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    What We Love About Lake Norman Each Lake Norman town sings with a unique identity and personality. In Cornelius, the town’s three waterfront parks, marinas, and boat rental

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

    What We Love About Lake Norman Each Lake Norman town sings with a unique identity and personality. In Cornelius, the town’s three waterfront parks, marinas, and boat rental

Your Guide to Lake Norman



What We Love About Lake Norman

Each Lake Norman town sings with a unique identity and personality. In Cornelius, the town’s three waterfront parks, marinas, and boat rental companies make it Lake Norman’s unofficial hub for getting out on the water. Davidson’s charm lives in its nostalgic Main Street where historic buildings house locally owned shops and one-of-a-kind boutiques. And in Huntersville, a strong sense of community resonates among the locals, whose interactions still reflect the friendly, close-knit feel of the town’s roots as a cotton mill community in the late 1800s. There’s no need to choose: To explore each town, just follow the southeastern shoreline of North Carolina’s largest man-made lake.


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Cain Center for the Arts: At the heart of Cornelius’ emerging downtown arts district, the Cain Center combines performing arts with education. Programming includes classes — where students can hone their skills in areas like pottery, mixed media, and drawing — and performances in the 400-seat, state-of-the-art theater that hosts jazz ensembles, orchestras, and other performing arts events.

Catch a performance at Cain Center for the Arts in downtown Cornelius. Photography courtesy of Visit Lake Norman

Grab a Drink: Mosey around the historic downtown’s Social District — stretching along Catawba Avenue from Meridian Street to Milling Way — from noon to 10 p.m. You can conclude at Old Town Public House for another round and, if it’s Thursday, bites from an on-site food truck.

The Shoppes at Oak Street Mill: For people who love to spend a morning discovering new treasures, the historic brick Oak Street Mill is a one-stop shop. Don’t miss favorites like Oak Street Mill Antique Mall or Rustic & Main, an American-made, veteran-owned small business that designs and crafts meaningful heirloom wedding rings from historic, sustainable, and rare materials.

Spend a morning shopping for rare and vintage finds at Oak Street Mill before heading out to Lake Norman for an afternoon aboard a luxury charter boat. Photography courtesy of Visit Lake Norman

Boat Rentals: You don’t have to own a boat to appreciate lake life in Cornelius. Through Carolina Cruising Charters, kick back and relax with a U.S. Coast Guard Master Captain at the helm. Luxury boat rental options allow you to customize your trip, whether you’re dreaming of a sunset cruise or a day on the lake. Invite all your friends — their fleet of pontoons can accommodate up to 35 guests.

Boatyard Lake Norman: Squarely at the intersection of live music, burgers, and bingo, this community gathering space packs the fun all day long, thanks to live music performances that keep the entertainment going after the sun sets. In addition to Thursday night Music Bingo, Boatyard hosts tribute bands and local acts on Friday and Saturday nights.





Main Street Shopping: Visitors can easily spend an entire day exploring Historic Downtown Davidson’s charming, tree-lined Main Street. Pop into the independent Main Street Books for a carefully curated selection from Adah Fitzgerald, the owner and Davidson grad. The Village Store has been a sure thing for thoughtful gifts since it opened in 1966. But if home decor is what you’re after, try Dwell Home Supply for irresistible tableware like scalloped wooden bowls, linens, and candles. Be sure to pick up a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers from the on-site Davidson Flower Co. before you leave.

The best way to explore downtown Davidson is to park the car and meander Main Street on foot, giving you freedom to pop into locally owned shops as they catch your eye. Photography courtesy of Visit Lake Norman

Visual Art at Davidson College: There’s no shortage of art on display in and around campus at the college known for its liberal arts. Almost every building on campus boasts a work of art; together, along with the sculpture garden, the collection includes works from more than five centuries. Cap your stroll with a stop into Belk Visual Arts Center, where two galleries showcase works by students, faculty, and international artists.

Spend nice days contemplating the work filling the Sculpture Garden at Davidson College. Photography courtesy of Visit Lake Norman

Davidson Farmers Market: On Saturday mornings, head to Main Street to stock up on homemade pasta and sauces, fresh baked goods, local honey, eggs from free-range chickens, fresh flowers, and more handmade and home-grown goodies available at the weekly farmers market.

Restaurant Row: Head to the north end of Downtown Davidson for a culinary scene that packs a mighty punch. Chef Joe Kindred makes every meal memorable at Kindred, where you don’t have to be a foodie to appreciate the milk bread — a soft, buttery Japanese delicacy that starts each meal. Another stand-out, Flatiron Kitchen + Taphouse’s menu changes with the seasons. Featuring standards like Atlantic salmon and beef stroganoff, the proof is in the preparation — the salmon, for example, is served with spinach leaf, Parmigiana risotto, mushroom tea, and white truffle cloud. Other can’t-miss spots to grab a bite or a beverage include:




Hunter House & Gardens: Out on the veranda, as you sip your Bee’s Knees from Sugar Plum Cocktail Bar, it’s not a surprise to learn the Colonial Revival-style Hunter House was Huntersville’s first to enjoy indoor plumbing, electricity, and a telephone. Here, it feels like the living’s always been easy. Make a reservation for dinner and savor the Southern-inspired cuisine from Chef Justin Morris.

