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North Carolina Travel Guide

raleigh, state capital

Raleigh, North CarolinaPerhaps you're among the many whose knowledge of the wonders of Raleigh begins and ends with The Andy Griffith Show - most specifically, perhaps, Barney Fife's annual one-week vacation to the Capital City, from which he would always send home a postcard chronicling his adventures. Barney's lodging of choice was the YMCA, where he began each day with the in-house 25-cent breakfast special and tucked in for the night just after a bowl of tapioca pudding on the front porch with other of the gentlemen residents. These accommodations were so very much to Barn's liking, in fact, that upon moving on to greener-than-Mayberry meadows, he took up permanent residence within the same dwelling - which, in real life, is on Hillsborough St., as those-in-the-know well know.

Raleigh, NCThat, of course, was long before Raleigh became known (for not altogether apparent reasons) to locals as "Raleighwood," but not before Hillsborough St. had earned its reputation as the proper avenue of entry to the Raleigh scene, hence where the worldly like of Bernard P. Fife would establish his annual holiday command post.

Alas, in February of 2005, the Central Y on Hillsborough closed the doors on its 120-room dormitory. Hillsborough St. remains, nonetheless, as good a place as any, and better than most, to begin one's maiden tour of the Capital City.

Let's assume you're arriving from Chapel Hill (as most any sensible person would) on I-40 East. Just before you get to Raleigh, merge onto I-440S, then take the Hwy 54/Hillsborough St. Exit (Exit 3) toward Meredith College.

If you've been in the South for two days or a lifetime and have somehow yet failed to visit a Waffle House, well, now's as good a time as any, regardless of the time of day or night. There's one right here off of 40, across from the Meredith campus - the largest private women's college in the Southeast and one of U.S. News and World Report's "Great Schools at Great Prices." Stop in for a cup of coffee - at the Waffle House, I mean … or Meredith; whatever.

Hillsborough Street, raleighYou're now on the west end of Hillsborough Street, the 3800 block, and just down the road a bit is a true Raleigh institution, Snoopy's Hot Dogs. Local folks wolf down these dogs like nobody's business - but you're on your own here, inasmuch as I'm not myself a tubular animal-matter eater. Snoopy's also has a place at the other end of Hillsborough, where we're now headed, so no need to overindulge just yet.

We proceed down Hillsborough past a couple other Raleigh culinary mainstays: India Mahal and Subconscious, both plenty decent enough and particularly popular for lunch. We'll also pass the Reader's Corner and Nice Price Books, each with just stacks and stacks of used books, within which you'll unearth the occasional gem.

Time now for another cup of coffee. Actually, the true purpose of stopping into Cup o' Joe Coffee Roasters, 3100 Hillsborough St., isn't so much to drink coffee - though CoJ does serve up a genuinely good mug o' the stuff - but to hang. To hang for a good long while. You'll soon discover that this humbly appointed hang-out affords excellent entrée to the beat, 20-, 30-, 40-something streets-of-Raleigh scene, to what's going on in music and arts and whatnot. Pick up an Independent or just keep your ears peeled. This place is a big cafeteria-type room with a pleasant din. They've got smoothies, juices, Apple Cider Chaider (chai/cider), Purple Brain Freeze, but unfortunately, as of this writing, no wireless access.

NC State, raleighBack on the street, we're now approaching the North Carolina State University campus at the 2900 block. Though it's no Duke or UNC-Chapel Hill, the NCSU campus is nice enough, better than most and most people who go to school or work here would not change it for Duke or Carolina. In our basketball-centric culture the school is known for its miracle run to the NCAA basketball championship in 1983 when the Cardiac Pack under legendary coach Jim Valvano beat the heavily favored Houston team at the buzzer in a game that was not only considered to be the best final in history, but may have been the team that gave us the expression 'March Madness' which we have heard so many times since then that we are pretty much sick of it. But for those whose lives don't revolve around basketball, NC State is much more than a school that happened to win a few basketball games way back when. With more than 34,000 students and nearly 8,000 faculty and staff, North Carolina State University is known for its leadership in education and research, and globally recognized for its science, technology, engineering and mathematics leadership.

Across the street and in the general environs are a few institutions worth mentioning. There's Two Guys Pizza and Mitch's Tavern, nothing fancy about 'em, much like the sort of dives you'll find proximate to most any campus of consequence.

Sadlack's, though - Sadlack's is a must visit, located at the corner of Enterprise and Hillsborough, right across from the Bell Tower. This here is a very eclectic crowd: bikers of the grizzled, leather-clad variety and bikers of the silly helmeted, stretchy-pants variety rub elbows and quaff cheap beer in generally good harmony, and the subs aren't too shabby either. Think: Hendrix on the box. Think: Zeppelin. Think: live recordings, as if you were there. Think: loud. This place is just Raleigh all over - or at least a particular Raleigh that first comes to mind for many of us when we think Raleigh: a big ol' little town for people who still like to party, and so they do.

