A local’s guide to N.C.'s state capital
Hi Asheville! 👋 Stephanie here, an intern at AVLtoday. I’ve lived in Asheville since 2011, but before that I was a Raleigh girl, born and raised.
For a lot of my WNC peeps, Raleigh is a place that you head to during school field trips (it’s the capital of N.C., after all). Unless you grew up living in or visiting on the regular, (or went to N.C. State), chances are you may not know that the city is booming when it comes to the arts, entertainment, food + museums. DYK: The Museum of Natural Science is the largest of its kind in the SE + has an actual whale skeleton. 🐋
Raleigh is also one part of what’s known as “the Triangle,” short for “the Research Triangle,” which include three universities – N.C. State (in Raleigh), Duke University (in Durham), and the University of North Carolina (in Chapel Hill). The name really stuck in the 1950s, when Research Triangle Park – an area of tech + health companies in the middle of the region – was formed.
Raleigh is almost four hours away, which means that it’s best to linger for a few days rather than attack it as a day trip. But once you’ve finished the drive, it’s well worth it to devote a full weekend to Oak City.
So, I’m here today to give you the inside scoop on what to do in Raleigh for a weekend. But first, a few facts about our state capital (you can talk about them while you’re in a traffic on the Beltline).
🏘 Population: 458,880 (in 2016)
🚗 Distance from Asheville: 3 hours + 45 minutes
- 12 traditional colleges + universities – including N.C. State, Meredith College + Shaw University (the first historically black university in the U.S.) – have campuses in Raleigh.
- The Capitol building is a National Historic Site. It was built in 1840 the Greek Revival architectural style.
- Raleigh’s N.C. Museum of Art was the first in the country to be established with public funds.
From dive bars + record stores to a full day museum crawl + live music, plan your weekend in Raleigh here.
You look hungry
Start the weekend off right with authentic N.C. BBQ. My favorite is The Pit, a downtown staple for locals and tourists alike in a restored 1930s meatpacking warehouse (328 W. Davie St., open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m.). Grab some bourbon whiskey while you’re there to bring out the smokiness of the BBQ. There’s a reason the Pit has been featured on Good Morning America, y’all.
Beasley’s Chicken + Honey (237 S. Wilmington St., open Monday–Wednesday from 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Thursday + Friday from 11:30 a.m.–12 a.m., Saturday from 11 a.m.–12 a.m., and Sunday 11 a.m.–10 p.m.) offers traditional Southern fare by chef Ashley Christensen that the New York Times raves about. Pro tip: order the chicken and waffles – recently named one of the best chicken dishes in the country by Food and Wine Magazine.
Or head over to Morgan Street Food Hall (411 W. Morgan St., open Sunday–Wednesday from 7 a.m.–10 p.m., and Thursday–Saturday from 7 a.m.–2 a.m.) for more than than 18 eateries and food retailers to choose from. Grab bites + stock up on locally made BBQ sauces, jerky + tea to take home.
Hit the town
After you’ve checked into your Airbnb and slept off lunch, it’s time to check out the town. One of my favorite local bars is Ruby Deluxe (415 S. Salisbury St., open daily 8 p.m–2 a.m.). From DJs to drag shows, there’s something cool happening here almost every night of the week.
Next, catch a show at King’s Barcade (14 W. Martin St., hours vary), a melting pot for comedy, music, and live entertainment. In the past, King’s has hosted the likes of Kurt Vile, The Avett Brothers, Xiu Xiu, Delicate Steve + many more, so you know you’re in for a treat no matter what the lineup is.
If you want to keep it lowkey, check out Slim’s (227 S. Wilmington St., Monday–Friday from 4:30 p.m.–2 a.m., Saturday + Sunday from 2 p.m.–2 a.m.). It’s one of the best dive bars in North Carolina. Grab a cheap beer and shoot pool upstairs.
Pro tip: if you’re in Raleigh on the first weekend of the month, First Friday is a must-do. Tons of local galleries, museums + shops stay open late for special exhibits and demos....and the champagne flows freely. 🥂 Find the best place to park here, and browse special events for the night here. No tickets necessary.
Some of my personal favorite downtown galleries include Artspace (201 E. Davie St., open Tuesday–Friday 11 a.m.–5 p.m. normally), a nonprofit collaborative visual art center, and Marbles Kids Museum (201 E. Hargett St., open daily from 9 a.m.–5 p.m.). It might be kid-friendly in its name, but it’s cool for all ages.
