Hotspots in Charlotte, NC

Lazy 5 Ranch

Once a private ranch where owner Henry Hampton raised his exotic animals, the Lazy 5 Ranch is now home to more than 750 animals from 6 continents and is open to the public for tours. Take a safari-style drive through the grounds in the comfort of your own car, or call in advance to reserve the ranch’s horse-drawn wagon. Along the 3.5 mile route, you will see Luther the rhino, as well as giraffes, kangaroos, camels, llamas, tortoises, horses, ducks, swans, deer and elk to name a few.

Crave Dessert Bar

If you prefer sweet over spice, the aptly named Crave Dessert Bar on the edge of Third and Fourth Ward satisfies the most sophisticated sweet tooth. This upscale, urban-lounge style spot serves up sinful satisfaction and various small plates paired with wines by the glass, coffee or signature cocktails. From gourmet cupcakes to cheesecake to Tahitian vanilla creme brulee, chocolate creations, ice cream and sorbet, Crave is the standard for date-night decadence.

U.S. National Whitewater Center

The outdoor-loving family’s dream come true, the U.S. National Whitewater Center is located only a short drive from Charlotte along the banks of the Catawba River. The 400+ acres of woodland boasts 14 miles of trail, one of the biggest outdoor climbing facilities and the world’s largest recirculating river, creating an amazing combination that makes for adventurous fun for the whole family. The Center features rock climbing, mountain biking, whitewater and flatwater kayaking, zip lines, adventure courses, hiking, walking and eco trekking or geo caching.

Crave Dessert Bar

If Strawberry Shortcake ever met the Big Apple, she’d probably run back to her friends in Strawberryland. But at Crave Dessert Bar, the strawberry shortcake not only stands up to the New York-style cheesecake with which it shares a plate, it’s a marriage of magnificent proportions. Piled high in multiple layers of lusciousness, the Double-Decker Strawberry Shortcake is nothing short of divine. Make your little town blues go melting away with alternating layers of southern-style shortcake, strawberry glaze, and cheesecake paired with a to-die-for custom cocktails amid this posh nightlife scene.  

Miss M's Sweets

Surprise her with something she'll never forget - as a gift to you from Miss M's Sweets in Concord. Doing double duty for you this Valentine's Day, on Saturday, February 12 Miss M's is giving away a 14-karat white gold and milk-chocolate diamond necklace valued at $1,200, compliments of Ellis Jewelers, hidden in one of 100 special boxes of handcrafted chocolates. Whether or not you're the lucky lad to snag the special box, that's what we call one sweet deal.

Great Wolf Lodge

For families needing a sanity break, a trip to this resort is one you'll want to repeat. Their huge indoor water park is the focus of the hotel—it's the perfect temperature in summer and winter alike, with crystal clear water and numerous lifeguards ensuring safety. Its awesome slides and wave pools that will keep kids entertained; there's also an on-site arcade, mini-bowling, and a “Magiquest” sorcery game for kids. And the hotel's restaurants feature fun bonuses like a make-your-own omelette station at breakfast. And you'll get a wristband with room key info, so you don't have to carry a purse. Fans recommend avoiding weekend crowds, and bringing your own food to save money.

Carolina Raptor Center

Serving as both a home to more than 25 species of injured and rehabilitated raptors and an educational center for visitors, this unique attraction gives an up-close look at these beautiful birds of prey. Take a walk along the wooded trails to see owls, hawks, eagles and more, and stay for a live bird presentation or one of the weekend flight shows, a definite highlight. Each bird at the center has a story, like visitor-favorite Dumbledore the Great Horned Owl, named for the Harry Potter wizard. What exactly is a raptor? Learn about each species through programs and exhibits emphasizing the importance of environmental conservation and animal rehabilitation.

Cajun Queen

For elegant and award-winning eats, spice things up at Cajun Queen, located in the heart of historic Elizabeth. Enjoy New Orleans favorites like crawfish etouffee or shrimp Creole amid the brightly painted walls of this early 20th-century home. And don't miss the bar upstairs, featuring custom cocktails, blackened voodoo lager and live jazz.

Santa's Land Theme Park

Christmas is only once a year, but most kids wish it could happen a little more often. At Santa's Land, they can get a glimpse of the North Pole lifestyle, where yuletide lasts all year (or at least, from May to October, when the park is open). Get a good conduct diploma at Santa's House; see a magic show at the Jingle Bell Theater; ride the Rudicoaster, paddle boats and ferris wheel in Funland, and check out the zoo to see monkeys, lemurs, baby bear feedings, llamas, peacocks and kangaroos. Seasonal treats are available at Santa's Snack Bar. This is an awesome, authentically retro attraction (founded in the 60s), and provides hours of festive fun.

McDowell Nature Preserve

There are plenty of parks for you and your pooch to explore, but not all promise over 1,000 acres along the banks of Lake Wylie. The oldest in Mecklenburg County, McDowell Nature Preserve plays host to 7 miles of hiking trails, a 56-site campground, nature center, playgrounds, picnic areas and plenty of opportunities to scope out its 119 species of birds, 21 species of mammals, 21 species of reptiles and 14 species of amphibians. Just be sure to bring your buddy a 6-foot long leash or shorter in case he feels like following his sense of adventure.