Here are the best towns for a day trip near Charlotte NC

Jene J. Long

Mount Holly has a vibrant downtown about 12 miles from Charlotte, offering restaurants, retail, beer shops and greenway access.

Mount Holly has a vibrant downtown about 12 miles from Charlotte, offering restaurants, retail, beer shops and greenway access.

CharlotteFive

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Downtown vibes

If you’ve lived in Charlotte for long enough, you already know one of the best parts about road trips involves passing through the charming small towns across the Carolinas. We actually have so many quaint towns and cities that even a Carolinas native may not have visited them all. Explore them in this series.

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If you’ve lived in Charlotte for long enough, you already know one of the best parts about road trips involves passing through the charming small towns across the Carolinas. We actually have so many quaint towns and cities that even a Carolinas native may not have visited them all.

So when two of our best landed on HGTV’s list of the 30 most charming downtowns in America (Concord in North Carolina and Greenville in South Carolina), we wanted to know which other small towns could have easily been on that list.

So we asked you: What’s your favorite small town downtown in North and South Carolina? We got more than 200 responses. Many of your favorites are arguably not “small” — but all of them quaint, so we decided they should count.

Here are the 55 cities and towns that you recommend in the Carolinas, and what to do at each:

Aiken, SC

Location: 144 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

Apex

Location: 153 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Shop local for tchotchkes and home decor at Antiques on Salem Street.

  • Pose with the heart-shaped balloons mural at Rose and Lee Collective.

  • Eat a slice at Anna’s Pizzeria. The Chicken Marsala pizza comes with mushrooms, onions, marsala wine sauce and mozzarella; or you could try the Vegetable pizza, with eggplant, tomato, onion, broccoli, spinach, garlic, tomato sauce and mozzarella.

  • Save room for a gelato from Common Grounds Coffee House. Try a scoop of coffee, or go traditional with strawberry.

Asheville

Location: 128 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Rent a cabin with a view so you can feel connected with nature (while still being close to downtown).

  • Make reservations at The Admiral and check out the weekly menu before you go.

  • Take a walk through the Urban Trail Asheville or the South Slope Mural Trail and save time to watch live music at Pack Square Park.

  • If vegan Peruvian popup Anyi51 is in town when you’re there, you’ve struck gold.

  • Meander over to New Morning Gallery in Biltmore Village, just 2 miles from downtown, for eclectic art and furniture pieces. The shop has been open for more than 50 years!

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New Morning Gallery in Asheville sells eclectic art and furniture pieces. Melissa Oyler CharlotteFive

Beaufort, NC

Location: 320 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

Beaufort, SC

Location: 228 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Eat seasonal, coastal cuisine like a local at Plums Restaurant.

  • Go on a kayaking adventure with Beaufort Kayak Tours and learn about salt water ecology and dolphins.

  • Venture out to Lady’s Island and stop by The Kitchen for some gourmet takeout (bring a cooler if you want to take some home!) including Chicken Pot Pie, Charleston Shrimp & Grits or Eggplant & Spaghetti Squash Lasagna.

  • It’s not near downtown, but it’s worth the drive to explore Gullah culture while you’re here.

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Beaufort is on Port Royal Island, one of South Carolina’s coastal Sea Islands, between Edisto and Hilton Head. Melissa Oyler CharlotteFive

Belmont

Location: 15 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

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Downtown Belmont is just 13 miles from Charlotte and offers a quaint, small-town feel. Alex Cason CharlotteFive

Black Mountain

Location: 115 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

Blowing Rock

Location: 95 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

Boone

Location: 102 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

Brevard

Location: 122 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

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Brevard’s downtown includes walking paths, local shops, patio dining and if you’re lucky — white squirrel sightings. Melissa Oyler CharlotteFive

Charleston, SC

Location: 209 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

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White Point Gardens offers sweeping sunset views on the Southern tip of the Battery in Charleston. Melissa Oyler CharlotteFive

Concord

Location: 26 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

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Concord’s downtown includes shops, coffee, bars and restaurants. Alex Cason CharlotteFive

Dallas

Location: 26 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

Davidson

Location: 21 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

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Stop by milkbread for Mini Cinnies in Davidson. Alex Cason CharlotteFive

Elizabeth City

Location: 312 miles from Charlotte

What to know:

Elkin

Location: 75 miles from Charlotte

What to know:

  • Grab a chicken salad panini or pimiento cheese sandwich at The Barking Coyote Kitchen, then snag some black bean hummus from the deli section for a snack later on. Next, head out to wander through the nearby Elkin Antiques and Collectibles Mall.

