Raleigh Essentials

Whatever you like to do, there's something for you in Raleigh, NC. Use this guide to plan your day!
Downtown Raleigh, North Carolina

Downtown Raleigh, North Carolina

North Carolina’s Research Triangle – made up of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill – often receives accolades for its quality of life, strong economy and excellent education system. With three nearby universities, there are many opportunities for jobs in education, as well as manufacturing, aerospace, biotechnology and green energy.

Photo by: Maria Grushevskaya/iStock/Thinkstock

Maria Grushevskaya/iStock/Thinkstock

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Food and Drink Essentials: Best Places to...


Fresh Market
400 Woodburn Road or 6325 Falls of Neuse Road
Upscale specialty market with stocked meat counter and artful displays of produce, breads and other gourmet items. But they also have some of your more mainstream brand-name snacks.

Whole Foods
3540 Wade Ave, Raleigh, N.C. 27607
Recently expanded to accommodate more organic and natural foods. The salad bar and hot bar are busy breakfast, lunch and dinner destinations. Locals still call the cafe "Wellspring," the name of the grocer that Whole Foods replaced.

N.C. Farmers Market
1201 Agriculture St., Raleigh, N.C. 27603
Best place to buy local. Growers come from all over the region to hawk fruits, vegetables, meats, plants and products that change with the seasons. Arrive early, and then mosey over to the State Farmers Market Restaurant for a big country breakfast.

Harris Teeter
500 Oberlin Road
2603 Glenwood Ave.
4421 Six Forks Road
5563 Western Blvd.
3201-123 Edwards Mill Road
6024 Falls of the Neuse Road
The most traditional grocer of the bunch. But the Teeter offers a good selection of specialty and gourmet foods. Many of its store-brand products are better than their name-brand competitors. Do a salsa taste test for proof.


NeoMonde Mediterranean Deli
3817 Beryl Road
Best place to grab olives, pita bread, baklava, tabouli mix and other Mediterranean specialties. Have a meal there or take ingredients home.

137 S. Wilmington St.
The upscale sister of NeoMonde, offering authentic Lebanese cuisine with reasonable prices in an urban setting.

J. Betski’s
10 W. Franklin St.
German and Polish cuisine are served, and more than just sausages, sauerkraut and pierogies. The menu has surprising depth. That said, you can't go wrong with the kielbasa. Reservations advised.


Big Ed's
220 Wolfe St.
The name pretty much tells you everything. Offers big portions of Southern staples -- grits, eggs, biscuits, fatback and barbecue -- in historic City Market. Dixieland band plays on Saturday mornings. Closed on Sundays.

State Farmers Market Restaurant
1240 Farmers Market Drive
Fresh country foods and efficient service. Arrive early or stand in line. If you bring the kids, there is farm equipment to climb on outside.

Mecca Restaurant
13 E. Martin St.
Run by the same Raleigh family for more than 75 years, the Mecca offers reasonable portions of traditional Southern food in a traditional lunch counter setting. A regular meeting spot for state and local politicians. Bring cash and mind your manners. Credit cards are not accepted; neither is attitude.

Watkins Grill
1625 Wake Forest Road
The food is way better than the fading cinder-block exterior lets on. Prepare to eat. An order of a biscuit and coffee can quickly turn into biscuits and gravy, eggs and bacon ... and coffee. But low-low prices allow one to indulge.


Caffe Luna
136 E. Hargett St.
Elegant Italian food in a bright, cheery downtown restaurant. Attentive and speedy service. Most lunch dishes start under $10.

State Legislature Cafeteria
16 W. Jones St.
Perhaps the cheapest meal in town. It's where lobbyists, lawmakers and reporters mingle, often in hushed tones over Southern cuisine. The salad bar is the best bargain. Bring cash.

Angus Barn
9401 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, N.C. 27617
Wins national awards for extensive menu that is centered on steaks. Prepare to splurge. Good place to woo a client or celebrate the closing of a business deal. The Wild Turkey Lounge offers vast selection of wines, liquors, specialty brews and cigars.


Second Empire
330 Hillsborough St.
Elegant restaurant in restored Raleigh mansion featuring fine gourmet cuisine. Both have extensive wine lists. Also offers the more casual, and affordable Tavern. Staff is accommodating for those trying to eat before the curtain rises.

