3 days in Raleigh Durham - a City Guide

Cameron, Chibi and I took a little trip down to visit family in Raleigh, North Carolina a bit ago. We had a great time and I thought I'd share our itinerary.

We took a long weekend and had three glorious days of eating, drinking, exploring and relaxing. This trip is particularly focused on food. 

First, some tips:

1. Rent a car. Raleigh is spread out and doesn't have much of a public transportation service. There are busses but I can't imagine using them to get around. There is uber if you don't want to rent.

2. Be mindful of where you are. Durham especially has some unsafe neighborhoods so be aware of your surroundings when you're parking and waking around. (The areas in this guide are all very safe.) 

3. Be nice. People are very friendly and well mannered.  

4. Prepare for hot, humid weather if traveling in the late summer. In the late spring and fall, the weather is very sneaky. It can be a cool 60 but hike to 90 by 2pm but back to 60 by 9pm so pack some layers.

5. Sundays. As a non religious person, I forgot to consider what affect being in the Bible Belt can have on businesses and blue laws. In Raleigh/Durham, there is no booze on sundays before noon and many businesses are either closed completely or open after 12. Bars close at 2am. 

6. Events. Lots of events in Raleigh. Check websites for any parks, malls, breweries, anywhere you'll be going as there seem to be events (many free) all the time. 

7. Dog friendly. You love your dog and so does Raleigh. We saw many dogs with water bowls on outdoor cafes and many bars and breweries that welcome leashed dogs. We took Chibi with us and had no trouble bringing her into shops and beer gardens. 


Day One

Get yourself downtown for a little lunch followed by exploring and shopping in Raleigh's Moore Square or Capitol Square neighborhoods. Start with lunch at Centro, pictured above, a fun mexican restaurant with beautiful folk art decor and a festive playlist. The signature margarita was strong and balanced with fresh lime juice and a reposado tequila. 

Caffeinate at Morning Times, the coffee bar adjacent to Raleigh Times - a neighborhood classic serving lunch, dinner and late night drinks in an old newspaper office.  

During our trip, Artsplosure was going of downtown. It's a live music and art fair. We got to meet many talented local artists. I picked up a beautiful etching from John Furches and am deeply regretting not taking home a mug from the very talented Gretchen Quinn. My mom bought a beautiful 14k gold love knot ring from a local jeweler.

One thing I noticed about Raleigh was how friendly its residents are. The artists at Artsplosure were so open and talkative. Everything we saw was so affordable, too. There's a huge importance placed on the local and handmade in Raleigh and it's very accessible.

Be sure to check out favorite local shops Moon by Moon Apothecary, The Holy Rose and Deco Raleigh while you're downtown. 

The Norh Carolina State Capital Building is open to the public and is free to tour. It's right across from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. The museum is also free and has a living butterfly conservatory, indoor 2 story waterfall and dinosaur skeletons.

Walk over to Moore Square, an original park from the original 1790s city planning. It's small but beautiful. Admire the oak trees.

At the bottom of the Park, on Martin Street, is the beginning of Blake Street. Walk down Blake to Davies Street and find Artspace. It's an artists' studio that's open to the public. Wander in and take a look around. You can see artists working and chat with them about their processes.

For dinner, you want to go to Bida Manda. Make a reservation or enjoy drink at the bar while you wait for a table. Bida Manda is a Laoation restaurant and it's incredible. Everything was superb. Baskets of puffy white chips are served to each table. They are made from shrimp and tapioca flour and taste like a mild fish cake and rice cake. Loved these! Other favorites were to Manda Chicken Curry, Crispy Rice Lettuce Wraps, Pork Belly Noodle Soup and Cucumber Cooler.

After dinner, pop next door to the Brewery Bhavana whose beautiful, soft, airy space is a taproom, flower shop and dumpling restaurant in one.

If you're in the mood for live music instead, Pour House is also next door with shows generally starting at 9pm. 

Finish the night at Fox Liquor Lounge, an unmarked underground speakeasy bar with sophisticated cocktails and lively atmosphere.

