It’s been a couple of years since I’ve done a travel guide for Raleigh and a whole lot has changed as well. I have been a resident of Raleigh for 10 years now, and the evolution has been amazing. The city is on the move and has so much to offer. I am proud to call it home and while it is constantly growing and changing, the city has maintained a small town feel. Businesses cheer each other on and the support at events like First Friday, the first Friday of every month downtown, really makes that evident. I recently was honored as a 919 Influencer to Watch, and that was the core of my message. While a lot has changed and the cultural landscape is evolving and progressing, it still feels close knit.
Best of Raleigh: Bars & Breweries
Best of Raleigh Bars
Fox Liquor Bar is one of Ashley Christensen’s gems, and the vibe is like all of her other concepts: welcoming, chill, but still hip. It’s a great place to experiment with cocktails; my go-to is usually to ask the bartender to surprise me with a concoction. Also, the taco-spiced pork rinds are gold.
Located in downtown Raleigh on Fayetteville Street, The Haymaker has a variety of original cocktails, classic takes, and prosecco on tap. The bar is also one of the Miracle popup bars during the holiday season and is one of our favorite spots to celebrate the season!
A newcomer to the warehouse district, Junction West boasts a beautiful, bright space to gather. It also doubles as an event space, and is a breathtaking wedding venue and perfect place to host events. Junction West is also a wonderful spot to meet friends right near Union Station. The patio is so charming and flows so nicely out of the former warehouse that has been updated, yet is still full of natural light and character.
Level 7 was the first rooftop bar located in North Hills on the top of the AC Hotel in North Hills. The tapas are delicious and is the perfect spot for a Friday night happy hour. See more from Level7 here and here.
Watts and Ward is an upscale speakeasy named after the Watts Act of 1903 and the Ward Act of 1905, both state legislation passed to prohibit alcohol well before Prohibition was a federal policy. The interior is thoughtfully designed and is a gorgeous take on the 1920s era, plus there is a great outdoor space for warmer evenings.
Right in the heart of Oakwood, William & Company is a fun neighborhood bar with unique cocktails and a cozy environment. Get a tamale while you’re there!
Best of Raleigh Breweries
No stranger to accolades, Brewery Bhavana was just named one of the 15 most beautiful breweries/wineries/distilleries in the world. The beer is tasty whether you grab a pint at the restaurant to browse the flowers and the books or if pick up the canned version to go.
Burial Beer Co is located in Transfer Co. Food Hall and is the taproom for the Asheville brewery. This version of Burial Beer Co releases rare collections and displays Burial artwork. It’s a great addition to the Raleigh scene!
Right off of North St., Little City Brewing & Provisions quickly became a favorite spot in downtown Raleigh. The beer is delicious, the space is gorgeous, and the service is friendly.
Lynnwood Brewing Concern has two locations, but the location in 5 Points is such a cool spot. It has food trucks, a laid back vibe, and space for pups.
Our favorite Raleigh brewery is Trophy Brewing, with three locations in downtown Raleigh. The Maywood location is a taproom with food trucks right near the State Farmer’s Market. But our favorite is Trophy Brewing & Pizza on Morgan Street, and is the original one in the Trophy family.
Best of Raleigh: Points of Interest
Raleigh Coffee Shops have really stepped up their game and are multitasking for their guests. Whether its a coffee bean subscription, delicious food menu, flower shop, or just a gorgeous gathering space, here is a list of the best in the area.
Discover hidden history in Mordecai, a quaint neighborhood in downtown Raleigh. The Mordecai House also houses the Badger-Iredell Law Office and Andrew Johnson’s birthplace. They also offer a trolley tour of Raleigh on Saturdays, which is a fun way to learn more about Raleigh’s history. For food, check out Escazu for chocolate, the Stanbury for supper, or pick up a unique gift at the Edge of Urge.
Morgan Street Food Hall is the first food hall that opened in Raleigh and is the perfect spot for a progressive meal day. Favorites include Oak City Fish & Chips (get the fried lobster!), Sassool (love their falafel), and Raleigh Rolls for a sweet treat. There is also a creative florist with stunning (and affordable) arrangements to go. On weekends, there is a great mimosa deal for brunch at the bar.
North Carolina Museum of Art has something for everyone! The outdoor trails are perfect for an afternoon of exploring while the Friday night jazz nights are a lovely option for date nights. Plus, David and I love the summer movie series and try to pick a movie each summer to enjoy outdoors. The exhibits are outstanding and the space is so gorgeous.
As a self-proclaimed history nerd and a native North Carolinian, I am consistently impressed with the exhibits at the North Carolina Museum of History. I am very excited about the current exhibit on post Civil War North Carolina and the lasting effects. The museum offers great guest lectures and has a really great podcast with lots of interesting facts.