Poole's Downtown Diner
426 S. McDowell St.
American bistro set in a refurbished diner with often-changing menu ranging from the traditional to the adventurous. Leave your diet at home. The restaurant is near the convention center and Memorial Auditorium ... but not if you're wearing stilettos.

18 Seaboard
18 Seaboard Ave.
Contemporary interior and food, a great wine list and rotating exhibitions of work from local gallery. It's a quick drive to the theater.


Clyde Cooper's Barbecue
109 E. Davie St.
For the full eastern North Carolina barbecue experience -- complete with hush puppies and pork rinds served on paper plates -- look no farther than this downtown institution, which opened in 1938. If you want to get in and out quickly, it's best to avoid the lunch crowd.

The Pit
328 W. Davie St.
Pitmaster Ed Mitchell brings a national reputation and a family 'cue recipe to an upscale setting. Mitchell often comes from behind the pit to say hello and offer samples of works in progress. Try the chopped pork sandwich with the sweet, gooey sauce.

The Q-Shack
4120 Main At North Hills St.
Has broader barbecue menu, featuring specialties from other regions. Smoked pork loin and smoked turkey sandwiches are worth checking out.


Landmark Tavern
117 E. Hargett St.
Great beer selection, hip and friendly barkeeps and the most eclectic music in town. No kitchen, but staff can hook you up with a delivery menu or some bar snacks. Park yourself on the outdoor patio and enjoy.

Big Boss Tap Room
1249 Wicker Druve
This is the retail end of Big Boss Brewery, hidden in an industrial park just outside downtown. They only sell Big Boss brews, so expect odd looks or snickers if you order a Bud. There's a pool table. But you might have to play around the line of people waiting to get in on the ping-pong action. Also goes by its former name, Horniblows Tavern.

Raleigh Times Bar
14 E. Hargett St.
The Times takes its name and decor from the defunct evening newspaper The Raleigh Times. Good beer selection and menu. Half the bar is reserved for smokers. Packed with hipsters on weekends.


Carolina Ale House
Alexander Place, 7981 Skyland Ridge or 512 Creekside Drive
Standard menu, quick staff and dozens of screens. It's a regular spot for Carolina Hurricanes fans hoping to catch an away game on the big screen.

Buffalo Brothers Pizza & Wing Co.
3111 Capital Blvd.
Raleigh is a mecca for people from Buffalo. Hence the popularity of this establishment, founded by two guys from the Buffalo area. The menu features Western New York staples such as beef on weck sandwiches and, of course, chicken wings. Best bet: Buffalo chicken pizza.

High Park Restaurant & Sports Pub
625 East Whitaker Mill Road
Recently renovated to include three walls of plasma screens. Offers some of the best chicken wings in the Triangle. Also known by former names, “The Upper Deck” and “The Profile.”


Snoopy’s Hot Dogs
1931 Wake Forest Road
600 Hillsborough St.
3600 Hillsborough St.
2431 Spring Forest Road, Unit 161
Open until 4 a.m. at some locations. Burgers and hot dogs come standard with chili, onions and mustard unless you say otherwise. Don't forget seasoned fries.

618 Hillsborough St.
3211 Edwards Mill Road
4621 Atlantic Ave.
9601 Strickland Road
Famous for their hamburger steak sandwiches. Open until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Borough
317 West Morgan St. #117
Full menu of sandwiches, salads and appetizers served until 2 a.m. The hushpuppies are great, but ask if they have jalapeño hush puppies.


Morning Times
10 E. Hargett St.
Friendly staff, sunlit upstairs, WiFi and rotating art exhibitions. Oh, and the strongest cup of coffee in downtown.

Cup A Joe
3100 Hillsborough St.
Busy N.C. State University hangout. Coffee is good; pesto chicken focaccia pocket is better.

Third Place Coffeehouse
1811 Glenwood Ave.
Neighborhood coffee shop with crowd that evolves throughout the day. There's the business crowd with their breakfast meetings. Moms and tots come mid-morning through lunch. Afternoons are busy with students and young professionals with laptops and sketchbooks. Get there early if you want a table.

Entertainment Essentials: Best Places to...


