Raleigh 101

The North Carolina capital is taking over the creative scene, one must-see venue at a time

The easternmost point of North Carolina’s Research Triangle, Raleigh is where arts and smarts meet. Its population ranks second in the South in advanced degrees, and its creative scene is so hot, city officials just drafted a plan to make the town the official “Arts Capital of the South.” Here, we offer a crash course on the places no visitor to Raleigh should miss.

Once a quiet corridor, the Person Street district northeast of downtown is now a Raleigh hotspot jammed with shops, restaurants, and bars that rock a progressive, indie vibe.

Wine Authorities
Part retailer, part neighborhood hangout, Wine Authorities only carries labels from small, family-owned vineyards. This means you probably won’t recognize most of the bottles (which retail for $50 or less), but that’s all the more reason to read the clever, staff-written descriptions (a 2008 Tre Ricci Cabernet Sauvignon is a “sports coupe of a cab with a smooth, throaty purr”). Drop in for happy hour, when the small lounge fills with young professionals sampling twenty-four wines from the dispensing machine and noshing on locally purveyed meats, cheeses, and breads. wineauthorities.com

Standard Foods

Lumina Clothing
Opened with funds raised by a Kickstarter campaign, this dapper men’s store sells its own line of Don Draper–worthy bow ties, pocket squares, shirts, and chinos. The four owners—all North Carolinians, three of them North Carolina State grads—named the store in honor of the cotton looms that once kept North Carolina’s textile-based economy spinning. Everything they carry is made in America, with many items manufactured in North Carolina. luminaclothing.com

Standard Foods
This highly anticipated Person Street newcomer showcases the considerable talents of Scott Crawford, three-time James Beard Foundation semifinalist for “Best Chef – Southeast” and former executive chef of the Umstead Hotel and Spa in nearby Cary. The restaurant marks Crawford’s first foray into casual cuisine and offers creative spins on Southern comfort food (think chicken-fried rabbit served with mashed parsnips and thyme gravy). The adjoining grocery features a whole-animal butchery, fruits and vegetables from neighboring Raleigh City Farm, and a seafood counter displaying wild oysters, crab, and grouper from the North Carolina coast. standard-foods.com

Green chili and black bean pie, anyone? Or perhaps you’d prefer a slice of “crack pie” (chess pie sprinkled with powdered sugar)? Or maybe you’d like your pie in liquid form—i.e. a pumpkin pie-tini? PieBird, a friendly little neighborhood cafe, whips up imaginative takes on pastries every day. Another unexpected offering: You can pay by Bitcoin, if you are so inclined. piebirdraleigh.com

As its name indicates, this district encompassing northeast downtown is home to the state government complex, including the Capitol Building and the Governor’s Mansion. It’s also where you’ll find two top-notch museums—offering free admission—that have helped earn Raleigh the nickname “Smithsonian of the South.”

North Carolina State Capitol Building
North Carolina State Capitol Building

Keenan Hairston

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and Nature Research Center
The largest museum of its kind in the Southeast, this 200,000-square-foot facility is the state’s top attraction. Enter near the three-story landmark globe and head to the Naturalist Center on the second floor. After a brief orientation, browse thousands of specimens, from preserved reptiles to paleontological holdings (fossils), and place your favorites on a computerized table that provides information about them. Over in the Nature Exploration Center, a forty-foot-long Acrocanthosaurus fossil stalks its prey, while a massive 3-D theater screens science and nature films. naturalsciences.org

North Carolina Museum of History
Daniel Boone. The Wright Brothers. Michael Jordan. North Carolina has known its share of history makers, and it salutes them all at this Smithsonian affiliate. The centerpiece exhibit, The Story of North Carolina, follows the state from prehistoric times to the modern age, introducing figures like Blackbeard, explaining terms like “tar heel,” and exploring tough issues like slavery and race relations. The museum is also home to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, where you can check out one of Richard Petty’s number-43 Plymouths. ncmuseumofhistory.org

Formerly an industrial zone filled with factories, this hip area in downtown’s southwest quadrant now turns out some of the city’s top art and dining experiences.

