It’s been a while since I wrote a travel guide, so I thought I’d reboot an old one from the earlier days of Feast + West. Raleigh is one of my all-time favorite cities. I attended college in Raleigh, then took a job there after I graduated. I lived within walking distance of downtown and watched Raleigh grow and change a lot over the years.
Right now, the city is booming. Forbes ranked it first in its 2014 list of Best Places For Business And Careers. New businesses and restaurants and shops are popping up all over the place. It seems like every time I visit nowadays, there’s something new to see.
After moving to Charlotte, my view of Raleigh changed from that of a resident to a visitor. I travel there often to visit my dear friends, and sometimes for work, too. My group of friends loves to explore, so I developed a lengthy list of favorites over the years. This guide is absolutely jam-packed with tips for you! It is the ultimate Raleigh travel guide.
Next time you’re in the City of Oaks, check out a few of these places for food, drink and shopping! And enjoy it in my honor please! // susannah
Click below to see the ultimate Raleigh travel guide!
- Raleigh gets to boast that it’s home to Ashley Christensen, 2014 winner of the James Beard award for Best Chef Southeast in 2014, so you can’t go wrong with any of her restaurants, if you ask me. She is my chef-idol!
- Her flagship restaurant Poole’s Downtown Diner is pricy but always worth it.
- Beasley’s Chicken + Honey is a local favorite for Southern fare.
- Chuck’s has the best burgers and fries I’ve ever had — ever.
- Joule is a coffee shop and brunch joint.
- For amazing cocktails, don’t miss Fox Liquor Bar.
- And the new Death & Taxes just opened this summer!
- In Moore Square, you’ll find Bida Manda. If you’ve never had Laotian food, you’re missing out and must stop here. The interior is Instagram-worthy, too.
- Raleighites love coffee. Cafe de los Muertos is a newcomer to the scene (it opened after I moved) but it has become one of my top coffee stops over my last few visits. The decor is really incredible — there’s amazing tile work, a wall of wood palettes and lots of calavera skull artwork. Change up your coffee routine with a horchata latte.
- Raleighites also love beer. The Raleigh Times Bar is one of my favorite bars, but the food is excellent too. The building is the former office for the (now defunct) newspaper of the same name. Raleigh is a beer loving city, and Raleigh Times has a huge craft beer selection with tons of local brews. Get the fried pickles. Or the nachos! Or a burger. Sit on the roof for a view of downtown, or sit inside or on the sidewalk for great people-watching.
- Raleigh Times shares a kitchen with The Morning Times, another one of the best spots for coffee in town. They have the perfect iced coffee pick-me-up, as well as an upstairs seating area that doubles as an art gallery.
- If you like Mediterranean fare, Sitti is for you. They’ve got everything from hummus to kabobs. Expect it to be dimly-lit, crowded and loud at dinnertime, so go for lunch if you prefer a quieter meal.
- Saturday brunch at Centro is to-die-for. (I always get the calentado!) They’ve also got a menu of classic Mexican fare. Stop by again for dinner for some of the best tacos in town and a spicy cocktail from the bar.
- Another beer-loving bar is the Busy Bee Cafe. They’ve got delicious eats and lovely cocktails in addition to their lengthy beer menu. For a late-night snack, get their famous tater tots, then stop by The Hive next door for dancing or drinking on the roof.
- I also recommend dining at Calavela, an empanada and tequila bar. They have savory empanadas and sweet ones, with fillings like key lime pie and Nutella banana. The Mexican corn is always a treat, albeit a bit messy.
- Another great spot for craft cocktails — arguably the best spot — is Foundation. This small bar often has a line for admission that’s out the door, but the wait is worth it.
- On Martin Street, Capital Club 16 is a great spot for brunch or a beer. Try the shanny fries for an appetizer or one of their famous burgers.
- Garland is an Indian and Asian fusion spot. The decor is so unique, with Instagram-worthy mirrored pillars out front, fancy ceilings and bathroom floors made of shiny pennies!
