Destination: Raleigh, North Carolina
Duration: 2 hours, 50 minutes
Average fare: From $309 via United out of Intercontinental
What to do: Just 30 minutes away from Raleigh Durham Airport, downtown Raleigh is a mini version of downtown Houston, full of art galleries, museums and food hot spots. The downtown corridor is anchored by the state Capitol building and the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, connected by Fayetteville St. The North Carolina capital is easily walkable with the city’s center sectioned into districts, similar to Houston. Raleigh is unique as the city does not have a major highways going through downtown.
The best way to start your trip in the city is with a Segway tour. The folks at Triangle Glides are locals, so they have a wealth of knowledge not only about the modern Raleigh, but they can also give you historical contexts that enhance the tour and attractions. Don’t be nervous about actually getting on a Segway – they offer a training before you actually hit the streets. During the actual tour, you’ll see several landmarks around the city: Cree Shimmer Wall at the convention center, museums, Capitol grounds and more.
Walking around downtown Raleigh, you notice the absence of chain stores. Local boutiques line the downtown storefronts. Whether you’re looking for a souvenir for your neighbor watching your dog, a cute gift for your niece or something to add to your own collection, there are several possibilities without the typical tchotchke feel.
Stitch, located in the Fayetteville Street area, offers handbags, luggage tags and even wine bottle holders designed by local artist Holly Aiken. The vinyl material in fashionable colors has the durability for daily use, perfect for work to happy hour (or reverse happy hour at Underbelly).
With the capital city comes the usual assortment of museums. The Contemporary Art Museum showcases local artists. With only a $5 admission, it’s worth a peek. The North Carolina Museum of History, a donation-based museum, walks visitors through the early colonization to Blackbeard to the Civil War. Even as a Texan, you can appreciate the history and its impact on our country.
If you enjoy the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is a must-visit. Divided into 2 buildings, the museum offers the Nature Exploration Center (perfect for tots) and the Nature Research Center (think teens and adults). The Nature Exploration Center has four levels of exhibits, including an impressive skeleton collection, gemstone and mineral exhibit and the Living Conservatory with turtles, spiders and free-roaming butterflies. Take the sky bridge to the Nature Research Center to see various labs with scientists in action.
What to eat: For a good, homestyle breakfast, make sure to stop by Big Ed’s City Market in Moore Square. The big breakfast platters won’t let you leave without a full belly. Famous homemade buttermilk biscuits accompany eggs your way and breakfast meats like local Nahunta pork sausage (available in patties or links), corned beef hash and fried Nahunta fat back. You also have a choice of a heaping side like grits covered in red eye gravy, crispy home fries and locally sliced tomatoes when in season. The delicious, affordably-priced food paired with the southern hospitality and historical Confederate-era décor make this place a local hot spot.
Beasley’s Chicken + Honey is a perfect spot for a fried chicken lunch. Owned by James Beard Award-winning chef Ashley Christensen, you can get fried chicken just about any way you can imagine: chicken, waffles and honey; chicken biscuits; quarter-fried chicken; and chicken pot pie—just to name a few.
For dinner, a must-visit is local favorite Babylon. This Moroccan and French restaurant transports you to Casablanca with the décor, music, ambiance and the food. Opt for the patio area adorned with garden lights or retreat indoors to enjoy your north African and southern European fusion meal. Start with the chicken bastilla rolls for a mix of savory, sweet and spicy. The braised lamb tagine paired with a glass of red wine is the perfect combination for your dinner entrée. Portions are healthy (and by healthy, we mean substantial) so you won’t leave hungry.