N.C. Symphony
4350 Lassiter North Hills Ave., #205
World-class musicians and a dynamic director keep this company competitive with many big-city symphonies.

Broadway Series South
2 E. South St.
Touring company offers an eclectic schedule, including classics such as "A Chorus Line."

Carolina Ballet
3401 Atlantic Ave., #131
This small company receives national praise, thanks to its roster of international dancers and choreographers.

Burning Coal Theater Co.
224 Polk St.
This company offers everything from Shakespeare to originals written by locals, featuring plots about Raleigh.


Major League

Carolina Hurricanes (Hockey)
1400 Edwards Mill Road
The region's only major-league sports team, the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy a strong following among northern transplants and natives. The team is a transplant itself, formerly the Hartford Whalers. The Canes won the Stanley Cup in 2006, the state's first major-league sports title. There's often a free parking lot at the State Fair Grounds, across Trinity Road. It's a bit of a hike. But it'll save you roughly the cost of a soda and peanuts.

Minor League

Durham Bulls (Triple-A Baseball)
409 Blackwell St.
The affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays offers a family-friendly atmosphere, a glimpse at rising prospects and a few falling stars, and plenty of between-inning entertainment. You can usually buy tickets at the gate. But on nice nights, tickets move fast, and it's easy to end up staring at the sun in right field. Best bet is to call ahead and pick up your tickets at the box office.

Carolina Mudcats (Double-A Baseball)
1501 N.C. Highway 39
Best place to watch scouts watch prospects. Sit in the upper bleachers, near the guys with the notebooks, and soak in some inside baseball.

Want hoops? The Triangle is home to one of the county's fiercest basketball rivalries. Tickets to N.C. State home games are generally easy to come by, unless they're playing Duke or the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. UNC and Duke have some of the toughest tickets in town.
N.C. State Wolfpack
UNC-Chapel Hill Tar Heels
Duke Blue Devils

Roller Derby

Carolina Rollergirls
Dorton Arena, N.C. State Fairgrounds
NASCAR meets football on roller-skates: worth every penny. The Carolina Rollergirls, Raleigh's roller derby team, are ranked nationally and compete at one of Raleigh's coolest buildings, the J.S. Dorton Arena, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.


N.C. Museum of Art
2110 Blue Ridge Road
The North Carolina Museum of Art features works spanning 5,000 years, including originals from Rafael to Georgia O'Keeffe. The museum grounds also offer an expansive park with massive sculptures. The museum hosts an outdoor film festival in the summer.

Artspace and the Moore Square Art District
201 E. Davie St.
Artspace is the keystone to downtown Raleigh’s art scene. It offers 40 artist studios and rotating exhibitions of local and national artists. Very accessible art and family friendly. It's the anchor of the Moore Square Art District, home to several galleries.


First Friday art gallery walk
Multiple locations across downtown Raleigh
First Friday is a good introduction to Raleigh's art, music and dining scene. All downtown galleries stay open late and most offer adult refreshments. Some nearby restaurants offer specials supporting the event.

Moore Square events
Martin Street at Blount Street
Raleigh's most vibrant downtown square offers free events from concerts to arts festivals throughout the year. There's the Downtown Live concert series, featuring a lineup of national acts. And there's an outdoor movie series. Arts festivals such as SparkCon and Artsplosure are worth checking out.


Glenwood South, Warehouse District
Glenwood Avenue, between Hillsborough and Peace streets
This former industrial enclave has been transformed to the nightlife mecca of the city. Just on the western fringe of downtown, it offers dozens of bars, restaurants and dance clubs teeming with singles and young couples. More of the same can be found in the city's growing warehouse district, southwest of Morgan and Dawson streets, where old warehouses have been converted to another cluster of restaurants and bars.

City Recreation Programs
Raleigh has a deep selection of classes, activities and facilities. The Millbrook Exchange Tennis Center, for instance, has been recognized nationally for its programs, which include classes, individual lessons, organized ladder and 23 courts. The city also offers an aquatics program, softball leagues, even fishing classes. For the artists, there are open studios at the Pullen and Sertoma arts centers.

Raleigh's in the Bible Belt, and Sunday services are big social events for many. There are plenty of offerings for all kinds of faiths.