My dream neighborhood is Oakwood with its amazing history, location in downtown Raleigh, and the community events hosted by the Society for the Preservation of Historic Oakwood. David and I consistently look forward to the candlelight tour at the holiday season, but also the tea and garden tour is a perfect way to spend a spring afternoon with your girlfriends.
Pullen Park is such a fun place to spend an afternoon. David and I always enjoy heading down to the park for pedal boating and walking around when they have free concerts. It’s also a perfect spot if you have little ones with the train.
The newcomer on the food scene in Raleigh is Transfer Co. Food Hall and y’all, it is delicious and perfectly restored. I love this old Carolina Coach bus garage and shop and the intention of creating a community space is beautifully articulated through the work. Favorites include Locals Oyster Bar where you have to order local oysters to start, but a fried shrimp po boy for your entree. I am hoping to make it to Benchwarmers Bagels one day before they are sold out, but no time is complete without getting a sweet treat from Captain Cookie & the Milkman.
We love Umstead Park for a hiking spot with Winston & Gizmo. It’s convenient with lots of options for trails. There are three lakes, one with canoe rentals, such there is a lot to offer for everyone.
I am obsessed with Raleigh’s Union Station located right in the Warehouse District, right near Junction West. Catch a train to a new city, or just explore the beautiful spaces throughout the station.
Best of Raleigh: Restaurants
Angus Barn is a Raleigh icon famous for its steaks, the Wild Turkey Lounge, and its outstanding holiday decor. Order: Espresso Rubbed Filet Mignon, wedge salad, and chocolate chess pie
There is so much intentionality in everything Bida Manda embodies and I am here for it. Order the crispy pork belly soup and thank me later.
While I mentioned Brewery Bhavana earlier in my brewery section, the food here is divine as well. Last year, we celebrated my birthday here with lots of small plates, but I also love meeting friends here for Friday happy hour over bao. Order: any of the bao, but my favorite is the pork, crab Rangoon, duck egg rolls; for something larger, try lo main noodles.
Cantina 18 is an old favorite of mine, dating back to my move to Raleigh 10 years ago. Whenever my girlfriends would come visit, we would head to Cantina 18 for dinner before a night out. Chef-proprietor Jason Smith is one of my favorites in Raleigh because of his commitment to farm to table and his southern twist on Tex-Mex. Order: queso and a chicken Tinga quesadilla.
When I planned my fast-food tour with Courtney and Glory last fall, Char-Grill was a no-brainer for me. Their bacon cheeseburger is one of the best around and you know a place that has fountain Cheerwine is going to be good. Order: bacon cheeseburger, fries, a large Cheerwine, and if you’re really feeling it, a chocolate milkshake to go.
I love the vibe of City Market Sushi and their sushi selection is outstanding as well. You know I’m a sucker for a good building and the exposed brick is one of my favorite features. Order the soft-shell crab slider and the black tiger roll.
A little known (?) fact about me is that I consider myself a BBQ connoisseur, especially on eastern North Carolina BBQ. If you want authentic, eastern North Carolina style BBQ in Raleigh, do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Head right on down to Wilmington St. to Clyde Cooper’s BBQ and order yourself a bbq sandwich with slaw, a side of fried okra, and some sweet tea. P.S. an important note is that you’ll need cash.
Gonza Tacos y Tequila has the best shrimp tacos and the most fun interior design. It’s a favorite lunch spot of mine, but also a good dinner choice as well. Order: shrimp tacos with black beans.
Hummingbird is located right in 5 Points, right next to Lynnwood Brewing Concern, and is the perfect spot for a delicious and adventurous dining experience. I love their fish dip and oysters, but their seasonal entrees are amazing as well.
I am a huge fan of Mandolin, particularly because I love that Chef Fowler sources ingredients from his family farm. The soft shell crab is a season favorite and don’t miss the seasonal farm dinners hosted on the family farm. It is a truly enchanting evening, plus their are chickens and goats. Another true favorite quality of mine is that Chef Fowler and his wife are truly passionate about better school lunches, which is something I am equally passionate about.
O-Ku opened in the Dillon in the Warehouse District of Raleigh and is a newcomer on the dining scene. I love the interior decor, but the menu is packed full of delicious options. I find it best to go with girlfriends and sample more of the menu!
Whenever I am asked for a Raleigh recommendation, the #1 on my list will always be Poole’s Diner. I have an emotional connection to the dining experience I had 9 years ago and I fan girl hard over Ashley Christensen. It is quintessential Raleigh: unpretentious, welcoming, cool, and delicious. I love the soft shell crab, the Royale, and the chicken breast served over mashed potatoes. If you go for brunch, get the “Hangover” dish. But whatever you do, when you go for dinner, order the Mac and cheese. It’s enough to share and dare I say, better heated up the next day. A lot of my love for Raleigh comes thanks to Ashley Christensen and I am proud of what she has done for our city.
