Distance from Charlotte: 12 miles
A quick drive down I-85 and across the Catawba takes you to Belmont. This delightful small town's close proximity to Charlotte has led to new growth in recent years, with popular restaurants and shops opening downtown, the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden expanding, and Belmont Abby Basilica drawing visitors from across the country. But despite these changes, Belmont hasn't lost its Southern charm. In the town's center you'll find brick sidewalks, historic homes, and an unmistakable small-town warmth.
A day here should begin at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden (6500 S. New Hope Rd., 704-825-4490). With more than 400 acres of land on the shores of Lake Wylie, it's the perfect spot for a leisurely walk down its brick paths. Since 1994 the formal gardens have been growing with new fountains, paths, plants, flowers, and trees. Be sure to visit the orchid conservatory, where waterfalls and a rainforest-like humidity create an ideal environment for the rare, bright flowers.
From the garden, head downtown for lunch at Sammy's Neighborhood Pub (25 S. main St., 704-825-4266). The casual spot offers sandwiches, salads, and burgers, as well as its famed fried green beans. They're served hot, crispy, and with a ranch sauce for dipping.
A post-lunch stroll down Main Street requires stops in the Belmont General Store (6 N. main St., 704-8250114), a shop reminiscent of a 1950s hardware store with aisles packed full of funky finds. Just a few doors down, the chic Jolie Boutique (4 N. main St., 704-825-7997) is housed in a 1906 railroad depot and offers big-city fashion lines like Ella Moss, Free People, and French Connection.
For a historical addition to your day, Belmont Abbey College (100 Belmont mount Holly Rd., 704-825-6700) is a quick drive just north of downtown. This Catholic college was founded in 1876 and its grounds include the Basilica, which was built in 1892. It's open from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and is known for its impressive acoustics, so check ahead as they often hold classical concerts.
By the end of the day you'll be ready to kick back. Drive down to Catfish Cove (1401 Armstrong Ford Rd., 704-825-3332), a home-style fish camp on the banks of the Catawba, where Southern fare like fried chicken and pecan pie draw crowds. Top it all off with a cold sweet tea and a piece of the penny candy from the register for your drive home.