Hugh Torance House and Store: Built in 1779, this historic site holds the distinction of North Carolina’s oldest surviving store. Check their calendar of events for upcoming historic educational experiences, like the HeartSongs event, which highlights George Moses Horton, who was born into slavery and went on to publish a book of poetry.

The beautifully restored Hugh Torance House and Store and modern retailers at the nearby Birkdale Village illustrate how the past meets the present in Huntersville. Photography courtesy of Visit Lake Norman

Birkdale Village: Birkdale Village’s mixed-use community offers visitors and residents immediate access to restaurants, familiar retail options — think Anthropologie, Sephora, Southern Tide, and Williams-Sonoma — and seasonal events on the plaza green, all reachable by foot.

The community-centric atmosphere at Primal Brewery extends to even the smallest and furriest members of your group. Photography courtesy of Visit Lake Norman

Primal Brewery: At this award-winning brewery, community and beer have always gone hand in hand. From IPAs and lagers to stouts and porters, there’s a craft beer for every preference. And when it comes to community, you’ll find your people most every night — bingo Mondays, trivia Tuesdays, wine Wednesdays, and Throwback Thursdays ($5/beer).




Waterfront Parks

Ramsey Creek Park: Starting Memorial Day weekend, anyone’s welcome to take a refreshing dip at Ramsey Creek Beach, one of Lake Norman’s waterfront swimming areas with a lifeguard on duty. If dry land activities are more your speed, you’re in luck: Look for the playground, ADA-compliant fishing pier, and nature trails.

With a lifeguard on duty from Memorial Day through Labor Day, Ramsey Creek Beach is a popular access point for lake play during the summer months. Photography courtesy of Visit Lake Norman

Jetton Park: There’s no swimming at this lake-front park, but you’re still welcome to spread a towel to catch some rays on the sunning beach, or enjoy a picnic in the gazebo, nestled among formal gardens. With biking trails, a shaded 1.5-mile hiking loop, and a playground, there’s a good chance you’ll stay into the evening. Bring along your tennis gear; you can reserve the lighted courts.

Launch your boat, kayak, or paddleboard from the floating piers at Blythe Landing Park. Photography courtesy of Visit Lake Norman

Blythe Landing Park: With six boat launches and floating piers, this is the park to get your vessel out on the water. While there, you can also fish from the shoreline, enjoy an outdoor lunch at the lakefront picnic tables, and play at any of the four sand volleyball courts or playground.



Waterfront Restaurants

Port City Club by David Burke: This waterfront restaurant with Lake Norman views in Cornelius serves steak, seafood, and cocktails. Enjoy fig and prosciutto flatbread with goat cheese, arugula, and balsamic vinegar while dining in the open-air patio, or dig into a plate of sesame-seared tuna while tunes from live musicians fill the dining room.

Oysters on the half shell and peel-and-eat shrimp shine on Hello, Sailor’s seafood-forward menu. Photography courtesy of Visit Lake Norman

Hello, Sailor: In Cornelius, Katy and Joe Kindred (yes, from Davidson’s Kindred) created a casual lake-front spot with a mid-century vibe. Both the ocean and the land inspire its menu, with dishes like crispy buffalo shrimp and the spicy chicken sandwich with a side of crispy and flavorful beef-fat fries.

North Harbor Club: Although this lakeside establishment in Davidson welcomes guests straight from the boats docked out front, its relaxed and quiet elegance befits romantic date nights, as well. The menu ranges from the adult grilled cheese — elevated with fontina, sauteed mushrooms and onions, and house-made tomato jam on sourdough — to the filet mignon, aged and grilled to perfection.




Explore the Outdoors

Latta Nature Preserve: Within the 1,480-acre Latta Nature Preserve, hike, kayak, and fish the day away. The preserve has 16 miles of trails, two kayak launches, and numerous fishing spots along Mountain Island Lake. It’s also home of Carolina Raptor Center, where you can follow the .75-mile Raptor Trail to spot the birds of prey that live here. In addition to the outdoor activities, stop by the admission-free Quest Center, filled with live animals and interactive exhibits.

Town greenways: With many miles built and more to go, the area’s greenways allow active exploration of its scenic towns. Cornelius’ Antiquity Greenway, a completed section of the Emerald Necklace trail loop of town, leads from downtown along an elevated tree-lined boardwalk. Davidson’s six miles of greenways extend from many of the town’s parks and connect to others. The Downtown Greenway is among The Huntersville Vine’s completed segments.

Lake Davidson Nature Preserve: Tucked behind Davidson Day School, the preserve’s Sterling Martin Trail meanders about a half mile along an area of Lake Norman known as Lake Davidson. You can also paddle the 340-acre lake’s calm waters. Kayak, canoe, and paddleboard rentals are available on Saturdays from April to October.