Day Two

Get yourself down to Boulted Bread for the best baguette you will ever have. Boulted makes all their bread and pastries from local, organic grains. Grab a cold brew, a bag of counter culture beans, a baguette and a pastry. Sit outside on their side patio. Wander through the space next door, a shop I didn't catch the name of but that has many beautiful things from local craftsmen like leather goods, jewelry, ceramics and clothing.

Now that you're caffeinated. Head over to the State Farmers Market. Start on the garden side. Smell the teddy bear magnolias, find the Japanese maples and pick up some air plants to smuggle back home. Walk down the produce stalls and sample anything you can that's in season. We were lucky to arrive for peak strawberry and peach season. The tent on the end of the market has baked goods and flowers. If the pretzel people are there, get a cheese pretzel. I mean it. 

It's probably time to cool off with a beer and revitalize yourselves with a snack.  Do this at Raleigh Beer Garden. It holds the Guinness World Record for most beers on tap. Three separate bars hold all the different taps. Sit outside or on the roof. There's not a printed beer list but you can bring it up on your smart phone.

Head over to the warehouse district. Take a tour of Videri Chocolate Factory where you can learn about the chocolate making process from harvest to eating while sampling delicious locally made chocolate. If you go - please be sure to bring me a sea salt dark chocolate bar.

Across the street is Boxcar, an arcade bar. It's fun, loud and has everything from skeeball to duck hunt. There's an outdoor patio with a ring toss and giant connect four.

When you've worked up an appetite, head next door to The Pit where Ed Mitchell's whole hog BBQ waits to pull you into a lovely, deep food coma. The pulled pork and brisket entrees were the favorites of the table.

Roll yourself across the street to Crank Arm Brewery. If it's nice out, they'll have the doors open to the street so you can take in the warm Raleigh night air. Their Motivator stout tastes like a coffee filled Milky Way chocolate bar.

Day Three

Durham day! Start your day off right with the brunch buffet at Greer Street Garden. It's a surprisingly beautiful bar in an old auto service station with outdoor beer garden style seating out back. On Sundays they put out an incredible brunch buffet with coffee, bacon, sausage, grits, quiche, biscuits, fruit... everything you want a brunch buffet to have. Walk in and see the bartender to pay for your buffet and order a Bloody Mary. There's a self service Bloody Mary garnish bar with olives, bacon, pickles, celery...all the things you want a garnish bar to have. Then fill your plate and find a table.

Head down the block to Full Steam Brewery for a tour and tasting. When you're done, grab one of the many unique coffees to go from Cocoa Cinnamon across the street.

Sarah P. Duke Botanical Garden is a magical place. Stop in the visitor center for a map and a water bottle refill. Take your time strolling through the rose and asiatic gardens. We saw koi fish, turtles, herons, a hummingbird, chickens and doves. It's 55 acres so be sure to wear comfortable shoes. Dogs are allowed before 10am and after 5pm.

I imagine it's time for a sweet treat. Parlour serves locally made ice cream in delightful flavors like sea salt caramel, prickly pear or strawberry cheesecake.

As I mentioned, this is an eating and drinking trip so what's one more bakery? Since you're there, head over to Scratch bakery for a little bite of carb heaven. Their crackers are great.

Down the street to the Durham Hotel for a drink on their rooftop bar. Admire the view of Durham while enjoying sips of your hand crafted cocktail.

Take a little time to walk around the American Tobacco Campus, just a few blocks away.

Its probably around dinner time, isn't it? If you want to stay in Durham, there are a bunch of great restaurants and bars on or just off Main Street: 

Viceroy - english pub with indian cuisine

Mateo Bar de Tapas - southern inspired tapas

Pizzaria Toro - pizza! 

Dames Chicken & Waffles - comfort food

If you're up for a quick drive, no visit to Raleigh is complete without a meal at Beasleys. It's back near the site of your first meal at Centro in downtown Raleigh. Beasley's is a casual fried chicken place with clever cocktails, seasonal menu items and amazing comfort food. Highlights were to mac and cheese, spicy fried chicken sandwich and pork shoulder meatloaf.

Work off dinner with a few rounds of tabletop shuffleboard at Bare Bones

That's it!  There are is so much great food and fun things to do in Raleigh and Durham - I don't think we even scratched the surface. Looking forward to my next visit. Leave a comment if there's something I missed!