  • Sign up for a class at The November Room, where you can create, paint or draw, then browse the gifts, apparel and home decor items inside the shop.

  • Wrap up your day at Angry Troll Brewing with a Stay Classy Elkin IPA or a Downtown Brown Ale and a wood-fired pizza.

Fort Mill, SC

Location: 18 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Between the interstate and Fort Mill’s charming Main Street, visit The Peach Stand to start the day with a made-to-order Southern meal. After breakfast, peruse the butcher shop and the specialty market’s aisles for dinner provisions — and make sure to grab a jar of Santhoshi’s chutney, made by local Indian chef Santhoshi Radhakrishnan. (Pro tip: She also teaches cooking classes.)

  • Check out Crossings on Main, jam packed with home goods, jewelry and gifts perfect for a wedding, baby shower and other events. Next, browse more shops including the Puckerbutt Pepper Co., which sells all things spicy. You can even grab the seeds to grow your own Carolina Reapers.

  • Afterward, stop in and take a seat at Amor Artis Brewing, where you can try a craft beer from its rotating menu.

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Downtown Fort Mill, shown here, is the home of nearly half a dozen restaurants and shops. Tracy Kimball [email protected]

Goldsboro

Location: 216 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Play around with your pup or grab your racket and play some tennis at Herman Park. There’s a Kiwanis Miniature Train there to ride on weekend afternoons that includes a concessions stand for when you feel like taking a snack break.

  • Catch a performance at the Paramount Theatre, which started out as an armory in 1882 and was rebuilt from the ground up after a 2005 fire.

  • Stop in for dinner at Brisas Latin Cuisine, where you can listen to live music while you munch on a Cuban sandwich.

Greenville, SC

Location: 102 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

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Greenville, South Carolina, has a charming small-town downtown with coffee shops, restaurants, theater and more. Melissa Oyler CharlotteFive

Greer, SC

Location: 90 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Make a wish in the fountain at Greer City Park, which offers 12 acres of space to relax and play. It’s also where you’ll find fresh produce, prepared foods and artisan creations at the Greer Farmers Market on Tuesdays from May through August.

  • Shop handmade jewelry at Southern Sisters Champagne Bar & Boutique with a drink in hand before browsing the shoes and dresses at Chelsea’s Ladies Clothing and Accessories, then head over to Gregory’s Boutique for menswear and the perfect tie or handkerchief.

  • Settle in to a spot on the dog-friendly patio at The Blue Ridge Brewing Co., to enjoy the dry-rubbed ribs or BrewHouse Wings with a Kurli Blonde Ale. Afterward, a visit to Barista Alley can set you up with an after-dinner coffee and dessert crepe.

Hendersonville

Location: 104 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

Hickory

Location: 56 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

Highlands

Location: 177 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

Hilton Head, SC

Location: 247 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

Hot Springs

Location: 163 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • The area’s hot springs were first used by Native Americans thousands of years ago. Get the full experience with a mineral bath soak overlooking the French Broad River or Spring Creek at Hot Springs Resort and Spa.

  • Enjoy local fare at the family-owned Smoky Mountain Diner, situated along the Appalachian Trail. Ask about the special of the day, or go straight for the Country Dinner menu for Hamburger Steak, Chicken Livers or a Country Vegetable Plate..

  • Catch live music at Big Pillow Brewing, or enjoy a lively evening on Wednesdays, when the entertainment alternates weekly between karaoke night and Big Pillow Talk Open Mic Night.

Kannapolis

Location: 26 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • See a movie at the historic Gem Theatre, which originally opened in 1936. It offers balcony seating and is one of the country’s oldest single-screen movie theaters to remain in continuous operation. (Pro tip: Tickets and concessions are cheaper than what you’re used to in Charlotte.)

  • Get tickets to see the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers, a Single-A Affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. Upper club seats include an all-you-can-eat buffet and unlimited soft drinks in the Kinetic Lounge.

  • Stroll the recently revitalized downtown streetscape, dotted with swings, benches and other places to sit. Stop at Dale Earnhardt Tribute Plaza and Veterans Park before grabbing a bite to eat, then try duckpin bowling at Kingpin Bowling.

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A street scene in downtown Kannapolis. Richard Stradling [email protected]

Lake City, SC

Location: 127 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Scout out the murals, along with sculptures and other public art spread throughout the town.

  • Visit The Bean Market, which was built in 1936 and is the former site of one of the world’s biggest bean markets. Farmers arrived there with their beans for market from all over the South. Today, you can visit The Bean Market for its Thursday farmers market.

