A look at two years of living in Charlotte (after moving from California)

We’ve been living in Charlotte, North Carolina for two years!

In case you’re new around here, my family and I moved to Charlotte in January 2021, after living in the San Francisco Bay Area in California for eight years. Having lived most of my life in Florida, before California, I found that returning to the East Coast was an easy transition. It was a much easier transition than moving from Orlando, Florida to San Francisco, California, I can tell you that for sure.

We loved our exciting, busy and urban lifestyle for many years in San Francisco, but as time went on, it was clear to us we wanted to move away, and we couldn’t have picked a better place for us to land than Charlotte.

We have zero regrets about our move to Charlotte. And we love it so much, my mom moved here from Florida a few months ago (and she’s loving it too). But, even though Charlotte is the best overall place we’ve ever lived and we truly love it here, there are still some things that could be improved, and I’ll get into those things (along with the good) below in this detailed post on living in Charlotte.

Here are a couple posts you may want to catch up on:

While most of my content on this blog is about lifestyle, fitness or wellness, I find that people come to my blog when searching for information about moving to Charlotte and about living in Charlotte. So I want to be really descriptive and helpful in this post, while also focusing a lot on my personal experiences. And remember, this is my opinion and my experience, so it may not be exactly how you would think of it. 

A look at two years of living in Charlotte (after moving from California)

A look at two years of living in Charlotte (after moving from California) on A Lady Goes West

To begin, I will say that when we first arrived in Charlotte, things were still not back to normal and COVID regulations were still going strong. Our first few months went well, but we didn’t get truly integrated and appreciative of the area until our first summer.

Since that time, while things have not been seamless, overall, the transition has been smooth. We find that Charlotte is an easy place to live. And because I’m from Florida (born and raised and graduated from University of Florida), I was already accustomed to a slower pace and Southern Hospitality vibe, which you definitely find here living in Charlotte. You can do what you want to do conveniently, and that’s awesome.

Now, let’s go through a few topics …

Weather and all four seasons in the Charlotte area

This is the first place I’ve lived that has all seasons, and on the whole, weather in Charlotte is totally lovely. Yes, the summers are hot and humid, and yes, there are cold and grey days in winter, but I like the change. The spring is incredibly gorgeous, and the fall may be my favorite. The leaves turn, the air is crisp, the sun still shines, it’s so beautiful. I enjoy being outside a lot in the spring and fall, with a little bit of pool time in the summer, of course.

If you’re considering moving to Charlotte, you should know that the hot humid summers are hard to take at first. But being that I lived much of my life in Florida, I’ve learned to handle it, even if I do wish it was a little less humid at times. We didn’t have real snow our first winter, but our second winter had actual snowfall here, and we loved it. But Charlotte isn’t truly prepared for a lot of snow, so schools and businesses closed for a snow day on one of the days, which was actually only a little bit snowy.

Brady and Ashley at Hall Family Farm 2022 by A Lady Goes West

(Checking out the pumpkin patch at Hall Family Farm in Lancaster, South Carolina.)

My hair looked a lot better year-round when I lived in the dry San Francisco Bay Area, I must admit. But still, I think I’d choose Charlotte weather over everywhere else I’ve lived.

If you’re planning to move here, you’ll need clothing for all four seasons, and I did not even slightly have enough upon arrival. I’m still catching up and just recently bought a real winter coat after making do for a few cold winters without.

Driving, drivers and construction you encounter while living in Charlotte

I don’t know if people will get mad about this comment, but I’m saying it. There are so many bad drivers out there on the roads in South Charlotte, where I live. Yes, there are tons and tons of great drivers, but I notice the bad ones sticking out a lot more here than I’ve ever experienced in my other cities of residence.

In San Francisco, there were rude and aggressive drivers, but they were effective drivers, mostly. Here, people seem distracted and confused. I’ve seen people turn the wrong way down the street, consistently run red lights at intersections, and stop in the middle of an intersection during heavy traffic. And I hate to say it, but I think it may be rubbing off on me a little.

Ashley and Brady at Discovery Place Science

(Outside Discovery Place Kids Science Center in Uptown Charlotte.)

Also, this is so annoying to me, but in neighborhoods, people park on the wrong side of the street. That was illegal in San Francisco, but it’s normal here. And what I mean is, someone will pull over near the side of the street to park facing the wrong way against traffic. That has not rubbed off on me, and I’m always taken aback when I see it, and I consistently see it. This isn’t a huge deal, but I have to mention it.