Rise and shine
Good morning, Raleigh! First things first… coffee! ☕ Pick up an Americano and a bagel at The Morning Times (10 E. Hargett St., open from 6:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Monday–Friday, Saturday + Sunday 7:30 a.m.–10 p.m.) in downtown, or try out Cup A Joe (3100 Hillsborough St., 6 a.m.–9 p.m. daily).
Next, meander down to Schoolkids Records (405-C W. Franklin St., open Monday–Saturday 10 am.–9 p.m., Sunday 12–7 p.m.) to score big on new and used vinyl.
Two fun fact about Schoolkids Records:
- It’s one of the longest-running music retail stores in the country.
- N.C. darlings like Superchunk, Ben Folds Five, and Squirrel Nut Zippers got their start by selling their records on consignment at Schoolkids. Cool.
If you’re feeling thrifty, explore the Raleigh Flea Market (1025 Blue Ridge Rd., open Saturday + Sunday from 9 a.m.–6 p.m.), a Triangle tradition since 1971. You’re sure to find hidden treasure.
For local boutiques, lunch + more, head to Cameron Village, a historic Raleigh hotspot for culture since its construction in 1946. Read more about its history (including a digital living history archive) here, and explore quirky shops, mini-galleries, and more. Grab food at Ajisai, a locally owned Japanese fusion spot (427 Woodburn Rd., open Monday–Thursday from 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Saturday from noon–11 p.m., and Sunday from noon–10 p.m.).
Or pick up some hot dogs from Hillsborough Street staple Snoopy’s Hot Dogs (600 Hillsborough St., open Monday–Wednesday from 10:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Thursday–Saturday 10:30 a.m.–3 a.m., Sunday 11 a.m.–11 p.m.) and take them down to Pullen Park for a picnic lunch. Pullen Park offers tons of cool activities, like pedal boats, kiddie boats, a miniature train you can ride through the park, and the Gustave A. Dentzel Carousel, which dates back to 1911 and boasts a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Do it for the ‘gram.
A day at the museum
Or, skip the picnic lunch and take a museum day instead. Raleigh boasts an impressive scene for educational museums, most of which are located in a four block radius, making it super walkable.
Make sure to check out The Museum of Natural Science (11 W. Jones St, open daily until 5 p.m.) while you’re in the area - it’s the largest natural science museum in the southeast part of the country, and they have an actual whale skeleton, a whole exhibit dedicated to dinosaurs, and other rad exhibits. General admission is free, plus special activities for kids at no cost.
The Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) (409 W. Martin St., open until 5 p.m. on Saturdays), while relatively new, is a must-see for the art nerds out there. General admission is $5, which includes a guided tour. CAM has no permanent collection, instead identifying as a non-collecting museum, which allows it to showcase tons of bold, non-traditional rotating exhibits. Take a sneak peek at what they are currently exhibiting here.
If you’re not museum-ed out, cleanse your palate with a visit to the N.C. Museum of Art (2110 Blue Ridge Rd., open until 5 p.m. on Saturdays). General admission is free (there are additional costs for special rotating exhibitions). Stroll past works from the Italian Renaissance, ancient Egypt, and 19th century America, plus Jewish ceremonial art, African + Oceanic works. Bonus: The 164-acre Museum Park has 12+ pieces, as well, including the enormous Gyre rings, created by Thomas Sayre.
Keep the educational experiences flowing and stroll through the Capitol, another national historic site built in the mid-19th century. The centerpiece is a sculpture of George Washington in a Roman uniform. The sculpture is a circa 1970 copy of a piece by Italian sculptor Antonio Canovo, whose piece was displayed from 1820–31 (when the original Capitol building actually burned to the ground – while a team was working to fireproof it. You can’t make this stuff up.).
Highlights in the building include plaques + busts commemorating people and events in N.C. history (like Virginia Dare, the first child born to English-speaking parents in the colonies, three N.C. signers of the Declaration of Independence + more), the Governor’s Office (with a pier table crafted by the state’s first free black artisan, Thomas Day), and the State Library Room. Wander outside into Union Square to see 14 more monuments, including several honoring presidents from the state.
Explore on your own, or take a free tour at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m. (every Saturday, no reservation required). Tours last for about an hour. The Capitol building is open until 5 p.m. every day except Sundays.
