Downtown Raleigh city skyline.

Insiders Guide to Life in Raleigh

In Feature Stories, July 2018 / August 2018 by Jane PorterLeave a Comment

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In Raleigh, there’s so much new—new buildings, new businesses, new faces arriving every day—and so much to do that it can feel a little overwhelming at times. That’s why, when we decided to pull together an insider’s guide to life in our growing city, we tried to be selective about what we think you need to know, and discerning about what we think are the very best things to try and explore.

We considered, what is Raleigh best known for? It’s long been known as city in a park, so naturally, we have suggestions for outdoorsy exploits. It’s also got a vibrant, burgeoning food scene, but instead of rattling off a list of all our favorites—too many to count to truly be of service—we bring you the very best of the recently opened, and combine the culinary with the outdoorsy in a comprehensive list of rooftop bars.

As the newly minted “Smithsonian of the South,” we just had to share some of the best ways to enjoy Raleigh’s many cultural amenities, whether it’s taking in a concert or touring museum, watching a ballet or catching a show. And we hope to be useful in bringing you some inside information on what’s going on with all the construction, how much Raleigh and Wake County is growing, some facts on getting around and ways to stay informed.

Though we offer some suggestions for enhancing the hyper-local experience, there’s really no right or wrong way to be a Raleighite. Our hope is that you enjoy the city as much as we do, whether you’re here to stay, or just passing through.


Raleigh at a Glance

Population: 458,862

Median Age: 33.8

Median Household Income: $64,456

Poverty Rate: 12.1%

Median Property Value: $242,500


Development in Raleigh

Two out of every three housing units in Wake County are single family homes. Over the past ten years, commercial development was valued at more than $7.55 billion.

Notable upcoming commercial developments include:

Midtown East: Wegmans, Cava, Maple Street Biscuit Company

Smokey Hollow at Peace/West Streets: Publix grocery store announced

One Glenwood: An office and retail tower, and boutique Origin Hotel

Gateway Plaza: Gateway Restaurant, Brew Coffee, Raleigh Roasting Company, Craft Habit, Mordecai Brewery

Recent Growth in Wake

October 1, 2017 – June 6, 2018

Total Added Jobs: 4,967

Total Investment: $51,000,000

New Companies: 17

Expanding Companies: 53


Top 10 Employers in Wake County

Duke University and Health System: 36,004 | State of North Carolina: 24,083

Wake County Public School System: 18,554 | IBM Corporation: 10,000

North Carolina State University: 9,069 | WakeMed Health & Hospitals: 8,943

Rex Healthcare: 5,700 | SAS Institute, Inc.: 5,616 | GlaxoSmithKline: 4,950 | Lenovo: 4,200


Transportation around Wake County

The GoRaleigh operating system runs most of the city’s public transit services. The GoTriangle system includes other municipalities in Wake County and beyond.

More than 11 million passengers boarded GoTriangle buses in 2015. Overall, drivers traveled 11.54 billion miles in Wake County in 2017.

The average commute time in Wake County is 25 minutes, while the daily average number of miles travelled per capita is nearly 30. The county has about 771,000 registered vehicles, or .74 per capita.

RDU connects you to 62 nonstop destinations on one of over 400 daily flights. Most recent non-stops added: San Diego; Montego Bay, Jamaica; and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.


Be a Raleighite

1. Eat a burger at the P.R.

The P.R., or the Player’s Retreat on the corner of Oberlin and Hillsborough Streets, was once a dive bar where Broughton students congregated after class. With a Cheers-like feel—walls lined with steins and vintage beer cans—the PR has grown up with the clientele, offering great food and better service.

2. Know What ITB Means

You’ve likely seen it in real estate listings by now. ITB, or Inside the Beltline, refers to property in Raleigh located within the I-440 beltline borders. The increased price tag for properties ITB reflects the value Raleighites place on a central location.

3. Choose your favorite hot dog

Roast Grill, Snoopy’s or Char Grill. Plus, know not to ask for ketchup at the Roast Grill! One of the last true lunch counter holdouts, the Roast Grill prides itself on hot dogs so delicious that the mere mention of ketchup is an insult.
4. Watch the planes take off at RDU Park

Free parking, a little park, a picnic area with seating and the best view in town of airplanes taking off and landing. It’s the perfect place to watch for Grandma’s plane to come to town or to simply spend a free afternoon dreaming about getting a pilot’s license.

