Outdoor markets, warmly lit downtowns, cozy restaurants, cheerful locals... there is something special about American…
Over the past year, travel has largely been paused. While there’s been a lot of downside, the positive is that we’ve all been able to better explore and appreciate our hometowns. With that in mind, I’ve been reaching out to professional travelers and travel enthusiasts about the best of their hometowns.
Craig and Caroline Makepeace are the founders of ytravelblog.com, one of the world’s biggest family travel blogs. After 23 years of nomadic travel they finally decided to settle in Raleigh, North Carolina with their two daughters. They are continuing to show their followers how travel can evolve with your lifestyle by balancing shorter trips with a home life they love. During the pandemic, they created This is Raleigh, a site and community dedicated to sharing the vibrant Raleigh lifestyle they love so much (follow them on Instagram here).
Here’s their guide to Raleigh, North Carolina.
You’re originally from Australia. Why did you move Raleigh? How long have you lived there?
We originally moved in 2004 on a cultural exchange program with Participate Learning. They recruit teachers from around the world to expose US children to other cultures. We were randomly placed in a school near Raleigh.
We instantly fell in love with living in Raleigh and have made it our mission since then to permanently stay. We have lived on an off in Raleigh for almost 10 years and we now have a green card, thanks to our travel blog, and can live here permanently.
Three words to describe Raleigh.
Friendly, vibrant, outdoorsy
What’s something that might surprise people about Raleigh?
It’s very open-minded, diverse, and welcoming to all.
What are your favorite restaurants in town? Any that are so iconic to Raleigh that it shouldn’t be missed?
Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing has the best views of Raleigh from their patio. The views are always paired perfectly with their innovative, seasonal dishes, stylish cocktails, and raveable craft brews.
There is no better place to enjoy a bowl of Moussaka with a chilled ancient Green Retsina wine than from the Grecian themed tree top balcony of Taverna Agora Greek Kitchen & Bar. We are obsessed.
Where would you go for a special occasion meal?
The Second Empire Restaurant and Tavern as an exquisite fine dining experience in Raleigh not to be missed. One that goes beyond just food to rave about long after to offer a signature experience that incorporates beauty, history, Southern charm, gourmet meals, fine wines, and excellent service.
The restaurant is in the restored 1871 Dodd-Hinsdale House, a Second Empire Victorian home that once characterized every home that lined Hillsborough Street, the Western road to the Capitol.
What’s your favorite place to get fresh air?
Lake Johnson is our favorite place in Raleigh for fresh air and serenity. There is a beautiful 3-mile forested loop walk around the 150-acre lake, with views that sometimes have you thinking you’ve stumbled onto a jungle in Costa Rica. It’s also a wonderful place to paddle, especially around sunset or just after sunrise.
We often don’t get to stay in hotels in our hometown, but let’s pretend: where would you stay in Raleigh?
We don’t need to pretend – we have done a staycation in a Raleigh hotel. We love the StateView Hotel. We love this hotel as it’s hidden in a forest on Lake Raleigh on the NC State Centennial Campus and is only 8 minutes from Downtown Raleigh. We love how it offers the forest tranquility Raleigh offers with easy access to city experiences. The restaurant is also very good – don’t miss the beignets for dessert – they rival what you’d find down in New Orleans.
Where’s your favorite place to shop?
The Flourish Market in the Warehouse District. It’s a unique women’s + gift boutique store owned by local entrepreneur, Emily Grey. All of their products have a higher purpose for supporting female owned businesses creating sustainable impact. You can shop 60+ cause-based brands and use your purchasing power for good – clothing, jewelry, bags, shoes, greeting cards and more.
What’s the arts scene like? Anything you think is a must-see/do?
The arts scene in Raleigh is thriving. It’s home to several performing arts centers, including the North Carolina Symphony, Theater, and Opera, as well as the Carolina Ballet.
We have two free top-notch museums that have helped earn Raleigh the nickname “Smithsonian of the South.” The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is the largest museum of its kind in the Southeast and is the state’s top attraction. And the North Carolina Museum of history where you can learn about some of NC’s iconic figures like Daniel Boone, the Wright Brothers, and Michael Jordan.