Family-Friendly Activities

Discovery Place Kids: There’s a world of imaginative play at this hands-on children’s museum in downtown Huntersville. Watch as your little ones stock the grocery market shelves, repair a race car, sit behind the wheel of a tractor, and steer a ship. In addition to pretend play, kids can splash at the water table, let their creativity run free in the art studio, and conquer the rock-climbing wall.

Let young imaginations soar at Discovery Place Kids’ interactive center. Photography courtesy of Visit Lake Norman

Frankie’s of Charlotte: Zoom around one of the three go-kart courses, and then try for a hole-in-one at the pirate-themed mini golf course at this huge fun park in Huntersville. Or bowl a few games with your crew on the black-lit lanes. Inside you can also test your laser tag and arcade skills then get your adrenaline pumping on the outdoor amusement rides.

Lake Norman (LKN) Mini Golf: There’s fun for all ages at this family-owned establishment in Cornelius. In addition to the mini golf course where you can putt behind a waterfall, the towering rock-climbing wall begs to be scaled. Cool off with ice cream or choose from more than 80 snow cone flavors before dodging lasers in the maze or throwing axes.

Spark some playful competition by playing a round at LKN Mini Golf, and reward the winner with a snow cone. Photography courtesy of Visit Lake Norman

Indoor amusement parks: In Cornelius, trampolines, a zip line, slides, bumper cars, and obstacles — like a net bridge, a series of punching bags, a row of trapeze-like swings all suspended above a giant ball pit — make for hours of active fun at Urban Air Adventure. Huntersville’s Ninja Nation allows the whole family to live out their American Ninja Warrior dreams. Challenge yourself to complete the obstacle courses, reaching from ring to ring or jumping from one swinging platform to the next, all without touching the floor.

Northern Regional Recreation Center: Make a splash at the fitness center’s family pool. A bright orange slide, surrounded by sprayers and a tipping bucket of water, is sure to catch any kid’s eye. The lazy river loops from an adjacent pool, and in the back corner, stairs lead to the entrance of a waterslide that sends sliders down a two-story spiral.





Loch Norman Highland Games and Amazing Maize Maze: On April 20 and 21, the historic site Rural Hill will host its annual Loch Norman Highland Games, inspired by traditional Scottish games thought to have originated in the Middle Ages. Competitive events range from hammer throwing to Highland dancing, while Celtic rock and traditional music add ambiance to this family-friendly festival. In the fall, the Amazing Maize Maze will return to test your puzzle-solving skills as you navigate two miles of labyrinthine paths through a seven-acre corn field.

’Tawba Walk Arts & Music Festival: The last Saturdays of April and September, Old Town Cornelius Art District showcases all things local, from artisans and musicians to craft brews, food trucks, and businesses. Oak Street Mill, Town Hall, and Catawba Avenue come alive with an eclectic mix of live music from area musicians, street performances by local dance troupes, magicians, and the like, plus free bounce houses and face painting in the Kid Zone.

Charlotte Dragon Boat Race & Asian Festival: Join thousands of locals and visitors celebrating Asian American and Pacific Island culture and heritage at Ramsey Creek Park in Cornelius. Cheer for teams of rowers as drumbeats set each boat’s pace as it zips across Lake Norman. Sample traditional cuisine from Asian countries between races and watch dancers and other performers on stage.

Carolina Renaissance Festival & Artisan Marketplace: Weekends only from October 5 through November 24, enter the enchanting Village of Fairhaven where you’ll be transported to a time long past. Hundreds of costumed villagers create an immersive experience as you wander the artisan marketplace, watch knights joust, and feast on turkey legs. Sixteen stages provide non-stop performances from comedy, vaudeville, and circus acts, as well as musicians and dancers.

Christmas in Davidson: Each year, Davidson’s Main Street transforms into a holiday wonderland, and starting the first Thursday after Thanksgiving, three days of events culminate in a festive parade on Saturday. Vote for your favorite tree in the Giving Tree Village, welcome Santa to town, and enjoy live entertainment as you shop at the specialty shops downtown, many of which offer special treats like reindeer food and children’s art projects to boost your Christmas cheer.



Explore More in Lake Norman

12 Days of Davidson

For more than three decades, the small college town north of Charlotte has been known for its Hallmark-like holiday festival featuring costumed pooches, gingerbread houses, and Christmas trees galore.

The Family That Cooks Together

A family with ties to multiple Latin American countries gathers to break bread. The matriarch prepares the food. Her son-in-law pulls together all of the disparate elements into a Charlotte restaurant dynasty.

Your Place to Play: A Guide to Exploring Lake Norman

What to do and where to eat to make the most of one of North Carolina’s largest lakes, on and off the water.



This story was published on Mar 21, 2024

Lara Ivanitch

Lara Ivanitch is a freelance writer who resides in Raleigh.