CAM Raleigh
Jon Sack

CAM Raleigh
Situated in a former produce warehouse, this contemporary art museum has been the district’s heartbeat since 2011. It features rotating exhibitions showcasing a range of works, from mixed-media sculpture to solar-powered installations, as well as a slate of seminars and Q&A sessions with artists. October 2 through January 3, check out Sarah Cain: The Imaginary Architecture of Love, which includes a massive painting Cain created on the museum walls and floor. camraleigh.org

Raleigh Denim Workshop and Curatory
Husband-and-wife team Victor Lytvinenko and Sarah Yarborough have converted an old warehouse into an artisan denim factory, crafting jeans for clients such as Bloomingdale’s and Saks (they also have their own store in New York City). Visit the Curatory, a small retail space in the front of the workshop, where you can watch the jeansmiths at work through a vertical window and shop the racks for the perfect pair. The boutique’s other offerings reflect the couple’s wide-ranging tastes: Preppy button-down shirts hang above studded leather belts, and silk ties are folded near graphic-print tees. Above it all, hundreds of brown paper airplanes hang from the rafters, fitting symbols of this highflying brand. raleighworkshop.com; thecuratory.com

Videri Chocolate Factory
Walking into this century-old railroad depot, guests are greeted with a heady sensory experience. The massive brick walls catch your eye, the soothing sounds of brewing coffee fill your ears, and the smells—oh the smells. Organic cocoa beans are roasted, ground, and blended with cocoa butter and organic sugar on-site, creating little bits of heaven like a special holiday bar with seventy-percent dark chocolate and crushed peppermint. Wander the factory floor, reading signs about the chocolate-making process, then buy a bar from the apothecary-like counter. Enjoy it on the patio with a cup of hot chocolate or even a glass of wine (it’s BYOB). viderichocolatefactory.com

The Junction Salon and Bar
In this trendy part of town, combining a salon with a full-service bar seems completely normal. Settle in for a pedicure or haircut, order an Old Fashioned, and survey the building’s exposed beams, wooden ceilings, and brick walls—reminders of its days as a railroad depot (it’s the same one that houses Videri Chocolate Factory). junctionsalon.com

The Pit
In grand Eastern North Carolina tradition, this barbecue joint—located in a 1930s meatpacking warehouse—smokes whole hogs over an open fire, chops the meat up, and serves it with a tangy vinegar-based sauce. Pair your ’cue with the day’s fresh vegetables and a glass of bourbon ambrosia. There’s even a barbecued tofu plate on the menu for those who don’t squeal over pork. thepit-raleigh.com

There’s a local acronym for this well-to-do Raleigh suburb just west of the city: “Containment Area for Relocated Yankees.” All joking aside, it’s easy to understand how this peaceful, leafy town would draw people from near and far.

Umstead Hotel & Spa
Umstead Hotel & Spa

Umstead Hotel & Spa
When billionaire James Goodnight approached the Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons resorts about opening a hotel near the headquarters of SAS, his Cary-based software company, they told him the area couldn’t support such luxurious accommodations. In 2007, Goodnight proved them wrong by building his own—it’s now one of only two North Carolina properties with a AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star rating for its hotel and restaurant (the Fearrington House Inn in Pittsboro is the other). Named for neighboring William B. Umstead State Park, the property is known for its modern artwork (much of it curated by Goodnight’s wife, Ann) and elegant ambience (afternoon tea is serenaded by a harpist). At Herons, the hotel’s signature restaurant, thirty-five-year-old Executive Chef Steven Greene is shaking up the culinary world as one of the youngest people in the country to head a Five-Star, Five-Diamond dining establishment. Don’t miss his signature seven-course kaiseki menu, which transforms the restaurant’s regional cuisine into plated art. theumstead.com 

La Farm
From the street, you’d never guess this bakery tucked inside an unassuming strip mall is the workplace of Lionel Vatinet, a 2015 James Beard Foundation semifinalist for “Outstanding Baker.” But once inside, the long lines and crowded community tables make it clear you’ve stumbled upon something special. Order the croque madame and a café latte, plus a loaf of Vatinet’s famous country French bread to take home. lafarmbakery.com

Fayetteville Street is Raleigh’s Main Street, slicing through the center of town. By day, it’s a bustling commercial district; come evening, it crackles with some of Raleigh’s hottest restaurants and bars.

