Things to Do in Downtown Wake Forest, N.C.
Wednesday, September 22, 2021, 11am by visitRaleigh
Located just north of Raleigh, Wake Forest is a beautiful small town boasting history, culture and activities to keep travelers entertained for days on end. Stroll through the historic downtown district, home to a charming community of art galleries, shops and restaurants (and where a handful of awesome new businesses have popped up recently). Plan your itinerary around these 15-plus favorites!
For tapas, wine and rum-focused cocktails, Bodega is widely believed to be a top spot (in Wake Forest and beyond). Co-owned by chefs Serge Falcoz-Vigne and Horacio Rodriguez, the restaurant’s rustic, wine country cooking style is inspired by international travels. Tapas and plates are also crafted using local and imported artisanal ingredients. When it comes to libations, Bodega wows with classics like the Rum Old Fashioned and unique cocktail offerings including the Ship Down—Plantation Original Dark rum, fresh lime juice, passion fruit, agave, cilantro and cayenne. Wine aficionados will also be impressed by their selection of almost 40 hand-picked wines.
Shorty's has been a go-to hangout spot for locals for more than 100 years. Originally started as a movie theater, founder H.E. Joyner began selling snacks—before building an expansion with pool tables and a full lunch counter—to stave off nearby competition. Today, the pool tables remain in a back room and a centuries worth of memorabilia packs the walls, but the main attraction is the doggone good hot dogs—you're likely to find a line out the door at lunch time that's filled with customers who have been eating here for decades. Still run by the same family that started it all (you'll find fourth-generation owner Chris Joyner behind the counter), the hot dog shop will turn 103 years old in June of 2019, making it the longest-running restaurant in the Raleigh area.
Check out Sugar Magnolia Cafe & Emporium where you can get great coffee and food as well as shop for locally-produced art, jewelry and crafts from more than 35 artists and artisans. Plus, relax in the tea room (previously occupied by the Olde English Tea Room) and order up meal sets or a tea party from their menu. After shopping and dining, sit back and relax in the Magnolia Roots Music Lounge, where musicians from around the world play (consider purchasing tickets well in advance as many recent shows have sold out!).
Whether you take your coffee black, with sugar or with cream, Black and White believes it should taste good no matter how you drink it. Owned by U.S. Barista Championship winners Lemuel Butler and Kyle Ramage, this four-year old coffee spot roasts new single origin coffees as well as beautiful, complex blends. Although the company has two other Raleigh area locations, Wake Forest is where it all started. Next time you’re downtown, grab a cup and savor the goodness!
North Carolina General Stores is the quintessential friendly, local corner store you picture when thinking of small towns in the South. Shop an eclectic variety of Carolina-made products, from BBQ sauces and specialty foods to local art, pottery and photography. The store even serves as a gallery for local artist Nathan Forrest, a painter who captures on canvas his passion for N.C. landmarks, historic places, people and wildlife. For great buys and even greater conversation with the store’s friendly owners, be sure to swing by!
Fancy a classic handmade burger made fresh? Then pay a visit to The Burger Shop in downtown Wake Forest. This quaint and classic burger joint aims to serve up simple but delicious burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, hand-cut fries and sides at a price that won’t break the bank. Try the hand-squeezed lemonade and orangeade which always hit the spot. When dining in, expect a no-frills, classic diner atmosphere. Choose either a table inside or outside on the sidewalk patio.
Grabbing a beer at White Street Brewing Company is a must to complete your time in downtown Wake Forest. Owner and founder Dino Radosta stripped away the facade of a 1930s Wake Forest car dealership in order to uncover and restore the century-old structure's original character, resulting in a taproom and brewhouse with exposed brick and beams. Year-round, you can enjoy the Kölsch, a crisp and clean German ale that has nothing to hide, and the Hoptimist IPA, perfectly balanced with a bright tropical aroma, among other selections. After enjoying a pint or two, start up a game of darts or shuffleboard in the taproom. Hungry? Grab hot dogs and grub at Shorty's next door and take it into the taproom, or look out for food trucks on the brewery's event schedule.
Unwined on White is all about relaxing, taking a deep breath and savoring enjoyable sips of wine. As part wine lounge, part yoga studio, it’s the perfect downtown spot to meet friends (old and new) or just practice mindfulness to start or end your week. Whether you’re on the rooftop patio, swirling a glass of one of their handpicked wines or finding your center at the yoga and meditation classes offered in the space, you positively can’t go wrong. Pro tip: The store offers complimentary wine tastings on Fridays from 6-8pm.