NCSU / Cameron Village
- Raleighites also love beer. Trophy Brewing opened a block from my apartment about a week before I moved to Charlotte. A brewery and stunning pizzeria rolled into one, you will not be disappointed. Plus, the taps are made from trophies!
- Irregardless Cafe is an establishment in Raleigh. It ranks in my top brunches of Raleigh!
- Hillsborough Street is the main drag near campus — there’s a bowling alley, great coffee and beer, of course. Between Mitch’s Tavern and The Players’ Retreat, it’s a toss-up as to the best spot to watch the big game.
- In college, I spent a lot of time drinking coffee and working at Cup A Joe. There are two locations, on Western Boulevard and Hillsborough Street, both with a hodgepodge of eclectic, mismatched furniture. I recommend their cookies paired with the Voltaire, hot chocolate poured over espresso.
- Jasmin Mediterranean Bistro and Neomonde are both great spots for hummus platters and gyro pitas.
- You can’t visit North Carolina without some of our famous pork barbecue. Head to The Pit for lots of Southern choices.
- Humble Pie has one of my top three favorite Sunday brunches. At night, stop in for drinks and tapas. I’ve shared so many memorable meals here.
- Stop by Boylan Bridge Brewpub for a beer and a burger and a stunning view of the Raleigh skyline.
- Stop in Yellow Dog Bread Co., another great spot for coffee and sweet treats.
- The Station is a great stop for meeting up with friends for dinner and drinks. There’s lots of places to it.
- I’ve yet to make it to The Stanbury, but my favorite foodie friends say it is the best and that it should be on this list. So here it is!
- Person Street Bar is a local, independent, neighborhood bar on the outskirts of downtown.
- Wine Authorities is a great spot to drink wine by the glass or by the bottle. You can also pick up wine to drink at home. They often have wine tastings and really know their stuff.
- William & Company has unique craft cocktails made from fresh and local produce. The decor is like West Elm meets the South, and so pretty. It’s the perfect spot to meet someone for a drink and have a conversation.
- The Hibernian Irish Pub recently reopened after a devastating fire.
- Need a sugar rush? The Cupcake Shoppe is always a delightful place to stop in for dessert.
- C. Grace is a snazzy spot for a craft cocktail and live jazz music. If it’s crowded, try the chill lounge-style Empress Room right upstairs. You’ll feel fancy.
- Clockwork is a favorite of mine, simply for the decor. The drinks are pretty good, but mostly you will feel like you are trapped in a disco version of Alice in Wonderland. (So cool!)
- Mojoe’s is the best spot for burgers in town. You wouldn’t know it was there unless I told you, so make it a priority!
- The honey crust at Lilly’s Pizza makes it the best pizza in town. Expect it to be slow, but so worth it. They have plenty of local beers on tap to enjoy while you wait.
- The Third Place is a great place for a quiet, relaxing cup of coffee or tea.
- NOFO At The Pig is a fun gift shop and classy Southern restaurant rolled into one.
- Another beer fave is Big Boss Brewing. Local and so delicious. You can find it at the local bottle shops and grocery stores, but the brewery itself is an experience all its own. You can play darts, pool and air hockey while you drink and grab food from a local food truck parked outside. Their autumn seasonal Harvest Time is a local must-have.
- In North Hills Coquette Brasserie is a chichi French restaurant with an amazing brunch.
- A weekend spent downtown is never complete without a trip to Father & Son Antiques, a quirky vintage store on Hargett Street (pictured). You’re sure to find some interesting stuff: old records, horse masks, vintage prom dresses. You never know!
- Take a tour of Videri Chocolate Factory, an amazing artisan chocolate factory. Make sure to take some chocolate home with you too.
- Next, stop by the Raleigh Depot. Tasty Beverage Co. is a craft brew store with around 1,200 packaged beers and six on tap.
- For a Raleigh souvenir, stop in Stitch, the retail shop of designer Holly Aiken. She makes beautiful, handmade vinyl bags and wallets that come in a wide range of retro colors and geometric patterns. I have an orange wallet that I absolutely love! Holly is also an alumna of NCSU’s design school, so that makes her work extra-special to me.