Also, one more point of information is that if you’re considering a move to South Charlotte, I will tell you that our main highway is under major construction and has been since we moved here. They have shortened the on ramps so much during construction that your heart tends to skip a beat every time you get on the highway and merge into oncoming traffic.

We also just found out they’re starting construction on a big main thoroughfare that we use daily, and it’s going to significantly impact our driving times to our main spots. I think because Charlotte is growing so much, they’re trying to keep up with the people and cars on the road with expansion, and we’re in the middle of that transition.

Food and restaurants in Charlotte

I think I’ve said this a million times on the blog so far, but here I am saying it one more time. The food is not as good in Charlotte, and even the produce from the grocery store is not as good in Charlotte as it was in California. We were spoiled with eights years in the San Francisco Bay Area, and we got used to incredible food, lush produce available all year, and all the healthy restaurants we could ask for.

While we’ve found some solid spots for healthy lunches and nice dinners, we’ve also been disappointed quite a bit (even most recently this last weekend, we tried a new restaurant that was terrible). But I will say we’re totally used to this aspect, and it’s not that big of a deal.

The Lights Cafe lunch by A Lady Goes West

(This bowl is from The Lights Cafe in South Charlotte, which is really good.)

We usually get food where we know it’s good, and we make food at home. Sometimes we can’t find a good avocado when stopping at two grocery stores, but we deal. We sometimes buy guacamole instead. When people ask me what I miss about the Bay Area, other than a few people, it’s the restaurants — and the not the fancy out-to-dinner ones, but the ones we would go to for lunch or get take-out from for lunch.

I miss the avocado and quinoa salad from Mendocino Farms so much it hurts. For real. I miss the the beets and avocado bowl from Urban Plates. I miss the ancient grains bowl from True Food Kitchen. I miss the salmon plate from Tender Greens. I can picture those meals, and I haven’t found too much that compares around here in South Charlotte. I’m thinking of writing a post about our favorite restaurants around here though, because we’ve found a few good ones through a lot of trial and error.

Community, homes and neighborhoods

Charlotte wins. Charlotte wins. Charlotte wins. There are so many nice beautifully done neighborhoods with a great community vibe. We are in love with our neighborhood (we live in Ballantyne, in South Charlotte), and I’ve visited a lot of other neighborhoods while taking Brady to play-dates and parties. And there are so many nice places to live, where people are friendly, there are community elements like pools and playgrounds, etc. You could not find that in the San Francisco Bay Area at all — because of the cost of living, there weren’t as many nice neighborhoods — certainly not as nice as here. You were hard-pressed to get a sidewalk in the East Bay of San Francisco, to be totally honest.

And here, our house is twice the size of the one we lived in California, yet we paid only 60 percent of the price for it. And if you want to find a nice, reasonably priced house, in a solid neighborhood where people are likely to be friendly, you can do that easily here, and that’s a huge win.

Kitchen refresh by A Lady Goes West

(Our house was built in the 1990’s, so we did a kitchen refresh this summer, shown above.)

Housing prices are going up in Charlotte, as more and more people move here (on my street, we have three families who have moved from California to Charlotte in the last two years), but mostly, it’s not outrageous, like it was in California.

Our house is a huge part of why we love it here so much, because we do spend a lot of time at home. It’s just a game changer. And if you are living in a pricy urban environment in a small home, you’ll find the change to a place like Charlotte is so big. It makes every day better, waking up in such a nice space that you call your own.

Scenery and proximity to better scenery just outside Charlotte

On the whole, Charlotte is not super scenic. There are no mountain views in the distance, white sandy beaches or incredible forests (at least that I’m aware of in Charlotte proper) in your backyard. And while initially, I didn’t like that, I feel like the beauty of our neighborhood and the many neighborhoods probably makes up for that, and I’ve totally gotten used to it. In our California house, we saw mountains in the distance when sitting outside, and we could be to an awesome hiking area in five minutes. You don’t get quite get that here, but yet … you still get beauty.

And Charlotte is centrally located to a lot. In fact, Charlotte is driving distance to nice mountains, driving distances to beaches, and of course, there is a lake-life situation in North Charlotte too. I will admit we don’t spend much time in North Charlotte, and I know people love it there, but we were set on landing in South Charlotte, and I’m 100 percent happy with that choice.

Family at egg hunt by A Lady Goes West-2

(Enjoying an Easter egg hunt at our local country club.)

There are lots of “greenways” for walking, which are areas of nature within developed regions. A lot of the greenways connect in South Charlotte, which is pretty cool, and I’ve heard rumors they will be connected even further sooner. 

