They say good things come in threes, and North Carolina’s Research Triangle of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill is no exception. Raleigh is the state capital, Durham, with its healthcare, life sciences and biotech industries, is the “city of medicine,” while Chapel Hill is a university town. While they are for sure a powerful trio, there are plenty of reasons to visit just Raleigh. It’s a destination in its own right. Last year 15 million visitors came to Raleigh, despite having not a beach or mountain in sight. Go figure.
For one thing, times have changed. To say that downtown was once sleepy is polite. What was “dead” just a few years ago has morphed into a hip hub, one where folks not only hang out after work, but also on weekends. What happened? Duke Energy sold to Red Hat, Citrix moved from the suburbs to downtown and HQ Raleigh, a startup incubator, sprang up. The Warehouse District, a major piece of downtown, has been revitalized with many old red brick buildings repurposed. Investments in apartments, condos, mixed-use developments followed, as did a slew of restaurants, bars and music venues. Hoteliers haven’t missed out. The Residence Inn by Marriott Downtown Raleigh is a welcome addition, especially with its 10th & Terrace rooftop bar.
There’s no shortage of hot spots. Bon Appetit just ranked Brewery Bhavana one of the top 10 restaurants in the nation. It’s on historic Moore Square park downtown, and you could spend hours there. It’s a brewery, dim sum restaurant, flower shop and bookstore. Pick out a book and relax at the long tables and sip a brew. Whiskey Kitchen is a little bit country and a lot whiskey. Get set for some of the best fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese and pea tendrils, boiled peanuts with pickled peppers, lamb burgers, shrimp rolls and more in the site of a former automotive shop. Garland, meanwhile, is a tasty mashup of Indian and Pan-Asian fusion and craft cocktails. Its whimsical setting feels more West Village than Raleigh.
You can’t visit North Carolina without some barbecue. The Pit Authentic Barbecue has been featured on the Travel Channel and the Food Network, among others. It’s no surprise. This whole-hog, pit-cooked barbecue passes the taste test for the most discerning BBQ fans. Not only do you get pork, but Texas-style brisket, barbecued turkey, fried chicken, skillet cornbread, deviled eggs, collards, mac ‘n’ cheese. Whatever you order must also include the banana pudding.
The Warehouse District is also home to CAM Raleigh (Contemporary Art Museum). There is no permanent collection, so there’s always something new. No Damsel, currently on exhibit, is thought-provoking. Los Angeles Artist Dorian Lynde gives Disney princesses a makeover that’s more moxie than Disney magic. Boxcar Bar + Arcade is where you can just plain have fun. Remember Skeeball and air hockey? Get your fill of them here, plus more than 100 arcade games, live music, draft craft beers and a full bar. Visit Videri Chocolate, the Morgan Street Food Hall & Market, as well art galleries and unique stories like Raleigh Demin Workshop, for limited edition jeans made from start to finish in downtown Raleigh. These jeans are designed for men and women, “who love what they do and get things done.”
Perhaps plan a trip around one of the city’s numerous fests, like the annual Wide Open Bluegrass Festival, featuring a weekend of concerts at the Red Hat Amphitheatre, plus several stages of free concerts around downtown. There’s also the North Carolina Whole Hog BBQ Championship including a conference, exhibits, food, drinks and street vendors. Every month there’s some kind of festival, especially in September and October.
The action doesn’t begin and end in downtown. Do venture to the North Carolina Museum of Art and Art Park, which at 164 acres is the largest museum art park in the U.S. and features larger-than-life outdoor art installations, woodlands and creeks. Drink up at dozens of breweries along the Raleigh Beer Trail. Elsewhere, there are plenty of places to bike and golf. Don’t cheat yourself. Explore neighboring towns like Cary, where you can chill out at the Five-Diamond Umstead Hotel and Spa, where pampering and pleasing is a priority.
Raleigh isn’t trying to be like any other city; it’s cool with who it is and what it’s becoming. Folks in Raleigh live by the state motto, “To be, rather than to seem.”
by: Sheryl Nance-Nash, Orbitz