5. Be able to identify Beach Lovers’ Bumper Stickers

OBX- Outer Banks

TI- Topsail Island

OKI- Oak Island

HAM- Hampstead


Wander Through a Museum

Raleigh has rightfully merited the “Smithsonian of the South” moniker, a title earned through the diversity of its museums and exhibits, as well as the museums’ accessibility to all.

1. City of Raleigh Museum (COR): Founded in 1993, COR Museum is a welcoming center located on Fayetteville Street downtown. It offers history about, and insight into, the ever-growing City of Oaks.

2. North Carolina Museum of Art: Opened in 1956, the NCMA on Blue Ridge Road is home to several exhibition galleries, studios, gardens, an atrium, a library and learning center, a museum park and amphitheater, and an impressive permanent collection. The museum offers all kinds of tours and maintains a packed events schedule year-round. “Insider Magazine” recently ranked the NCMA 13th on its list of top 25 museums in the country.

3. CAM Raleigh, downtown’s non-collecting contemporary art museum, has cultivated a reputation for showing memorable, one-of-a-kind exhibitions and pieces, and hosting engaging educational programs and cultural experiences. Less than a decade old, CAM’s goal is to spark new thinking by creating ever-changing experiences that explore what’s new and nearing.

4. NC Museum of Natural Sciences is the largest museum of its kind in the Southeast. The three-story, 200,000-square-foot facility features dozens of permanent and rotating exhibitions in its Nature Exploration and Nature Research Centers. Kids can meet animals including rabbits, snakes and hissing cockroaches, or see dinosaur replicas and a full-size whale skeleton.

5. Marbles Kids Museum near Moore Square Park in downtown Raleigh celebrates hands-on, minds-on learning for children and families, with exhibits and play spaces as well as an IMAX movie theatre.


Raleigh Outside

Rent a Boat

Lake Johnson:

Jon boats – $4/hour, $20/day

Pedal boats – $6/half hour

Canoes/kayaks – $5/hour

Sunfish sailboats – $10/hour

Or, launch your own boat! As long as it isn’t motorized and doesn’t require a trailer, you’re welcome to use your own after checking in at the park office ($2-$6 a day).

Pullen Park:

408 Ashe Avenue

Up to four people can cruise around Lake Howell in a pedal boat – $6/half hour.

Shelley Lake:

Shelley Lake view

Shelley Lake view

Jon Boats – $3/hour, $15/day

Canoes – $4/hour

Pedal boats – $5/half hour, $7 an hour

Lake Wheeler:

Jon boats – $4/hour, $20/day

Rowboats – $4/hour, $20/day

Canoes – $5/hour

Kayaks (single and double) – $5/hour

Pedal boats – $6/half hour

Sunfish sailboats – $10/hour

Launch your own boat, trailered or not, after buying a launch pass. Motorized boats are allowed, as long as it isn’t a jet ski.

Umstead Park:

The park features three man-made lakes, all-accessible for fishing. Big Lake also offers canoe and rowboat rentals.

Lake Crabtree:

Visitors are welcome to catch-and-release fish, sail, boat, row and paddle on the lake, and adult canoeing instruction and standup paddleboarding is available.

Falls Lake:

The 12,000-square-foot reservoir serves as both a recreation area, with an array of water activities, and a wildlife habitat. Several swimming beaches, including Beaverdam, Rolling View and Sandling Beach, are open to the public, and the privately managed Rollingview Marina offers slips and mooring, kayak, paddleboard and canoe rentals.

Walk a Raleigh Greenway…

Lake Johnson (East or West Loop) Located on either side of Avent Ferry Road, Lake Johnson provides visitors with two options, the paved 2.8 mile East Loop (3.5 miles if you venture off the main loop) or go off-road on the 2.1 mile West Loop, accessible by crossing Avent Ferry at the marked signs. While it is a dirt trail, it’s well kept and can easily be combined with the East Loop for a more robust 4.9-mile hike.

Shelley Lake Loop – For a casual and stress-free walk (or jog), explore the 2.1 mile trail in Shelley Lake Sertoma Park. Bring your kids, your dog, or just yourself. Shaded portions give you a break from the sun and benches offer spots to rest if needed.

House Creek Trail  Running parallel to the Beltline from Meredith College to the Crabtree Valley Mall, this trail at approximately 3 miles long has numerous connections and destinations along the way.

