Lately, Raleigh has been hitting national top-ten lists featuring the best places to live—and for good reason. With both the rich history of a capital city and the exciting newness of burgeoning culture, Raleigh is remarkably livable. City dwellers benefit from both a thriving city center and manageable commutes, low crime rates, and affordable property values.
Not to mention, the metropolitan area grows daily in both population and prosperity: nearby Research Triangle Park is home to booming tech companies, and global giants have pinpointed the city as a destination (most recently seen in IBM’s acquisition of Raleigh-based software startup Red Hat).
At the same time, Raleigh’s approachable food and beverage scene threatens to rival Nashville’s. From its legendary southern barbecue to the recent explosion of microbreweries to its high-end coffee shops and James Beard award-winning restaurants, it truly offers something for everyone.
Here are a few highlights for your visit to North Carolina’s capital city.
Where to stay
Aloft Raleigh: Located just outside the downtown, the contemporary chic Aloft is a quick walk from the North Carolina State Campus and a plethora of restaurants and coffee shops.
Umstead Hotel and Spa: If you’re willing to make the short trek from the nearby town of Cary to downtown Raleigh, the Umstead is a local favorite. Equipped with a high-end restaurant and day spa, the Umstead is more than just a place to camp for the night: it’s a getaway!
Where to eat
Brewery Bhavana: Originally inspired by Laotian cuisine, the exquisitely curated “Bhavana” is an Asian fusion restaurant complete with a book store and flower shop. Grabbing a reservation is tricky, so be sure to make one well in advance!
The Pit Authentic Barbeque: North Carolina is known for its legendary whole hog, pit-cooked barbeque—and the aptly-named Pit lives up to the legend. Stop in for a plate of authentic barbeque and a side of collard greens, macaroni and cheese, or hushpuppies.
Chuck’s: Repeatedly voted the best burger in town, the unassuming Chuck’s is the project of James Beard award-winning chef Ashley Christensen. Drop in for a Cheerwine barbeque burger and a cinnamon bourbon peach milkshake.
Sitti Authentic Lebanese: “Sitti” is the Lebanese word for grandmother, and the restaurant exists as a tribute to family and the critical role of food in bringing people together. Situated in the heart of downtown and appointed with a gorgeous art deco bar area, Sitti offers a menu full of Lebanese classics like hummus and kabobs.
Morgan Street Food Hall: Like an elevated food court experience, the Food Hall features a variety of Raleigh-based vendors, from farm-to-table burgers, to authentic curries, fresh oyster bars, and locally made ice cream.
Poole’s Diner: Another Ashley Christensen project, Poole’s is a Raleigh institution. A modern diner serving “reimagined comfort food,” Poole’s is a casual spot that draws crowds willing to wait an hour or more for a fix of Christensen’s legendary baked macaroni and cheese.
Guasaca: For an inexpensive, inexplicably delicious quick bite, grab an arepa at Guasaca. Arepas are a Venezuelan staple, involving thick, homemade tortillas stuffed with a variety of meats, cheese, and vegetables. Take a few to go and head to the nearby North Carolina Art Museum for an outdoor picnic.
Where to get your coffee
Jubala: Conveniently situated at the base of the Aloft Raleigh, Jubala features high-quality Counter Culture coffee and homemade biscuits that draw lines that snake down popular Hillsborough Street.
Sola Coffee Cafe: This sweet spot is an all-day café serving locally made fare, from their famous “hot minis” (powdered donuts) to their seasonal lattes and toast bar. Follow them on Instagram to make sure you catch one of their live music events or weekend popup markets featuring a variety of fair-trade goods—and don’t forget to grab a photo in front of the “I Believe in Raleigh” mural.
Yellow Dog: Swing by this irresistibly classy storefront to grab a chocolate croissant or cheese bread, then loop through Historic Oakwood to check out some of Raleigh’s most stately historic homes.
Videri Chocolate Factory: Yes, you read that right! Videri is a functioning chocolate factory that also serves coffee. Stop in for a self-guided tour of the factory, a sample of handmade bean-to-bar chocolate, and a cup of hot cocoa.
Sites to see
Historic Oakwood: The only intact nineteenth-century neighborhood in Raleigh, Oakwood is best known for its restored Victorian-style homes. Enjoy a walking tour or simply drive around to check out the different architectural styles, from the dollhouse-like Queen Annes to the imposing, turreted Second Empires.
The Capitol grounds: Raleigh’s Capitol building has been active since it opened in June 1840. Stop by to explore the grounds, which offer a view of all four corners of the city.
Pullen Park: If you’re traveling with your kids, this is a must-see. With a playground, train, carousel, and grab-and-go café, Pullen is a perfect spot to camp out for the afternoon.
Umstead State Park: With more than 5,500 acres of trails, man-made lakes, and overnight campsites, Umstead is a rare retreat in the middle of a growing city.
The J.C. Raulston Arboretum: This nationally-acclaimed garden boasts one of the country’s largest collections of landscape plants. Stop by to walk the garden paths or enjoy a guided tour.
The Capital Area Greenway System: Known simply as the “Greenway,” this network of public trails for walking, hiking, and biking spans more than 112 miles and 3,800 acres. Grab a bike and head from park to park, or simply jump on at one of the dozens of entry points for a short mid-day walk.
Raleigh is a growing thriving hub with a healthy mix of history and culture. If you ever stop by, let me know. I’d love to show you around, fresh cup of Counter Culture coffee (or Videri sipping chocolate) in hand!