20 creative Charlotte-area dates under $20

20 creative Charlotte-area dates under $20
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Cost: FREE (with optional $9.99 pro upgrade)
Location: everywhere

Geocaching is the world’s largest treasure hunt. Download the app (free intro or $9.99 pro version), follow the clues and find hidden geocaches all over town. The geocache itself is a physical item (often a log book or a box filled with “treasures”) hidden by another game participant. There are 4,960 geocaches around Charlotte so get hunting.

geocaching map charlotte

Shelby Sunset Drive-In

Cost: $12 per car (cash only, no ATM on location)
Location: 3935 W. Dixon Boulevard, Shelby NC 28152 (1 hour from Charlotte)


This is a bit of a hike from Charlotte but for an authentic retro drive-in experience, it’s your only option. Take advantage of the drive by making a special playlist. Spend your remaining $8 on snacks at the concession stand. Sunset is currently closed for the winter season and will reopen in the spring.

photo via Facebook

photo via Facebook

Budget pizza & beer

Cost: $7 whole pizza, $2 craft beers (Monday only)
Location: 1015 Providence Road, Charlotte NC 28207

If you’re too good to hang out in a grocery store, we’re probably not friends (let alone potential future lovers). On Mondays the Harris Teeter in Myers Park serves up $7 whole pizzas and $2 craft beers from 4 to 8 p.m. in the upstairs bar. I see absolutely nothing wrong with this.

Harris Teeter Bar

Cafe game night

Cost: up to $20
Location: your favorite cafe

BYO board game to Amelie’s, Central Coffee, The Gallery or wherever your favorite cafe may be and settle in for a night of friendly competition. Spend your $20 on an assortment of desserts to sample.

Central Coffee cold brew

Budget wine & cheese

Cost: $5 wine tasting (Tuesdays in Plaza Midwood)
Location: Common Market, 2007 Commonwealth Avenue

Drop the “I know so much about wine” act at the door and enjoy a laid back sampling of 4 wines for $5. You can also build your own cheese plate with 3 cheeses, fruit, crackers and jam for $6. Or skip the tasting all together and just buy your own bottle from the retail section to enjoy on site. They’ve got lots of cheap options.

photo via Facebook

photo via Facebook

Public Art Walking Tour & Scavenger Hunt

Cost: FREE
Location: Uptown (Arts & Science Council, 227 W. Trade Street)

The Arts & Science Council created a self-guided public art walking tour complete with a map and an optional 45-minute podcast download. (You two can share headphones. How cute.) Your tour starts at W. Trade and Poplar and ends at 3rd Street Station. If you want to bypass the audio guide and make it more of a game, give the scavenger hunt a try instead. They give clues (and answers) to lead you to 17 different art installations. Print your own maps or pick them up at the ASC office.


Arcades at Abari

Cost: up to $20
Location: Abari, 1721 N. Davidson Street

Get to know each other over the video games you played as a kid. They’ve got retro pinball machines, arcades and even a living room set up with Mario Kart. Blow all $20 on games or save a few bucks for the $1.50 PBRs. NOTE: Abari’s grand opening is March 26, 2016.

abari pinball machines

Saturday morning doughnut drive

Cost: up to $20 depending on what you get
Location: 3 to 5 of your favorite doughnut spots (see my suggestions below)

Fill a travel mug with coffee at home and then hit the road to assemble the ultimate Charlotte doughnut sampler. Get out early because a lot of these sell out. You can pick and choose your own stops and doughnut selections (our Charlotte doughnut ranking might help) but if you ask me, this is how to do it: classic glazed doughnut from Suarez Bakery ($0.95), whatever catches your eye on Sugar’s rotating daily menu ($2.25 – $4), build a surprise specialty doughnut for each other at Duck Donuts ($1.20 each), grab whatever isn’t sold out at Carolina Doughnuts ($1.50 to $2 each, only open Saturdays 8 a.m. until sold out at Carolina Regional Farmers Market).

Let’s assume you’ve spent $10 on doughnuts at this point. Spend your remaining $10 on fancy lattes and then set up shop at Romare Bearden Park or Freedom Park for a picnic sampling of your purchases.

photo via Suarez Bakery

photo via Suarez Bakery

Open Mic Night at Puckett’s Farm Co.

Cost: no cover; whatever you spend on drinks
Location: Puckett’s Farm Co., 2740 W. Sugar Creek Road

This old hardware store is actually a bar. You could head over any night to shake up your usual Charlotte bar routine or stop by on Mondays from 8:30 to 11 p.m. for open mic night.

photo via Facebook

photo via Facebook

photo via Facebook

photo via Facebook

Walk the Rail Trail

Cost: FREE
Location: South End, along the Blue Line

If hiking isn’t your thing, this urban stroll might be more your speed. The 4.5-mile trail along the Blue Line is dotted with art, restaurants and retail shops. Free and cheap stops along the way include $2 mimosas at All American Pub on the weekends, $2 tacos at Hot Taco on Tuesdays, Charlotte Trolley Museum and the ‘Before I Die’ wall. Atherton Market would be a good stop for snacks and coffee at Not Just Coffee. You can read my guide to 15 stops along the Rail Trail here.


