Sister Southern Cities

Visit these metro areas this summer

By Virginia Brown

FROM TOP-NOTCH FOOD to fun outdoor experiences, deep and important history, legendary music stages and much more, Charlotte, Nashville and Birmingham each offer distinct and exciting experiences for any type of traveler.




Charlotte, North Carolina
Driving Time: Approx. 4 hours

Known mostly as a NASCAR hub and banking center, Charlotte has become so much more than fast cars and finance. In Charlotte, eclectic neighborhoods and a bustling downtown (locals call it uptown) blend to offer something for every traveler’s speed.

Drive through Myers Park, popular for its stately homes and stunning tree canopy; popular and buzzy Dilworth, with dozens of food, drink, and shopping options; or funky Plaza Midwood and the North Davidson (NoDa) artsy district. All of them offer their own speeds and styles.

In the booming Montford neighborhood in south Charlotte, Chef Bruce Moffett’s Good Food on Montford is a favorite dining go-to among locals and serves up inventive and decadent small plates in a casual, contemporary setting. Also part of the Moffett group, Myers Park’s Stagioni, or four seasons in Italian, is another favorite, located in a romantic former villa. Order the vodka pizza—topped with roasted garlic, Calabrian chili peppers, herbed ricotta cheese and a smoked tomato sauce with shaved parmesan—and cut your own slice with fun pizza shears.

For a stand-out meal for the whole family, try Cowfish after a day shopping at SouthPark Mall. Known for “burgushi—” a combination of burgers and sushi—the restaurant seamlessly blends fresh rolls and burgers, or opt for a Bento boxes and sample both.

The Queen City has also become a beer-lover’s dream, with more than 50 breweries bubbling up in the last decade or so. Old standbys, like Olde Mecklenburg Brewery & Beer Garden (the city’s original) and NoDa Brewing Company are definitely worth a visit, as are some newcomers, like Vaulted Oak Brewing.

Performing arts lovers can book an evening with the Charlotte Symphony, now celebrating 90 years, which offers a popular Summer Pops series in SouthPark, Classical and Pops performances uptown and community shows at breweries and alternative venues. Theatre Charlotte is a longstanding community playhouse with impressive shows. Or catch an exhibit at one of several museums, like the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art or the Mint Museum, with two locations in town. The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture honors contributions of Black artists—Charlotte native Romare Bearden, for one—and is named after Charlotte’s first Black mayor.

For the adventurous traveler, a trip to the Whitewater Center should top the list. From rafting the man-made rapids to ropes courses, ziplining, biking trails, flat-water kayaking and paddle boarding, plus lots of great food and drink options, it’s worth a full day.




Birmingham, Alabama
Driving Time: Approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes

Birmingham, Alabama is a worthy getaway any time of year. Known as The Magic City, Birmingham has a lot to offer, from history to cuisine to art and more.

Arts and culture lovers will want to visit the historic Alabama Theater, a mainstay since 1927, the Lyric Theater and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. Founded in 1978, the museum is dedicated to sharing the stories and genius of jazz greats, plus Alabama natives like Nat King Cole, who hailed from nearby Montgomery, and Tuscaloosa-born Dinah Washington. Birmingham claims a few notables, too, like Clarence “Pinetop” Smith, Sun Ra and Erskine Hawkins.

Ask any local what truly sets Birmingham apart and you’ll hear about the exciting culinary scene. Many award-winning restaurants and bars can trace their roots back to the grandfather of Birmingham cuisine, Frank Stitt, a Cullman, Alabama native who trained in San Francisco under Alice Waters and in France under Richard Olney prior to settling back in Birmingham. No trip to the Magic City is complete without a meal at one of his establishments—our pick is the classic French bistro, Chez FonFon.

A number of food and drink options also exist on 2nd Avenue North. Visitors can’t go wrong at any of the following establishments: Lé Fresca, Bamboo, Helen, Cayo Coco, Aviné, El Barrio or The Essential. A post dinner cocktail at either Paper Doll Bar or House of Found Objects is the perfect night cap.

Well-rounded weekends in Birmingham should include a Saturday morning at The Market at Pepper Place followed by brunch at The Automatic and a stroll through Forest Park to see charming side-byside gift and plant shops, Shoppe and General, as well as funky vintage concept store MK Quinlan.

Design enthusiasts come from across the world to see The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, the world’s largest motorcycle collection, boasting over 1,600 vintage cars and motorcycles. Likewise, art lovers should visit the Birmingham Museum of Art. The BMA’s collection boasts the finest Wedgwood Collection outside England and the largest Asian Art Collection in the Southeast.

Shoppers will want to spend time strolling through the three villages of Mountain Brook as well as downtown Homewood—both affluent suburbs adjacent to Birmingham. Mountain Brooks’ Grand Bohemian Hotel and Homewood’s Valley Hotel are both located in charming, walkable neighborhoods about five minutes from downtown.




Nashville, Tennessee
Driving Time: Approx. 3 hours and 45 minutes

From intimate acoustics at singer-songwriter venues to iconic music spots like the Bluebird Cafe—which has welcomed to its stage big-time names like Keith Urban, Taylor Swift, Carole King, Townes Van Zandt and more—Nashville doesn’t disappoint when it comes to catching live music. Check out the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and reserve tickets to a show at the storied Ryman Auditorium.

Across the street, pop into the National Museum of African American Music and explore six galleries filled with interactive exhibitions and memorabilia honoring the cross-genre contributions of African Americans to the music industry, from spirituals, blues and gospel, to jaz, R&B and hip hop.

Kids will love a trip to the Nashville Zoo, where they can get up close with over 3,000 animals, from exotic birds to safari staples like zebras, tigers and rhinos. For the truly adventurous, sleep under the stars on site at the Summer Zzzoofari Slumber, also offered in fall.

For a sampling of Nashville’s own flavor, visit Prince’s Hot Chicken, with several locations across the city, and order a half-chicken meal, flavored from mild up to XXX hot, or try the André Chicken Sandwich, served with a side of slaw and pickles.

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