In the 11 years that I have lived here, I can confidently say that the Queen City has become my favorite city. And I’m only 20 years old.

So no, I haven’t had the pleasure of sipping on a margarita at RuRu’s or trying a local craft beer at Wooden Robot or a popsicle cocktail at City Lights. I enjoy other local (and non-alcoholic) beverages, like a pour-over coffee at Not Just Coffee or an old-fashioned ice cream soda from Pike’s Old Fashioned Soda Shop.

Here are five things to do for the under-21 crowd — or if you just want to skip the drinks.

(1) Spend hours reading at local coffee shops.

Last Sunday, I plopped myself down on a cushion at Coco and the Director and read my book. Many chapters later, I checked my phone and realized I had been there for five hours … I even missed my opportunity for lunch. I lost myself there. It was awesome. Do the same at any of these eight coffee shops.

(2) Familiarize yourself with different Charlotte neighborhoods.

Are you familiar with Elizabeth as much as SouthPark? Or do you know East Charlotte as well as you know Plaza Midwood? Do you spend all of your time in Ballantyne, so that you’ve never spent a day in University City? Last week, I realized I only visit NoDa on special occasions. So I found a parking spot and wandered the streets and went sightseeing until my legs went numb.

If you wander into NoDa, visit the cool vibes at Smelly Cat, check out the occasional street vendors or many shops near 28th Street and take a look inside these art stops.

(3) Eat, obviously.

I find eating to be a priority and that a meal should rarely be wasted. This summer in particular, Charlotte has welcomed a new restaurant almost every single week (much to my tummy and tastebuds’ delight). I just recently tried Inizio Pizza Napoletana in Dilworth, and I’m still trying to find a date on the calendar to visit The Packhouse

(4) Free art exhibits are hard to come by, but not on Wednesdays at The Mint.

I confess that I am an amateur in the art world, so even though I do love all things art, I find myself being reluctant to pay money to visit an exhibit. At both Mint Museum Uptown and Mint Museum Randolph, free general admission is granted from 5-9 p.m. on Wednesdays. This opportunity is the perfect way to experience art and culture while still on a college student’s budget.

Other free options include Bechtler By Night, the Uptown Crawl on July 27 and Levine Museum of the New South on the first Sunday of every month.

(5) Pack a picnic and head to the park.

If you’re like me, you and the midday’s beating sun are not always the best of friends. But before your eyes skip over the word ‘picnic’ because you hate the summer’s humidity, wait. Try laying out a blanket in a shady spot during the later hours of the day. Some of my best times at Freedom Park are at 5 p.m. when it’s just me, my picnic blanket, a BLT wrap from Laurel Market and an ice-cold water enhanced with slices of lemon.

Photos: Colby Alvino