Remedy Dinner is my favorite spot for lunch or dinner and offers a great vegan and vegetarian menu. It truly has something for everyone. My personal favorite is the Veggie Under the Volcano sandwich. Plus, the decor is super cool and relaxed while serving up delicious entrees.
Royale has an interesting French American concept and is located right in City Market. I am a fan of the Royale burger, plus the fried Brussel sprouts and oysters. It’s a fun, hip spot for a girls’ night out or for a date night.
While I was sad to see Joule close, St. Roch Fine Oysters and Bar is a concept that Raleigh needed. There are few dishes I crave more than the Pimento’d oysters and makes it a perfect happy hour spot.
Vivace is another go-to spot for my girlfriends and me for dinner. Conveniently located in North Hills, the patio is perfect for warm evenings, and the four cheese pizza is one of my favorite dishes in Raleigh.
Best of Raleigh: Self-Care
A couple of years ago, I met Katy, she did my hair, and we became immediate friends. She is also from eastern North Carolina, an ECU alum, patient, loving, supportive, and she does a great job on my hair! Katy is the total package and I cannot recommend her enough.
Located right in Cameron Village, Lorena Luca is a great spot to relax and unwind with a massage or facial. I love the interior details and the products used are so hydrating and smell amazing. I cannot recommend the hydrogen facial enough!
Paintbase is my go-to place for manicures and pedicures, but also spray tans. When you go to Paintbase on Glenwood South, ask for Khameo. She does a fantastic job and always helps me pick the right color for the season.
I love that we live in a world where you can get someone else to wash and style your hair. Parlor Dry Bar, located in Cameron Village, is a convenient spot for a blow out and Antionette does such a fabulous job on styling my hair.
The Umstead is just so breathtaking and feels like a true escape while there. I love to book a massage so I can spend the day using the spa facility, including the pool, during the warm months. It is my favorite place to relax and get away without leaving Raleigh.
Best of Raleigh: Shopping
bevello was founded in Raleigh with contemporary, affordable pieces. My favorite part of bevello is the goal to empower women through style and customer service. Located in Cameron Village & Crabtree Valley Mall.
Charlotte’s Inc was one of the first boutiques I shopped at in Raleigh and is my favorite spot for a traditional gift or a fun spring outfit. I get major style inspiration from their Instagram account. It’s a Raleigh staple with locations in Cameron Village and North Hills.
The eclectic, fun shop Deco features the work of more than 75 local artisans and makers. The shop strives to be an adventure every time with products that will make you laugh out loud. It is a must-shop boutique in downtown Raleigh.
Edge of Urge focuses on building relationships with independent and small designers from all over the country. The shop is guaranteed to introduce you to new brands you’ll love and the owners’ passion for North Carolina is one of my favorite qualities about the shop, located in Mordecai.
The Flourish Market has evolved over time from a fashion truck to a brick and mortar. Just this week, Emily announced not only a new space that will feature a coffee shop, but also a co-working space as well. I love her message of empowerment for women and her commitment to helping women achieve their dreams. You are sure to leave her shop inspired by her and her team. Currently located on Glenwood South but moving to the Warehouse District in May!
It’s no secret that I love a good paper product, and If It’s Paper is the perfect spot for that. I love the story behind this stationary and gift shop and its location right off Wade Ave.
The Local Squirrel features many products by local and small makers with a focus on North Carolina specific gifts. Rachael’s love for beautiful and thoughtful gifts is evident in the carefully curated collection right in Cameron Village.
Monkee’s of Raleigh is the perfect spot for a swanky outfit or accessory for an event. I love their collection of Mignonne Gavigan earrings and they carry some of my favorite clothing designers like Alice & Trixie and Gal Meets Glam.
I aspire to be a plant lady and the Zen Succulent helps me believe that I can accomplish that goal. The Zen Succulent is my happy place and I could spend all afternoon learning about the plants in the shop. They also carry the cutest gifts and unique supplies for your plants. The Raleigh shop is located right on Wilmington Ave in downtown Raleigh.
Best of Raleigh: Where to Stay
David and I did a birthday staycation at AC Hotel North Hills, but it was also perfect for a girls’ night in North Hills. I love the convenient location to park for a weekend and explore what North Hills has to offer.
Guest House is a boutique hotel located right in downtown Raleigh. It has 8 rooms with tons of natural light, a beautiful front porch and a back patio with a view of the Raleigh skyline. I’m thrilled Raleigh finally has a boutique hotel and this husband and wife team saved a historic house from demolition to become what is the Guest House. It’s the perfect place to stay and explore downtown.
If you want to do it up in Raleigh, then stay at The Umstead. The grounds are perfect for spending a day exploring, the spa is perfectly relaxing, and the accommodations are stunning.
Y’all. This may be the longest post I’ve ever written, but it perfectly captures my love of Raleigh. Where are your favorite spots in the city?