There are also a ton of parks for exploring, walking or playing, and we used to be better about spending time at them during our first year here. My personal favorite park in Charlotte is Freedom Park (in Uptown), but I also like Park Road Park and even the private park in our neighborhood, which we can walk to in 10 minutes.

If you’re a hiker, you can be somewhere fabulous in an hour and you can be in the Appalachian Trail in less than three hours. We’ve not done a great job making day-trips to nearby places, but we have been to Asheville, and we’re finally hoping to get out to the Carolina beaches this summer. 

One point about Charlotte is this: Charlotte falls within an area called The Piedmont region, and that’s a region located between the coastal plain and the mountains. So by definition, you don’t get either of those things here, but you’re right in the middle of them.

Family friendly vibe and things to do while living in Charlotte

It’s worth repeating that Charlotte is very family friendly, and this is a big thing for quality of life. Restaurants have kids menus. There are plenty of great playgrounds. There are lots of sports leagues and summer camps. There are festivals and events and more. The schools are really good (with plenty of public and private options). It’s just easy to have a family here. And we love that.

We’ve found that this is an incredible place to have a 5-year-old, and we’ve kept very busy with activities since being here. While I don’t think Charlotte gets the super-cool-culture award for offerings like San Francisco did, this is better for us in this stage of life with a young son. And once again, my experience is based on my experience alone. If Dave and I didn’t have Brady, I don’t know that we’d be in our neighborhood in South Charlotte living the life we are — it all makes sense and works for us because we have a young child and that’s such a big focus for us.

Brady on a slide by A Lady Goes West

(Sliding down one of the many playground slides around in South Charlotte after a youth soccer game.)

Sure, we miss the amazing music festivals and wine country events that we frequented back in the San Francisco Bay Area, but those weren’t things that made up the quality of our daily life. And that’s why our transition to Charlotte has gone so well. We can separate out “nice to have on occasion” with “really necessary for daily life,” if that makes any sense. The stuff we need and do on the daily is really good here. Sure, I miss wine country. Sure, I miss some San Francisco restaurants and scenic areas, but that’s not my everyday anyhow.

Also, I’ve said this before, and it’s worth repeating, because I want to report on my experiences. Based on what I was used to in California, to me, it seems like a lot of people have larger families in Charlotte than what we’ve been used to be around. And that may just be the stage of life we’re in, but it’s a lot of families and families with more than two children.

Family Halloween 2022 by A Lady Goes West

(All dressed up for Halloween 2022.)

This is not a pro or con of Charlotte, it’s just a comment. The reason: Everything here is family oriented and family friendly, the housing is more affordable, and I think that may make people grow their families more than they would in a larger city or urban environment.

The people living in Charlotte

Once again, let’s remember that this is my experience alone. But people are nicer here. And I like it. There will always be a change in demeanor/vibe when you move from a city setting to a more suburban setting, and I get that. No, not everyone is nice here, and I still encounter rude people here and there. But mostly, people are more polite and welcoming.

It was so easy to make great friends here, all based on me talking to one lovely mom at the park one day, who got the ball rolling for my current group of friends. I love my group of friends, and we all live super close to each other, which is very convenient too. I even wrote a post about making friends here.

BCC holiday party ladies shot by A Lady Goes West

(Getting fancy for a holiday party with friends.)

While Charlotte isn’t super Southern, it does have a Southern Hospitality vibe at times, and I’m down for the politeness. People are more likely to hold doors for each other. People are more likely to smile and say hi walking down the grocery store aisles. People are more likely to chat you up at the park. I found that the California way was to keep to yourself more, and that was okay for a while, but that’s not really in my nature, so this way works better for me.

Thoughts on where to live

After two years of living in Charlotte, I will be the first to admit, I’m not an expert on all the Charlotte areas. I’m more of an expert in my own South Charlotte area. But I will say that there are many great places to live.

You have the urban Uptown area (which is downtown, but it’s called “Uptown”), and there are a lot of different and nice surrounding neighborhoods there too. If you want a high-rise you can find that. If you want a tiny historic house in a walkable area, you can find that. And if you want a sprawling lot away from the hustle and bustle, you can find that too. It really depends on what you want.

North Charlotte has a lake and some more remote areas, South Charlotte has some nice areas too, with all the essentials nearby. We knew that Dave’s job would be in South Charlotte, so that made the decision for us, because we didn’t want him to repeat the more-than-an-hour-each-way commute he had been doing in San Francisco.

Our fam at a soccer game by A Lady Goes West

(Brady’s first professional soccer game at Bank of America Stadium in Uptown.)

We live just three minutes from Publix, four minutes from Sprouts, 10 minutes from Brady’s preschool, 10 minutes from Target, 15 minutes from my gym, Life Time, and 20 minutes from a really nice mall. That’s not bad at all. We probably go to Uptown every other month or so for an activity, and depending on the time we go, it usually takes 25 to 30 minutes to get there. We can also get to the airport in 20 minutes, which is nice. All of that being said, we have everything we could possibly need nearby. Even if I wouldn’t mind a couple more healthy lunch restaurants and another Nordstrom Rack, you know?

A few random things to mention about living in Charlotte …

  • There are a lot of churches. I’ve never seen so many churches in my entire life. On the short drive to Brady’s preschool, I pass 10 churches. And he goes to school at a church.
  • A lot of people work in finance. There are a lot of financial institutions with headquarters in Charlotte, and we meet so many people who are involved in that industry.
  • There are a lot of SUVs. If you’re in a parking lot in South Charlotte, usually 80 percent of the cars are SUVs. Perhaps it’s the big family thing, or the fact that people aren’t commuting as much here, but a lot of people have a big vehicle. That means parking lots are packed, and people are often not in the lines.
  • It’s not as health focused. While I do work as a group fitness instructor and spend a lot of time with fitness-minded people, I wouldn’t consider Charlotte a “healthy city” on the whole. That doesn’t mean you can’t be healthy, of course, but it’s not set up to encourage healthy habits like the Bay Area was.
  • There are bugs. In California, we could sit outside without a screened-in porch all year, and you can’t do that here. That’s a bummer for us, especially for Dave, who loves to sit outside at night. It’s too cold in the winter, and the bugs are bad in the summer. 
  • Charlotte is pretty diverse, and I like that.
  • South Charlotte is only a few minutes from the South Carolina border. We sometimes go to stores in another state, and I always find that funny.

Easter Sunday 2022 family hike by A Lady Goes West

(A peaceful, but less-than-scenic hike at Anne Springs Close Greenway in South Carolina.)

Overall thoughts on two years of living in Charlotte

Hands down: Charlotte is my favorite place I’ve ever lived. We’ve never been so happy with our surroundings or community as we are here.

We chose the perfect neighborhood for our little family, and where we live and our home is a major part of our happiness. No, it’s not perfect. There will always be things better about other places, but Charlotte has quality of life — and that’s something you can’t put a price on. It’s easy to live here. People are friendly. There’s plenty to do. You get all four seasons. And you can drive to more scenic destinations in just a couple hours. We hope to stay here for a very long time. And I would love to have some of our other friends move here, so we’ll continue that campaign moving forward. 

If you’re here on this page because you’re considering a move to Charlotte, I hope you found the information helpful. Remember that my experience is unique to me, so I hope you put it in your back pocket and use your intuition to decide if Charlotte is right for you.

And that concludes our post on two years of living in Charlotte. Thank you so much for spending your time on this blog today. Have a wonderful rest of your day, friend. 🙂 xoxo -Ashley

Pitt family December 2022 by A Lady Goes West

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14 Comments

  1. Oh I loved this one, Ashley! As a Northern CA girl that has now lived in Charlotte for over 10 years, I agree with so many of your comparisons. Would love to hear more thoughts on your bullet point that CLT is not as health conscious as CA. I do tend to agree with that; some restaurants here, like barbecue ones have “Mac n cheese” under the Vegetable Side category- ha! But besides food, what else makes you think that?

    1. Hi Amy! Thank you so much for reading and saying hi! I’m glad you agree with my points! Great question! I think the reason I don’t think of Charlotte as “health conscious” is because where I live in South Charlotte, there aren’t a ton of gyms and studios (thank goodness I work at Life Time and have that for all my fitness needs, but it’s pricey, and so it wouldn’t work for everyone), there aren’t as many healthy quick restaurants, nothing is set up to be walkable (you have to drive everywhere), and I still see people smoking and littering, which is a shock to me. Also, although there are cool cryo recovery places popping up here and there, overall I don’t feel like there are a lot of establishments to support healthy activities — or maybe I’m missing them? Once again, my word is not the gospel — it’s just my general feeling! I’d love your thoughts too!

  2. Hi Ashley! I’m a long time reader, so thanks for continuing to show up for us who read and never comment (sorry!)! I live in Greenville, SC so I feel so close to you! My husband and I have spent some time in Charlotte, but not a ton and it’s definitely an area we need to explore more! If you haven’t been to Greenville, SC I highly recommend you andy our family check it out. I may be biased, but it’s pretty great and so many things to do here! Thanks again for always sharing!

