30 Hand-Picked Experiences for Your Summer Bucket List in Raleigh, N.C.
Friday, June 14, 2019, 11am by visitRaleigh
Roll call! Who's ready for outdoor movies, baseball games, stand-up paddleboarding and brewery hopping? We've got huge plans this summer in the Raleigh area! To jump-start and keep you busy during these longest days of the year, we've put together this list of 30 items for your summer bucket list, perfect for planning a trip to Raleigh with friends and family. Need more inspiration? Follow us on Instagram or give us a shout on Twitter—we're here to help!
1. Nothing screams "summer!" quite like settling in under the stars for a movie night. With movies being shown outdoors this summer at parks, amphitheaters and gardens across the Raleigh area, there are tons of opportunities to get in on the fun. From Oscar winners to family favorites, we've rounded up nearly 50 chances to catch an outdoor flick this summer.
2. Settle in for a jam-packed summer of open-air tunes. We've counted up more than 100 outdoor concerts in the Raleigh area during these warm-weather months, including big names like Vampire Weekend (6/21), Ben Folds (6/22), Dierks Bentley (7/11), Andrew Bird with Tift Merritt (7/13), Young The Giant + Fitz And The Tantrums (7/16), Greensky Bluegrass (7/19), Mary J. Blige & Nas (7/25), The Flaming Lips (8/7), 21 Savage (8/14), Brad Paisley (8/15) and way, way more.
3. Save the date for the grand re-opening of one of Raleigh's oldest public spaces. Moore Square—a four-acre, downtown urban green space that was originally conceived as one of five public green spaces for the city back in 1792—has been closed since 2017 for a new master plan implementation that included major renovations and new features (a cafe, splash pad, stages for music and outdoor movies, larger walking paths, space for a farmers market, public art and natural play areas for children). The Grand Opening Celebation is set for Aug. 3 (and a free hip hop music festival is set for Aug. 17!).
4. Round up the family for a field trip to an iconic summer playground spot in Raleigh. Established in 1887 and designated as the first public park in N.C., Pullen Park is known for terrific recreational opportunities—especially for kids and families—and includes an operating carousel built in 1911, a miniature train you can ride through the park, pedal boats to cruise around Lake Howell plus tennis courts, baseball and softball fields, an arts center and an innovative performing arts venue, Theatre In The Park (Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre).
5. Summers are for sunflowers, and Raleigh has the perfect spot to find them! At Dorothea Dix Park, a gorgeous, five-acre field of sunflowers—with a view of the Raleigh skyline peaking above the trees—is back for another year of photo-worthy fun. The field is expected to be in bloom and free to visit between roughly July 1 and July 21 (depending on weather). On Sat., July 13, a grand celebration—including live music, games, food vendors and more—will take place. Destination SunFest, with free parking and admission, will be held from 2-9pm.
6. Rent a canoe, kayak, sailboat or stand-up paddleboard and get out on the water! One of our favorite ways to combine relaxing views with a bit of exercise, you'll find all sorts of adventures to suit your needs. For families, head to Fred G. Bond Metro Park in Cary for a day of picnicking and rowing. For a bit more action, unload your canoe or kayak at any of the launch points along the Neuse River Canoe Trail and head downstream! For more, check out our guide to kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, canoeing and more in Raleigh, N.C.
7. Back on land, take advantage of the area's abundance of parks and greenways and hit the ground running with eight of the area's best trails to hike, bike run (including skyline views, brutally-steep hills, massive suspension bridges and more!).
8. Do some digging at Cheshire Cat Antique Gallery—one of the area's largest antique shopping stops with more than 20,000 square feet of vintage collectibles, furniture, jewelry, art, books and more in Cameron Village—or hop over to The Mercantile, a local favorite in Knightdale that carries vintage furniture and home decor (plus pairs particularly well with a stop for a beer at Oak City Brewing Company, just down the street).
9. Create your own tasting tour of some of Raleigh's best burgers: The Players' Retreat (an iconic spot open since 1951 across from North Carolina State University); MoJoe's Burger Joint (a dive bar of a burger spot with plenty of vegetarian options and a dog-friendly patio); Chuck's (grass-fed beef burgers paired best with fried pickle chips from chef Ashley Christensen); and Char-Grill (charcoal-flamed burgers ordered at a window and enjoyed anywhere, preferably with a chocolate shake!).
10. If hot dogs are more your style, here's your to-do list: The Roast Grill (the tiniest, no frills, no-ketchup-allowed spot in town for charred dogs); Snoopy's Hot Dogs & More (a go-to late-night spot first established in 1978); Cloos' Coney Island (serving locally-famous Detroit-style dogs with chili, onion and mustard); and The Cardinal (a cozy bar and grill with elevated hot dogs and a great beer-drinking porch).
