What to do in Raleigh NC 8/22-8/28

I tried to decide whether this is an IMO, or a GQ, but couldn’t. So I’ll try in GQ (it does have answers, but lots of them are opinion).

We’re heading to Raleigh NC on a family vacation (Mrs. Butler, myself, and the 2yo Butlerette), which is part “We’ve got to go somewhere, let’s go to Raleigh, as we’re thinking of taking a post with the same company that allows us to move there on their dime,” and part proper vacation.

We’re planning on checking out some homes, and areas to settle if we decide to move, and heading west (yes, I know it’s a few hours) to see some NASCAR raceshops. (Michael Waltrip’s Raceworld is BIG on our list… go #55!)

What else is there that I “Can’t miss???” Good suggestions on food? (Especially BBQ… I loves me some good BBQ).

We don’t mind treking about in the car, and I’m not afraid of reading a map.

NC Dopers, list your suggestions! :smiley:


I work in Mooresville, NC. If your family likes animals, there’s a drive-thru animal park called the Lazy 5 Ranch right near here that’s supposed to be a lot of fun. There’s also a great BBQ joint called Lancaster’s in Mooresville where a lot of race teams congregate, but the best BBQ in the general area is supposedly in the town of Salisbury.

You ought to hit the beach. Surf City on Topsail Island is a nice day trip, about 2-2.5 hours from Raleigh. The public beach access has bathrooms for changing and an outdoor shower.

Be aware that I-40 west of Raleigh has some night and weekend construction that could affect your plans.

IMO the NC Zoo in Asheboro is worth seeing if it’s not too hot outside. You’ll do a lot of walking there, so you don’t want to go on a day when it’s 95 and sunny.

The NC art museum in Raleigh is pretty nice, although it’s currently undergoing a massive expansion effort and currently between major exhibits IIRC.

Might want to look at the local major universities (Duke, UNC, NC State) if that sort of thing interests you.

If the Durham Bulls (AAA baseball) are in town, that can be a fun and laid-back evening.

If you’re native to New England, be prepared for the heat to be god-awful.

I’ll second the idea of visiting the area universities. Duke has the Sarah P. Duke Garden, which is very pleasant to walk through if it’s not too hot, and the Duke Chapel is also a good (and relatively quick) stop. The only drawback is the timing - I think the universities will just be getting ramped up again for the fall, so there will be all sorts of freshmen and other assorted lost souls trying to figure out where they’re going, and the parking will probably be pretty tight.

If you’re into science and nature museums, the NC Museum of Natural History in downtown Raleigh is pretty good, and the Museum of Life and Science in Durham is a fun place to go as well.

When you head out for barbecue, keep in mind that NC barbecue isn’t the same as what you see in many parts of the country. Here’s a decent site that gives some good background on NC barbecue, as well as some listings of good barbecue restaurants.

If you’re interested in eating other meals that are good for the tastebuds but bad for everything else, stop by a Char-Grill in Raleigh for some old-time hamburger joint flavor. It’s entirely local, so it’s not something that you can get anywhere.

You might also want to stop by the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh over the weekend to get a bit more local flavor. There are usually a lot of stalls set up selling pretty much anything and everything, much of it with a Southern accent.

A friend of mine who ends up in that neighborhood on business trips more often than he’d like swears by a place called “Danny’s Bar-B-Que.” It’s right about here if you’re curious.

Raleigh is an odd choice for a vacation, frankly. It’s not a bad place to live, but there’s not really enough there to fill a week as tourists. It’s also likely to be hotter than forty hells when you’re there. If I were you, I’d check out the relocation stuff, then head on down to the beach. It’s about two hours away and much more fun.

FYI, Danny’s is not a traditional NC BBQ place. It’s not bad, though. Bullock’s in Durham is great, although it’s a little farther from Raleigh. There are probably good places in Raleigh proper as well, but I don’t know the downtown well.

Most people refer to this as a flea market. It’s not bad.

Indeed. In the “Check It Out” column in the N&O they mentioned how Raleigh was selected as best budget vacation destination or some such by somebody or other (great details, huh?). They concluded it was because once you get here there really isn’t anything to spend your money on. Sure, if you live here the museums, the Durham Bulls, zoo, etc, are all nice, but not something really to make a trip for.