City of Raleigh Museum
Situated in the nineteenth-century Briggs Hardware building, this free museum tells the city’s story through well-maintained exhibits and interesting artifacts. Capital Cartography showcases 200 years of city maps, while Our War shares touching memories from some of Raleigh’s World War II veterans. In the gift shop, check out the building’s original tin ceiling and pick up locally made products such as Holly Aiken handbags. cityofraleighmuseum.org

Ashley Christensen’s Empire
Named “Best Chef – Southeast” by the James Beard Foundation in 2014, Ashley Christensen put Raleigh’s culinary scene on the map. Her first restaurant, Poole’s Diner, opened in 2007 with a chalkboard menu of kicked-up comfort foods like lobster and dumplings. In 2011, she opened a trio of ventures: Beasley’s Chicken + Honey (think fried chicken biscuits and creamed collards), Chuck’s (house-ground burgers and fork-and-knife fries), and Fox Liquor Bar (bitter Mai Tais and charcuterie plates). Two years later, she unveiled Joule Coffee & Table, a cheerful cafe with a copper ceiling, aromatic pour-overs, and a killer brunch menu. Her most recent offering, Death & Taxes, brings wood-fire cooking to the city’s Moore Square district. ac-restaurants.com

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this south-east downtown district is home to cobblestone streets lined with restaurants, galleries, and boutiques—many of them located in and around the 1914 City Market.

Bida Manda

Bida Manda
One of only a handful of Laotian restaurants in the country, this popular spot was opened by Vansana Nolintha, an NC State alum, and his sister Vanvisa. The duo, who moved from Laos to North Carolina as children, wanted to share the flavors of their native country with their adopted hometown. The restaurant’s name means “father and mother” in Sanskrit, and a black-and-white portrait of the siblings’ parents greets visitors at the entrance. Try the crispy rice lettuce wrap and the green papaya salad, and whatever you do, don’t miss the pork belly soup with coconut curry broth and peanuts. It’s bliss in a bowl. bidamanda.com


Tedd Anderson

This former City Market warehouse is home to thirty studios for established and emerging artists who welcome visitors to their workspaces. Enter through the three-story lobby, climb the spiral staircase, and wander the halls, pausing to watch painters, jewelry makers, and textile artists at work. Everything in their studios is available for purchase, and they’re glad to answer questions about their methods. Don’t miss the cura-ted pieces hanging in the corridors or the two galleries featuring rotating exhibits. artspacenc.org

Busy Bee Cafe
Known as much for its wide selection of beers as its food, this lively joint set in a 1913 building serves ten categories of brews, from malts to hops, as well as vintage beers such as a 2006 J.W. Lees Harvest Ale. The menu changes daily, but on a recent visit, a sixteen-ounce pour of French Broad Rye Hopper was an astounding $3. The restaurant also takes bar food up a few notches (try the short rib tacos), and the upstairs lounge, known as “The Hive,” starts buzzing at 10 p.m. busybeeraleigh.com

North Carolina native Jessie Connor opened this store specializing in handcrafted home and lifestyle products in late 2014. Inside the brick-walled boutique, you’ll find a host of Raleigh-made items: terrariums from the Zen Succulent, plates from Arrow and Sage, and quilts from Rye and Hardy. Retail runs in Connor’s genes: Her brother is Lumina co-founder Paul Connor. ramblesupplyco.com

Although these three places aren’t located within our spotlighted areas, no trip to Raleigh is complete without visiting them.

North Carolina Museum of Art
North Carolina Museum of Art

Raleigh Beer Garden
Three hundred sixty-six. That’s how many beer taps it took to land this new Glenwood South hotspot the title of “world’s biggest beer garden.” Of those taps, 144 are dedicated to North Carolina–made brews. You’ll find the home-state pours on the first floor, along with a patio shaded by a pecan tree transplanted from a North Carolina farm. In fact, the property on which the beer garden sits was once home to a number of pecan trees, which have found a new incarnation as the establishment’s countertops, bars, and tables. theraleighbeergarden.com

North Carolina Museum of Art
It’s well worth the ten-minute drive from downtown to this museum’s West Raleigh campus. North Carolina was the first state in the nation to purchase works of art, and the free museum showcases the Tar Heel State’s acquisitions since 1947. Browse works by Raphael, Claude Monet, and Georgia O’Keeffe, as well as the largest collection of Auguste Rodin sculpture in the South. Save time to wander Museum Park, dotted with sculptures and crisscrossed by trails. Spanning 164 acres, it’s the largest park of its kind in the country. ncartmuseum.org

Tucked inside the historic Hayes Barton residential neighborhood, Mandolin is one of those off-the-beaten-path places locals adore and visitors rarely find. Raleigh native Sean Fowler left the AAA Five-Diamond Fearrington House Inn in nearby Pittsboro in 2011 to open the restaurant in a historical pharmacy he frequented as a boy. Order the housemade ricotta and warm Brussels sprouts salad mixed with potato skins, hazelnuts, and honey. Wash it down with the signature Negroni made with Matthiasson vermouth, gin, and Campari. mandolinraleigh.com