- I make jewelry for fun, and Ornamentea (pictured) was where I would stock up on materials. The employees are all super helpful with any project, from homemade beaded earrings to scrapbooking. They also offer classes and workshops, plus free projects on First Fridays. At the very least, there is a ton to look at in here!
- Artists, you should stop in Askew Taylor, the craziest art store you’ve ever seen, even if you’re not an artist or designer. Seriously — If there were an art store in Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, it would look like Askew Taylor.
- Of course I couldn’t let this guide go without a glimpse at where I went to school, North Carolina State University. For me, college was such a huge part of my life in Raleigh. It is, after all, the whole reason I moved there. The campus is an all-brick beauty. Take a walk in the Court of North Carolina, the Brickyard or the Arboretum.
- The brand-new James B. Hunt Library is an amazing spot. Open to the public, there’s a robot librarian, hundreds of comfy chairs and an abundance of natural light. It’s the library you never knew you wanted to spend your all-nighters in. It’s located on NCSU’s Centennial Campus, overlooking the stunning Lake Raleigh.
- The North Carolina Capitol Building sits at the top of Fayetteville Street. Take a tour of our beautiful Greek Revival state house or walk the grounds. Across the street, you’ll find the N.C. Museum of History and the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences — both well-done marvels worth an afternoon of your visit.
- The Raleigh Rose Garden is a beautiful place for a walk or a picnic.
- Dine al fresco on a nice night for the best view of downtown, or pack a picnic and drive or bike a short way to Dorthea Dix Park for a rival view.
- Pullen Park is a beautiful spot with a ferris wheel, train and paddle boats for any-aged kid!
- The Rialto is a historic movie theater with lots of charm. They still play The Rocky Horror Picture Show on the first, third and fifth Fridays.
- I have a thing for old houses, and this is where you’ll find them in Raleigh. The Historic Oakwood neighborhood has been home to many of Raleigh’s business and political leaders since the 19th century. My favorites are the colorful Victorian homes. The Oakwood Cemetery is a harrowing walk through Confederate history and Raleigh’s ancestors.
- The contemporary art museum, affectionately known as CAM, is another must-see on First Fridays. In addition to its gorgeous exhibitions, CAM hosts events here often.
- On the first Friday of every month, Raleigh celebrates First Friday — a city-wide gallery crawl. I love stopping by The Fish Market, the student-run gallery from nearby N.C. State University (my alma mater again), to see what the kids are up to these days. They always have some interesting stuff! ArtSpace is a huge visual art center and gallery space that’s always fun.
- About a 10-minute drive from campus, you’ll find the North Carolina Museum of Art, another place I always take visitors. Nestled among a greenway filled with public art, the museum has a mixture of contemporary and classical art, a sculpture garden and traveling exhibitions. You’ll definitely see something beautiful here, and the architecture of the West Building does not disappoint.
- Neptunes Parlour is a fun indie club for dancing, or you can catch a local band upstairs at Kings Barcade.
- Craving a night at the arcade? My friends took me to Boxcar on my last visit. Drink local brews while you play Pac-Man and Skee-Ball.
Because of its unique location in the center of North Carolina, it’s not too hard to get around by car or train.
- 30 minutes, Durham, N.C. — So close to Raleigh with so much more to discover!
- 3 hours, Charlotte, N.C. — This is where I live now! I add to this guide all the time, and you should totally visit this budding Southern city to the west.
- 4 hours, The Outer Banks, N.C. — Hit up the beach! There is nothing greater than exploring North Carolina’s stunning barrier islands on the Atlantic shore.
And that’s my Raleigh! I feel like I barely scratched the surface, but clearly there is so much to Raleigh and yet so much more to discover. No wonder it keeps popping up on all those “best of” lists!
For more, RDU love, check out the RDU Baton, a blog I started with some friends when I lived there. Featuring a new photographer every day who shows off their favorite spots in the city, I am so glad it’s still going strong without me. // susannah
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