Lake Norman is not only the northern part of Charlotte (20 miles to be exact) but three unique towns with great places to get out on the water, green spaces and parks, a rich history, and excellent shopping. Lake Norman is an easy stop off of I-77 right in the heart of NASCAR country. Why not stretch your legs here in this area named for the former Duke Power (Energy) president and have a tasty meal or do some shopping to rest your bones a bit?
Here are some things you should know about visiting Lake Norman, North Carolina, home of the largest man-made lake boasting 520 miles of shoreline.
While driving is one option, you can also fly to Lake Norman via the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Taxi and transportation services are plentiful.
My lodging and a few of my meals were fully hosted by Visit Lake Norman tourism. All opinions remain my own.
Why You Should Visit Lake Norman
Davidson (the northernmost), Cornelius (in the middle), and Huntersville (southernmost) are the main arteries of Lake Norman (LNM on car stickers). You’ll want to see and do something in all of them. Davidson is home to the prestigious Davidson College and has an adorable, walkable downtown and a nice array of sculptures around campus. Cornelius is the farm-forward part of town, with excellent markets and a big town feel to it. Huntersville is best for retail shopping, parks, and a popular place to reside.
Fun Fact: Lord Cornwallis camped and fought in Cowans Ford, now Lake Norman, during the Revolutionary War. Lake Norman even has reenactments throughout the year.
Best Things To Do
I love to shop in Lake Norman. While there are boutiques everywhere, my favorite place to browse is Birkdale Village, with Chico’s, Lululemon, Sephora, and Poppies. You’ll find several eateries (hooray for Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop), Clean Juice, and Dick’s Sporting Goods. My family has been hopping off the interstate for this attraction for over 20 years.
Two more fun places to shop are the Bradford Store (Huntersville) for organic, local, and regional foods/products and White House Gardens for decorative outdoor fountains, planters, and birdbaths. With picturesque sidewalks and loads of beautiful blooms, Downtown Davidson has an excellent book store (Main Street Books) and The Village Store for eye-catching Lake Norman logo souvenirs, jewelry, and home decor. Pop into Davidson Chocolate for a palate-pleasing dose of quality chocolates, many too pretty to eat.
If you’d like to try your hand at something artsy, the Casual Creative Art Studio and Makery is where you can try your hand at beginner-intermediate painting and crafts. Or, just admire the precious pieces at the Mooresville Art Gallery, all crafted by local North Carolina artisans. Wooden Stone Gallery (downtown Davidson) is another place to see hand-crafted pieces from over 600 artists across the country — ranging from pottery and woodworks to jewelry and metals.
Getting out on the water is a must while in Lake Norman. There are many boating, sailing, wakeboarding, kayaking, and standup paddleboarding options. There are plenty of places to rent boats and outdoor equipment, including Cornelius Pontoon Rentals, where you can also get a captain to drive the boat for you. Lake Norman fishing is excellent, and bass and catfish are two of the most desired trophy catch.
Two Unique Offerings
The Carolina Raptor Center and Historic Latta Plantation are worth a visit. Latta Plantation is a circa-1800s living history museum with costumed interpreters. There are 1,400 backcountry acres to explore at the Latta Plantation, including historical houses, cabins, carriage barn, and farm animals. At the Latta Nature Preserve, where both attractions are found, you can explore 16 miles of hiking trails, kayaking, and even Segway tours, which would be great fun.
Carolina Raptor Center is one of the world’s largest, with several displays, educational signage, and live shows, including bald eagles. Resident raptors range from hawks, falcons, and corvids to owls and vultures. I was shocked to learn how essential vultures are to our lives and about their unique features.
Watch for the opening of the new Quest Adventure Center, a state-of-the-art educational center, which will add even more to the already incredible attraction.
Drink delicious beer at D9 Brewery, serving an excellent selection of sour beers, and Old Town Public House with live music from local bands.