If you visit NC State, you should check out Pullen Park. There a couple little kiddie rides your 2 yr old might enjoy. (If you ride the train, don’t sit near the front. It reeks of diesel exhaust)

Since suggestions for things to do are mainly going to be a matter of opinion, I think this is more appropriate for IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

During the summer the NC Museum of Art has outdoor movies on the lawn. This is a lot of fun. You can bring a picnic to enjoy. The weekend you’re here has some James Bond films - http://ncartmuseum.org/events/summerconcert.shtml

There is a similar scene at Regency Park in Cary, with a Carolina Music Festival going on http://www.boothamphitheatre.com/

Another museum your daughter might enjoy is Exploris, a museum about various cultures around the world. It’s in downtown Raleigh.

One of my favorite restaurants to give a true flavor of Raleigh is The Mecca http://triangle.citysearch.com/profile/6177016 It is downtown and lunch only, a good option before or after a museum visit. They are cash only.

The heat will be brutal. You may want to get a hotel with a pool and plan to spend much of your days there, or in air conditioned museums. You might even visit the Streets of Southpoint mall in Durham for a day of air conditioning. It’s probably the nicest local mall and has a good selection of restaurants.

Thanks to all for the suggestions so far!

As I mentioned briefly in my OP, we need to take a vacation, and we’re thinking of relocating my current job to Raleigh (I’m on the list for 2nd half '08), so this was as good a place as any… and they have NASCAR shops in the state. A “research vacation” allows us to do some initial research, without the “official pressure” of the work relocation process.

The beach is out. We live close to the beach, I grew up in a beach town, and I hate the ocean… unless diving or fishing offshore. Fresh water swimming only for me.

For the heat… this is also part of the research. If I can deal with it in late August, then I can live there. I’m working on the assumption that if it’s indoors, it’s airconditioned.

BBQ, thanks for the link! I’ll have to plot out the 4pig recommendations. :smiley: And I have no problem with different BBQ, whatever they have is better than what’s available in NH (Unless I cook it myself :cool: ) I’ll have to try both.

The flea market at the State Fair grounds sounds fun! We like flea markets, and there is nothing better to get the local flavor than a flea market!

One more question, and probably the most important… I’ll not be near my DVR during the Saturday night Bristol Nextel CUp race. I assume it’ll be easy to find a sports bar that will be carrying the race? :smiley:

Sorry, no answer about the race. There are plenty of sports bars around. You might want to look into whether anything else sports-wise is going on at the same time that is likely to appeal to the locals. Otherwise I’m sure someone would be happy to show the race.

If you’re interested in freshwater swimming, locally that is mostly at Falls Lake or Jordan Lake. Check out the state parks site for info http://www.ils.unc.edu/parkproject/ncparks.html

Having grown up in Minnesota, where swimming in lakes is common, I have to say that swimming in lakes in the south is a bit grosser. I hear snakes are a possibility, and the water just isn’t as nice.

You might also check out Pullen Aquatic Center for indoor swimming http://www.raleigh-nc.org/portal/server.pt/gateway/PTARGS_0_2_306_209_0_43/http%3B/pt03/DIG_Web_Content/category/Leisure/Parks_and_Facilities/Swimming_Pools/Pullen_Aquatic_Center/Cat-Index.html

There is also this small, family-owned waterpark

Why am I emphasizing swimming? Because, while I see your point about seeing if you can stand the heat, most locals will be spending those days in their air-conditioned homes or workplaces. Yes, pretty much everything indoors will be air conditioned, but outside the heat and humidity will be brutal.

As mentioned upthread:

The NC Zoo - Plan a whole day, it takes A LOT of walking

NC Museum of Art, but the kid may not enjoy as much.
The Natural Sciences Museum - Fang loves it almost as much as Exploris.

Right by the Flea Market is the NCSU Arboretum which has plenty of exotic plants.

Since you mentioned you like Fresh Water swimming, you might enjoy Silver Lake (aka The Redneck Riviera)*

Restaurants I’d recommend:
The Dalat - The best Vietnamese food you’ll ever have. I recommend the Crepes. Mrs. Magill recommends the Vermicelli.

Allen & Son Barbecue - Fan-effin’-tastic Central NC Barbecue. It’s on Hwy 86 just north of Chapel Hill.