…Or Bike One

Neuse River Trail – Extremely popular, this 27.5-mile bike trail connects to Wake Forest, Falls Lake, Knightdale, into Johnston County into Clayton, and also to the Walnut Creek and Crabtree Creek trails. There are educational opportunities along the trail with interpretive signage highlighting the wildlife, including herons and beavers, as well as other ecological features unique to the area.

Crabtree Creek Trail  Begin at Anderson Point Park and head northwest toward Lindsey Drive to bike the full 14.6 miles. Take a break at one of the parks along the way, including Kiwanis Park and North Hills Park. Mine Creek Trail branches off to the north, House Creek Trail branches to the south, and the Neuse River Trail runs perpendicular at Anderson Point Park, allowing you to extend your ride, or switch it up for something different each time.


Cocktails with a View


Level7 (North Hills)

10th & Terrace

10th & Terrace

10th & Terrace (Downtown Raleigh)

Hibernian (Glenwood South)

Raleigh Times (Downtown Raleigh)

Trophy Tap and Table (Downtown Raleigh)

Carolina Ale House (Glenwood South)

Raleigh Beer Garden (Glenwood South)

Taverna Agora (Downtown Raleigh)


New Restaurants & Bars

A Place At the Table— 300 W. Hargett St. #50

Brewery Bhavana 218 S. Blount St.

The Cortez— 413 Glenwood Ave.

Crawford and Son— 618 N. Person St.

Hummingbird— 1053 E. Whitaker Mill Rd. Suite 111

Mofu Shoppe— 321 S. Blount St.

Oakwood Pizza Box— 610 N. Person St.

Pizza La Stella— 219 Fayetteville St.

Pizza La Stella

Pizza La Stella

Pizza Times— 210 S. Wilmington St.

Royale— 200 E. Martin St.

St. Roch Fine Oysters + Bar— 223 S. Wilmington St.

Tonbo Ramen— 211 S. Wilmington St

Vidrio— 500 Glenwood Ave. #100

Wahlburgers— 319 Fayetteville St.


Get Informed

Raleigh Newspapers:

The News and Observer (daily)

INDY Week (weekly)

Triangle Business Journal (weekly)

The Carolinian (bi-weekly)

La Conexion (weekly)

Que Pasa (weekly)

Raleigh TV News Network Affiliate Stations:

WRAL-TV Channel 5 (WRAL)

WTVD-TV Channel 11 (ABC 11)

CBS 17 Channel 17 (WNCN)

Raleigh News Radio:


WUNC-91.5 FM


Get Carded

Wake County residents can get a library card for free. Just go to your nearest Wake County Library location with a photo ID and proof of address; a librarian will help you set up an account, which gives you access to check out material from all of Wake County’s 20-plus libraries, use computers and download books online.


Jam Outdoors

1. Red Hat Amphitheater

Raleigh’s Amphitheater is set in the heart of downtown so after your favorite artists say goodnight, you can continue your evening at any number of restaurants and bars. The 5,990-seat venue hosts a great mix of artists.

2. Walnut Creek

If your summer concert style is go big or go home, Walnut Creek Amphitheatre should be your first stop for outdoor rockin’, jammin’ and swayin’. The 20,000-seat venue draws notable names from May to August.

3. NC Museum of Art

For almost 20 years, music artists have visited the Theater in the Museum Park from May to September. The venue offers limited reserved seating with ample lawn seats. Great spot for a picnic! You can purchase food and drinks from The Museum’s Iris restaurant.

4. North Hills

The 11th season of the Midtown Beach Music Series will host more than 125,000 guests at North Hills Commons during the 17-week season. The free series offers the best of beach music every Thursday from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.


See a Show

Theatre in the Park

Located on the northern end of Pullen Park, catch a comedy, musical, Shakespearean or contemporary drama at this classic black box theatre.

Theatre Raleigh

Musical theatre, dramas, comedies, concerts and theatre opportunities for young people converge under one roof at the Kennedy Theatre. Look for family and summer series and special events.

North Carolina Theatre

Catch one of four mainstage shows each year in Memorial Auditorium at the Progress Energy Center for Performing Arts.

Carolina Ballet

A world-class professional ballet company, performing primarily in Raleigh since 1997.

Other notable show runners:

North Carolina Symphony, North Carolina Opera, Burning Coal Theatre Company, Black Box Dance Theatre, Sonorous Road Repertory Company.

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