By Karen Olson House
Wake Forest originally began in 1834, not as a Wake County town, but as a college to train young men and boys for ministry. Merchant businesses followed and Wake Forest was chartered as a town in 1909. After World War II, the Reynolds family of Winston-Salem offered to sustain the college financially if it were moved to their city. Wake Forest College (now Wake Forest University) opened in Winston-Salem in 1956, and the Wake Forest campus became Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The seminary continues to provide an atmosphere of spiritual growth and visitors are free to saunter through its peaceful campus. Nearby, grand old houses also lay claim to the town's history — a stroll down N. Main Street and N. College Street reveals Italianate-style, Victorian and Colonial, Greek and Georgian Revival architecture.
The Historical District's business section, newly freshened through the town's Renaissance Plan, has retained its heritage feel while growing in commerce. Shops and art galleries are housed in vintage buildings updated for modern times and clustered along a few easy blocks, mostly along White Street or nearby side streets. For antiques, there's Old Magnolia, Red Door and For Old Times Sake (go upstairs — it recently expanded). If you like retro, especially 1950s–1970s, walk also to GC5. It's closing Jan. 31, although it will continue to sell its funky finds online. You can re-discover books at The Storyteller's Book Store and buy grilling sauces and fresh peanuts at the North Carolina Specialty Store.
For unique gifts, choices include the Lemon Tree Shop and Café, as well as The Cotton Company. This multi-vendor, artisan marketplace, housed in a former cotton warehouse, displays an upscale décor, jewelry and other finds (5,000 square feet. on the ground floor).
Grab a hot dog at the bustling, venerable Shorty's or savor a cucumber and cream cheese sandwich at Olde English Tea Room. Or walk a block over to Brooks Street for cold cut heroes at La Foresta Italian Café & Pizzeria and real banana pudding at The Forks Cafeteria. Also on Brooks: a plaza with a cheerfully decorated bowling alley, sit-down deli and vintage car showroom. Owner Charlie Kaleel keeps between about 45 to 60 cars on consignment there at Southern Classic Cars, along with old-time gasoline pumps and rare Coke memorabilia.
Two welcome additions to White Street: Twisted Vine (wine and beers) and White Street Brewing Company. The brewery doesn't serve food, but it's OK to bring in take-out food as you sample its flavorful ales and lagers.
It's important to know that a couple of miles from downtown out on South Main Street (also called US-1 Alt) is a suburban area brimming with chain and local restaurants and stores. Parents and kids also enjoy The Factory there, a mammoth, one-stop sports and entertainment complex with go-karts and mini golf (outdoors) and soccer, ice skating and custom inflatable areas (indoors). It also has an indoor/outdoor skatepark, stores and tempting eateries. Locals also swear by the seafood at Shuckers out on Rogers Road and the handmade concoctions at Lumpy's Ice Cream on East Wait Avenue.
Popular events include Six Sundays in Spring (amphitheater concerts that start in April at E. Carroll Joyner Park); Meet in the Streets (May), featuring children's activities, arts and crafts, food, live music; and historic home tours (December). Art After Hours is held each month on second Friday nights downtown, offering free horse-drawn carriage rides, art performances, music, and shop refreshments. There's also a year-round farmers market held behind CVS (reduced hours on Saturday mornings in the winter).
Learn of other nearby adventures and events: