The Charlotte metropolitan area continues to grow. Shopping centers, bigger highways, more people. But twenty-five minutes south of the Queen City, Fort Mill remains a peaceful bastion of local retail shops, restaurants, and entertainment. It’s the perfect place to escape the city and return to small town charm for an evening or an entire weekend.
Founded in 1873, the town was named after a British frontier fort that protected the local Catawba Indians, which was named after Webb’s Mill, one of the early grist mills in the area. Fort Mill discovered its destiny just a decade later when Samuel Elliot White founded Spring Industries – one of the first textile companies in the region that still exists today.
Discover a few things to do when visiting Fort Mill, from outdoor recreation to food and local shopping.
Visit the Fort Mill History Museum
Begin the exploration of the town with a visit to the Fort Mill History Museum. The small museum is located inside a charming two-story house with a covered front porch. Inside, historical artifacts, black and white photos, and interpretive panels tell the story of Fort Mill’s history.
Get Samples at the PuckerButt Pepper Company
In 2013, Ed Currie was awarded the Guinness World Records title for World’s Hottest Chili. He named the pepper the Carolina Reaper – a perfect name for a pepper measuring 1.64 million Scoville Heat Units.
Currie opened a small shop in downtown Fort Mill – the PuckerButt Pepper Company – where he sells the infamous Carolina Reaper along with a large assortment of other peppers. Jars of hot sauces, marinades, and salsas are stacked on wire metal shelves from floor to ceiling. A small tasting area allows visitors a chance to sample some of the products before committing to buying – including Currie’s pepper.
Grab Coffee at Olive’s Mud Puddle
Debbie Whitsett waited a long time to find the right place to open a clay pottery studio in Fort Mill. Olive’s Mud Puddle – named after her favorite pet duck – is the only place in town where visitors can take pottery classes, browse local artwork, and get a fresh coffee.
Along with Whitsett’s own pottery, the gallery features juried artwork from locals. Exhibits change periodically, giving visitors a reason to come back again and again. Of course, lively entertainment from local bands and comfortable tables and chairs are another reason to visit the small shop on Main Street.
Catch a Show at the Fort Mill Community Playhouse
In 1980, Robert Reid, Steve McCrae, and dozens of other local residents produced Fort Mill’s first public play, Spring for Sure. Encouraged by the positive reaction, the group formed the Fort Mill Community Playhouse as a non-profit to produce performances throughout the year.
Over the next thirty years, plays were held at the local high school, a temporary circus tent in a park, and a small downtown building. In 2016, the non-profit to their current location and produced The Honky Tonk Angels.
Several plays, performances, and concerts are produced throughout the year in the small and cozy theater within walking distance of local shopping and dining on Main Street.
Enjoy Downtown Dining
Friday and Saturday nights are the most difficult time of the week to find parking in downtown Fort Mill. It’s not because of concerts or plays at the Community Playhouse. Instead, it’s because of the food. Fort Mill is only a few blocks long – paling to nearby Rock Hill – but it packs four fantastic restaurants in the small town.
Local Dish was one of the first restaurants to arrive downtown. The family-owned restaurant uses local ingredients in most meals they describe as “elevated southern cuisine.”
Hobo’s is the most recognizable restaurant in Fort Mill because of the iconic outdoor patio at the edge of downtown. The restaurant is named after people who hop onto moving trains for free rides across the country – and the restaurant offers the best view in town of the railroad tracks. Their menu of tacos, burgers and mixed drinks is savory and fulfilling.
The Improper Pig is the best place in the region for barbecue lovers – or the first place you should go if you’ve never tried authentic North Carolina BBQ. Featured on an episode of Food Network’s Diners, Drive-In’s & Dives, all the meats are smoked in-house, sauces are made from scratch, and only the best ingredients are served with each meal.
The concept behind Emmet’s Social Table – started in Waxhaw and recently expanded to Fort Mill – was the create an atmosphere for people to hang out with friends and family. The menu includes more sharable items than a typical restaurant, along with craft beer and cocktails.
The first thing the folks at Towne Tavern want everyone to know is that they are Buffalo Bills fans. Big screen televisions will play any sport that happens to be on, but if the Bills are playing, that’s the only thing you’ll see! The meals are portioned for giants and meant to be savored for an hour over friendly conversation and not so friendly yelling at the refs.
Get a Drink at Amor Artis Brewing
Travis and Steve Tolson are brothers born in Fort Mill who lived very different lives – for awhile. Travis discovered a passion for brewing beer in his garage in Upstate New York before moving to Alaska and then Asheville to work as a brewer and manager. On the other hand, Steve has a chemistry degree from Davidson College and a master’s degree in biology from the Citadel.
In 2018, the brothers decided to return to their hometown and open their own business – Amor Artis Brewing. The charming brewery with exposed brick walls and dark wood tables is an excellent place to enjoy a local craft beer during a visit to Fort Mill. Stick around after sunset on the weekends for lively entertainment – one of a few places in town to kick it up a notch on the weekends.
Do Some Shopping at The Peach Stand
While traveling along Interstate 77 from Charlotte, I needed gas and a restroom. The first place I found was at the Fort Mill exit past the glitzy new Kingsley Town Center. I didn’t know what to expect when I pulled under the Exxon carport beside an enormous, modern, clean building.
