CITY GUIDE: Raleigh & Durham

Today’s City Guide is brought to you by Zac of Durham!

Visiting Raleigh-Durham (aka RalDur, Durleigh, the better 2/3 of the triangle) is really the best of both worlds. The burgeoning city and emerging social scene abound at both locations in fun and distinct ways.


The best way to start your day in Bull City is with brunch. Whether it is after an early jaunt with your running club or a sleepy late start with your significant other, good eclectic breakfast food is the most Durham way to start your weekend. There are a lot of great choices, but my personal favorite is Fosters’ Market. For over 20 years Sarah Foster and crew have been creatively preparing some of the best food in the Triangle. There are new specials all the time so every visit is  treat. Make sure to do yourself a favor and sample some of the most delectable bread pudding in the Piedmont.

After you get your fill at Fosters’ Market, you have to make your way over to Durham Farmer’s Market. Though there are two, the one in central park seems to be the local favorite. The farmer’s market is family friendly and loaded with all kinds of fresh produce and local products for you, him, her, and the little ones.

After all that food and sundry shopping the thing you are going to want to do most is eat again. One of best spots to grab a late and light lunch has got to be Parker and Otis. P&O is located in the Brightleaf district, just south of the Farmer’s Market, and is kind of like a hipster/reverse Cracker Barrel. Which means it is the kind of place you will force your grandma to go check out when she comes to visit. Here at P&O the pimento cheese sandwich and sweet peach tea are tops, but you really can’t go wrong with any of the sandwich or salad options.

If you would rather opt out of the tea and sandwich choose something more sweet then head west and stop in at Scratch Bakery to get a slice, or a whole, of lavender pie or chocolate chess. Although if you want my opinion, the mexican chocolate cream pie is the best. Also this place easily wins for best cup of coffee in Durham so double win for you!

By the far the most adorable place in Durham is Ox & Rabbit. This old-timey soda and malt shop is located in the middle of Durham’s Ninth Street and is managed by a super sweet couple that ooze indie kindness and have an impeccable eye for vintage goods and local finds. Make sure to get an Italian cream soda or a Dr. Pepper milkshake, along with a handful of homemade caramels, before you leave.

Okay, I know this sounds fairly mainstream, but you have to go to Durham Bulls game if you come to Durham (yes I know the ones from the Kevin Costner movie). Playing ball since 1902, the Durham Bulls are the embodiment of the spirit of America’s favorite pastime. This triple AAA ball club is community and excellence at its finest. Perennial winners and champions of community involvement and charity a game with the Durham Bulls is a treat for all ages. There is still a little diamond magic and cosmic truth for those that believe.

The best way to polish off a Durham “Bulldog” (an all beef hot dog baked in pretzel dough with bacon and cheese!) is with some of the best local brew. Luckily, Durham has a great venue for you and all of your friends at Fullsteam Brewery. Great brew, big tables, ping pong, darts, and pinball would be enough, but right outside their front door is even more delicious food to be served out of a… truck? Yes, welcome to the incarnation of the Durham entrepreneurial spirit. Where Raleigh says No! to food service trucks Durham says C’mon! There are over 40 different and diverse food trucks that swim in the streams of Durham’s local commerce. Try them all and then patronize your favorite. You can load up on all kinds of hot or cold tasty treats. It’s an allegiance war out there, but I will go ahead and bravely suggest Pie Pushers and Parlour as my two favorites.

Well that should hopefully be enough to fill up a day in Durham, but we need you to come back for a day well spent in Durham’s sibling city, Raleigh.


Though Durham may be quite the arts-ville of independent spirit its sibling city Raleigh is no slouch. There are three places in particular that make my cut for for a well spent day in Raleigh.

If you are ever in Raleigh you have got to try Lilly’s Pizza. I know that every town has their own version of a local pizza pie shop run by guys that are alternative, cluttered, and brilliant at making pizza. It may not be the best pizza you have ever had, but I dare you to eat better. My recommendation, the Buddha, but really you can’t go wrong. Also, Vegans welcome, so that is a plus.

If there is one thing that Raleigh-ians know, it is how to class up an otherwise mundane activity. The North Carolina Art Museum is not only home to world-renowned art exhibitions, but also home to a fabulous sculpture park that serves as a running track [download] that offers various tracks and terrains. If you are a casual to intermediate runner looking to move with inspiration, there really is no better place you go.

Now there is quite the coffee turf war going on Raleigh. So to pick any one of the fine establishments would be an encroachment but I will go ahead and make my case and also provide the alternatives. My recommendation is Jubala, though it is the baby of the top three and it has already garnered a couple of shop awards and several top baristas. Set in the newly established european shopping experience of Layfayette Village, Jubala serves not only some speciality food goods (you have to, have to try the Belgian Waffle) but is the first manual brew coffee shop in North Carolina. It is delicious all around and the extra area for seating makes it easy to find your favorite spot to settle in and read or study. Other great contenders would be Cafe Helios and The Morning Times. Both of these fine shops are located close to downtown Raleigh so for those that work and live in that neighborhood these are the easy favorites.

Thanks for the read and for Allie’s enthusiasm for local fare and fun. If you are ever in the Triangle let me know and I would be happy to show the sites myself! Thanks. [Be sure to follow Zac on Twitter!]

Featured image by tracktwentynine.

April 12, 2012