Cloo’s Coney Island Hot Dogs - The dogs are okay, but the Chili Cheese Fries are to die for.

Casa Cabone - My first generation Italian Father-in-law approves. Jim Valvano was a regular.

Raleigh Little Theatre (where Mrs. Magill and I met) will not have anything in production when you’re there. But it’s worth noting that the production quality there is nearly as good as any Broadway show I’ve seen. I’d still pop by to check out the Rose Garden behind it. There’s a reason why it’s a popular wedding site.

Theater In The Park doesn’t look to have anything in production either. There’s a friendly rivalry between TIP and RLT, which is why the production quality is so high.
What hotels are you looking at? The Brownstone and Velvet Cloak are both on Hillsborough St. right near NC State.

*Do they still call it that?

Very Easy. Sammy’s is off Western Blvd in the Mission Valley shopping center. (If he has the Prime Rib sandwich - get it.)

Geez - can you tell I miss Raleigh?

My girlfriend recently put the weather issue perfectly: In the North, you stay inside during the dead of winter, and in the South, you stay inside during the dead of summer.

Seriously, it is not fit for humans outside during August. This coming week they’re predicting a heat index of 105 degrees. So, sadly, I’d avoid Duke Gardens or the zoo. Swimming is OK, just reapply sunblock frequently.

The mention of Southpoint mall reminded me that the Bodies Exhibition is currently there - don’t know of it’s your cup of tea, but it is a rare opportunity.

The Museum of Life & Science in Durham is a lot of fun. Actually, the science museum in downtown Raleigh is pretty good, and it’s free!

I haven’t seen it, but we have friends involved in Raleigh Little Theatre, and it seems like a fun outing. Right now they’re running a comic musical called “Urinetown,” which sounds much better than the name would imply.

Forgot to add the Farmer’s Market in Raleigh. Even if you’re staying in a hotel and can’t cook up a pot of corn or something, it’s fun to go and try samples - you can eat enough peaches, melon, berries, and tomatoes to make a full meal. Plus there are IIRC two restaurants on the property as well. It will be hot, I recommend going early, but at least it’s under a roof. Also, the indoor building has dynamite lemonade and orangeade waaaaay at one end, and lots of overprices tchotchkes, jams, and candies for tourist types.

I think Maus is mistaken about RLT - Urinetown runs through 8/26, so hopefully you could catch that.

Oh, and a Bulls game is a lot of fun - parking is a bitch, but the long walk to the park goes through the American Tobacco Campus, which has a wicked cool manmade river running all down it. Also, the fries at the DBAP are awesome.

And yeah, we saw Silver Lake for the first time (gee we’ve only lived here 13 years) a few weeks ago. It looks really fun - water slides and all kinds of stuff, and practically next door there’s an indoor/outdoor amusement facility, Putt Putt Golf and Games, that looks promising - mini golf, rock climbing wall, racecars, skiball, etc.

If you decide to come out to Orange County and visit Allen and Son, head on over to Maple View Farm. It will be hot and you will definitely need ice cream!

I can also recommend Carolina Ale House as a good place to go watch sports - it’s a small chain, so there are currently 5 locations here. The food is good and the ones I’ve been to are quite spacious. There’s plenty of TVs.

If you are interested in anything specifically for the kidlet, in Chapel Hill there’s the Kidzu Museum. I can’t vouch for it myself since I don’t have kids but it’s been very popular since it opened about a year and a half ago. If you go, have lunch at Top of the Hill - the food and the beer are very good.

Oh, yeah. Yet another thing I miss. Too bad there are no more telecom jobs in Raleigh.

You’re right. Me read good. Do you know who’s in it?

The parking at DBAP was a huge turn-off for me. I’d recommend a Mudcats game. It’s about the same distance from Raleigh, the parking’s better, the tickets are cheaper, and the stands are fully netted (sucks for foul balls, but safer for the kids). The main drawback is they’er AA, not AAA.

Oh, damn. I moved away less than a week ago, and y’all are making me homesick already.

I second the recs for the Duke chapel and gardens, and Allen & Sons, and Maple View Ice Cream. The planetarium at UNC is pretty good, too, and does a lot of kid-friendly shows.