Spend a Weekend in Raleigh on a Budget
The City of Oaks offers something for everyoneBy Angela Perez
As one of North Carolina’s fastest-growing cities, Raleigh is a cosmopolitan hub of creativity and innovation. Although nearly half a million people call it home, the “City of Oaks” offers warm hospitality and Southern charm. As Raleigh’s population has grown, its local food culture has evolved into a nationally celebrated dining scene. Take a long weekend to look around, and you’ll find endless family-friendly and fun things to do in the Tar Heel State’s capital, where historic meets hip.
Day 1: Downtown diversions
Downtown Raleigh teems with impassioned artists and artisans, all occupying an easily walkable city center. Walk over to Big Ed’s Restaurant for breakfast in downtown’s City Market. Big Ed’s has been serving up old-school Southern cooking since the 1950s and remains popular with locals. Try the homemade grilled buttermilk biscuits with sausage gravy. Or head east a couple of blocks to lucettegrace, a nationally acclaimed patisserie serving scrumptious creations almost too gorgeous to eat.
Next, head over to Marbles Kids Museum for fun for the whole family. The sprawling Marbles campus includes hands-on exhibits, interactive programs and IMAX movies. Children can don costumes, go on a jungle safari, conduct trains, paint, sculpt and even board a submarine or pirate ship to explore the ocean. The museum features a cafe and a store offering educational games and toys. Admission is under $10 per adult, child or senior.
Well worth a visit is the downtown North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. The museum offers exhibits and programs for the whole family. One of the venue’s highlights is the daily “Meet the Animals” program, where you can come face-to-face with an alligator, an opossum or any number of native North Carolina animal species. General admission is free.
Head over to Father and Son Antiques for a shopping break and some vintage treasure hunting. You’ll find everything from one-of-a-kind mid-century modern furniture to ’70s children’s toys to that same Smokey and the Bandit lunchbox you had when you were a kid.
For lunch or dinner downtown, check out Morgan Street Food Hall, a multi-vendor food hall featuring a wide variety of local eateries. Note that while the hall is similar to a food court in that it features shared seating surrounded by restaurants, there are no national chain restaurants here — the focus remains steadfastly local. Vendors offer Southern cooking, wood-fired pizza, empanadas, lobster rolls and more.
Day 2: Head outside
Start your day heading 2.5 miles southeast of downtown to the bustling State Farmers Market. Here you’ll find farmers and artisans from across the state selling fresh produce, meats, seafood, NC wines, plants, bakery items, cheeses, fresh-cut flowers and much more. Be sure to bring a rolling cooler with you to keep your perishables fresh as you peruse the 75-acre market. Have breakfast at the adjacent State Farmers Market Restaurant. Ever popular with Raleighites, the restaurant features down-home Southern cooking made with fresh ingredients. Also not to be missed is the on-site NC Seafood Restaurant, specializing in hot, crispy, fresh Calabash-style seafood (don’t forget the hushpuppies and cole slaw).
Make your way over to western Raleigh to catch some rays at the ever-popular Pullen Park, nestled between downtown Raleigh and the NC State University campus. Established in 1887, Pullen Park is the fifth-oldest amusement park in the country and features an operating carousel built in 1911. The kids will love catching a ride on the miniature train that winds through the park. There are also kiddie boats and pedal boats for a jaunt around Lake Howell. Admission is free, although there is a small fee for rides.
After an afternoon at the park, head back into downtown to the Warehouse District for decadent treats at the Videri Chocolate Factory, located in the historic Raleigh Depot building. The chocolate counter features luscious “bean-to-bonbon” confections, and the coffee bar offers silky, rich chocolate-based drinks. Then, remember to cross the street to check out Boxcar Bar + Arcade. The venue features hundreds of arcade-style games, including classic ’80s games, over a dozen pinball machines, and close to 200 console games. The budget-friendly bar features two-dozen American craft draft beers. Children are allowed but must be accompanied by an adult over 21.
For dinner, cross the street back over to the Raleigh Depot building to Jose & Sons. This bustling breezy restaurant offers a fusion of Southern soul food and Mexican classics. (Note: as of press time, Jose and Sons Chef Oscar Diaz is nominated as a James Beard Semi-Finalist for Best Chef in the Southeast).
Day 3: Further afield
We’re heading west of town today, but on your way stop in for breakfast at Boulted Bread, an artisanal bakery and pastry shop nestled on the fringe of downtown. Their breads feature locally-sourced, heirloom ingredients, and in just five short years the place has become a Raleigh favorite.
Now find some deals at the Raleigh Flea Market, the state’s largest indoor/outdoor flea market where you can rummage through the old and new and check out local arts and crafts. The market is at the NC State Fairgrounds, so check its events calendar to see what’s happening during your visit — the fairgrounds host more than 500 events each year.
Just a hop, skip, and a jump from the fairgrounds you’ll find the North Carolina Museum of Art and its Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park. Here you’ll find families picnicking and walking dogs among stunning massive public art installations. Admission to the museum is free and features 12 galleries with works from around the world. On the weekends, the museum offers family-friendly “choose your own adventure” tours.
Located about 25 miles southeast of Raleigh, the Daniel Dyers Action Sports Complex is not to be missed. The largest family-
oriented, year-round skating and biking training facility in the world features an indoor skatepark and biking terrain. International athletes regularly visit to compete and show off their skills to the public.
For brunch, lunch or dinner, be sure to check out at least one of these Raleigh favorites:
- For innovative vegetarian eats, don’t miss downtown’s Fiction Kitchen.
- A Raleigh staple for nearly 15 years, located on the edge of downtown, J. Betski’s features Central and Eastern European cuisine. J. Betski’s remains a favorite of many Raleigh chefs.
- One of Raleigh’s newest and most buzzed-about restaurants is Hummingbird. This cozy restaurant exhibits the vision and finesse of owner Chef Coleen Speaks, who has carefully curated and lovingly presented every detail: the cuisine, the décor — even the music.
About the AuthorAngela Perez is a Raleigh-based food, travel and technical writer. She particularly enjoys documenting the ever-evolving foodways and food culture of the American South.
Come along on a Carolina Country adventure!