Explore Belmont

Cost: $5 distillery tour, $5 milkshake, $2 coffee
Location: Muddy River Distillery (1500 River Drive, Belmont NC), Belmont General Store (6 N. Main Street, Belmont NC) and Caravan Coffee (7 S. Main Street, Belmont NC)

This is my favorite small town to explore just 20 minutes west of Charlotte. Start with a $5 tour at Muddy River Distillery. They offer 30-minute tours every hour on the hour on Saturdays and no reservation is required. You get a souvenir shot glass and samples of their line of rums. From there, head into downtown Belmont for a cheap caffeine pick-me-up at Caravan Coffee. (Their iced coffee is only like a dollar and change.) Stroll around and explore the shops (the Piccolo Antique mall is a MUST) and then wrap up your day with a milkshake or float to share (two straws, how cute) at Belmont General Store.

Want more? Read my whole guide to downtown Belmont here.

belmont general store

Carolina Raptor Center

Cost: $10/adult
Location: 6000 Sample Road, Huntersville NC 28078

This will take up your whole $20 budget but it’s fun if you and/or your date geek out over birds of prey. The $10 general admission gets you access to the 3/4-mile outdoor nature trail home to 25 different species of birds, Meet the Raptor presentations (11 a.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday) and vulture feedings (12:30 p.m. Saturday). And since you’re already up there, you could hang around and hike the trails at Latta Plantation afterwards.

katie levans carolina raptor center

Classic Black Cinema Series at Harvey B. Gantt Center

Cost: $9/adult
Location: Harvey B. Gantt Center, 551 South Tryon Street, Charlotte NC

This film series, curated and hosted by Felix Curtis, was “specifically designed as a vehicle to expose the community to the vast artistic value black film has had throughout the years.” It’s hosted monthly at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The film series is free with $9 museum admission so you can also explore the exhibitions before or after you watch.

Gantt Center Charlotte

Hike the trails at USNWC

Cost: $5 parking
Location: U.S. National Whitewater Center, 5000 Whitewater Center Parkway, Charlotte NC

The Whitewater Center is, of course, known for its water adventures, but they also have more than 20 miles of woodland trails. The best part? Access to the trails is free. Just pay $5 for parking. You can spend your remaining $15 budget on drinks and snacks. (Yes, trails are dog friendly.)


Figure drawing at Twenty Two

Cost: FREE but bring your own materials and plan to drink
Location: Twenty Two, 1500 Central Avenue, Charlotte NC

Kiss traditional dates goodbye and head to a nude figure drawing class. The event takes place every Monday night from 7 to 9 p.m. at Twenty Two in Plaza Midwood. (That’s why the curtains are always closed on Mondays. The more you know.) Bring your own sketch pad and pencils and see who can create the best art. Spend your $20 on beer and wine. Photos strictly prohibited.

Twenty Two

Sayword Tuesdays at The Tavern

Cost: FREE
Location: The Tavern, 300 E. Morehead Street, Charlotte NC

Stop by The Tavern on Tuesdays for this spoken word open mic event. Tuesday’s food special is a budget-friendly $4.95 grilled veggie sandwich with fries and $3 OMB Copper drafts.

photo via Facebook

photo via Facebook

Host your own Iron Chef challenge

Cost: $20 spending limit
Location: Super G Mart, 7323 E. Independence Boulevard, Charlotte NC

Head to the Super G so you can each select a surprise exotic ingredient for the other to prepare. (Not familiar with this international grocery store? Read all about it here.) Each person gets just $10 to buy ingredients for their dish to prepare back at home. Make it even more interesting by setting a shopping time limit so you have to run around the store like lunatics. Be prepared to possibly order takeout at the end of this journey.

super g produce

Wall Poems walking tour

Cost: FREE
Location: Uptown

Wall Poems of Charlotte is a project-in-residence program that paints stylized murals of poems by North Carolina poets on the sides of buildings. You can use my map to find them all and take pictures at each one along the way for a little digital keepsake. Since this is a free activity, I’d definitely start or end the day with coffee and snacks from 7th Street Public Market that you can enjoy across the street at First Ward Park.

Wall Poem Dandelion Market

STAX Boot Camp

Cost: FREE
Location: STAX, 3722 S. Tryon Street, Charlotte NC

This is hands down one of my favorite workouts in town and it’s completely free. Class takes place every Monday and Wednesday from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on the rugby fields behind STAX. You can read all about class here. Spend your $20 on post-workout smoothies ($8 each) at Luna’s Living Kitchen. (Seriously, it’ll take all 20 of your dollars.)


Taco Tuesday at Sabor

Cost: $1 tacos
Location: Sabor, 415 Hawthorne Lane, Charlotte NC

I can’t think of a cheaper dinner option than $1 tacos on Tuesday night. You could get 3 tacos each ($1 each), 2 margaritas ($4.95 each), 2 sides of chips ($1.25 each) and the free salsa bar with your $20 budget. Hello.

margaritas sabor latin street grill


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