Writer Lilit Marcus is a fourteenth-generation North Carolinian. Her first ancestor arrived to the state in 1630, and there's probably Tarheel coursing through her veins. When she offered to share tips for navigating her hometown of Raleigh, we gave her the floor.
RALEIGH, North Carolina – North Carolina is sometimes overshadowed by its more showy neighbors, Virginia and South Carolina, but this "valley of humility between two mountains of conceit" offers mountains, beaches, and everything in between. The capital, Raleigh, is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, but it hasn't lost its characteristic Southern cool. From homemade textiles to finger-licking fried food, here are all the things you won't want to miss in the City of Oaks.
WHERE TO SLEEP
The Oakwood Inn is a six-room B&B inside a house listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Each room is designed with a different theme and named after an important person or place in the state. The Polk Room pays tribute to James Knox Polk, the first president to hail from the Tarheel State.
Over by the NC State University campus and within walking distance of many downtown attractions is Cameron Park Inn, located in a gorgeous restored Victorian home. The inn is home to Beanie, an adorable rescue dog who greets guests on arrival.
WHERE TO EAT
Even the most diehard I-only-eat-my-mama's-fried-chicken locals admit that Beasley's is a welcome addition to the downtown food scene. Carolina native Ashley Christensen brings her small-town skills to the big city, with lines out the door for her honey-tinged fried chicken and whipped Yukon gold potatoes.
For down-home favorites like shrimp and grits, hit the brunch at NOFO at the Pig in the historic Five Points neighborhood, then head upstairs to pick up knickknacks from the gift shop.
For a taste of the local coffee shop scene, hang out in downtown stalwart The Third Place (1811 Glenwood Ave., +1-919-834-6566), which has plenty of vegan/vegetarian options and reliable copies of local free paper The Independent (aka The Indy), which has listings for all the concerts, shows, and events you can check out while you're in town.
If it's old-school NC you're after, it's hard to go wrong with a Krispy Kreme donut, which was invented down the road in Winston-Salem in the 1930s and is a truly NC tradition. There are several locations in Raleigh, though I recommend the one at 549 N. Person St., which still has the classic "hot" light alerting customers when those fried delights are coming off the conveyer belt.
Mitch's Tavern is popular with locals but became famous on a bigger level when it was featured in the movie Bull Durham. It still has some movie memorabilia there, and staff are usually happy to point out where specific scenes (namely the bar fight) took place.
WHERE TO DRINK
The Raleigh Times Bar is an appropriately named bar located in the building that housed the now-defunct newspaper of the same name. The wildly varied beer selection includes quite a few homegrown favorites. The bar reached local celebrity status when then-Senator Obama came in for a drink while on the campaign trail.
Meanwhile, if proper Southern spirits are more your thing, head to Foundation for cocktails made with true Kentucky bourbons, local moonshines, and any other belly-burning alcohol you could want.
WHAT TO DO
North Carolina Museum of Art holds its own with any metropolitan art museum. Take an afternoon to view the large Rodin collection and walk through the sculpture garden.
North Carolina State Capitol Building and Governor's Mansion downtown give you a sense of the state's rich history from British colonial times through the present. You may notice that many streets share names with other NC cities like Wilmington, Fayetteville, and Hillsborough. That's because of a deal struck by state leaders that the city chosen as capital would have to name streets after all the other also-rans.
WHERE TO SHOP
North Carolina is famous for its textiles, and the brilliant minds at Raleigh Denim have incorporated traditional techniques while making hipster-approved small-batch jeans in their downtown workshop. If you drop by in person, you can get a pair fit to your liking.
Furbish Studio is a local interiors and accessories shop that adds quirky twists to Southern home decor — tabletop items, pillows, books, and accessories.
Should you prefer actual vintage to vintage-style, dig for vinyl records, vinyl boots, and not-so-vinyl furniture at Father & Son Antiques.
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly: The Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) is serviced by most major U.S. airlines and is about 10 miles from downtown Raleigh. Taxis and rental cars are available on arrival to take you to the city; check with your hotel to see if they provide shuttle service to and from the airport.
FOR YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE
Besides The Independent, the Triangle Music blog is a smart resource for music events in the greater Raleigh area (including Durham and Chapel Hill). Keep up with food blog Eat Raleigh for the latest in dining out.
See all locations mentioned in this story. (Google Maps)