What should we do in RDU? Days: two.
August 25, 2012 12:14 PM   Subscribe

We are visiting Raleigh/Durham for a weekend to see if it's a good fit. What kinds of things should we do?

We are visiting the triangle area to evaluate its potential as a place to live rather than a tourist destination - so while I'm excited about museums and attractions, etc, those are kind of on the back burner.

We will be driving around the neighborhoods we're considering. (Forest Hills, Watts, Duke Park, Northgate Park, etc in Durham. Not sure about Raleigh at all, maybe Mordecai, Oakwood area - suggestions?) We will be walking around both downtowns. We'd like to visit some cool little shopping centers (Brightleaf? Cameron Village?) Our hotel is in the RTP area.

What are some activities, locations, shops, restaurants, etc that we absolutely must do or visit to get a good sense of life in the triangle? Any other advice?

If you haven't been in the triangle area but have moved to a new city, what did you do to evaluate whether it was a good fit beforehand? Or what do you wish you would have done?

posted by ohsnapdragon to Travel & Transportation around Raleigh, NC (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In Durham I would recommend visiting the Durham Farmer's Market. The vendors, visitors, and food trucks will give you a good sense of that part of Durham. Also walk around that general area, pop into Fullsteam Brewery (one time we were there we saw a woman walk in with a sewing machine, hand it off to somebody else, and sit down at one of the communal tables to have a brew), or walk all the way over to Scratch for some fantastic grits and overall great food. You'll find a number of artisanal food businesses in that area, such as Loaf for bread, The Reliable Cheese Company, Rue Cler for French bistro food, and Dame's Chicken and Waffles if that's what you're in the mood for.

A different side of Durham can be seen in the Durham Green Flea Market. Vendors and customers are mostly Hispanic - it's a great place to go for pupusas, various aguas frescas, and Central / South American food ingredients.

For shopping, 9th Street near Duke University is also worth taking a look at, in addition to Brightleaf Square.
posted by research monkey at 12:37 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Mordecai and Oakwood areas in Raleigh are both very nice, and would be my first choice if I were settling down in Raleigh. Check out the Boylan Parks and Cameron Park (although there may be few owner-occupied homes here) areas, too. While you're walking around downtown Raleigh, I'd recommend stopping by the Contemporary Art Museum if you have time. It's not large, so you can probably do the entire thing in an hour. There are lots of weekend cultural events held there. If you are planning going on the weekend of September 7th, First Friday is a great downtown artswalk with lots to do. Raleigh has a farmer's market and a flea market that are both nice. Cameron Village is a combination of Ann Taylor-esque stores and tea/toy/international-type shops. You could check it out, but I think you'd have a nicer time strolling downtown. The two major Raleigh malls are North Hills (outdoor and walkable) and Crabtree Valley Mall (a traditional mall). If you're really into shopping, you may find yourself making the drive to Charlotte once in awhile.

The North Carolina Art Museum is amazing. I think you should walk around the grounds and get a feel for the place--they host many events (outdoor concerts and movies) that you would undoubtedly be going to! The Raleigh Municipal Rose Garden is a nice, smaller park that you might want to check out.

Boylan Bridge Brewpub might be nice for a casual dinner. You can dine outdoors and look at the Raleigh skyline. It is around a 15-20 minute walk from downtown. Centro (once called Dos Taquitos??) is directly downtown and offers up fancy Mexican food. They apparently do a delicious Saturday brunch. Chargrill is a Raleigh classic and I think you should grab some burgers or fries from there on your way out of town! Let me know if you have any specific restaurant requests--I'd love to recommend anything from delicious Italian (Bella Monica) to classic Southern (State Farmers Market Restaurant). Do you like to go out at night? Foundation is a wonderful place. They let only a certain number of people in at a time (you can have a conversation!) and they make their own ginger ale! Fox Liquor Bar is pricy for Raleigh, but very relaxed (dim lighting, nice music, couches) and 'adult'. Cup A Joe is a Raleigh classic, and you should definitely get a cup of coffee here.

I hope this helps!
posted by semaphore at 1:12 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're considering moving to the area, what would you be moving for? If a potential job will have you in RTP, you might want to take some time to drive through Cary, Morrisville, and the Southpoint neighborhood in Durham, maybe the northeastern part of Raleigh, since living anywhere else will consign you to 40+ minute commutes every morning and evening. If you're looking for a Portland-ish hipster life driving a food truck and running a crafts studio: Durham.

A colleague of mine recently moved here from California and complained about all the driving he has to do. That's worth keeping in mind. Nothing is all that far away from anything else here, but there's no single place that had everything. You can lead a comfortable life without a car, but only if you are very careful in your choices of location and job.

If you're more interested in just getting the lay of the land and seeing what's good, pick up an Independent when you arrive -- it's the local weekly entertainment rag and is also reliable at tracking less conventional fun events, like food truck rodeos, outdoor wrestling charity fundraisers, free classic movies, puppet shows, and so on. Different events tend to orbit around the loci of the regional hip/cool neighborhoods. Most of the Indy's content is on the web, so you can do your research before you arrive. There are a couple million people in the greater metro area, so there's always something going on.
posted by ardgedee at 1:18 PM on August 25, 2012

Best answer: Lots of good recommendations above. I'd second Fullsteam in Durham.

