Charlotte, North Carolina

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Tucked in the Piedmont region's sleepy rolling hills, this bustling metropolis is anything but a quiet Southern belle. Charlotte, North Carolina, explodes with growing businesses and burgeoning sports franchises. And this ever-expanding city has a knack for keeping an East Coast pace without stomping on its Southern roots; the locals are said to be exceedingly polite and dedicated to keeping classic Southern charm alive. The blending of these two personalities is engagingly energetic.

Uptown Charlotte — be sure not to call it downtown - is crawling with suits and tourists, while the art aficionados and culture hounds flood NoDa (or the North Davidson area). SouthPark's mall district has shopaholics drooling while the party people live it up in South End. And of course, Charlotte is a buzzing hub of NASCAR country, with the Charlotte Motor Speedway and NASCAR Hall of Fame in the surrounding area.

The best time to visit Charlotte is from March through May or from September through November, the shoulder seasons when the city is less crowded and hotels are less expensive. Though it's tempting to visit in summer thanks to the extended hours offered by some of the city's top attractions, June through August is also the busiest (not to mention the hottest) time to be in the Queen City. Plan an early autumn visit and you'll be rewarded with mild temps and agreeable hotel prices. Winters are fairly pleasant — snow is rare and the evening lows hover between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. You'll also find that tourists abandon the city this time of year, and hotel rates take a nose dive.

Charlotte's restaurant scene is a fair representation of its cultural identity modern, with a bit of Southern tradition. Though it boasts its fair share of Southern comfort food, the city also shows off its flair for cuisine with a variety of sophisticated international and farm-to-fork menus.

Almost an attraction in itself, Price's Chicken Coop is a must-visit if you're hoping to experience some of the city's best Southern fried chicken. This hole-in-the-wall favorite is carry-out only (bring cash; your plastic is no good here). But what Price's lacks in ambiance it makes up for in crispy, delicious chicken. Beloved by both locals and travelers, Price's counter is consistently busy, so prepare to wait in line (especially at lunch). If you like your fried chicken paired with waffles - a Southern tradition - try another one of the city's cheap eat favorites, the Midnight Diner.

For classic Southern dishes with a more contemporary twist, head to Tupelo Honey. The restaurant, which has multiple locations around North Carolina and Tennessee, features favorites like shrimp and grits, fried okra (aka Southern popcorn) and cajun skillet catfish made with farm-fresh ingredients.

If you're in the mood for fine dining, Charlotte's got you covered there, too. In Uptown, you'll find two of the city's best Italian restaurants: Luce and Aria Tuscan GrillFig Tree, an eatery that occupies a Registered Historic Landmark home, is also well-regarded for its French-Italian menu. Business travelers looking to treat clients to a classic steak dinner can't go wrong at the Charlotte edition of the ever-popular chophouse, Del Frisco's.

You can't make reservations at Soul Gastrolounge, but you also can't leave the Queen City without trying this eclectic, perpetually busy eatery. Sushi, internationally inspired small plates and handcrafted cocktails are what keep locals and visitors coming back again and again.

And then there's the beer. Charlotte is often overlooked by craft beer aficionados in favor of Asheville's suds, but the Queen City can hold its own. New breweries are opening all of the time - in fact, North Carolina touts more craft breweries than any other state in the South. Luckily, many of them are grouped by neighborhood, making it easy to visit a few in one trip. Standouts include The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery (home to one of the largest beer gardens in the city), Sycamore Brewing, Birdsong Brewing Company (don't leave without trying its Jalapeño Pale) and NoDa Brewing Company.