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The Glassy’s Healthy Guide to Charlotte

Gyms, juice, and Jesus: Welcome to the new South.

by Rebecca Willa Davis | 02.21.2018

On the 1600 block of Camden Road in Charlotte, you’ll find Price’s Chicken Coop–the sort of Southern fried chicken joint that relishes its no-frills atmosphere and inspires breathless “GIZZARDS…SO GOOD” reviews online.

It’s exactly what you’d imagine this North Carolina city to be filled with: greasy, fried, finger-licking food.

But for many locals, that’s not the whole story. They’d direct you to keep walking down Camden, where you’ll come face to face with the other side of Charlotte—one that advertises its matcha bowls on its sidewalk signage and serves up 100 percent-organic avocado toast slices alongside “I run on Jesus and juice” tees.

Welcome to the new Charlotte, where you’re just as likely to spend Sunday in church as you are in spin class.

NC Yoga Bar in Charlotte

Photo: Courtesy of NC Yoga Bar

“Charlotte’s wellness scene is booming,” insists Alicia Thomas, who co-founded the aptly named Work For Your Beer (which lists all of the brewery-based workouts in the city—more on that in a sec). “It feels like new gyms and fitness studios are opening up at every turn, not to mention all the juice bars, healthy restaurants, nutritious meal-delivery services, and so many other wellness-based businesses popping up all over the city.”

Part of that evolution is thanks to a major demographic shift that’s been underway for the past decade. “I’ve heard something like 135 people move here every day,” claims Ali Washburn, who heads up NC Yoga Bar. While the exact number is hard to pin down, an analysis of US Census data from 2005-15 had Charlotte topping the list of cities with the largest population growth among those aged 18-34—even higher than perennial hipster hotspots like Austin, Texas. (Charlotte also happens to be the second largest banking center, outside of New York City—which explains while you’ll see so many slim-cut chino-wearing young travelers on your flight there.) And these transplants are coming from big cities with established wellness scenes, meaning that they now expect similar amenities to what they previously had access to—yes, even clothing stores devoted to athleisure, as you’ll find at South End’s Fityoulous. “The South isn’t just for fried food anymore—people in Charlotte are young, healthy, and active,” adds Washburn.

“Finding that healthy balance between working out and drinking beer feels like such a uniquely Charlotte thing.”

And with Millennials driving so much of that change, what’s emerged goes well beyond the usual studio-smoothie-sauna wellness triumvirate. Adding a social component is key—as is a bit of a buzz. Work For Your Beer lists about a dozen free or low-cost fitness classes at breweries, bottle shops, and more each day. And NC Yoga Bar lets locals (and visitors) get their flow on in such iconic spots as The Mint Museum or The McGill Rose Garden. “It’s incredibly common for people to finish up their workout at a local CrossFit or yoga studio, then head to a brewery for a quick beer, still in their sweaty workout clothes,” says Thomas. “Finding that healthy balance between working out and drinking beer feels like such a uniquely Charlotte thing.” (And if you’re sober-curious, Charlotte is home to a kombucha taproom, courtesy of the ultra-sustainable and ultra-delicious Lenny Boy.)

The other thing going for Charlotte, if you’re into being active? Perfect weather. “The climate here is pretty conducive to being outside almost 12 months of the year,” notes Washburn, who points out the range of outdoor workout options (including a free bootcamp class that just might be taught by Randy Moss, NBD). While the city isn’t super walkable, per se—there’s now a light-rail trail that runs from the central, Downtown area the industrial loft-filled South End, but beyond that you’ll be the only one traveling by foot more than a few blocks around the highway-dotted neighborhoods—good weather beckons classes outside. And then of course there’s the Whitewater Center, an outdoor oasis and Olympic training facility with everything from kayaking to climbing walls just 15 minutes from the airport. (The food is legit, too—you can order jackfruit tacos and turnip zoodle bowls at the main restaurant.)

It’s enough to understand why Charlotte was crowned the Queen City—fried gizzards be damned.

The Glassy Blackbook to Charlotte, NC:

Vibe: All-American athleticism—with a green juice in hand in the a.m. and a beer (or kombucha) in the p.m.

Pack: Leave the crazy prints and sexy cut-outs at home and opt for the basics—ideally in black. Yes, you may be the only person wearing leggings outside the studio.

Drop-ins: Definitely welcome—Southern hospitality extends to studios and instructors. Let them know you’re new and you’ll probably get one-on-one attention the entire class.

Walkability: In Uptown, there’s no need to use anything other than your two feet to get from place to place. (Parts of Plaza Midwood are quite strollable, too.) You could even walk to South End along the light rail trail. although expect to get some looks from drivers as you cross particularly trafficked intersections. Beyond that, opt for a Lyft.

Runability: Unless you’re jogging along the light rail trail in the city (which locals swear is safe, but the lighting isn’t so great and it can feel a bit desolate at times) or are heading out to do a trail run at Whitewater Center, your best bet is to stick to the gym treadmill. Also: It gets humid in summer.

Cycleability: The concept of road sharing is a new one in Charlotte—especially on some of the larger roads that take you further afield from Uptown—so BYO helmet. That said, there are a handful of bike share options, from B-Cycle and VBikes to the recently launched LimeBike and Spin, plus 37 miles of greenway for cruising.

Clean eats: There are a surprising number of juice bars and grab-and-go salad spots dotting the city—but if you’re a stickler about keeping things organic, your options will be limited. Explicitly gluten-free kitchens are also difficult to come by, although plenty of spots offer up GF options or menus. (When in doubt, HU Luna’s Living Kitchen and let them know you’ve got an allergy.) Paleo and Whole30 eaters definitely benefit from the roast chicken food trend sweeping the city right now

Supermarket run: There’s a Whole Foods, but isn’t centrally located—instead, try Healthy Home Market or one of the state-run Charlotte Regional Farmers Markets.

Water Situ: The city says it’s clean, but watchdog groups point to TTHM levels as a risk, so opt for bottled if you’re concerned.

Toiletry pick-up: Yogi-centric shop Gumbo veers into crunchy territory, but it has a decent selection of all –natural personal care products from Acure, Oral Essentials, and more.

Make your base: If you’re in Charlotte for work, you’ll want to be as close to Uptown as possible—the best option, hands down, is Kimpton’s Tryon Park Hotel (in addition to the generously proportioned gym that actually gets—gasp!—natural light, there’s a roomy yoga deck where you can use your in-room mat on warm days). For something homier, book an Airbnb in South End, Plaza Midwood, or NoDa, the three buzziest areas in the city.

Top souvenirs: Sustainably grown (and chicly designed) coffee from Hex, Candied Pecans from Luna’s Living Kitchen, Coyote deodorant from Wish We Had Acres (via Gumbo).

If you eat at one place: Luna’s Living Kitchen. Raw, vegan, vegetarian, plant-based, gluten-free…this lives-up-to-the-hype spot hits them all. You’ll be tempted to order one of everything, but don’t—you’ll want to leave room for one of their outrageously delicious raw, vegan desserts (or at the very least, a Chocolate Chaga mylk).

If you work out at one place: Hilliard Studio Method. The women, the myth, the legends: The mother-daughter duo behind this local obsession don’t mess around. If you’re really looking to feel the burn, try their Megaformer spin-off HSM Core (what one insider—and triathlete—described to The Glassy as "the hardest workout ever").

If you relax at one place: Okra. In addition to yoga classes throughout the day, the locals-heavy studio also offers up reiki, massage, aromatherapy workshops, and sound baths.

Check out the complete Glassy Guide to Charlotte, NC.

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