Okay; now we're getting to the downtown end of Hillsborough, past the International House of Pancakes, past the lovely Saint Mary's School campus, and just up ahead is the Char-Grill, yum, at 618 Hillsborough. The aroma wafting out the fans atop this old-school style burger joint has already nailed you upon your approach. Fill out the little menu and slide it down the shoot - it's only confusing the first time - and what comes out the other end is something very special. Char-Grill rocks. If you're just snackin', try the Char-Grill Hamburger Steak Jr. You got your sesame-seed soft sub roll, your condiments of choice and a seriously good grilled burger. Take one to go; they're excellent at midnight and beyond.

City Market, RaleighYou've now done Hillsborough St. Gotten a sense of the town. You're now on the edge of downtown, where you'll find many, but not all, of Raleigh's finest restaurants, nightspots and shops not to mention museums, and the historical district including City Market, built in 1914 as the farmer's market for Raleigh. With its collection of small shops and restaurants, City Market is home to Artspace, a non-profit visual art center where artists, working in a variety of media with studios open to the public, have invited the community to become part of the creative process, a visual art center where children and adults can express their creativity through enriching educational programs, and a venue for exhibitions by regional, national, and international artists.

Firstnight, RaleighDowntown Raleigh is also known for two major events put on by Artsplosure, an organization whose mission is to produce high quality annual festivals that celebrate excellence in the performing and visual arts which include First Night in Moore Square, Raleigh's answer to New York City's New Years Eve festivities at Times Square (they have an acorn instead of a ball) and Artsplosure Spring Festival, one of the North Carolina's most acclaimed and well attended outdoor art festivals, attracting more than 70,000 people annually to Moore Square Park for a free weekend-long celebration with more than 250 visual and performing artists. It is scheduled each year for the third weekend in May. Recently Artsplosure has partnered with All About Beer Magazine as the charity partner of the World Beer Festival in  held  in the spring in downtown Raleigh's historic Moore Square. In the fall, Arts Alive on Lichtin Plaza is a celebration of the state's fine art and craft community showcasing Raleigh's leading galleries, arts organizations, with a juried arts and crafts exhibition and sale, and temporary large-scale art installations on Lichtin Plaza.

Lincoln Theater, Raleigh, NCAt 424 McDowell Street in downtown Raleigh is Kings Barcade, a live music oriented bar where you can hang and drink cold beer, play some cool video games as well as pool/foosball, and see good live local and national acts. The Lincoln Theatre located in downtown Raleigh at 126 E. Cabarrus St. between Wilmington St. and Blount St also features the best local and national acts. Built in 1939, the Lincoln Theatre used to be a movie house, showing the best films of the golden age of cinema and sat empty for a number of years but now is a place to see bands whose popularity have caused them to outgrow the small clubs. The Pour House on Blount Street at Moore Square is another live music venue with 30 quality draught beers along with bottled beer, full ABC permits, and house wine, a relaxed place to hang out, have a few drinks, and see great live music. Right next door is Tir Na Nog which means in Gaelic 'Land of Eternal Youth'. With a traditional Irish look and feel, Irish and imported beers on tap and great food what more could you want but perhaps the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem? Maybe one day but for now it is the best place in Raleigh to hear Irish and other music. Sunday they have brunch and if you can last til evening nights they have an Irish jam. Southland Ballroom at 614 N. West Street is yet another great live music venue that features live music or some kind of event just about every night of the week.

Big Boss Brewery, Raleigh, NCFrom the folks in Chapel Hill who brought us 411 West (where I go every Monday for half-price wine) we have in Raleigh 518 West, an Italian Restaurant that specializes in seasonal fresh pastas, wood fired pizzas, fresh seafood, steaks, and specials inspired by the flavors of Italy and the Mediterranean recently voted, "Best Italian Restaurant in the Triangle", by the readers of the Independent, the areas leading local magazine. Nearby is the very large and very popular 42nd Street Oyster and Seafood Grill where on weeknights from 5pm to 7pm you can get oysters on the half shell, clams on the half shell, and peel-and-eat shrimp for 25 cents a piece. They have live music Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, usually pretty good jazz. And the craft beer brewing craze that has swept the nation and in particular North Carolina has given Raleigh one of the best, Big Boss, located at 1249-A Wicker Drive, famous for it's Hell's Belle and Bad Penny ales which they brew year round along with a number of other great beers that are brewed seasonally and served in the brewery tap room as well as in bars all over the state.

Raleigh, NCThere are several perfectly good reasons to travel to Raleigh: the North Carolina State Fair and the North Carolina Museum of Art are two such. Or you might want to drop in and observe your elected state representatives at work on your behalf or otherwise - though a short afternoon of that noise should rid you of any such future inclination.

In truth, Raleigh's not a bad town at all. Lots of folks seem to like it quite a bit, as witnessed by its #9 ranking, along with Durham, on Forbes list of America's 40 Best Cities for Singles and a #3 rating among's Hot Cities for Entrepreneurs. Raleigh has some lovely historic residential neighborhoods, and, these days, a lot more than tapioca to offer in the way of nightlife.

So come to Raleigh, get laid, make a load of money and get on with your life. Or settle down. It is after all also ranked among Money magazine's Top Ten Best Places to Live. Oh yeah. It is the State Capital too.

Other Related Sites: Things-to-do, Raleigh Restaurants, Raleigh History, Historic Neighborhoods, NC State Fair, Museum of Art, Chapel Hill, Durham

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