11. Fireworks, fireworks, fireworks! No summer is complete without taking in a booming display of fireworks for Indpendence Day. From Apex to Zebulon, the Raleigh area has fireworks displays, carnival rides, live music and other patriotic celebrations lined up to celebrate America's 243rd birthday—don't miss out!
12. Track down 30 of the biggest, the best and most-Instagrammed outdoor murals in Raleigh, N.C. (showcasing pride, flowers, bicycles, local history and more!).
13. Plan a date night at Dock 1053, a mini-neighborhood where artists, creatives, entrepreneurs, retailers and others have revitalized a warehouse space with so much to do. You can't go wrong with dinner and drinks at chef Coleen Speaks' gorgeous restaurant Hummingbird, scratch-made Southern food at Wilson's Eatery or locally-crafted beers at Lynnwood Brewing Concern (where there's plenty of space for dogs on the patios outside!).
14. Hitch a ride on Citrix Cycle, a bikeshare program that launched in March 2019 that allows riders to grab a short-term bicycle rental from any of 30 docking stations located in and around downtown Raleigh (for as little as $2 for a 45 minute ride!). You can ride farther, faster and up more hills (without breaking a sweat!) with these snazzy red bikes—approximately 200 of the 300 total bikes are electric assist, meaning you'll get a smooth boost from a battery-powered motor as you pedal!
15. Explore North Carolina State University's incredible James B. Hunt Jr. Library—it's been called the "library of the future," named the 14th most beautiful library in the world and one of the 10 most amazing U.S. college libraries (among many other accolades)—plus dive into a good book at one of these independent book shops, favorite reading spots or local libraries this summer.
16. Spend a night experiencing the work of rockstar chef Cheetie Kumar, co-owner of three nightlife spots on one corner of downtown Raleigh. Kumar, who was recently featured in The New York Times, is a James Beard-nominated chef at the Indian-inspired restaurant Garland, plus has a hand in the indie music venue KINGS (where her band Birds of Avalon sometimes takes stage) and the cozy cocktail bar Neptunes Parlour.
17. Score your tickets to see some of the best club soccer teams in the world in Cary! The International Champions Cup (ICC)—a four-team tournament made up of the best women's teams in the world and hosted by the North Carolina Courage (defending champions of the inaugural ICC event)—will take place Aug. 15-18. The Courage, Olympique Lyonnais, Manchester City and Atlético Madrid are the competing teams.
18. Mark your calendars for five major music and entertainment festivals in Sept.:
- Hopscotch Music Festival (9/5-7), the three-day, 120-band downtown Raleigh takeover that will feature Chvrches, Phantogram, Little Brother, Jenny Lewis, James Blake, Sleater-Kinney and more for the 10th annual event this year;
- Apex Music Festival (9/14), a day filled with live music, street vendors, food trucks, beer and wine and an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants in historic downtown Apex;
- SPARKcon (9/13-14), the totally-weird, totally-awesome creativity festival that puts dance, fashion, music, film, food from nearly 2,000 artists in one place;
- Groove in the Garden (9/21), a day of good tunes and local art surrounded by beauty at Raleigh Little Theatre's gorgeous Stephenson Amphitheater;
- and International Bluegrass Music Association's World of Bluegrass (9/24-28), a toe-tappin', banjo-strummin' week of non-stop bluegrass in downtown Raleigh.
19. Beat the summer heat in the sweetest way possible by ordering a frozen hot chocolate from Videri Chocolate Fatory and finding some shade on the back patio. Or double down on a scorching summer day by heading to Sunni Sky's Homemade Ice Cream and ordering the Cold Sweat—a flavor invented by owner Scott Wilson that's made with a variety of chili peppers and hot sauces and has been dubbed as "the spiciest sweet treat on the planet." Yes, you'll have to sign a waiver before digging in.
20. Let the kids splash themselves silly at the 6,000-square-foot splash pad at Fuquay-Varina's South Park, let loose on the playground or sprayground at Cary's Jack Smith Park or run wild at Wake Forest's Taylor Street Park Sprayground (plus check out more ways to cool off with water fun this summer in the Raleigh area).
20. What could be better than a full day of beer sipping, bourbon tasting and barbecue eating? That's what you get at the aptly-named Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival (8/2-3) at Cary's Koka Booth Amphitheatre. A ticket gets you a souvenir tasting glass and unlimited beer and bourbon samples. Sign us up!
21. Speaking of 'cue, a trio of highly-anticipated barbecue restaurants are coming to Raleigh, N.C., very soon (adding to a list of local favorites for pulled pork, brisket, hushpuppies and more). Plus, the City of Raleigh Museum (COR Museum) is set to launch a new, free-to-see exhibit titled "The Story of Barbecue in N.C." (open July 5-Sep. 29).
