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Road Trip! Destination: Charlotte, N.C., for the holidays

| Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Charlotte, the Queen City of the South, is charming at any time of year. The holiday season, though, brings a special glow, literally. Visitors are drawn to the lights and the opportunity for all things NASCAR.

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or

Holidays at the Garden

Nature stars at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Belmont during “Holidays at the Garden,” through Dec. 31.

Organizers go for a modern, yet elegant, showcase of a half-million lights, combining contemporary and traditional displays with accents on nature.

A 16-foot orchid tree is made of more than 300 live orchids. A 30-foot-tall Frasier fir, one of the largest live cut Christmas trees on display in the state, is encircled by a 1:7 scale train.

A fire pit offers warmth and an excuse to roast marshmallows and make s'mores.

Visitors can warm up in the Orchid Conservatory, with its colorful and blooming tropical plants, while taking in a new garden-scale model train exhibit.

Children have the opportunity to visit Santa and make nature-based crafts. Carriage rides are offered.

Details: 704-825-4490;

Speedway holiday

Here's a way to satisfy your NASCAR dreams while firing up your holiday engine.

Charlotte Motor Speedway is the setting for what is billed as one of the largest holiday light shows (3 million lights, count 'em!) in the United States. A new route covers 3.1 miles, winding through the infield of the legendary superspeedway. A drive-the-track experience is an opportunity to take your vehicle for a one-mile spin on the race track.

Other features of this outdoor and indoor experience: a life-size Bethlehem-theme village, a Festival of Trees, the screening of classic holiday films, photos with Santa and marshmallow roasting pits.

The event runs through Dec. 30, excluding Christmas Day.

Details: 800-455-FANS (3267);

On ice

View the city skyline from an outdoor skating rink in the heart of uptown, located on the NASCAR Hall of Fame Plaza.

Bring your own or rent skates for a glide across the 7,000 square feet of cool fun, through Jan. 5. A combination ticket can be purchased for those wishing to tour the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Details: 704-277-2636;

First Night

First Night Charlotte celebrates its fifth annual New Year's Eve family-friendly celebration with dancers, comedians, magicians and musicians, among others, in uptown to ring in 2014.

One of Charlotte's favorite bands, the 11-piece Sol Fusion, takes the stage at 10 p.m. to count down to the New Year in style.

Activities begin with First Night KIDS at noon.

Details: 704-332-2227;

Journey of Faith

The Billy Graham Library holiday experience includes Christmas dinner on selected nights during its run from Dec. 2 to 23.

A live nativity (starting at 5 p.m.) provides a glimpse into the wonder of the first Christmas; a Christmas story time (5 p.m.) is held for kids of all ages; horse-drawn carriage rides wind through light displays.

Carolers and musicians provide a soundtrack.

Come early (noon to 2 p.m.), and pet the animals.

Ruth's Attic is open for Christmas shopping. Holiday goodies, including Mother Graham's pound cake, cinnamon rolls and hot apple cider are on sale in the Dairy Bar.

Reservations for tours of the Journey of Faith will be taken prior to 2:30 p.m.

Details: 704-401-3200;

Christmas Town USA

A small town nestled in Charlotte's near suburbs has a very big heart for the holidays. McAdenville (population: 651) is nationally known, and perhaps even world famous, for the lengths to which townsfolk go for the season.

From traditional decorations to elaborate displays on houses covered with Christmas lights, it's all here and the catalyst for McAdenville crowning itself Christmas Town USA.

It has attracted English filmmakers chronicling Christmas observances and the late artist Thomas Kinkade, who used the community as the model for one of his paintings.

The switch is on from Dec. 2 to 26. An estimated 600,000-plus visitors view the lights yearly on foot or driving (allow 30 to 45 minutes on weekends) the two-mile route, a tradition started in 1956.

The lights, including 375 lighted trees, number in the hundreds of thousands, and crews spend three months to put up and three months to take down the displays.

Christmas Festivals are held in Legacy Park, Elm Street, downtown, on Dec. 2 and Dec. 13.


Famed drivers

After the holidays pass, NASCAR takes the stage front and center again with its Hall of Fame Class of 2014 induction ceremony Jan. 29. The roll call of inductees is an impressive one, with Tim Flock, Jack Ingram, Dale Jarrett, Maurice Petty and Fireball Roberts.

Drivers, celebrities and legends of the sport take the stage at the Charlotte Convention Center, and fans get to take it all in.


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