  • Stop by Baker’s Sweets Bistro & Bakery for breakfast, lunch or sweets — your espresso drink can be served in a mason jar and is perfectly small-town South Instagrammable.

Lake Lure

Location: 92 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Take a guided pontoon tour, where you can learn about Lake Lure’s history — including the part where the lake actually covered over a town.

  • Stay where the stars stayed: The 1927 Lake Lure Inn and Spa is where Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze stayed during the filming of “Dirty Dancing.”

  • Watch the sun set from the patio at the laid-back LakeHouse Restaurant, preferably while sipping on a Dockside Sangria (red or white).

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LakeHouse Restaurant in Lake Lure offers waterfront dining in a casual setting. Melissa Oyler CharlotteFive

Lexington

Location: 59 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • If you like barbecue, you’ll want to plan your visit over a few days — the 3-day Lexington Barbecue Tour includes 12+ local restaurants. Hope you’re hungry!

  • Visit The Bob Timberlake Gallery, where you can peruse the collection created by realist artist and designer Bob Timberlake — maybe you’ll find a piece for your home.

  • Visit Childress Vineyards for a self-guided or led tour of NASCAR team owner Richard Childress’ 60-acre vineyards. The Tuscan-inspired winery has a bistro, featuring light fare like artisan cheese boards and chicken salad served on croissants, as well as heartier meals including Pan-Seared Salmon, Grilled Petite Filet of Beef and more.

Lincolnton

Location: 38 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

Marion

Location: 96 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Plan your trip around one of downtown’s regular events, like its craft strolls on some Friday evenings, a summer concert or an upcoming National Night Out.

  • Visit Bessie’s Diner, where breakfast is served all day (lunch, too, if that’s your jam).

  • Visit the Downtown Marion Tailgate Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays for produce, meats and cheeses, flowers, crafts and more.

Matthews

Location: 12 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

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Spend some time outdoors at Stumptown Park in downtown Matthews. Ebony Morman CharlotteFive

Morehead City

Location: 283 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Located on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast and part of the accredited Main Street America program, the small town near Atlantic Beach includes plenty of water-themed places to play, dine and shop.

  • Pick your favorite downtown walking tour — we’ve got our eyes on the 16-home walking tour, which shows off the area’s historic houses. You can also take the fish sculpture tour or art walk tour, which includes 12 local businesses.

  • Plan for dinner at Floyd’s 1921, where you can order Buffalo Oysters, flash fried and served over bleu cheese grits and covered with buffalo sauce, or Sticky Icky Style Ribs, dry rubbed and slow-cooked and basted with barbecue sauce.

Morganton

Location: 77 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

Mount Holly

Location: 12 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Take a peek at the old city jail, beside JackBeagles. (Yes, Mount Holly is beagled!)

  • Wear your comfiest kicks so you can enjoy a walk or jog on many sidewalks, greenways and trails around town — Mount Holly has connection to the Carolina Thread Trail.

  • Order a cold one at The Summit Beer Shop. The taproom and bottle shop has rotating draught beer and wine selections.

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Mount Holly is 16 miles from Charlotte and its downtown offers local shops and restaurants. Alex Cason CharlotteFive

New Bern

Location: 281 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Book a stay at the Benjamin Ellis House, located in the heart of the historic town set along the Trent and Neuse Rivers.

  • Take the self-guided walk along the African-American Heritage Trail, with 10 sites portraying 16 significant events.

  • On a Friday or Saturday evening, wander through downtown New Bern and dine at one of its new outdoor street cafes, here through the summer.

Newton

Location: 42 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Head to the small city during one of its fall events, including the Foothills Folk Art Festival or the Halloween Spooktacular.

  • See a show at the Green Room Community Theatre, which has been entertaining audiences for 36 years.

  • Grab breakfast, lunch and coffee at The Hen & Egg, which serves homemade biscuits, chicken and dumplings and strawberry pie.

North Myrtle Beach

Location: 188 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

Raeford

Location: 110 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

Rock Hill

Location: 27 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

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Fountain Park in downtown Rock Hill attracts residents during events and warmer weather. Tracy Kimball [email protected]

Salisbury

Location: 43 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

Saluda

Location: 94 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

Seagrove

Location: 95 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • A trip to Seagrove is not complete without a visit to Seagrove Potters for some pottery. The town has been home to potters since the 18th century and is considered “The Handmade Pottery Capital of the United States.”

  • Visit Good Company Pups & Mugs, where you can order a beer or a hard cider, coffee or pastries while your dog plays at your side.