22. Explore what the Raleigh area has to offer without breaking the bank! Tour the North Carolina State Capitol, explore the state's most popular museum, visit a nationally-acclaimed arboretum and more—there are more than 30 free (or nearly free) attractions and experiences that can anchor any visit to the area. Use this article as a starter when building a weekend trip with family or friends.
23. Treat yourself in the best way possible with a weekend getaway at one of Raleigh area's most relaxing retreats. Check into Guest House Raleigh, a historic, eight-room boutique hotel that a husband-and-wife team saved from demolition and relocated to its current location in 2017 (where a backyard courtyard, skyline views and more await!). Or, settle in at The Umstead Hotel and Spa, a AAA Five-Diamond property in Cary that has a spa and restaurant on-site that live up to the hype. Need more ideas? We've got 'em!
24. Visit Raleigh area breweries and earn rewards! Download and print your Raleigh Beer Trail Passport, then make your way around the nearly 30 local breweries—collect 15 or more stamps along the way and you'll have earned a stainless steel bottle opener, a Raleigh Beer Trail pint glass hugger and a limited edition T-shirt.
25. Dine at Beasley's Chicken + Honey, a brainchild of passionate mind and James Beard Award-winning chef Ashley Christensen, the menu has options for the entire family—fried chicken and waffles drizzled in honey; a fried chicken biscuit with pickled green tomato and Dijon; quarter fried chicken; classic chicken sandwich on a potato bun; hot chicken sandwich made with Carolina Reaper (the hottest pepper in the world) and more!
26. Immerse yourself in artist Yayoi Kusama's Light of Life, a brilliant infinity experience at the North Carolina Museum of Art. A mirrored hexagonal box measuring more than seven feet square and seven feet tall, the work is lined with mirrors and filled with LED lights that are programmed to change patterns and colors in a dazzling two-minute light show. The piece, which drew long lines during its debut as part of a ticketed exhibit in 2018, is now free to see as part of the museum's permanent collection!
27. Grab a happy hour drink at a not-so-common spot—underground at a 1920s speakeasy, behind a bookshelf at "one of the world's most secretive bars" or on the rooftop of a hotel that provides far-reaching views. Check out our guide to rooftop, hidden and underground bars here! Pro tip: On Sun. evenings at Foundation, Longleaf Swine—a barbecue and burger joint coming soon to Transfer Co. Food Hall—is serving up these smash burgers that act as the perfect nightcap.
28. Explore more than 30,000 square feet of fresh vegetables, produce, flowers and specialty goods at the State Farmers Market, Raleigh (open seven days a week—blueberry day is June 20; peach day is July 11; watermelon day is July 25!), plus check out the brand-new Moore Square Market (Wednesdays, 4-7pm through Oct. 16).
30. Spend an active weekend at North Hills—the shopping haven in Midtown Raleigh that's an eclectic mix of 130-plus local shops, restaurants bars and hotels—where a stay at the AC Hotel by Marriott Raleigh North Hills or Hyatt House Raleigh/North Hills provides easy access to local favorites like Quail Ridge Books, Happy and Hale, Vita Vite Midtown, Gena Chandler, Midtown Yoga, Vivace and more.
31. Hurry over to Raleigh's massive new foodie attraction, Transfer Co. Food Hall, a food hall and market housed in a 43,000-square-foot renovated warehouse in downtown Raleigh's Olde East neighborhood. Oysters, bagels, ice cream cookie sandwiches, empanadas and more all under one roof? Yes, please!
32. Also hit up Morgan Street Food Hall, the 20-vendor concept in Raleigh's popular Warehouse District that was voted one of America's best new food halls at the beginning of 2019 (a perfect spot for brunch, a place to get some work done or a great choice to take the whole crew for dinner and drinks any night of the week!).
More Summer events
- Negroni Week: Crude Negroni Hunt, June 24-30
- Exhibition: The Audubon Experience, through Sept. 15
- North Carolina Theatre presents Annie, July 23-28
- GalaxyCon Raleigh, July 25-28
- Sir Walter Miler, Aug. 2
- Downtown Raleigh Food Truck Rodeo, Aug. 4
- Summer Daze Music Festival Vol. 2, Aug. 17
- Packapalooza, Aug. 24
- Lazy Daze Arts & Crafts Festival, Aug. 24-25
- 15th Annual Capital City Bikefest, Sept. 20-22
- BugFest, Sept. 21
Outdoor movie photo via Dorothea Dix Park; World of Bluegrass photo by Garrett Poulos