Davidson is a small gem only a 25-minute drive from Charlotte, North Carolina. While the pace is slower than the Queen City a few miles south, there is still a lot to do. Whether you want to get active or enjoy the arts, food, wine, shopping, or history, you can experience all of this in town or a short drive away.
Davidson College brings a lot of attention and foot traffic to the wide brick sidewalks along Main Street dotted with boutique shops and eateries, including the James Beard Nominated chef-driven restaurant Kindred. The repurposed buildings are revitalized with exciting storefronts, but the feeling you get is old-school Southern hospitality. While there are more events, activities, and stores popping up constantly, here are some favorites in the area. I am sure you will enjoy Davidson. There is so much to love.
Note: The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority hosted my meals, wine tasting and visit to the U.S. National Whitewater Center. All opinions are my own.
1. Stay Overnight
The most memorable trips include an overnight stay. There is no better way to experience all the best of Davidson than to check into The Davidson Village Inn. The Mecklenburg brick and arched windows at the entrance of this lovely boutique hotel are just the beginning of the warm welcome guests receive. This family-owned property has a total of 18 rooms with five different types of accommodations, expertly run by Innkeepers Mariano and Caroline Doble. A stay at this European-style bed and breakfast includes luxury linens, L’Occitane bath products, and fair trade coffee from Summit Coffee Company. It’s conveniently located across the street from Davidson College around the corner from Main Street, and a mile from Lake Norman. Mariano has a wealth of knowledge about the area and is happy to explain everything to see and do. Be sure to check out the Inn’s formal tastings or ask him a question about the wine wall in the lobby. The staff is absolutely lovely.
2. Walk The Campus Of Davidson College
With the Presbyterian Church of Concord’s blessing, Davidson College began as a “manual training school” for male ministers in 1837. William Davidson, son of General William L. Davidson, who was killed fighting the British at the Battle of Cowan’s Ford, donated 469 acres of land. The school received a $250,000 endowment in 1850 from Maxwell Chambers, which gave it a solid financial footing and ensured its legacy. Today, countless famous alums, including 23 Rhodes Scholars, and seven-time NBA All-Star Golden State Warrior Stephen Curry (currently working on his degree in sociology) graduated from Davidson.
The school, known for its athletic programs, is also known for the arts. Its open art gallery began with a famous Rodin sculpture. In 1993, the Auguste Rodin piece, Jean d’Aire nu, a gift of the Pepper family, was revealed the same day the Belk Visual Arts Center opened. The goal was to build a museum-quality collection outdoors that would serve as a destination for anyone interested in art. Walk around the grounds, enjoy the gorgeous campus and historic Presbyterian Church, and when you come to a sculpture, dial the numbers on the base of the reference plate on your smartphone to learn more about the work.
3. Stroll And Shop Along Main Street
You will adore this Main Street. If you’re hungry, stop in at The Famous Toastery for breakfast or lunch. They have healthy choices and yummy items like benedicts, stacks of pancakes, and burgers. The atmosphere is homey, and the coffee is always on. Shop for gifts at Moxie Mercantile, where store owner Michelle Castelloe runs a “Community-centered boutique with a heart for emerging artists and vintage finds.” I browsed eclectic artisan goods including leather and jewelry along with the Linnea Candle line that smells absolutely incredible. Their Cashmere fragrance is Gwyneth Paltrow’s favorite scent. Visit Main Street Books and have a well-read bookseller match you with a book based on your reading preferences. A few shops have Adirondack chairs with games of checkers or chess set up outside for play. Many of the eateries have cafe tables where you can dine outdoors.
4. Paddle Around Lake Norman
Only a mile’s drive from Davidson is Lake Norman. The lake was created in the ’60s as a source of hydroelectric power. The surface area of the lake is 32,000 acres, the size of 25,000 football fields. If you like water, you’ll love to play on Lake Norman. There are 520 miles of shoreline and plenty of opportunities to paddleboard, kayak, canoe, and sail. Aloha Paddle and Surf brought paddling to the Charlotte area. The outfit offers all kinds of lessons and equipment for all skill levels. They even offer yoga on paddleboards for those who like a challenge. They have a retail site if you love the sport enough to invest. Boat and Jet Ski rentals are available for cruising or thrilling rides around the lake.
5. Encounter Birds Of Prey At Carolina Raptor Center
The Latta Nature Preserve in Mecklenburg County is a 1,500-acre protected area that preserves flora and fauna. It’s also considered an Important Bird Area designated by the Audubon Society. The Latta Nature Preserve has partnered with the Carolina Raptor Center, a non-profit organization focused on conservation and rehabilitation of eagles, falcons, ospreys, owls, hawks, and vultures, to educate the public about these raptors. There are programs and a self-guided walk on a nature trail to observe live birds of prey. Make a reservation for a morning or afternoon session on the Raptor Trail. The CRC is celebrating its 40th year since its first patient and welcomes over 35,000 visitors a year. The Jim Arthur Raptor Medical Center treats 900 to 1,000 birds a year, releasing almost 70 percent back into the wild.