  • Hungry? Head to Seagrove Family Restaurant for an aptly named Pottery Burger (Angus beef, Swiss cheese, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato and mayo) and fries.

Shelby

Location: 46 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Head to Shelby Cafe for the perfectly Southern breakfast: The Mayor’s Special Sandwich is made with scrambled livermush, 2 eggs and cheese served on pita bread with mayonnaise. Add home fries or hash browns and coffee, of course.

  • Spend time at the Broad River Greenway, where you can hike, bike or even horseback ride the portion of the Carolina Thread Trail that is along the Broad River.

  • Newgrass Brewing Co.’s taproom is the perfect place to celebrate the end of the day, in downtown’s former Hudson’s Department Store. Order a Signature Farm Burger — local grass-fed beef topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and mayo and served with beer battered fries. Pair it with a Shelby Y’allstars lager.

Southern Pines

Location: 100 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

Southport

Location: 212 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Stop by the quirky Cafe Koa & Market for a latte with local honey and some pancakes with berries or an omelet made with fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese, arugula and pepper jelly.

  • Take the 20-minute ferry ride to Bald Head Island using the Bald Head Island Ferry. Rent bicycles when you arrive and spend the day exploring the island and its many retail shops and cafes before heading back on the ferry.

  • Watch the sun set over dinner at the Fishy Fishy Cafe, not far from the Marina and complete with boat slips and waterfront dining.

Statesville

Location: 42 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Did you know that Statesville was known as the “liquor capital of the world” in the 1800s? All the more reason to book a behind-the-scenes tour and tasting at Southern Distilling Company, which sits on 20 acres of farmland. Buy a bottle of your favorite bourbon or rye to take home as a souvenir.

  • Have dinner at Italian restaurant Mezzaluna II, located in historic downtown Statesville. The “casual fine dining” eatery has a classic Italian menu, featuring meals including Mussels Al Vino Blanco, Zuppa De Pesce seafood extravaganza, Chicken Marsala and Eggplant Rollatini.

Summerville

Location: 188 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

Swansboro

Location: 259 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Plan for an afternoon of reflection at Hammocks Beach, which is accessible only by ferry or private boat.

  • Want to stay overnight? Head from Hammocks Beach to Bear Island, where primitive camping is available. Note: Campfires are not allowed, so make sure to bring a sweater if it’s a chillier evening.

  • For a more upscale waterfront dining experience (read: not at a campsite), visit il Cigno Italiano for fine dining Italian cuisine. Go on an evening with live music for the full experience.

  • Before heading back to Charlotte, make sure to carve out some time to roam through the downtown shops.

Wake Forest

Location: 162 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Head to Las Margaritas for lunch, with a lunch specials menu that starts at $6.99.

  • Take the Downtown Wake Forest Historic District Tour, a self-guided, virtual walking experience that shows off the town’s historic buildings and other markers — like a cast-iron gas pump from 1915.

  • Plan your visit for a Friday, where you can stay for Friday Night on White, an outdoor celebration with live music and beer and wine for sale. Food trucks are also on site, if your walking tour worked up an appetite.

Waxhaw

Location: 24 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Eat breakfast at Stacks Kitchen, with breakfast all day of pancakes, steak and eggs and everything else you’d expect at a small-town diner.

  • Get coffee from Crossroads Coffee House. Learn more about the coffee shop, which is a true community gathering space. It also hosts weekly alcoholics and narcotics anonymous meetings.

  • Make a TikTok using downtown as your backdrop. Stop by the water tower, then pose on the pedestrian bridge and wait for the train to roll past underneath you.

Waynesville

Location: 159 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

  • Visit the town where square dancing originated during a downtown Summer Street Dance event or block party.

  • Dine at Chef’s Table, tucked down a side street with a wine-forward menu that includes dishes like Brie and Fig Chicken, Deconstructed Lasagna and Cherry Duck Breast.

  • Make time to peruse downtown’s shops and galleries, many of which feature art, jewelry, pottery and more.

West Jefferson

Location: 121 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

Winston-Salem

Location: 82 miles from Charlotte

What to do:

This story was originally published July 13, 2022 6:00 AM.

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Melissa Oyler is the editor of CharlotteFive. When she’s not writing or editing, you’ll find her running, practicing hot yoga or snuggling with her rescue dog, X. Find her on Instagram or Twitter: @melissaoyler.

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Heidi Finley is a writer and editor for CharlotteFive and the Charlotte Observer. Outside of work, you will most likely find her in the suburbs driving kids around, volunteering and indulging in foodie pursuits.

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