Blending Southern charm and grace with its pursuit of cutting-edge technology, Raleigh captures the imagination. This unlikely vacation destination is North Carolina’s capital and second-largest city. It is also the cornerstone of “The Triangle,” a commercial, academic and technology-rich hub that includes nearby Durham and Chapel Hill. The vibe that comes out of Research Triangle Park, a 7,000-acre complex at the center of the geographic triangle, enlivens this otherwise placid environment.
Downtown Raleigh, with museums of every stripe, warrants its nickname “Smithsonian of the South.” Twenty institutions comprise a diverse wonderland for inquisitive minds and hearts, emphasizing everything from hands-on interactive exhibits for children to the history of Harley-Davidson drag racing. The best news is that many of these showcases are free. Foremost are the North Carolina Museum of Arts, which boasts 30 Rodin sculptures, and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, which features a Living Conservatory filled with hummingbirds and butterflies.
The 25 blocks of Oakwood Historic District, once slated for destruction to make room for a major thoroughfare, now represent one of the top attractions in Raleigh. This entire neighborhood is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Working-class homes reflect diverse architectural styles, including Queen Anne, Classical Revival and Bungalow. Although development started shortly after the American Civil War, most of the building occurred between 1890 and 1930. Visitors interested in self-guided walking tours of this lovely neighborhood will find maps at the North Carolina Museum of History.
Located in the Piedmont, a plateau separating the Appalachian Mountains from the eastern coastal plain, Raleigh is surrounded by natural beauty. Responding to public fears that rapid growth was destroying this beauty, city government created the Capital Area Greenway System in 1974. The greenway’s 3,700 acres include more than 77 miles of sightseeing trails.
Just outside the city, to the southwest, lies Jordan Lake, among the area’s top attractions for nature lovers. With more than 14,000 acres of water, the lake offers ample area to cast a fishing line or glide over the water behind a ski boat. Two observation platforms for viewing the majestic bald eagle yield an unforgettable experience to the patient visitor. Another top draw for tourists who enjoy the natural world is the renowned JC Raulston Arboretum. North Carolina State University operates this 10-acre collection of more than 5,000 landscape plants.
A night out on the town in Raleigh may be as simple as savoring a plate of mountain trout accompanied by live jazz at the Irregardless Café. A special occasion might call for catching a theatrical production, dance performance or concert at the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts. The center’s four venues range from the classic 2,300-seat Memorial Auditorium to the intimate and experimental Kennedy Theater. Built in 1932, the renovated Memorial Auditorium blends the opulent grace of a former era with state-of-the-art lighting and acoustics. The modern Kennedy’s black-box environment blurs the line between players and audience, igniting the imagination—just like a trip to Raleigh itself.