My guest blogger today is Karen Dawkins who called the town of Raleigh, North Carolina home. She usually writes about her family travels on her blog, Family Travels on a Budget and today she is sharing more about life in her home town and giving us a closer look at all the things to do in Raleigh with kids.
When we moved to Raleigh, North Carolina back in 2001, we came for the weather (and a new job). Living in the sunny south, just a few hours from the Appalachian Mountains and the beach, we have everything a family could want.
Of course, all that means that Raleigh is a great place to visit, too!
If you’ve never made it to North Carolina’s capital city, here’s our list of the ten best things to do in Raleigh — with (or without) the kids!
Things to do in Raleigh (with kids!)
Visit Pullen Park
The oldest public park in North Carolina, Pullen Park sits on 66 acres just west of Downtown Raleigh, near North Carolina State University.
We love the park’s many walking trails that meander through woodland areas, past the park’s small lake, tennis courts and playgrounds. The park is also home to a train, kiddie boat rides, pedal boats and the historic carousel.
The bronze statue of Andy Griffith and Opie is another highlight at the park. Throughout the year, performances are held at the Theatre in the Park.
And, if that’s not enough, Pullen Park is also part of the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000 mile long trail system that runs from Maine to Florida.
Explore the city’s museums
Raleigh is known as the Smithsonian of the South because there are so many museums here, and most of them offer free admission!
We are big fans of the NC Museum of Natural Science — especially the Nature Resource Center that opened in 2012. These exhibits show what we know about the natural world, including the research tools and techniques scientists use to study our world.
Other great museums in Raleigh are the NC Museum of History (next door to the science museum), the NC Museum of Art (including the incredible outdoor exhibits), Marbles Kids’ Museum (a hands-on museum with a fabulous courtyard to enjoy a relaxed lunch or snacks), CAM Museum (a contemporary art museum that features living artists), and many more. You could visit two museums every day for a week and not see them all!
Get inspired at Artspace
Artspace is a visual arts center in Downtown Raleigh that inspires creativity, not to mention it helped jump-start the revitalization of the City Market neighborhood back in the 1980s.
The facility is home to 30 artists who work in a variety of media — paint, sculpture, jewelry and textiles. The public can visit and talk with the artists to discover more about their craft. Visitors can shop for unique pieces, attend exhibitions or even attend classes to develop your own artistic talents.
Escape the ordinary
There are a few escape room experiences in Raleigh, which we really enjoy now that our kids are older. Escape rooms are a great family activity because they require teamwork and encourage communication. Solving the riddle draws a family closer.
Our favorite is the family owned Tic Toc Escapes in the historic Five Points Neighborhood. It doesn’t hurt that one of our favorite restaurants, the Hayes Barton Café (home to the world’s best coconut cake) is right next door!
Fly through the trees
Adrenaline junkies definitely should schedule an adventure at TreeRunner Raleigh Adventure Park. This place, part high ropes course, part zip line adventure, has several different courses at different levels of difficulty which families can explore together.
There’s something exciting about conquering a seemingly impossible obstacle with friends and family to cheer you on. Conquer fears on the difficult courses, or enjoy the fun of the “easier” courses.
Take a hike
Raleigh is known as the City of Oaks, for good reason. The city, which has been North Carolina’s capital since 1792, has so much green space you can almost forget it’s a major metropolis!
We love the trails at William B. Umstead State Park, which covers more than 5,000 acres at the edge of Raleigh. There are 13 miles of multi-use trails for walking, horseback riding and bicycling. There are another 22 miles of dedicated hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty. It’s no surprise that this is the most-visited state park in North Carolina!
Savor Carolina Barbecue
Carolina barbecue is a source of pride in this region. No visit to the area would be complete without giving it a try. Some of our favorites are Big Ed’s in the City Market neighborhood, The Pit in the Warehouse District and Red Neck BBQ Lab in nearby Benson.
Watch the Hurricanes (or the Blue Devils or the Tarheels)
Don’t worry! I’m talking about our beloved Carolina Hurricanes, Raleigh’s professional hockey team! The team won the NHL’s coveted Stanley Cup in 2006 and is on the hunt again this year.
Or, if you prefer basketball, American football or soccer, catch a college game. The Duke Blue Devils play in nearby Durham, and the UNC Tarheels play in Chapel Hill.
Enjoy some Goodberry’s
It seems that every town has its version of the best ice cream in the world. Here in Raleigh, Goodberry’s Frozen Custard is that place! Made with fresh milk, fresh cream, eggs, honey, pure cane sugar and only natural flavors, Goodberry’s custard is creamy and rich — a satisfying treat after a day of fun. (Interestingly, while Raleigh has seven shops, there are also two Goodberry’s shops in Australia!)
Attend a festival
I may have saved the best for last! Raleigh’s temperate climate means that festival season runs pretty much year-round!
Some of our favorites are two music festivals that occur in September: the Hopscotch Music Festival (featuring more than 100 artists at venues all over downtown) and Wide Open Bluegrass (the nation’s largest bluegrass festival, which celebrates this unique sound).
The food truck rodeo always brings a huge crowd, as does Artsplosure (an annual arts festival held each May). The Raleigh area draws people from all over the world, and cultural events year-round (like the Chinese Lantern Festival) celebrate our city’s diversity.
My City (with kids!) – according to a kid!
Before I close, I thought I’d ask my daughter her favorite things to do in Raleigh.
Here’s her list:
The most iconic place/can’t miss tourist attraction in Raleigh: The NC Museum of Natural Science (good thing I had that on the list already!).
Our favorite family-friendly BAD weather (indoor) outing is: Triangle Rock Club. I figure if the kids are climbing the walls at home, they may as well climb them for real! The staff works great with beginners and advanced climbers of all ages.
The best FREE outing in Raleigh is: That’s a toss-up between the science museum, the art museum and Pullen Park. There’s so much to do for free in Raleigh!
Our “insider” tip for visiting Raleigh is (Mom helped on this one): Take the R-Line, a free circulator that makes it easy to get to restaurants, retail, entertainment venues, museums, hotels and city parking facilities. Get to the city, park the car and let the R-Line take you where you want to go.
The best family-friendly restaurant in Raleigh is: The State Farmer’s Market Restaurant (open until 3 p.m.). Serving “Got to be NC” foods grown in NC, it’s the best place to get a southern meal with kids. Runner up would be Snoopy’s Hot Dogs & More, serving hot dogs and burgers prepared the “Carolina” way with steamed buns.
Be sure to try this kid-friendly local dish/food in Raleigh: Of course, the answer here is barbecue (or BBQ or barbeque). Hush puppies, a traditional barbecue side dish, are especially popular with kids.
The easiest way to get around Downtown Raleigh with kids is: walking (the city was planned and all streets are wide and walkable) or by R-Line. It’s not hard to drive in Raleigh, either.
The best family-friendly neighborhood to stay in is: North Hills, a neighborhood with great restaurants (chain and non-chain), shopping, entertainment and easy access by car to downtown.
Karen Dawkins is the Raleigh based writer of Family Travels on a Budget, a family travel website inspiring families to explore the world whether their budget is big or small. When she is not writing about her adventures, you’ll find her enjoying time with her husband and kids, with her dog or at the gym. Find her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.