A shining New South city and site of the 2012 National Democratic Convention, Charlotte is busting its buttons these days. It has popular NFL and NBA teams, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, a sleek downtown, excellent museums, and one of the South’s top amusement parks, Carowinds. The nonprofit U.S. National Whitewater Center — where you can work on your rafting, kayaking, rock-climbing and other outdoor-activity skills — is just 15 minutes from downtown. Thanks to the city’s low cost of living, hotel rates and restaurant bills aren’t astronomical, and museum admission doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. What’s more, North Carolina is prime barbecue country, where a hickory-smoked pulled-pork sandwich is utterly cheap and lip-smackingly delicious. Try the award-winning creations at Bubba’s Barbecue, smoky and peppery in the eastern North Carolina style.