With its rich diversity and modern economy, the fast-growing Raleigh area is perennially listed as one of the best places in the United States to live, work, raise children and retire.
It’s also a great place to visit.
Best known for state government and pioneering universities, Raleigh also offers a vibrant nightlife (pre-Covid, of course), fantastic shopping and a burgeoning food culture.
If you’re planning a trip, it pays to plan ahead; there are numerous places to eat, shop, stay and go.
Like any city its size, Raleigh has a cornucopia of fine restaurants. But one of the most exciting developments, especially in the downtown area, has been a growth in the number of food halls and mobile food trucks — places where visitors can sample a variety of ethnic and traditional foods.
Here are some foodie spots well worth the visit:
Morgan Street Food Hall
Located in downtown Raleigh’s Warehouse District, Morgan Street Food Hall has rapidly emerged as a hot destination for locals and visitors. With about 20 menus under one roof, it features an eclectic mix of local eateries and food retailers. USA TODAY named it one of the top 10 best new food halls in the country. Aside from the food, we also found it to be a great place to people watch.
Address: 500 East Davie Street, Raleigh
Transfer Co. Food Hall
Housed in the historic Carolina Coach Garage and Shops, Transfer Co. Food Hall is 50,000 square feet of renovated warehouse space devoted to local food producers, restaurants and vendors. You can dine in, take out or have it delivered and it’s an easy walk from downtown.
Address: 500 East Davie Street, Raleigh
Dame’s Chicken and Waffles
Dame’s Chicken and Waffles is a staple in the Raleigh area. Back in the pre-Covid days, getting a table at this popular restaurant could be a challenge, but a challenge well worth the wait. This Black-owned restaurant has perfected this exciting food combo with creative dishes such as The Carolina Cockerel, which includes three chicken wings, a blueberry waffle, peach and apricot “shmear.”
Address: 823 Bass Pro Lane, Cary
Oak City Fish & Chips
What started as a Raleigh-based food truck back in 2015 has blossomed into one of the area’s go-to spots for seafood. In addition to its truck, Oak City Fish & Chips now has two brick-and-mortar locations — one just southeast of downtown and another inside Morgan Street Food Hall. In a 2018 interview with Spectrum News 1, owner and Raleigh native Isaac B. Horton said the secret to his success lies in his secret blend of spices.
Address: 2822 New Birch Drive
Address: 411 W Morgan Street, Raleigh
When visiting Raleigh, you’ll want to hit the region’s big three retail spots – Crabtree, North Hills and Cameron Village, but don’t overlook the shopping experience that downtown has to offer. Many Raleigh-based brands are located in the heart of the city.
Here are some local places we discovered:
State Farmers Market
Short of the annual State Fair, the State Farmers Market represents North Carolina agriculture at its finest. It offers a stunning array of fruits and vegetables, meats and produce, restaurants and specialty shops stretching over 75 acres. It is one of the state’s crown jewels, recognized as one of the best farmers markets in the nation.
Address: 1201 Agriculture Street, Raleigh
Black Farmers Market
If you visit Raleigh during spring, summer or fall, be sure to check out the Black Farmers Market, which stops in downtown Raleigh one day each month. The market’s mission is to “inspire a self-sufficient community that supports and protects Black farmers and entrepreneurs.” More than 10,000 people are said to have visited the market in 2020, when it arrived on the fourth Saturday of each month outside the Southeast Raleigh YMCA.
Address: 1436 Rock Quarry Road, Raleigh
Zen Succulent Shop
Owned by Megan Cain, this Black-owned plant and gift shop has been noted in national publications. From an online business started in 2012, The Zen Succulent has grown from selling terrariums to include houseplants, accessories, cards, books, honey, candles, chocolates and more. One of its two locations is in downtown Raleigh. Order online and pick up from the Raleigh store on Wednesdays, or visit from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
Address: 208 S Wilmington St., Raleigh
Kandy Apples By K
Follow Capital Boulevard north out of downtown Raleigh and you’ll find Kandy Apples by K, a Black-owned business that sells gourmet candy apples — more than 30 flavors of hard candy apples and 15 flavors of soft (chocolate & caramel) candy apples. Owner Kim Battle also sells candied kiwi, candied grapes (very popular) and candied pineapple rings (new). Open Thursday – Friday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 6 p.m.
Address: 6320 Capitol Boulevard, Suite 107
The Raleigh area has no shortage of overnight accommodations, including all the major chains. visitRaleigh.com has an extensive list. But if you’re looking for something different, here are two to consider, each offering a different experience and price point:
The StateView Hotel
An upscale hotel in the Marriott portfolio, The StateView offers modern accommodations in the heart of the North Carolina State University campus. Wolves, blood red and all things NC State fill the hotels walls, decorations and rooms. The hotel also has a beautiful restaurant with spacious indoor and outdoor seating. Rooms start at about $145 a night.
Address: 2451 Alumni Drive, Raleigh
The Umstead Hotel & Spa
Located in Cary, near the famous Research Triangle Park, The Umstead Hotel & Spa is an upscale, modern and luxurious hotel. The food is fantastic, and it has one of the best spas in the Raleigh. Luxury, however, comes with a price: Rooms start at about $300 and go up from there.
Address: 100 Woodland Pond Drive, Cary
After the Civil War ended, Raleigh became a center of advancement and opportunity for some who had been enslaved. Today, the city’s two historically Black universities — Shaw University and Saint Augustine’s University — bear witness to that history.
Raleigh also is home to many African American heritage sites and historical attractions, including the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Gardens in downtown Raleigh.
The garden is said to be the first public park in the United States devoted solely to the slain civil rights leader and the movement he led. The 2.4-acre, tree-filled park is centered with a life-sized bronze statue of King, and a 12-ton granite water monument that honors the area’s notable pioneers in the civil rights movement. A wonderful space to sit and reflect.
North Carolina Museum of History
The North Carolina Museum of History tells the story of the Tar Heel State, from the first attempted English settlement on Roanoke Island in 1587 all the way through the 1960s. It’s also home to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, a 3,500-square foot museum within a museum. If you go, plan to spend some time.
Address: 5 East Edenton St., Raleigh
North Carolina Museum of Art
The North Carolina Museum of Art houses an extensive collection of artwork and artifacts that literally spans the globe. It was one of the first museums in the nation to publicly fund art curation. It’s also home to the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park with more than a dozen large works of art that are designed to compliment the park’s landscape. Coming in February: Golden Mummies of Egypt.
Address: 2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh
Did you know that Raleigh has its own public amusement park? Pullen Park sits on 66.33 acres west of downtown, near North Carolina State University. The park is a fun place to relax with the family and features playgrounds, pedal boats, kiddie boats and a popular carousel and more. (Some attractions are now temporarily closed due to COVID-19.)
Address: 520 Ashe Ave., Raleigh
Thomasi McDonald contributed to this report for GlennOaks Media.