Why 'Travel + Leisure' Says Raleigh, N.C., is Booming
Wednesday, March 16, 2022, 2pm by visitRaleigh
Raleigh is booming.
But don't just take our word for it.
That's the exact phrase Travel + Leisure uses to describe the City of Oaks in the March 2022 edition of the magazine ("Change in Motion," written by Betsy Andrews, is not yet available to read online). It's a statement that's hard to argue with—the last 15 years in Raleigh have seen a lot of change.
When the Raleigh Convention Center opened in Sept. 2008—bringing with it an influx of out-of-town visitors for meetings and special events—it gave the green light for hospitality businesses to breathe new life into downtown Raleigh.
Just a handful of months prior, chef Ashley Christensen had opened the doors to Poole's Diner—thought by many to be the defining restaurant of modern-day Raleigh's sizzling food scene and for which she was named America's best chef in 2019—before ultimately following her opening act with a chicken and waffle spot, an underground liquor bar, a wood-fired contemporary restaurant and a Neapolitan-inspired pizza joint.
Christensen's work paved a path for other restaurants and visitor attractions to build upon.
Both Cheetie Kumar's Garland and Chris Hylton's ORO Restaurant & Lounge—two of Raleigh's most prominent chefs and restaurants—turn 10 years old this year; Videri Chocolate Factory and CAM Raleigh celebrated 10 years last year; and Crank Arm Brewing and Trophy Brewing Company will both cheers to a decade of great beer in 2023.
There's more, of course. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences—consistently one of the state's most-visited tourist attractions—opened a new wing, the Nature Research Center, in 2012 (and a critical new exhibit, Dueling Dinosaurs, will make its debut next year).
Two food halls—Morgan Street Food Hall and Transfer Co. Food Hall—have opened within a handful of blocks of the North Carolina State Capitol since 2018 (a third, Craften Neighborhood Food & Drink, opened in Knightdale, N.C., this year).
And legendary pit-master Sam Jones brought national attention to Raleigh in 2021 when his newest namesake restaurant opened near the city's center.
(Five Star Restaurant [opened in 2000], Hibernian Restaurant & Pub , Raleigh Times Bar , Marbles Kids Museum  and Sono Japanese Restaurant  are among the many, many others that have also played an instrumental role in Raleigh's growth)
Other recent accolades for Raleigh, N.C.
- Among The Most Affordable Southern Cities for Family Vacations in 2022 (Southern Living)
- No. 1 Best Place to Live in the U.S. in 2021 (Bankrate)
- No. 1 Best Place to Start a Small Business in 2021 (LendingTree)
- Among The 50 Best Places to Travel in 2021 (Travel + Leisure)
- No. 2 Southern City on the Rise (Garden & Gun)
- No. 1 City in America for Young Professionals (GoBankingRates)
It's also true that the City of Oaks wouldn't be called as such without world-class outdoor spaces.
Moore Square—one of the original public green spaces laid out in the city plans way back in 1792—completed a major renovation in 2019. It's now home to concerts, movie nights, a weekly farmers' market, the Black Flea Market and more.
The Neuse River Greenway Trail—a 27.5-mile paved path stretching down the eastern border of Raleigh that opened in phases from 2012 to 2014—has been named among America's most scenic bike rides (and it's our top pick for a perfect outdoor spring or fall activity).
And Dorothea Dix Park—underway with a transformative 20-year master plan that's considered one of the nation's most exciting urban park projects—is already a favorite local hangout thanks to skyline views and open fields that play home to an array of events and festivals.
Said festivals have become an integral part of the culture in Raleigh, bringing together community to celebrate and showcase history, creativity, delicious foods and beverages and so much more.
Just next month, local rapper J. Cole's Dreamville Festival (April 2-3) will return to Dix Park, bringing 40,000 people together for the two-day jam fest; Brewgaloo (April 22-23)—twice voted America's best beer festival by USA TODAY readers and considered the largest craft beer event in the state—will take over downtown Raleigh, lining up more than 100 local breweries, 50 food trucks and all-day live music for the 11th annual event; and Spring Daze Arts and Crafts Festival (April 30) will fill the streets of downtown Cary with art—paintings, jewelry, sculptures and more—for the 29th annual showcase.
