Last Updated on December 11, 2023
The wide, red brick sidewalks and repurposed storefronts of Davidson, North Carolina look like a movie set. While you may think all this nostalgia means it’s less sophisticated than Charlotte, twenty-two miles to the south, it’s the exact opposite.
For example, I was surprised to discover there’s a Rodin sculpture, the only one you can touch in the world, in the Belk Visual Arts Center. It is on the campus of Davidson College, the reason the town formed in the first place.
Davidson is a walkable college town with proximity to stunning natural beauty such as Lake Norman and the Latta Nature Preserve. There’s a cool urban winery, a mix of interesting shops, and a James Beard Award semifinalist chef-driven restaurant right on Main Street.
Davidson College is a huge draw and a reason for prospective students and parents to visit the city. Outdoor enthusiasts stop by because of the proximity to Lake Norman, the largest man-made body of fresh water in North Carolina. There are hiking and biking trails close by. The foodies are right behind them.
For a small-town gem, we found some incredible places to eat—including a phenomenal Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning with farm-fresh vegetables, fruit, and prepared items.
From a grab-and-go meal to a retro 50’s diner to an evening so memorable, you’ll want to savor every bite slowly, making sure never to forget that moment in time. Here is why I recommend you spend a little time in Davidson, North Carolina.
Eat Dinner With Joe & Katy
Joe and Katy Kindred moved back to Davidson after their whirlwind careers and world travel. He was a chef in some big-name kitchens in the business, and she was a sommelier. When it came time to focus on family and setting down roots, they brought their talents to his hometown of Davidson and opened Kindred in 2015.
Ever since it has been lightning in a bottle. Kindred draws a steady stream of locals, professors, and parents of coeds. These customers look to dine in a place that isn’t fancy but serves up the kind of food that elevates Southern cuisine just enough to make it homey and comforting but still contemporary.
The menu consists of smaller plates crafted with seasonal ingredients sourced from local farms.
The night begins with the signature milk bread; the warm fluffy goodness arrives with a side of cultured butter that tastes like love in loaf form. Grandfather’s pickles with white onion and Calabrian chilis or a tuna crudo with dots of edible flowers and delicate white asparagus are flavorful starters.
Then, there are the unforgettable crispy oysters with dill yogurt and Calabrian chili oil and homemade plates of pasta. The pasta dishes change except for the squid ink conchiglie with Georgia Royal Red Shrimp, sea urchin butter, and tarragon. That dish stays put because it’s the favorite.
The service is exceptional and so effortless that you don’t want the evening to end, except you know there is a tempting dessert waiting for you. Order the chocolate cake with cream cheese icing, sweet cream ice cream, and sprinkles. You won’t regret a single calorie.
Stroll the Campus
Davidson College has a stunning campus with historic architecture, beautiful landscaping, and ancient trees.
Davidson was founded in 1837, two years after the Concord Presbytery bought 469-acres of land from William Lee Davidson, a churchgoer and planter. The Presbytery had a goal of building a men’s training school to prepare them for the ministry. William asked the Presbytery to name the college after his father, patriot General William L. Davidson. The General was killed during the Revolutionary War.
Davidson College has seen profound changes over the years. Today, the selective, liberal arts school has close to 2,000 students, and more than half are women.
Graduates include Rhodes Scholars, notable alumni in government, law, the arts, and sports. Basketball superstar and Golden State Warrior Stephen Curry was a Wildcat. The Wildcats are a Division 1 sports team and the entire town roots for them.
The Arts are shared with the community and are everywhere on campus. Traveling exhibits and performances arrive yearly to enrich anyone who chooses to enjoy it.
It’s also an excellent way to experience the ever-changing and impressive collection of sculptures that adorn the various buildings around the grounds. The installations change unless a sculpture is presented to the college. The program began in 1993, with the gift of the Auguste Rodin, Jean d’Aire nu, by the Pepper family.
The unveiling was the same day the Belk Visual Arts Center opened. The precious Bronze promoted the idea to share art outdoors for everyone’s enjoyment.
PRO TIP: As you walk around the campus, you can scan your smartphone on the base of every sculpture to hear from the artist and learn more about each piece. You can visit the Belk Center to see the Rodin as well.
Shop on Main Street Davidson
Some of the best gifts are from local artisans. I always enjoy browsing and shopping while visiting a new city. The boutiques carry unique treasures like hand-crafted jewelry, scented candles, home décor, wind chimes, jarred salsa, you name it.
It’s always so special to bring something home from your travels. The shops along Main Street offer so many one-of-a-kind items. Since 1966 The Village Store is the friendly place where out of towners and locals pick up a souvenir, a hostess gift, or remembrance from their visit to Davidson.
Suppose you need something for your hiking, biking, or outdoor adventure? In that case, Davidson Provision Co. has what you need from sunglasses, clothing, and bathing suits. You never know what you left at home until you’ve begun your trip.
If you feel like you need an upgrade to your well-worn outdoor attire. Moxie Mercantile has home decor and personal accessories for the whole family. Local artists are represented in jewelry, pottery, wood, and leather. If you happen to visit on Saturday, there’s a farmer’s market next to Town Hall with all kinds of fresh bread, foods, and produce from nine to noon.