Western Lanes Bowling Center
2512 Hillsborough St.
Western Lanes doesn't appear to have changed much since the early 1960s. New owners plan to keep the retro feel, but fix up a few things. In the meantime, you'd better learn how to keep score. There aren't electronic scoring machines.

Raleigh Flea Market at the N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Perhaps the only place in Raleigh where one can buy fresh produce, retro video games, zebra art, antique furniture and a personalized belt with a boom-box belt buckle -- in under half an hour. But you will spend hours sorting through peddlers' junk boxes for gems anyway.

N.C. Museum of Art Outdoor Film Series
2110 Blue Ridge Road
Pack a blanket and a picnic basket and enjoy music and movies under the stars. The museum organizes a range of live music events, and has a running schedule of good films. They've got plenty of art house films. But they're not above showing "Ferris Beuller's Day Off."


Marbles Kids Museum
201 E. Hargett St.
Marbles Kids Museum is a vibrant downtown museum featuring camps, programs and interactive play stations including a pirate ship.

This annual festival, hosted by the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, celebrates bugs of all kinds. There are games, performances and lectures on creepy crawlers. You can even eat some of them. Yes, eat.

Wake County Library Story Hours
Readers do more than just read the stories -- expect props, funny voices and lots of interaction.


Father & Son Antiques
107 W. Hargett St.
Twentieth century antiques from Eames chairs to He-Man lunch boxes. Three sprawling floors of everything for your pad. Don't see what you want? Tell the owners. They'll keep an eye out for you and call you when they strike gold.

Askew Taylor Paints
110 Glenwood Ave.
Askew Taylor Paints has evolved from a paint store to an art store over generations and is full of model making supplies and handmade papers. The staff is laid back and knowledgeable and will leave you to explore.

20 E. Hargett St.
Local designer Holly Aiken operates this downtown store, offering her custom vinyl bags, wallets and accessories. Her designs change frequently, so it's worth visiting often.


Mosaic Wine Lounge
517 W. Jones St.
A bar and lounge where DJs spinning eclectic international tracks, drawing a diverse crowd on the dance floor.

Five Star
511 W. Hargett St.
This Asian restaurant turns into a low-key dance club come late night.

Outdoor Essentials: Best Places to...


William B. Umstead State Park
Plenty of boating, camping, hiking and biking at this 5,579-acre park ensconced between Raleigh, Durham and Cary.

Capital Area Greenway
The city maintains a network of about 54 miles of biking and hiking trails. Many of them wind through wooded areas, connecting city parks or hugging Raleigh's three major lakes.

City Lakes
The city maintains three lakes -- Johnson, Wheeler and Shelly. Each offer classes, picnic shelters and other features. The city also operates a fishing program for all kinds of anglers.

Photo by: Ajay Chopra

Ajay Chopra


City of Raleigh dog parks
The city maintains several off-leash dog parks throughout the city. The one in northeast Raleigh, at Millbrook Exchange Park, keeps the lights on until 10 p.m.


Tall Buildings
The tallest buildings in Raleigh offer the best views of the city. But you usually need to know somebody who will get you up there.

  • RBC Plaza, 301 Fayetteville St. -- The 33-story RBC Plaza, the region's tallest building, is topped with residential condominiums.
  • Wells Fargo Capitol Center, 150 Fayetteville St. -- At 29 stories tall, the building features the top-floor, members-only Cardinal Club.
  • Clarion Raleigh Hotel State Capital, 320 Hillsborough St. -- Your best bet is probably this 20-story building, where the Tower Restaurant and Lounge is open to the public.

Outdoor Views
Don't have access to a tall building or helicopter? Try these places:

  • Boylan Bridge, near the corner of Hargett Street and Boylan Avenue in the Boylan Heights neighborhood, just west of downtown -- Take a stroll over the Boylan Bridge for a skyline view overlooking rail yards. It's particularly striking at night and at sunrise.
  • South Saunders at South McDowell Street -- A less-pedestrian-friendly view just south of downtown, where Saunders Street approaches Western Boulevard. You’ll see huddled buildings accentuating downtown's density.
  • North Wake Landfill, 9004 Deponie Drive -- Wake County is working to turn this 185-foot landfill, which closed in 2008, into a hiking trail with views of downtown in the distance.

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