6. Discover Historic Latta Plantation
James Latta was a Scottish-Irish merchant who farmed a 52-acre cotton plantation, now part of the Latta Nature Preserve. The Historic Latta Plantation dates back to the 1800s and is the last remaining Catawba River Plantation open to the public. Listed on the National Register of Historic Sites, it consists of the Main House, Smoke House, and eleven outbuildings. The fields, gardens, farm animals, and interpreters in period dress are a living history museum. Battle reenactments, educational programs, camps, and workshops occur throughout the year. House tours take 45 minutes, and the grounds are self-guided and give a glimpse into 19th-century life in the Carolina backcountry.
Pro Tip: Bring water and comfortable sneakers and check the website for tour times.
7. Stop By The Farmers Market
If you’re in Davidson on a Saturday, walk down to the Davidson Farmers Market. The Market is a weekly event in town starting at 9 a.m. and includes local growers and producers from within a 100-mile radius. Tents are set up next to Town Hall. Thirty vendors sell fruit, vegetables, meats, dairy, freshly baked bread, artisanal baked goods, prepared food, beverages, and health and beauty products until noon. If you’re on vacation, it’s challenging to bring home fresh items, but the local honey, soaps, and salsa shouldn’t be missed. The market has a mission to educate the public about eating locally grown food for optimal nutrition. If you crave fresh baked goods, prepared food, cheese, or bread, purchase some with fresh produce for a lovely snack or picnic in the park afterward.
8. Sip Craft Wine At An Urban Winery
Lindsey Williams discovered an appreciation for wine in her previous life as a lawyer. She enjoyed it so much, she made it her second career. Originally from Ohio, she now lives with her husband and son in Davidson. She wanted to bring affordable, locally made wine to her town and picked up on the urban winery trend. Lindsey sources grapes from renowned wine-making regions globally and produces well-known varietals such as Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet. She also creates sparkling and unique varieties like Petit Verdot and Viognier at a facility nearby. The grapes are crafted, bottled, and labeled to serve and sell in her chic space on Depot Street, previously an organ-making shop. The kitchen creates bites, and the patio offers a lovely alfresco option. There are wine-inspired cocktails and local beers on tap if you prefer that, plus live entertainment, making it an enjoyable place to spend the evening.
9. Visit The U.S. National Whitewater Center
Drive 30 minutes to visit the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Here, you’ll have access to over 30 different recreational activities, competitions, and events year-round. The center has 1,300 acres of protected land with access to the Catawba River and Long Creek and plans to increase that acreage over time. With 50 miles of trails to hike, bike, or run, the center is committed to preserving land and forests in the region. Programs include yoga, rafting, zip-lining, canopy tours, flatwater and whitewater kayaking, climbing, and ice skating (note that some activities are seasonal). The events are endless and are programmed throughout the year. There are food venues on site that offer quick bites and delicious meals. The retail store offers everything you might need for a day or evening outside. It’s a clean, exciting facility for the adventure lover or the nature lover.
10. Dine At Kindred
I’ve positioned “Dine at Kindred” as #10 on my list because I’ve saved the best for last. Dining at Joe and Katy Kindred’s restaurant is really fantastic. The Kindreds moved back to Joe’s hometown after traveling the world and working in five-star kitchens, Joe as chef and Katy as a sommelier. They brought their skills to this beautiful town to raise their kids and the culinary bar. Joe, a James Beard-nominated semi-finalist, works with the farms around Davidson to cook with the freshest ingredients seasonally so that every dish is a gift.
First, you are welcome with a tin of signature milk bread with a side of cultured butter which feels like a hug. It’s beyond memorable. The pasta is homemade, and the selections change, except for the squid ink conchiglie with Georgia Royal Red shrimp and sea urchin butter, a staple on the menu. The plates are sharable including a tuna crudo with green coriander, white asparagus, rhubarb, and English peas, decorated with edible flowers. Every dish was a revelation including the last. The chocolate birthday cake was a tower of layers of moist chocolate cake smoothed with cream cheese icing and a dollop of sweet cream ice cream. To die for.
Davidson is the sweetest place and close enough to add to a Charlotte itinerary when in North Carolina. It takes 30 minutes to drive to or from Charlotte from Davidson. The area offers natural beauty and small city pleasures in a walkable, sophisticated downtown. Planning a trip in the area? Consider all our Charlotte content here.