Inside, I found an interesting roadside stop that time had forgotten. A long line of locals was waiting for their turn at the butcher shop. Shelves were chocked full of locally made grocery items. Unfortunately, the ice cream parlor had already closed for the day, but the restaurant and deli were still taking orders!
The Peach Stand has been serving the Fort Mill community since 1980 as a local grocery store, fruit stand, and convenience center. It’s the perfect place to stop while road tripping through the area or visiting Fort Mill.
Visit Kingsley Town Center
Following a national trend of new shopping centers built to be reminiscent of old towns of the past, Kingsley Town Center opened in 2018. The 626-acre residential and commercial center is built on the property of a previous textile firm – and the giant smokestack at the center pays homage to the history.
A few boutique shops have opened in the retail spaces, but the best thing to do at Kingsley is eating your heart out. Carolina Ale House and Brixx Wood Fired Pizza are chain restaurants. At Taco Molino, executive chef and owner Scott Wallen uses the freshest ingredients to create mouthwatering meals for every guest. At Napa, guests can enjoy savory Napa Valley wines with their fine cuisine while enjoying the rustic décor meant to invoke a sense of old-school vineyards.
Explore Local Shops and Restaurants at Baxter Town Center
A 2003 advertisement in The Charlotte Observer laid out the amenities of Baxter Village – elementary school, public library, parks – and “just like in small towns of the past, Baxter’s Town Center is designed to be a center of attention, a gathering place filled with shops, restaurants, and offices.”
The two-lane Market Street through Baxter Town Center is shaded by large trees and surrounded on either side by two- or three-story buildings. The bottom floors are filled with local retail shops, restaurants, and offices. A water fountain churns in the small public park – benches offer a chance to rest in between shopping and enjoy the peacefulness.
ChocolatBoutique is a tempting place to visit with glass display cases filled with savory sweets. Cupcrazed Cakery offers freshly baked cupcakes, cookies, and pastries throughout the day – you can buy one at a time, but a dozen is so much better. Grapevine Wine Shop was a small bottle shop with an even smaller bar, but it was a good place to get a drink while deciding which bottle of wine to take home.
The most surprising retail shop in Baxter Town Center was the Nailed It DIY Studio. The business was started in Fort Mill by a woman who wanted to create a public space for people to build their own arts and crafts for the home. Inside the store along Market Street, a large workspace in the back offered all the tools and supplies visitors would need to craft their own wares. In the front, a small retail shop offered the chance to take a few DIY crafts home with you.
Fish Market has been an anchor of Baxter Town Center almost since the beginning – the doors opened in 2008. Owner Selena Kelemen wanted to create a place for “relaxed dining with an elevated cuisine level.” The menu includes entrees like Chilean Sea Bass, Salmon Pasta, and Grilled Swordfish – but you’ll feel perfectly comfortable wearing shorts and sandals sitting on the stone patio.
Fratelli Ristorante and Pizzeria is known for its selection of pasta and New York-style pizza. Killington’s Restaurant & Bar’s menu is inviting with Pepperjack Spinach Cheese Dip and a large selection of sandwiches on their menu. Tapas on Market – the latest addition to the food scene in Baxter Town Center – offers savory food along with local musicians every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night.
Go for a Hike at Anne Springs Close Greenway
Opened in 1995, the Anne Springs Close Greenway is one of the best gems hidden from casual visitors to the area. The 2,100-acre privately owned nature preserve is a haven for fishing, hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
Begin at the Nature Center at the Lake Haigler Entrance. Inside, you’ll find trail maps, a small gift shop, and a deli offering savory food before your big adventure. Go for a pleasant walk along the Haigler Loop to see the small lake or stop at the wooden fishing pier. Just a few minutes hike from the Nature Center takes visitors along the only original section of Nations Ford Road – an early frontier settler’s route – to a swinging bridge over a shallow creek.
At the Dairy Barn Entrance, go for an easy hike along the concrete trail looping around the Graham Cottage and Faires-Coltharp Cabin, two historical log homes moved onto the property. At the Adventure Road Entrance, go kayaking on the small lakes, mountain biking on the trails, or horseback riding through the dense forest.
Where to Stay in Fort Mill
All the hotels in Fort Mill are conveniently located along Interstate 77. This makes it easy to get to your room each night – just watch out for rush hour traffic!
Avid Hotel is a simple, comfortable, and clean budget hotel option. Located near Carowinds, it’s about a twenty-minute drive from downtown Fort Mill. Choose from rooms with two queen beds or a single king bed.
Tru by Hilton is a surprisingly fantastic budget-friendly option. It’s the only hotel at that particular exit along Interstate 77, guaranteeing a bit of peacefulness as you travel there. Choose from rooms with two queen beds or a single king bed.
Hampton Inn & Suites is always a good choice for a mid-range hotel. With an outdoor swimming pool, barbecue grill, and patio, you’ll have a great place to relax after a long day exploring Fort Mill. Choose from rooms with two queen beds, a single king bed, or a studio suite with a single king bed and sleeper sofa.
Courtyard by Marriott is one of the best hotels along this stretch of Interstate 77. With an indoor swimming pool, on-site bar, and comfortable rooms, you’ll have a fantastic place to rest each night. Choose from rooms with two queen beds, a single king bed, or a suite that includes a sleeper sofa.