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Raleigh is city that combines modern attractions with Southern charm: Booming tech start-ups are located steps away from local farmers markets; Bluegrass festivals take place alongside Anime conventions; and James Beard Award-winning chefs serve up crispy chicken-and-waffles drizzled with honey.
In the past decade, the capital of North Carolina has flourished. The area is home to one of the world’s largest research parks, as well as a high concentration of universities. Combine this with a thriving arts scene, a diverse population and plenty of green space, and the result is a city that attracts families from across the country. Raleigh has a relaxing pace, so families can slow down and enjoy their time together, and they are sure to encounter some delightful surprises along the way.
Raleigh celebrates seasonal products at the North Carolina Farmers Market year-round. Everything from strawberries and tomatoes to crawfish and pecans has its own special day at the peak of its season. The farmers market is also a great spot to do a little souvenir shopping, with local wine, honey, crafts and baked goods on offer. Enjoy seafood fresh from the coast, share a quart of freshly picked berries with the kids, or tuck into an omelette stuffed with seasonal veggies at the State Farmers Market Restaurant, open for breakfast and lunch.
The North Carolina Museum of Art is great for both kids and adults, especially in the summer, when the museum puts on movies and concerts in its amphitheater. In the past, big names such as Iron and Wine and the Carolina Chocolate Drops have performed there. Families should also be sure to check out performances by Paperhand Puppet Intervention, a local group that creates extraordinary, larger-than-life puppets and shadow plays using everyday materials such as cardboard and bamboo.
Families with young children should spend a few hours at Marbles Kids Museum, an interactive space that gets its name from the wall that wraps around the building — it contains more than one million marbles that are illuminated at night. The Wells Fargo IMAX Theatre at Marbles screens educational documentaries as well as select Hollywood films. Nearby, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences presents an array of natural wonders for children of all ages, including an interactive maze and giant whale skeletons suspended in a lofty atrium.
You might not expect ice hockey to be a big draw in North Carolina, but the Carolina Hurricanes NHL team inspires passionate fandom. The atmosphere at PNC Arena on game day is electric. A family outing to a Hurricanes game gives kids a chance to jump around and make some noise. Families should be sure to get a photo with the team’s beloved mascot, Stormy the Ice Hog.
Raleigh’s culinary scene has blossomed in recent years, thanks in part to gourmand and local darling Ashley Christensen, a chef who owns several successful restaurants in town. Her creative, flavorful cuisine earned her the prestigious James Beard Award in May 2014. Kids will love an outing to Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, one of Christensen’s most popular restaurants, in the heart of downtown. Everything about the atmosphere is family-friendly, from the chalkboard murals to the long farmhouse tables. Crispy fried chicken is essentially the only main course on the menu, but guests can choose how it’s served: on its own, atop a waffle, or sandwiched with pimento cheese on a buttery biscuit. (As you might have guessed, this is not a place for counting calories.)
Raleigh is also home to some tasty food truck fare, and if clients time their visit right, you can sample from more than 50 North Carolina trucks that convene for the bimonthly Downtown Raleigh Food Truck Rodeo. Favorites include Chirba Chirba for Asian dumplings and Belgian Waffology for sweet and savory waffles.
When it comes to family-friendly accommodations, Raleigh has plenty of highly rated hotels to choose from. Renaissance Raleigh North Hills is an excellent choice, and families will feel right at home. The hotel’s staff is warm and efficient, and rates are reasonable. Perhaps the property’s greatest attribute is its location in the middle of a pedestrian-friendly complex, complete with dozens of restaurants, boutiques and a movie theater.
For a family vacation, Raleigh is tough to beat thanks to its well-balanced mix of traditional delights and innovative surprises. It thrives as a hub for business, but it retains its laid-back charm, making it one of the most beloved cities in the South.
Your Guide to Raleigh
What to Do:
Marbles Kids Museumwww.marbleskidsmuseum.org
North Carolina Farmers Marketwww.facebook.com/statefarmersmarket
North Carolina Museum of Artwww.ncartmuseum.org
North Carolina Museum of Natural Scienceswww.naturalsciences.org
Where to Eat:
Beasley’s Chicken + Honey237 S. Wilmington St.www.ac-restaurants.com/beasleys
Downtown Raleigh Food Truck RodeoFayetteville St. www.downtownraleighfoodtruckrodeo.com
State Farmers Market Restaurant1240 Farmer’s Market Dr.www.realbiscuits.com
When to Go:Raleigh’s temperate climate makes it an enjoyable place to visit any time of year, but the city is at its best during the warmer months. In spring, flowers are in full bloom and the days are warm, with evening lows in the 50s. Fall ushers in cool breezes and the North Carolina State Fair; many local farms host corn mazes and nature walks when the leaves are at their peak colors.
Getting There:Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) is conveniently located in the middle of the Triangle, between Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. Fresh from a multimillion-dollar renovation project, the airport’s terminals are modern, streamlined and easy to navigate. Direct flights run from LAX and JFK Airport to Raleigh-Durham.
Where to Stay:
Renaissance Raleigh North Hills Hotel4100 Main at North Hills St. 919-571-8773www.marriott.com