Best Restaurants In Lake Norman
The most popular breakfast restaurant in Lake Norman would have to be the Famous Toastery. I had several friends recommend it when they heard I was visiting. I went to the downtown Davidson location and enjoyed a yummy Avocado Omelet (tomato, chopped bacon, and Parmesan) with fantastic home fries. Another recommend breakfast spot is The Egg at Davidson. There, I feasted on a classic Eggs Benedict, but the menu also features omelets, buttermilk pancakes, and breakfast sandwiches.
For lunch, Hello Sailor is a vibrant, chic waterfront restaurant with delicious food. I couldn’t say no to the Seared Cauliflower Steak with peanut romesco, Manchego cheese, and a fried egg. I added fried shrimp to the dish, which bulked it up and tasted so good.
A second restaurant that is also a good dinner choice is Port City Club, with incredible food quality, beautifully plated presentations, and 13,500 square feet of space. I enjoyed a feast of foods from this massive eatery with terraced waterfront dining. I didn’t have one single dish that wasn’t sensational, but the Zucchini Chips and Crab Cakes were standouts. Port City Club’s Carbonara Pasta (with Gulf shrimp and lemon pepper linguine was superb.
Reserve your table for sidewalk seating or an indoor dining spot at Kindred, high on the Lake Norman food chain. This swanky eatery features chef-driven menus and fabulous craft cocktails from Joe Kindred, a three-time James Beard Award nominee. The Crispy Oysters with Calabrian Chile oil are fantastic, though I’d never had a fried oyster until this one. I chose the English Pea Tortellini with sturdy, homemade pasta, crispy capers, and a mint pistol for my main course. It was heavenly.
Grab a sweet treat from Duck Donuts in Huntersville (you can’t go wrong with maple bacon or peanut butter paradise) or have a delicious ice cream sandwich (Whitties) from Whit’s Frozen Custard in Cornelius.
For something special, book a Queen’s Landing Lady of the Lake four-course dinner cruise onboard the 93-foot luxury yacht.
Best Places To Stay In Lake Norman
The Davidson Village Inn in downtown Davidson is an impressive place to stay during your Lake Norman travels. It is conveniently located, has a welcoming vibe and helpful staff, and 18 nice B and B modeled rooms. My room had a great bed, working desk area, luxury linens, and L’Occitane toiletries. Still, the lobby is where I wanted to spend my time in front of the beautiful fireplace or sipping a glass of wine from the hotel’s Vine Society in one of the semi-private seating nooks.
For breakfast, the Davidson Village Inn’s current protocol is to choose from a list of options that come delivered to the lobby for you to pick up. Summit Coffees are available as well.
Lake Norman has an abundance of chain hotels and motels, with many being in Huntersville. Choose from the Quality Inn, Four Points by Sheraton, and the Comfort Suites, to name a few.
Lake Norman’s Excellent Parks
Jetton Park is one of the most desirable Lake Norman Parks, with gorgeous trees, vibrant blooms, and a gorgeous place to take a ride. Jetton Park offers 104 acres, a 1.5-mile trail, and is dog-friendly, as long as they are leashed. Ramsey Creek Park has a beach area for swimming, picnic areas, and a playground if you have grandkids in tow. One of my favorite Lake Norman parks was the Roosevelt Wilson Park near downtown Davidson, with benches, a water feature, paved walking trails, and a memorial tree garden.
Lake Norman State Park is another great park to see, with camping options, too. It has a noteworthy mountain bike area with 30 miles of trails.
Best Time To Visit
You can visit Lake Norman at any time of the year, really; there is always something to do. In the spring, enjoy walks around the lakes. April is for the Arts (in Davidson) and North Carolina Brewers and Music Festival. Summer is the ultimate for boating, fishing, and enjoying the outdoor attractions. Fall brings about racing, leaf-peeping, and the Carolina Renaissance Festival. Meanwhile, winter has the magical Christmas in Davidson event that is raved about, including a boat parade and candlelight Christmas.