A highlight of any visit to Raleigh will be the North Carolina Museum of Art with more than a dozen galleries and a 164-acre park filled with public art installations from international artists, temporary and permanent public art installations by international artists, environmentally sustainable landscapes, colorful and contemporary gardens, miles of recreational trails, and a terraced pond.
For a cool experience, we recommend biking the Art to Heart Trail. It’s 5.5 miles from the Museum to Downtown Raleigh.
Downtown is CAM, the Contemporary Art Museum which features rotating exhibitions of a range of art forms from mixed-media sculpture to solar-powered installations.
Every month, Downtown Raleigh hosts the First Friday Art Walks, showcasing the local creative community, with art, music, food, and retailers.
Not to be missed is Artspace, a former City Market warehouse that is now home to thirty studios for established and emerging artists, who welcome visitors into their workspaces.
Just walking around Raleigh will take you to many colorful murals and public artworks that show the creative Raleigh spirit. And in Raleigh, there is always a festival on celebrating the diverse vibrancy of life!
Let’s talk nightlife. What experience would be worth staying up past your bedtime?
Younger partiers would head to Glenwood Ave and bar hop throughout the evening. Now I’m older, we tend to gravitate more to the Downtown city bars.
You will want to stay up past your bedtime for Watts & Ward. You may think you’re entering a tiny underground bar, but once you get past the dingy corridor you arrive at one classy room full of leather seating, vintage artwork, rustic tables, dim lighting and bookshelves full of history. That room leads to another, and then another, and then right down the end another secret room where, on some nights, you’ll find jazz music playing. Hello underground spirit of 1920s America.
To keep the Prohibition theme, head to the Green Light speakeasy just a few swinging kicks away. Look for the green light outside the Architect Bar. Go up the stairs and try to find your way in. I’m not going to spoil the hidden entrance surprise.
Best place for a selfie?
The Sunflower Field in Dorothea Dix Park at sunset. You get the most beautiful views of the Raleigh skyline framed by the oak trees this “City of Oaks” is named after. Pack a picnic and make it a special event.
Best day trip?
To the beach of course! We love how Raleigh is just over an hour to one of our favorite beaches in the USA: Wrightsville Beach.
As it’s the birthplace of surfing in North Carolina, you’ll find a laid-back, surfie culture here. Expect miles of pristine beach and Intracoastal waterways that offer endless water activities such as swimming, body boarding, kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, boating, and surfing
What’s the most quintessential Raleigh experience?
For breakfast, you don’t want to miss Big Ed’s City Market. Founded in 1958, it is old school Raleigh charm and possibly the best Southern breakfast in Raleigh.
As Raleigh is a city focused on the outdoors and our beautiful forest feel, I’d say start by exploring Pullen Park. Located next to NC State University on 66 acres of land, this is the first public park in North Carolina, the 5th oldest operating amusement park in the U.S. and 16th oldest in the world. The Park features picnic areas, concessions stand along with several small rides including the Pullen Park Carousel, train, and kiddie boats.
From there you can wander through the historic neighborhood of Boylan heights and enjoy the historical homes and feel. From there you can capture a view of downtown from Boylan Bridge before wandering down into the more modern Warehouse District.
I think that will give you a unique perspective of how this city has evolved into this vibrant, modern city that still maintains its slow paced, historical charm. You can visit many of the places mentioned in this post along this path as well.
The other historical area you may wish to visit to gain this story of Raleigh is the Oakwood/Mordecai area. Connecting the two neighborhoods is the revitalized Person St. Once a place of derelict buildings now houses unique local boutique stores, breweries, bars, and upscale restaurants. On the corner of this street is the wonderful and unique Raleigh City Farm, a nonprofit urban farm connecting you to regenerative agriculture. Why not volunteer for their Wednesday Wine & Weeds evening?
And if you are visiting in Sept/Oct, you will want to experience the annual Wide Open World of Bluegrass. The festival features the best performers and musicians in the national and international bluegrass scene each year. Streets are blocked off and you’ll find free music all over the city, as well as delicious food, a BBQ cook-off, an arts & crafts market and many other activities for all ages
We also have a Uniquely Raleigh checklist sharing the best experiences, food, restaurants, cafes, bars, and breweries that help tell the Raleigh story.
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