Known as a racing hub just outside Charlotte, North Carolina, Cabarrus County is a hidden gem with extensive offerings for adrenaline junkies, families and foodies alike.
A short, 30-minute drive from the Charlotte airport, Cabarrus County currently draws heavy crowds of NASCAR fans to one of its most famous sites — Charlotte Motor Speedway. However, there’s so much more to this racing hub than initially meets the eye. Beyond the adrenaline-filled fun, visitors can find extensive offerings across the pastoral landscape, from breweries in historic settings to classic American Main Streets, wineries to endless antiquing.
Cabarrus County’s history centers heavily around its gold mining past, as it was the site of the first gold discovery in the United States, in 1799, by a young boy. While a gold rush followed, eventually mining attention turned elsewhere, shifting toward cotton mills and textile production. The first African American-owned cotton mill in the country, Coleman Manufacturing Company, founded in 1897, was located here. Now, these sectors have morphed into tourism attractions, with tours offered at the remote mine, and breweries, distilleries and antique vendors taking over the structures leftover after decades of textile production.
If you want to see Cabarrus County at peak busyness, there are several annual events that truly draw the big crowds to this little section of the state. The Charlotte Motor Speedway hosts three NASCAR Cup Series events each year and zMAX Dragway hosts the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series twice each year. The world’s largest automotive fair, the Pennzoil AutoFair, occurs each September, attracting thousands of automobiles and 7,000 vendors.
Great Wolf Lodge (10175 Weddington Rd.) is a preferred place to stay for families and a great spot to play or dine, even if you’re not spending the night. It features the Carolinas’ largest indoor water park, open year-round and kept at a balmy 84 degrees. Ample kid-friendly amenities — like the resort’s 100-game arcade, 18-hole indoor mini golf course and more — make for hours of family fun.
Though a national brand likely familiar to many frequent travelers, Embassy Suites by Hilton Charlotte Concord Golf Resort & Spa (5400 John Q. Hammons Dr. NW) elevates the Embassy Suites brand a few notches to provide guests with a comfortable, enjoyable stay, along with the convenience of a fantastic central location. The expansive property has more than 300 two-room guest suites, a spectacular top-notch spa and a highly-ranked golf course right next door. Plus, top attractions are a mere few miles away.
Restaurants, Bars & Cafes
High Branch Brewing Co. (325 McGill Ave., Ste 148) is located in a previous textile mill. The owners have gone to great lengths to preserve the location’s historic feel, offering guests a hip and Instagram-worthy spot to enjoy a few craft beers. With brews that are a step above what you’d find in just any average bar, High Branch is a perfect stop on any beer geek’s itinerary. The selection rotates throughout the year, but you’re sure to always find something to fit your fancy. Imbibe in the barrel room, where strung lighting hangs overhead as you relax, surrounded by future-beers fermenting. Or, enjoy the summer breeze on the brewery’s new patio.
Cabarrus Brewing Company (329 McGill Ave.) is also located within a prior textile mill. The owner similarly took efforts to preserve the space’s history, but also combined it with his own love of German beer hall culture, resulting in the unique atmosphere guests find today. The extensive beer list provides something for every taste, whether you’re a craft beer newb or an old pro. The brewery hosts community events frequently — everything from running clubs to car clubs to paint n’ sip classes. The dog-friendly environment also welcomes food trucks and live music on the regular.
You can’t visit North Carolina without trying some crazy good barbecue, and that’s just what The Smoke Pit (796 Concord Pkwy.) does best. The restaurant, which is on the small side and slightly tucked off the highway, has a casual feel, taking orders at the register before delivering your food on a heaping tray. The meats are sourced from the butcher shop located next door before being smoked and served with an array of delicious, Southern-style sides. This is not a place for vegetarians — the menu is meat-centric, featuring barbecue plates, sandwiches and combos, or a barbecue-stuffed spud or -topped salad. The sides are truly Southern. Think baked mac n’ cheese, barbecue beans, deviled egg potato salad, fried okra and collard greens.
While barbecue is to be expected in North Carolina, you might be surprised to find authentic Cuban cuisine. However, you’ll leave stuffed with classic Cuban staples when you visit Havana Carolina Restaurant & Bar (11 Union St South, Ste 108). The family-owned and operated restaurant is situated inside a shopping center right off Main Street Concord. Sit down, scan the expansive menu and enjoy snapshots of Havana scenery playing on the two dining room televisions. Choose from an array of Cuban classics, each served with white rice and black beans and your choice of fried or green plantains.
Regardless of your reason for visiting Cabarrus County, you’d be missing out if you didn’t at least see what all the racing hype is about.
Charlotte Motor Speedway (5555 Concord Pkwy South) hosts plenty of events throughout the year, but you can also visit for a tour while you’re in town to see every bit of the operation, from Pit Road to the box seats. During the two-hour Over the Wall tour, you’ll be shuttled across the expansive complex by a thoroughly knowledgeable and entertaining tour guide. Ride along two infield race tracks and see not only the speedway, but also zMAX Dragway and The Dirt Track at Charlotte. With your tour ticket, you’ll receive access to The Speedway Club, a high-end but affordable dining option that overlooks the racetrack for jaw-dropping views.
If you’ve been to a more traditional auto race, but never a dirt track race, you’ll soon see that the two are entirely different experiences. Try to plan your travel when The Dirt Track at Charlotte (5500 Concord Pkwy South) is hosting an event for high-adrenaline thrills in an environment like no other. The stands are packed; the air filled with dirt, dust and the tingle of excitement as you watch drivers compete across a variety of racing styles, from motocross to monster trucks, classic dirt racing to sprint cars.
Get behind the wheel yourself at K1 Speed (800 Derita Rd.). This is not your normal go-karting experience. These all-electric go-karts whip around a challenging, professionally-designed indoor track. Don’t worry — you’ll be outfitted with a cool helmet and strapped in tight, so you won’t feel a thing when you crash head-on into a wall while trying to take a tight curve far too fast. At the end of your race, compare your scores with your driving buddies to see who has what it takes.