Lake Norman is seriously one of the coolest places you can visit around the east coast. North of Charlotte, Lake Norman’s region includes Cornelius, Huntersville, Mooresville, and Davidson. While lake life is the way of life in this beautiful region, there are many other great things to get into, as well. Here are the best things to do at Lake Norman, NC, and the reasons we love visiting.
Note: Lake Norman is a manmade lake with 520 miles of shoreline. It also has the largest inner port of both Carolinas.
My family has fans of Birkdale Village in Huntersville for 20 years or more, a shopping, dining, and entertainment Mecca that also features a movie theater. Parking is a breeze and the selection of stores to shop at is impressive. A few of my favorites are Barnes & Noble, Fink’s Jewelers, and Poppie’s. Don’t miss a delicious dessert from Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop or a tasty barbecue meal from Midwood Smokehouse. Check the Birkdale Village website for events happening all year round.
If antiques are your guilty pleasure, you’ll browse for hours in Oak Street Mill’s 11,000 square-feet.
There are so many excellent places to eat in Lake Norman that the narrowing down process can be daunting. For breakfast, I like the Benedicts at the Egg at Davidson or the Flapjacks and omelets from Famous Toastery. For lunch, if you’d like to have waterfront views, Hello, Sailor is swanky, trendy, cool, and a whole other string of superlatives. This happy little place sits on the water in Cornelius with two rows of deck seating and features a fantastic menu with seafood, salads, and burgers. I can vouch for the deliciousness of the Cauliflower Steak with romesco, Manchego cheese, and a fried egg.
Dinner options range from super casual to fine dining, but I’m more of a wow me with the food quality kind of gal. I loved everything I tried from Port City Club in Cornelius, which not only sits on the waterfront but has a cute beach area and 15,000+ square feet of space. You can even arrive by boat! For starters, try the mini crab cakes or the signature Fried Zucchini Chips with tzatziki sauce. I bet they will both be the best you’ve ever had.
Then, for your main course, you can’t go wrong with the steaks or pasta, but fewer filling options include fish tacos, the lamb burger (which looks like a gyro but is a bit heartier), and flatbreads. My fave is the Broma flatbread, with Italian sausage, prosciutto, and pepperoni.
A second dinner option is Kindred, in the heart of downtown Davidson. Kindred is a hip eatery with street-front outdoor tables, beautiful craft cocktails, and an eclectic menu. The fried oysters atop a bed of zesty tzatziki are righteous, while the house-made pickles are a real treat.
I chose the English pea pasta dish, which was rich and decadent with toothsome homemade pasta, but the real star of Kindred is the complimentary flower pot milk bread. I cannot stress how amazing this billowy puff of salty goodness was, especially paired with the specialty butter. I’m salivating just remembering how good it was.
Lake Norman runs the gamut from mini-golf and indoor go-kart racing to the NC Auto Racing Hall of Fame, full of racing memorabilia, stock cars, and such. Mooresville is even home to several NASCAR drivers and celebrities. Lazy 5 Ranch is another top choice with animals from all over the world and a petting zoo portion. Animals you may see there include llamas, zebra, lemur, yak, African Watusi, and much more.
Carolina Raptor Center
Perhaps the best family-friendly attraction of all is Lake Norman’s Carolina Raptor Center, a home for owls, vultures, eagles, and other magnificent birds of prey. Admission prices are $12 for adults and $8 for students four and over. Residents of the Raptor Center include spectacled owl, magpie, black and King vultures, golden eagle, and great horned owl.
FYI: A family pass for two adults and four children to the Carolina Raptor Center is only $100 a year. There is also a Raptors Rock summer day camp for those ages 7 to 14.
Historic Latta Plantation
A historical gem in Lake Norman is in the same area as the Carolina Raptor Center. You can take a guided or self-guided tour of Historic Latta Plantation’s grounds, an 1800 plantation house, cabins, and outbuildings. Some barn animals are happy to greet visitors at this living history museum that showcases Carolina backcountry living in the 19th-century.
Fun Fact: Carowinds theme park is one hour south of Lake Norman.
Lake Norman has several parks scattered throughout that are excellent for hiking, birding, biking, and enjoying the great outdoors. Jetton Park, with 104 acres and picturesque formal gardens, is the one I liked the best. A sweet little urban park to walk around, take photos, and admire the fountain, large pond, and frolicking geese is Roosevelt Wilson Park. Parking is easy, which makes it even better.
Boating is second-to-none here in Lake Norman, and you’ll find boat rentals in many places: Cornelius Pontoon Rentals and Saltshaker Marine, to name a few. But, if fishing is what brings you to Lake Norman, head out on the water for a chance to catch your share of striped bass, perch, crappie, and catfish. You can buy bait and fishing needs at Carolina Fishing Tackle in Mooresville.
Darling Downtown Davidson
Downtown Davidson is one of the cutest little downtowns I’ve seen in ages. Sitting across from the pristine Davidson College campus, the shops run the length of a few blocks and offer local shopping, dining, post office, and an enormous library. Main Street Books and The Village Store were my faves.
Davidson’s downtown streets are lined with cozy benches and rockers, planters, and other cutesy things that are photo-worthy. Even the light poles are adorned with decorative flags, adding character and community spirit to the already friendly vibe. Though I didn’t have time to do it all, the places I need to visit on my next Lake Norman trip are to drink coffee at Summit Coffee, eat a hand-crafted sandwich at The Pickled Peach, and shop the Davidson Farmer’s Market.
Back on the Davidson campus, take a sculpture walk to see fantastic larger-than-life works of art, including Common Ground, Waves III, and You, to name a few.
Craft Beer and Cocktails
The brewery scene is strong at Lake Norman. I was blown away by the sour selection (Wormhole, Whiskers on Kittens, Carnaval, and Trash Panda) at D9 Brewing in Cornelius. Sweet Rider, a tangerine session ale, is a great choice for IPA drinkers.
Kindred’s (mentioned above in food) craft cocktails are a force to be reckoned with.
Need a Place to Stay in Lake Norman?
I found the Davidson Village Inn the perfect spot to be in on our Lake Norman travels. Situated in downtown Davidson and within walking distance to the popular shops and eateries, Davidson Village Inn offers luxurious rooms and attentive service. The lobby is warm and welcoming, plus you can experience Vino Society, a wine sampling based on the honor system. It’s pretty impressive!
Rooms are spacious and have every comfort you need, plus I might add that the sheets are the coziest I’ve ever experienced. I honestly could have stayed nestled in my bed all day. Breakfast, Wifi, and parking are included with your stay, and details for check-in, check-out, and during your visit are handled through text messaging, which I found convenient.
You are sure to love the relaxed atmosphere, upscale vibe, and great offerings of this city one hour north of Charlotte. Happy travels.
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Read more about other nearby cities that are great to visit.