If museums aren’t your thing – or if you need a break from all that science + history – head to a Wolfpack game instead (be sure to grab your tickets ahead of time, especially if it’s basketball season). Tobacco Road rivalries run deep here, so be willing to go all in for your favorite team (even if it’s not N.C. State’s). Because nothing is worse than tepid school spirit when it comes to competitive sports in the Triangle. Single game tickets for football start at $35, and season tickets for men’s basketball (if you’re ready to make that commitment) are on sale now for $250+.
Dress to impress
Saturday night, clean up “real good” and head to Moore Square downtown to indulge in some chic supper at maker-inspired, Forbes Coolest Spots to Eat endorsed Brewery Bhavana (218 S. Blount St., lunch and dinner hours vary). Bhavana is Sanskrit for “the seed of cultivating” - in this case, they cultivate beer, dim sum, flowers, and books (yes, to purchase) in one sweet space. Swoon. Reservations are recommended. Make one here.
Kaiju Bowl and Bao (Japanese for strange monsters) is also located in Moore Square on 170 E. Davie St, and features hearty + nourishing dumplings, ramen + more. Dinner is served from 5 to 10 p.m. (the spot is closed on Sundays). Alternatively, enjoy chef Sunny Gerhart’s New Orleans cuisine at St. Roch Fine Oysters + Bar on 223 S. Wilmington St. They specialize in a unique blend of Cajun food and hyper-fresh NC seafish. They are open from 5 to 11 p.m. on Saturdays.
Prep for the night ahead with coffee vodka soda (yeah, you heard that right) at Fox Liquor Bar (237 S. Wilmington St., 5–2 a.m nightly, closed Sundays), or the Odd Fellows craft cocktail at Death and Taxes (open Sunday–Wednesday from 5–10 p.m., and Thursday–Saturday 5–11 p.m.), which features mezcal + aperol.
If the weather is good, you could catch a show at Red Hat Amphitheatre downtown. Perks include your choice of lawn seating, traditional outdoor seating, or a private box, and a to-die-for view of the Raleigh skyline. When I was in high school, I saw Bon Iver perform Skinny Love live, and shed an actual tear. See Red Hat’s upcoming shows here.
The Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts (2 E. South St.) is home the NC Opera, Carolina Ballet, NC Symphony + NC Theatre, to name a few. If you’re feeling classy, look at the full roster of upcoming performances and plan your Saturday around it here.
Raleigh Little Theatre (301 Pogue St.) is one of the oldest continuously running theatres on the East Coast, and awesome for local plays + productions. I saw an incredible performance of Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” there a couple years ago.
If sitting still through a play or symphony isn’t gonna float your Saturday night boat, go dancing instead at The Architect (108 E. Hargett St., open nightly until 2 a.m.), named for the building’s former use as an architect’s office. Head to Glenwood Ave to hit Alchemy (606 Glenwood Ave., open weekends until 2 a.m.), and then check out the rooftop bar at Solas (419 Glenwood Ave.). Hot tunes guaranteed.
Brunch it up
It wouldn’t be Sunday without brunch, right? If a big, greasy breakfast is calling your name, both Remedy Diner (927 W. Morgan St., open for brunch on Sundays until 3 p.m.) and Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant (220 Wolfe St., open for brunch on Sundays until 2 p.m.) deliver the goods. Two words: hot cakes. 🥞 For lighter fare, Living Kitchen (555 Fayetteville St., Ste. 100, open on Sundays until 3 p.m.) is a plant-based restaurant + juicery with a ton of veg and gf options. Or you could just go to Tupelo Honey (425 Oberlin Rd., open on Sundays until 9 p.m.) if you’re feeling homesick.
After fueling up, put on your comfy shoes for some quality nature time. The JC Raulston Arboretum, located on the NC State Campus (4415 Beryl Rd., open 8 a.m.–8 p.m. daily), is a 10-acre oasis of gardens and botanicals. They have the best collection of Japanese maples in the SE, FYI, and don’t miss the butterfly garden. Admission + guided tours are free. Or explore Historic Oakwood Cemetery (701 Oakwood Ave.); it’s close to downtown, and incredibly beautiful.
I’m going to Raleigh to catch Hopscotch Music Festival (Sept. 6–Sept. 8), a sweet little homegrown music festival downtown. Well, maybe not so little – Miguel, The Flaming Lips + Grizzly Bear are headlining. More on that lineup here.
And to be honest, I can’t wait. I grew up going to shows downtown, but Raleigh has gotten even cooler since I left.
You could stay in Raleigh for a week and not get bored, so you tell us: did we miss one of your favorite spots? Let us know in the comments, or find us over on social media (Facebook, Instagram + Twitter).
See you there!