season
Charlotte’s mild temps make it easy to enjoy its festivals and other outdoor activities, from pumpkin season straight on through the holidays. Lit lovers won’t want to miss Verse & Vino, a celebration of wine and literature—what’s not to love? On Nov. 9 and 10 at Rural Hill’s Sheep Dog Trials, you can watch adorable (and admirably skilled) collies do what they were born to do–herd sheep–in a field, following their handler’s commands. The Queen City Fall Festival on Nov. 16 features crafts, food trucks and more. And if you like ice skating, you’ll want to head to the US National Whitewater Center starting in November. You can glide on ice trails or free skate on 17,000 glistening square feet. An Airstream right on the rink serves hot and cold bevvies, beckoning you to take a break. And come Thanksgiving, seemingly all of Charlotte takes to the streets for the Novant Health Thanksgiving Day Parade—it’s the fourth largest in the country. And it’s never too early to think Christmas: get plenty of deck-the-halls inspo at the Southern Christmas Show.
With so many opportunities to enjoy culture, art, delicious food and stunning foliage, Charlotte is the spot to make your fall weekend goals a memorable reality. Discover more enticing getaway options in Charlotte here.