The brainchild of chef Buck Buchanan, Lumpy’s Ice Cream is based on a simple philosophy: keep it simple and keep it local. A chef by training and restaurateur by trade, Buck first made his ice cream as a treat for his kids. After seeing how much they loved it, he took a year off and studied the ins and outs of ice cream making. His first batches were only available via hand truck in downtown Raleigh but you can now find Lumpy's in downtown Wake Forest. Check out their extensive list of ice cream flavors, from classics like Kenny's Kickin Chocolate and Vernon's Very Vanilla to fun picks like Bennie's Bacon and Bourbon and Aunt Bee's Honey.
Page 158, Wake Forest’s locally owned and independent bookstore, carries new and old titles with an extensive selection including all genres. With a very cool vibe and a smart and knowledgeable staff on hand, you can easily fall in love with this place and be fairly certain of finding your next good read. Make sure to check the store’s calendar for Wake Forest Lit Fest as well as various book signings, author meet-and-greets and other events happening regularly.
For more reading, Play4Life Comics is just a short walk away. The store features more than 10,000 back issues, new comics weekly, vintage toys and more. Get lost in fantastical worlds filled with superheroes, villains, zombies and more as you flip through the pages of your favorite rags.
Just a five-minute walk away from Black and White is Wake Forest Coffee Company, where local art fills the walls of The Artists Loft and delicious baked goods are ready to be devoured. Opened in 2008 in a two-story building built in 1919, the coffee shop has quickly become a popular, downtown mainstay. Stop in to smell the aroma and sip on a cup of Bali Blue Moon, Tanzania Peaberry or Peru La Florida coffees—just a few of the varieties available. Visitors can also indulge with a smoothie, hot chocolate, baked goods and, on occasion, live music.
Locals and visitors alike love the energy and atmosphere of neighborhood bar and social club Tonic. In addition to rotating taps of N.C. beers and bottled and domestic imports, the bar also serves seasonal and year-round cocktails as well as expertly selected wines by the glass and bottle. Trivia nights and live music are a hit at this place, so expect one amazing night out. Pro tip: Sign up for a membership before your trip for easy entry as the venue is a private club.
For audio entertainment, head across the street to Record Krate. Here you’ll find several crates of new and used vinyl to happily dig through. This local record store brand is also a favorite for the area's wax collectors which provides ample opportunity for great conversation with fellow audiophiles. Pro tip: Make sure to raid the dollar bins for surprising finds at a price that’s hard to beat.
Come revel in a tale of craft beer, scrumptious food, friends and family at Norse Brewing Company. This Norse mythology-themed brewery pulls out all the stops from its Great Hall décor of exposed wood beams and chandeliers to the Viking rune stone out front welcoming visitors inside. On the menu, you’ll find a selection of Scandinavian dishes with Southern twists and a fine selection of craft beers on tap. Drop by to also marvel at the company’s brewing operation which is on display behind floor-to-ceiling glass windows behind the bar. Norse Brewing Company periodically hosts live music for a festive atmosphere perfect for raising a glass.
Held each Sat., the year-round Wake Forest Farmers Market is where local farmers and other vendors gather to offer everything from pasture-raised meats and seasonal produce, baked goods and local honey to fresh-cut flowers and crafts of all sorts. Everything at the market was produced within 75 miles of Wake Forest! To add to the fun, local musicians perform each Sat.
Enjoy a quaint respite from your average lunch with a meal from The Lemon Tree. Nestled in the heart of downtown, this lovely café offers freshly prepared salads, soups, wraps, sandwiches and more. Best of all, the menu changes daily and offers something different to try every time you visit. Chef and owner Stacy Moritz is passionate about nurturing others with delicious food, and it clearly shows. You can choose to dine in or take food to-go. The Lemon Tree offers catering and ready-to-bake meals as well. Vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options are available.
For the shopper's delight, enjoy browsing through this unique shopping destination located in a historic warehouse with more than 50 businesses under one roof. Find handcrafted items, local art, pottery and jewelry. Look out for the hundreds of name brand items across the store!
Plan a trip around a performance, movie or concert at the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre for the Arts! Movies are shown on the first Fri. of every month, and there are several concerts and other events straight ahead. Check out the calendar here!
Header photo by Clarence Samelko
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