Later this year, Out! Raleigh Pride (June 25) will hold a 10th annual festival, gathering more than 50,000 people to celebrate and promote diversity and inclusiveness, and the arrival of IBMA's World of Bluegrass (Sept. 27-Oct. 1) will mark the 10th time the toe-tappin', banjo-strummin' week of non-stop music has called Raleigh home as well.
More festivals in 2022
- North Carolina 'Cuegrass Festival, April 16
- Artsplosure - The Raleigh Arts Festival, May 21-22
- Raleigh's International Food Festival, June 4
- Town of Cary's Pimento Cheese Festival, June 11
- Capital City Juneteenth Celebration, June 18
- Peak City Pig Fest, July 22-23
- Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival, Aug. 5-6
- CaribMask Carnival, Aug. 20
- Lazy Daze Arts and Crafts Festival, Aug. 27-28
- African American Cultural Festival of Raleigh and Wake County, early Sept.
- N.C. State Fair, Oct. 13-23
More visitors to Raleigh—and a change in traveler demands—has created a need for new and more unique accommodations, and that is the crux of what Travel + Leisure says has elevated the experience of visiting the Tar Heel State's capital city.
April will mark the one-year anniversary of the opening of Heights House Hotel, a 160-year-old mansion (and National Historic Landmark) in downtown Raleigh that was completely restored and revitalized by Raleigh residents Sarah and Jeff Shepherd.
Named for its location within Raleigh's historic Boylan Heights neighborhood, the 10,000-square-foot, Italianate-style mansion features nine ensuite guest rooms, 15-foot ceilings and original hardwood floors throughout the space, a total of 10 cozy fireplaces and grand common spaces crafted with immaculate detail and decorated with modern and vintage touches.
Heights House is among a growing number of independent and boutique-style hotels that have opened in the downtown Raleigh area in the last few years.
Guest House Raleigh, an eight-room inn located near Transfer Co. Food Hall, opened in 2018 in an 1880s home that the owners saved from demolition; opened in early 2020, vintage motor lodge charm meets contemporary comfort at The Longleaf Hotel, where a patio hangout space is a favorite among locals; at Hotel 83, a stylish and modern full-service property offers a raved-about restaurant on site—Good Day Good Night—in Raleigh's Warehouse District; and the AC Hotel Raleigh Downtown opened in late 2021, bringing European design (and a rooftop bar) to the Glenwood South entertainment district.
There's more development on the way, including hotels that are already under construction and some that will be soon (a large boutique property—that we can't name just yet—is slated to break ground late next year).
Another landmark project under construction is North Carolina Freedom Park, a space that will honor African American struggles and triumphs in pursuit of freedom, justice, equality and opportunity. Expected to open in early 2023 directly across from the North Carolina State Legislative Building, the park was designed by late architect Phil Freelon and will act as a gathering space for speeches and readings, musical events, dramatic productions and other activities.
And in Cary—where a signature park project of it's own will be unveiled next summer—the Fenton development is ready to open the first phase of it's much-anticipated live-work-play destination any day now. In total, the mixed-use district has plans for 440,000 square feet of retail space, a high-end hotel, 800 multifamily housing units, a movie theater, boutique fitness club, grocery store and high-profile restaurants that include Crawford Brothers Steakhouse (from award-winning chef Scott Crawford), M Sushi (a second location for the critically acclaimed Durham sushi spot), Superica (chef Ford Fry's boutique Tex-Mex chain) and more.
So yes, led by a group of passionate entrepreneurs, artists and activists, it's safe to say that the Raleigh area is changing. Booming even. And with spring in the air, now is the perfect time to jump back in and discover what's new and what's brewing in the City of Oaks.
Transfer Co. Food Hall photos by Brian Strickland; Dreamville Festival and Bluegrass Live! photos by Garrett Poulos; Heights House Hotel photos courtesy of Sarah Shepherd; The Willard Rooftop Bar and Lounge photo by Baxter Miller;
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