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Urban Explorer's Handbook 2006 

A few of our favorite, off-the-beaten-track hot spots

Anne Springs Close Greenway. It's technically in Fort Mill, but it's a great park with 2,300 acres of forests, lakes and pastures that no one seems to know about. The 32 miles of trails are ideal for hiking, cycling or finding spots to picnic and fish (catch of the day available to members only). Located near exit 90 off of I-77.; 803-548-7252.

AREA 15. This artist's warehouse space is located in that big building at 15th Street and North Davidson that's home to several artists' studios and a bicycle recyclery. Come check them out during one of their open house nights, held on the 15th of every month. Bring a drum.

Jeff's Bucket Shop. It's downstairs in a tiny strip mall on Montford Drive -- and it's the home of those Fun, Freaky People parties. Know what we're talkin' bout? Whether the DJ is spinning house or hip-hop or it's one of the popular karaoke nights, expect the unexpected. 1601 Montford Drive. 704-525-0425.

La Canasta Dominicana. Do you like those overly dramatic Spanish-language soap operas? How about the rich splendor of Mofungo? Then run, don't walk, to this Dominican restaurant hidden in an East Charlotte strip mall. 4808 Central Ave. 704-536-0009.

Victory Lane Indoor Karting Center. An indoor 1/3-mile paved track right off Statesville Road where you can drive souped-up "karts" that can run up to 40mph. 2330 Tipton Drive.; 704-377-FAST.

Visart. This video/DVD rental store may win the critics' Best of Charlotte award annually, but considering so many readers still hand the prize to that dying dinosaur Blockbuster every year means not enough Charlotteans are taking advantage of Visart's awesome inventory. From musicals to Italian imports to Spike Lee, no genre, foreign country or filmmaker is ignored. And their selection of alternative cinema rules. 1945 E. Seventh St. 704-343-3031.

Book Buyers. Why spring top dollar for a hardcover (or paperback, for that matter) when you can snag it at a cut-rate price at this exemplary used bookstore? The selection is astonishing, whether your taste runs to John Steinbeck classics, glossy travel books or dog-eared Hardy Boys adventures. 1308 The Plaza. 704-344-8611.

Sub One Hoagie House. Cheap and delicious. No need to pay $5.50 for an assembly-line sub when this place offers 20 sub selections for about $3.50. A hot steak or a cold Italian is the way to go. 516 N. Graham St. 704-376-9211.

Heck-Ya Coffee. A former bike courier took over the North Davidson coffee shop that leases space in McGill Rose Garden. The cyclist influence is everywhere, from the decor to the clientele. 940 N. Davidson.

Murphy's Tavern Food & Spirits. This ain't the place to go for a $10 martini. Murphy's is a serious drinker's bar, a laid-back joint where the Rev. Karl takes over on Wednesday night for karaoke. For comparison, think Homer Simpson's beloved Moe's crossed with Cheers. 4630 Old Pineville Road. 704-527-8002.

Reggae Central. If you want the riddims, you get them here, mahn. 1506 Central Ave.; 704-377-2782.

Kabob Grill. You may have seen it in the Harris Teeter shopping center -- on your way to Dilworth Coffee House. Its falafel, hummus and, yes, kabobs make it East Boulevard's doorway to the Middle East. 1235 East Blvd. 704-371-8984.

James Polk birthplace. Just an old cabin and museum in Pineville. 12031 Lancaster Hwy., Pineville. 704-889-7145.

Lunchbox Records. Now that a big corporate chain is buying out the once-great Manifest Records, the best indie music store in CLT is the stalwart Lunchbox Records. 1419-A Central Ave.

CCA British Foods. It's becoming easier to find Jumex juices and exotic Asian spices around town, but it's a bit harder to locate Fairy Liquid, Weetabix, Gripe Water or tinned Kippers. Not impossible, though. CCA carries foodstuffs, gift items and toiletries from the across the pond. 2717 South Blvd. 704-586-1573.

CD Warehouse. Pssst! Want in on a secret? Manifest may have the reputation as the place to sell your used CDs and DVDs, but if you want the most money for your trade-ins, folks in the know head to this company's outlets. 7651 Pineville-Matthews Road (704-542-7778); 601 S. Kings Dr. (704-333-3472); 7309 E. Independence Blvd. (704-532-9143).

Trendy Nails. Nail shops are all over town, and this one's really off the beaten track on Lancaster Highway. But you can get a manicure, pedicure, acrylics, gels and specialty nail art and appliqués -- even a massage -- here. And the place is super clean, the people are friendly and the prices are way reasonable. 12744 Lancaster Hwy, Pineville. 704-540-0905.

The Rat's Nest. A great vintage boutique on 36th Street just around the corner from the Evening Muse. Plus, on warm gallery crawl nights they always have live music either out from or in the backyard. 442 East 36th Street.

Spanish Grocery Store. OK, we forgot the name (how off the beated track is that?), but you can't miss this little mercado in a strip mall on South Boulevard just south of Woodlawn on the left side of the road, between Walgreen and the Waffle House. How's that for specificity? All except for the name. But who cares when you can find mangoes this big for this cheap! Happy hunting.

Thanks to Timothy C. Davis, J. Schacht, Ann Wicker, Sam Boykin and Little Shiva for their suggestions.

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