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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Photo courtesy of Gaston Outside
Goat Island in Cramerton, located between Belmont and Gastonia, is a favorite outdoor play space for families.
Life West of Charlotte
Where old-time charm and contemporary cool coexist
By Aleigh Acerni and Michele Huggins
Residents of suburbs to the west side of Charlotte 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 uptown. There are other benefits to living in Gaston County, including convenient access to the beautiful Catawba River and a quick exit out of town to the mountains of North Carolina. Here’s why you might want to consider settling west
Charlotte’s nearby neighbor to the west is Belmont. A town once dominated by textile mills is now an enclave for Charlotte commuters. A history-meets-contemporary mindset reins here, where historic homes and brick sidewalks mix with newer construction and modern amenities, including free outdoor Wifi along Main Street and a new public mural painted with help from community members.
The town sits at the end of a large peninsula surrounded by Lake Wylie, the Catawba River and the South Fork Catawba River. Belmont’s Kevin Loftin Riverfront Park has public fishing, a playground and rental shelters overlooking the river. Runners and cyclists enjoy the Seven Oaks Preserve Trail and downtown Belmont walking routes. The 300-acre Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden includes the Lost Hollow Children’s Garden and hosts family-friendly programming throughout the year, in addition to a plethora of seasonal events. Stowe Park, located on Main Street, offers leafy charm, a playground, walking trail and a natural amphitheatre, and is the location of various downtown festivals throughout the year.
Have a cupcake and pint at Riverman Brewery, or wine and small plates at Luna Hombre in downtown Belmont. Get a milkshake at the Belmont General Store, spin cotton candy at The Cotton Candy Factory, and enjoy a Southern meal at Nellie’s Southern Kitchen, which is named for the great-grandmother of the Jonas Brothers, who spent her life in Belmont.
Mount Holly sits in northeast Gaston County, just west of Charlotte and the Catawba River, with a 20-minute commute to uptown Charlotte via Interstate 85. Mount Holly’s downtown strip includes restaurants, cafes and shopping with a welcoming vibe. Kids will definitely want to stop at Queen Bee Bakery for a peanut butter brownie or a chocolate chip cookie. On weekends from May through August, Mount Holly hosts what it claims to be 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, it’s a summer draw for residents. Community events take place throughout the year, including Movies in the Park and Food Truck Fridays. A greenway system is planned to connect downtown to the Catawba River.
For those who love outdoor adventure, the U.S. National Whitewater Center located on the Catawba River is a short 3 miles from downtown Mount Holly and offers ample opportunity for kayaking, whitewater rafting, climbing and mountain biking
West of Belmont and about 40 minutes from Charlotte driving south on Interstate 85, Gastonia is riding a wave of growth in recent decades, but remains one of the most affordable suburbs in the area, with a median listing price of $160,000, according to trulia.com.
As the largest city (and county seat) of Gaston County, and third-largest city in the area, behind Charlotte and Concord, Gastonia looks promising for families interested in a lower cost of living. Gastonia’s 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. The Brookwood neighborhood dates to the mid-1930s and ‘40s, with many Tudor and craftsman-style homes.
Though not that far from the big-city amenities of Charlotte, residents may feel less of a pull to head to Charlotte from Gastonia than some other Charlotte suburbs as there are plenty of well-established activities.
Stock the pantry at the Dougie Henry Farmers Market located near downtown. 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 Power of Produce (POP) club to teach kids about gardening and healthy food.
The Schiele Museum Museum of Natural History, located on Garrison Boulevard, is a well-loved science museum that has permanent exhibits and temporary exhibitions — like Dinosafari with life-size replica dinosaurs — and is home to the James H. Lynn Planetarium and Science Theater. Little Theater of Gastonia produces a wide array of plays and musicals, and Gaston Dance offers professional curriculum for dancers and showcases talents at various performances throughout the year
Mega-store shopping centers along Franklin Boulevard, the main drag connecting Belmont to Gastonia, cater to residents’ shopping needs. Eastridge Mall on New Hope Road is anchored by Belk and Dillard’s, as well as a variety of other retail and entertainment experiences.
Aleigh Acerni lives and writes from her house in Charlotte, but daydreams about life in the suburbs. Michele Huggins is the editor of Charlotte Parent magazine who spent many weekends as a child at her grandparents’ house in Belmont.
Where to Explore
With its beautiful orchid house and grounds, Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is a favorite destination for Charlotteans. The garden hosts family-friendly events throughout the year, and the Lost Hollow Children’s Garden is a 3.5 acre, kid-friendly medieval mainstay.
With 60,000 square feet of science-minded exhibits to explore, including a large collection of gemstones and minerals and a collection of well-cared-for dioramas, the Schiele Museum of Natural History is a great rainy-day family destination. But with an 18th-century backcountry farm and Catawba Indian village staffed with actors in period costumes and a .75-mile nature trail on the grounds, there’s a lot to explore when the sun is out, too.
Lake Wylie 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 7 miles of trails.