Other food rec's you might also want to check out Guglhupf (German bakery) or Foster's (southern food) for bunch. City Bev is also a good spot for dinner (a kind of hipster tiki bar). These are all located in Durham close to Duke. I've also enjoyed Nofo (southern food) and Lilly's (rad pizza) in the 5 pts area of Raleigh.

As for things to do that haven't been covered, I really like the state parks here: Eno River and Umstead. I don't know if the Durham Bulls will be playing when you're in town, but check it out if they are!

Each city has a different vibe like ardgedee said, so try them all out. It's about 20 minutes from Durham to Raleigh with Cary/Morrisville in between.
posted by neveroddoreven at 1:42 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It would be a crime too visit Raleigh and not have the chopped barbecue at The Pit. Poole's Diner, Chuck's Burgers and Sitti are also great choices for dining. The NCSU Raulston Arboretum is another option for enjoying a little outdoor time.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:00 PM on August 25, 2012

Best answer: As far as Raleigh is concerned, may I make a pitch for my neighborhood, Budleigh? Just North of Wade Avenue, it is very walkable with short walks to the aforementioned Cameron Village, Rose Garden, Cup a Joe and the rest of Hillsborough Street, the NC Museum of Art and its park. It is walkably close to several access points to the City's increasingly amazing Greenway and a good independent book store, Quail Ridge Books. My wife and I have walked to the downtown area, and it is a bit of a schlep and nothing you'd want to do at night, but doable.

There is also quick access to I-40 to Durham and RDU.

It if matters, good schools are short walks away, as well.

Housing is interestingly variable with a mix of old and new, big and small. The older houses are more mid century, so not as historic as Mordecai and Oakwood, but the prices are better.
posted by pasici at 4:15 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Durham food...

Char-Grill is a chain -- there's one near the intersection of Hope Valley Rd and Route 54 in Durham. It's not bad for a fast-food burger but, unless having a vintage-style fast-food burger is your priority, there are better options, burger-wise. If you need a serious burger: Only Burger started as a food truck and has since added a storefront - I've had their burgers from both and would recommend either. Bull City Burger & Brew kind of lives under Fullsteam's shadow -- BCBB's beer is very good, too, but also has a grill and knows how to use it, going so far as to having an exotic meats month with burgers made from (farm-raised) game animals in March. Full Steam has the great townie-meets-hipster atmosphere, BCBB is a little less funky, but pretty laid back all the same. They also have Bull Nuts -- a mix of roasted peanuts and candied bacon. And if you're vegan or gluten-free or don't drink, they've got you covered: GF buns, veggie burger, and six or seven flavors of Boylan's soda and seltzer on a self-serve tap. Dain's Place is the stereotypical college student ghetto dive on the northern part of the 9th St. strip, and and its burgers and fries are surprisingly good. I liked the grilled cheese at least as much as the burger, and that's saying something. The only place I'm going to mention in this post that I haven't eaten at is Wimpy's Grill, whose reputation precedes it. The hours (7-2, weekdays only) and location (north of Duke Univ.) have made it impossible for me to try yet, but I want to.

BBQ is a passion locally. Pretty much anything anybody would suggest is going to be countered by somebody else's "That's not good BBQ, THIS is good BBQ," and on and on. Hog Heaven, Bullock's, and Backyard BBQ all make the grade. I like Bullock's fried chicken at least as much as their pork, maybe more; Backyard BBQ doesn't really do fried things well. Hog Heaven's the best all-rounder, though it might be 98%, pork-wise, where the others go a little bit farther. My favorite is Allen & Son, but that's pretty far out west unless you're going to be serious about it. Q Shack is good in a kind of random way -- it does Texas-style bbq (beef brisket, sausage and chicken) rather than Carolina-style pulled pork.

Durham is the home of most of the prominent food trucks in the Triangle -- a matter of local pride, but primarily a function of Durham having looser regulations and lower license fees than the other cities and townships, making it easier for new operations to start up -- and also because of The Cookery, a more-literally-than-usual business incubator for food trucks that provides, among other things, a commercial-grade kitchen for truck operators to do their prep work. I haven't tried all the food trucks and I'm not even sure it's possible without making a mission of it, but my short list would have (in no particular order): Only Burger, Bulkogi (Korean/Mexi fusion), Pie Pushers (pizza, calzones, and awesome biscuits 'n gravy on Saturday mornings at the Durham farmer's market), Parlez-Vous Crepes (although they mostly stick to the far western part of the Triangle, in Carrboro, Hillsborough, etc.), Bike Coffee (which these days is putting most of their effort into building their first storefront location, Cocoa & Cinnamon), Monuts (donuts... awesome donuts! -- also working on setting up their first storefront -- see a pattern here?). We're now down to only one significant grilled cheese trucks -- Will & Pops shut down just last week, and the Grilled Cheese Bus, which operated with one of the local youth activity programs, had to suspend operations last year. This leaves us with American Meltdown, which isn't bad at all but lacks some of the funk the other two brought to, y'know, grilled cheese.
posted by ardgedee at 12:03 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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