    1. Hi Alicia! You are so sweet, so thank you for reading and saying hi! I would LOVE to check out Greenville — we haven’t spent hardly any time in South Carolina other than the few restaurants and stores near the state line, and we need to. Thanks for the reminder. Have a wonderful day! 🙂 xoxo

  3. Greenville is a great place to check out. We lived in Columbia, SC which is another spot I recommend. The downtown area has a great children’s museum – Edventure, The SC State Museum and our boy’s favorite a few years later – Riverbanks Zoo. Not only is the zoo fun but there’s a section with splash pads, gardens, etc and you can make a day of it there. Now back to S Charlotte! I agree, this is our best (and final) move! We love it here. We’ve made friends who are like family. So many pluses that the other things like food (we’re from Chicago) we indulge in during our visits! As far as how health focused it is, I see your point with the lack of healthy restaurants/driving vs walking. I work in a medical office and this might be a small percentage but we get lots of people looking to not only feel better but do better. As my hubby likes to say getting back to being a participant, not a spectator in life. Lol

    1. Hi Joanna, I love the idea of “a participant, not a spectator in life” — so cool! We totally need to go to Greenville and Columbia — thanks for all these tips. And I’m so happy you’re happy here and are settled in. Thank you so much for sharing, and we need to meet in person one day! 🙂 xoxo

  4. From one Charlotte transplant (also by way of Gainesville, FL, coincidentally) to another – you’ve pretty much summed up Charlotte perfectly! The churches, the bad drivers in SUVs (with church bumper stickers!), and the banker bros…

    I live in a pretty walkable area so I find it a bit more health-conscious, but because we’re overall a very car-reliant city it really does sequester workouts to the gym. But food-wise, we do have a pretty diverse dining scene, particularly on the Eastside (they’re just often overlooked). I found it incredibly helpful to create a dedicated restaurants list in Google Maps to save places I wanted to try!

    1. Hi Alyssa! Thanks for saying hi and greetings from down in Ballantyne! And thanks for sharing your experience a bit with me! I’m well aware that there are so many more areas I need to explore and food I need to eat in greater Charlotte, and I haven’t done a great job of branching lately. However, we just went to Flower Child in South End yesterday and loved it. I have a running list on my phone of places to try, so feel free to give me some recs to add to the list. How long have you lived in Charlotte?

      1. Flower Child is delicious – and it’s so easy to make two meals out of one! I’ve lived here just over three years, and I’m so glad I took a chance on Charlotte.

        Most of my food recommendations skew international, but here are are a few: Calle Sol, Curry Gate, Ilios, Fonda las Tarascas, Yume, Bardo, Living Kitchen, Enat Ethiopian, Yunta, Livy’s Pizza… I could go on, but I’ll stop!

  5. I’m so glad I stumbled upon your blog after googling, “moving to Charlotte!” My husband and two kids are planning a move to Charlotte this summer from the Chicago area and are in the stage of trying to figure out what area we want to focus our home search on. We actually were in town this past weekend and looked at a few houses in Ballantyne! It seems like a great area so was happy to see that you and your family have been happy there. If you have any insight on kid friendly neighborhoods, feel free to share! We don’t know anyone down there so feel a little overwhelmed! Thanks!

    1. Hi Becca! That’s exciting you are moving to Charlotte in the summer — it will be hot, but we do get all the seasons. We love Ballantyne and are 100 percent glad we landed here, also not after knowing much! There are SO many great neighborhoods that are kid-friendly. I think ours is one, and there’s also Beverly Woods, Country Club Estates, Providence Plantation, Landsdowne and pretty much anything that shoots off along Providence Road. Do you have a realtor yet? I’d highly recommend mine, if you need one. The public schools in most areas of Charlotte are great, and that’s what we do, there are also lots of privates (but you may have missed the boat there, because the interview process for next year is already over, from what I understand). We lived in an AirBnB for 30 days to find a house, and you may consider landing in a short-term so you can be on the ground when you arrive. Best of luck to you!

      1. Thanks so much for your response! I’m so happy to hear that you are happy in Ballantyne. I think we’ve got it narrowed down to Ballantyne and Providence Plantation. Both areas seem to have so many great aspects. We looked in Ballantyne Country Club and love that if we joined, our kids could ride their bikes to the pool all summer! I’m also loving seeing some of your restaurant recommendations. I feel like we’ll have a list of places to try once we get down there!

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