Best Charlotte Suburbs for Families
What you need to to know about living north, south, east and west of Charlotte’s city center.
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Drive away from the hustle and bustle to these communities west of Charlotte.
By Aleigh Acerni
Photo courtesy of Gaston Outside
Enjoying the view from the top of Crowders Mountain in Gaston County.
Residents of suburbs to the west side of Charlotte in Gaston County have some of the easiest commutes in the area, as they can often avoid the continuous construction and ongoing congestion of Interstate 77 to the north of the city center. There are other benefits to living in this part of town, including convenient access to the beautiful Catawba River. Here’s why you might want to consider going west.
Photo by Kevin Loftin
Launch a kayak or enjoy the playground at Kevin Loftin Riverfront Park on the Catawba River in Belmont.
A history-meets-contemporary mindset reins here, where historic homes mix with newer construction, and modern amenities include free outdoor Wi-Fi. The picturesque town sits about 14 miles directly west of Charlotte just off Interstate 85 and is home to Belmont Abbey College, founded in 1876 on the site of a former plantation by Benedictine monks. The town’s leafy charm is due in part to Stowe Park, a beautiful Main Street park on 8.5 acres, including a natural playground, walking trail, picnic tables, athletic fields and a natural amphitheater. The park is a family-friendly destination year-round, especially during its summer concert series and festive Christmas village.
Families who enjoy water activities can find a lot to love here. The town sits at the end of a large peninsula. Lake Wylie, the Catawba River and the South Fork Catawba River are all nearby, and a new riverfront boat dock and park were completed in 2017. After a day of paddling, stop in at Nellie’s Southern Kitchen, the kid-friendly restaurant named for the great-grandmother of the Jonas Brothers, who spent her life in Belmont. Music is served up alongside Southern cuisine and the restaurant has a house band and frequent performances by special guest entertainers.
Home to the world’s second-largest thread-maker, American and Efird Mills, Mount Holly’s local economy is still very much driven by the textile industry that spurred growth throughout North Carolina in the 20th century. The town sits in northeast Gaston County, just west of Charlotte and the Catawba River, with a 20-minute commute to uptown Charlotte via I-85. Mount Holly’s downtown strip includes restaurants, cafes and shopping. Kids will definitely want to stop at Queen Bee Bakery for a peanut-butter brownie or a chocolate-chip cookie. On the weekends, May through August, Mount Holly hosts “the largest all-volunteer market in the state,” with a chef-in-residence program, annual Independence Day parade and a special Kids Day at the market, with activities and stations for kids throughout.
West of Belmont and about 35 minutes from Charlotte on I-85, Gastonia has also maintained its status as a manufacturing hub — it’s the home of Parkdale Mills, the largest producer of spun yarn in the U.S. That hasn’t been a boon for growth in recent decades, but it has remained one of the most affordable suburbs in the area, with a median listing price of $155,000, according to realtor.com.
That’s not to say Gastonia doesn’t have bragging rights. The largest city (and county seat) of Gaston County, it’s the third-largest city in the area, behind Charlotte and Concord. Affordable housing includes two historic districts: York-Chester is the city’s oldest neighborhood, with 1920s architecture including bungalows, Victorians and New England saltbox homes. Brookwood dates to the mid-1930s and '40s, with many Tudor and craftsman-style homes.
Residents may feel less of a pull to head to Charlotte from Gastonia than some other Charlotte suburbs; there are plenty of well-established activities for families here. Soak up some culture at Arts on Main, a 2,200-square-foot art gallery and gift shop managed by the Gaston County Art Guild, that also offers arts classes. Or stock the pantry at the Gastonia Farmers Market. Launched in the 1970s, it moved into its current downtown space in 1995, with room for 20 vendors. In addition to fruits and vegetables from the surrounding area, it offers a Kidz Club program to teach kids about gardening and healthy food.
Photo by Michael Trznadel
Cool off in the fountains of Daniel Stowe Botainical Garden in Belmont.
Where to Explore
- Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. With its beautiful orchid house and well-planned gardens, this botanical garden in Belmont has long been a favorite destination for Charlotteans. It also has Lost Hollow, a 3.5-acre, kid-friendly garden with a medieval theme. Check the website for a calendar of events throughout the year. .
- Schiele Museum of Natural History and Planetarium. With 60,000 square feet of science-minded exhibits to explore, including a large collection of gemstones and minerals and a collection of dioramas, Schiele is a great rainy-day destination for families. With an 18th-century backcountry farm, Catawba Indian village staffed with actors in period costumes and a nature trail on the grounds, there’s a lot to explore when the sun is out, too. .
- Lake Wylie. This man-made lake on the North Carolina-South Carolina state line sits at the confluence of the South Fork and Catawba rivers. With six public boat access points and 325 miles of shoreline, it is popular with fisherman and boaters alike. On the Mecklenburg County side of the lake, there are more than 1,000 acres to explore at the McDowell Nature Center and Preserve, including a campground, playgrounds, picnic areas and more than seven miles of trails.
Aleigh Acerni lives and writes from a tiny bungalow in Plaza Midwood, but often daydreams about the suburban life.