Sip Small Batch Coffee
There is nothing better than a good cup of coffee, especially from a local company with an important mission. Summit Coffee sources coffee from ethical producers, the same farmers, and cooperatives year after year.
They try to find and continually work on their relationships in their supply chain. Summit’s mission statement is paramount. “To treat their employees fairly, source their coffee responsibly, and work with great partners.”
They aim to select and roast the best coffee in small batches in their certified, organic facility in North Carolina.
I can get behind that. They have a couple of franchises, and their store in Davidson is adorable. They serve pastries and prepared food items, but the proof is in the product. When I ordered their coffee, it was hot, fresh, and delicious. Talk about a pick me up.
Sip a Soda
If you love nostalgia, then you will love The Soda Shop. This old-fashioned soda shop has operated since 1951 on Main Street, and it’s a beloved spot for everyone in town. It still has the original fixtures and the “Real Deal” milkshakes.
The homemade recipes keep the regulars coming back like the egg, tuna, chicken salad, pimento cheese, cream cheese and olive, and chili. The chef added vegetarian selections some time ago, but they still have burgers, dogs, wraps, and the fry menu.
Visitors love experiencing the Soda Shop because it’s one of the last of its kind and a fun way to step back in time, if only for a meal.
Sip Wine in Davidson
Lindsey Williams gained a deep appreciation for wine later in life. She moved to Davidson with her son and husband and fell in love with the downtown. It led her to make a passion her profession. She left her day job as a lawyer and opened Davidson’s first urban winery, Davidson Wine Co.
The building was once an organ-making shop, and like most of the storefronts in town, Lindsay repurposed the space and transformed it into a chic tasting room. She sources grapes from the finest growing regions worldwide, which allows her to craft wines with an international flavor.
Currently, the menu reflects famous wines such as Cabernets, Merlots, Chardonnays, and hard-to-find varietals like Petit Verdot and Viognier. The bar also has wine-inspired cocktails and craft beer. The kitchen menu offers small plates inside the gorgeous space or out on the lovely, covered patio.
A Special Davidson Place
After walking Main Street or viewing art on Davidson’s campus, you may want to spend a night or two exploring this beautiful area. The Davidson Village Inn is a special place to lay your head.
This boutique hotel in the heart of town is across the street from Davidson College and only a mile from Lake Norman. The hotel has 18 rooms with 5 different room types. All the accommodations have five-star amenities such as plush towels and linens, L’Occitane bath products, wireless internet, and breakfast, including Summit coffee.
The Innkeepers, Mariano and Caroline Doble, are so warm and welcoming. They’re also very knowledgeable about the area. They can offer helpful tips or suggestions about where to go and what to do while you’re in town.
Paddle Lake Norman
Lake Norman is North Carolina’s biggest man-made lake. It offers 520-miles of shoreline and is more than 50 square miles. It’s only a mile away from the town of Davidson, an easy drive by car.
Once you get to the lake, you can rent a paddleboard, kayak, or larger boat for a more extended experience. Aloha Paddle Sports is a great place to rent a paddleboard or a kayak and get out on the lake for a few hours of fun. The outfit even offers paddle yoga if you are inclined to challenge yourself. I
f you love paddling, the retail side of Aloha Paddle Sports has everything you need to purchase your own board for future outings on the lake.
Visit a Plantation
The Historic Latta Plantation, now part of the Latta Nature Preserve, dates back to the 1800s and is the last remaining Catawba River Plantation open to the public. James Latta was a Scottish-Irish merchant who farmed the 52-acre cotton plantation – scratch that, the cotton was farmed by the enslaved people Latta owned. The site continues struggling with how to recognize its terrible history.
His home, the smokehouse, and eleven outbuildings are on the National Register of Historic Sites. The fields, gardens, farm animals, and interpreters in period dress act as a living history museum.
Events such as battle re-enactments, educational programs, camps, and workshops occur throughout the year. House tours take about 45-minutes. The grounds are self-guided and give visitors a glimpse into 19th-century life in the Carolina backcountry.
The Latta Nature Preserve is a twenty-five-minute drive from Davidson and is a great place to hike. If you spend the day, bring provisions and plenty of water.
Whitewater & Other Adventures
If you have an adventurous spirit, you should head over to the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Opened in 2001, the center has brought people together in the Charlotte area for fun and recreation outdoors.
With 30 different activities, including whitewater rafting, kayaking, ropes courses, zip-lining, flatwater kayaking, and mountain bike trails, the center also hosts Olympic and other competitions plus festivals year-round. It is staffed with fully trained instructors and offers certification for instruction courses.
With 1,300 acres of protected land, the facilities have 50-miles of single-track trails for hiking, running, and mountain biking and provides access to the Catawba River and Long Creek. There are fields for outdoor events and concerts.
You can enjoy a sit-down restaurant, beer garden, four other grab-and-go food stands, and plans to increase that footprint over time to offer additional amenities. Review the website for pass information and enjoy a day in the great outdoors.