More of a spectator? Grab for a table and menu (American contemporary fare) at its River’s Edge Bar & Grill, which overlooks the competition channel. $5 parking.
• Carowinds. Charlotte’s Carowinds amusement park straddles the North Carolina/South Carolina state line right off I-77 and is a sister operation to Ohio’s famous Cedar Point. The Carolina Cobra, a three-inversion coaster with a 12-story vertical drop, debuted in 2009; the more recent Intimidator is a tip of the cowboy hat to NASCAR legend Dale “The Intimidator” Earnhardt and is touted as the “tallest, fastest, longest” coaster in the Southeast. Don’t miss riding Thunder Road, inspired by Carolina moonshine runners: a long, fast, hilly straightaway that literally crosses state lines twice.
• Central Avenue eateries & shops. Need an alternative to conventionburgers? Eating too well on someone else’s nickel? Sample Charlotte’s increasingly international culture on funky Central Avenue, which some term the “International District.” From uptown east to around Sharon Amity Road, you’ll find blocks of eateries that cater to the city’s more recent immigrants — food from China, Vietnam (stop in at Saigon Square strip mall), Latin America, Central America, Lebanon, Serbia and elsewhere.
None of the places is all that expensive, and wedged in among them are a host of ethnic stores and groceries.
• Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. Sniff the flowers at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, just west of Charlotte in exurban Belmont. The 450-acre nature park is less than 20 years old but growing like a weed. It now features more than eight main/themed gardens and an orchid conservatory.
• Latta Plantation. More fresh air and elbow room? This park complex along Lake Norman should do the trick. It holds the Carolina Raptor Center, a home for injured and recovered owls, hawks, falcons and other feathered meat-eaters you can see up close. History buffs can visit a the circa 1800 plantation home and living history farm. Get your exercise: There are 16 miles of horseback and hiking trails. Latta’s nature preserve is home to 97 species of birds, 17 of mammals, 14 of reptiles, and 9 of amphibians.
• NC Music Factory. The convention site is close to the EpiCentre entertainment complex. Put some distance between you and other conventioneers at this youth-oriented tunes/food/drink compound on the other (west) side of uptown. DJs spin tunes at uber-hip Butter; there’s live music at the Saloon and Filmore; drinks at Wet Willie’s, a Comedy Zone, and restaurants — from a Lowcountry-esque fine dining at Bask to the indoor/out VBGB beer garden to Mattie’s Diner (open 24/7).
John Bordsen is the travel editor of The Charlotte Observer