RALEIGH IS A SPREAD OUT CITY that grows fast, like a drop of oil in water, so it requires some driving to move around. It has everything you would want from a large city, including indie and eclectic options all around. Many places look inconspicuous outside, but once you go in, they’re creative wonderlands.
As an avid urban explorer, I’ve always strived to find those hidden surprises each city has to offer. I want to share the places my wife and I have found while dating in Raleigh. Please take this a “work-in-progress” list, and comment with your own favorites below.
START AN AWESOME DAY
This is a great opening for an afternoon stroll through downtown. Go upstairs for a chat, and then plan your day with an amazing cup of coffee.
There’s a Chocolate Factory in Raleigh, and it’s free to visit! Make sure you ask for a hot cocoa, and sit down for a while. If you’re keen, you can go to The Pit Barbecue, Circa 1888, or Boxcar Arcade across the street for a fun contrasting night!
You’ll thank me after you’ve tried their croissants and cocoa. Give it a shot!
An awesome place right in the middle of Cameron Village. Ask for a Piedmont omelet with a biscuit and Apple butter. Best biscuits in Raleigh by far! If you’re adventurous, you may also want to Google about the Cameron Village subway, hidden underneath the nearby Library.
Editor’s note: Café de Los Muertos is permanently closed
Best brewed coffee in Raleigh, hands down. You can even taste the beans’ origin. Nuff’ said.
DAY WALKS (holding hands & PDA is ok!!)
This is great for newcomers to the area. Visit the museum and park, and try to catch an outdoor movie during summer. If you’re a local: Do you know about the The Chamber for the Trees and Sky? You don’t?! “Oh, honey, bless your heart…” It’s a hidden camera obscura room in the middle of the forest. Go inside, close the door, and wait for a while until your eyes adapt to the dark. Big hidden gem knowledge points!
Stroll down the Sarah P Duke Gardens for a lighthearted conversation. Make sure you get to the Japanese Garden and the historic Roney Fountain to take some selfies.
Right by NC State Centennial Campus, you’ll find this wonderful set of gardens. It’s a free option to walk around and enjoy the sights. Make sure you visit the Japanese Garden, and take pictures of the picturesque houses. As a tip, you could grab something from Neomonde nearby and bring it here.
10. Lassiter Mill
Hidden gem! This beautiful mill area is ideal for a quick selfie stop on your way to Five Points or Downtown during the day.
11. Lake Johnson
One of the must places to go on a Raleighite date. If you can pull it off, rent a boat and sing for your partner. Show him or her you are a romantic multitasker…
7. Raleigh Rose Gardens
Great morning picnic spot. A cool picnic idea is to go to the Krispy Kreme factory, bring the box here, grab a bench, smell the roses, and relax together. When you’re done, check out the Raleigh Little Theater. If you’re lucky, you may catch the glimpse of a rehearsal. Need more daytime ideas? Consider visiting The NC Capitol, The Executive Mansion, Mordecai, Historic Oakwood, and the museums in the downtown area ;)
‘ROMANTIC EVENING’ KIND OF DATE
For a more romantic setting, stroll down Lafayette Village and dock on Vinos Finos, for amazing Spanish tapas. I highly recommend it.
13. North Hills
As an alternative to Lafayette Village, you can go to North Hills to spend an afternoon. The cool thing about North Hills, or “Midtown”, as we call it, is the variety of options it offers on a walkable area. Grab some coffee, eat at Five Guys, go to the movies, you name it.
14. Second Empire
For a very elegant evening (and massive date points), dress up for an incredible dining experience at Second Empire. My personal suggestions are the Black Angus Ribeye, the Foie Gras, or the Roasted Colorado Rosemary Lamb Loin Chop, mon amie.
15. Taverna Agora
This dining option is particularly good during the spring or the fall, when you can go up to the patio. Their greek cuisine is fantastic, especially the Lamb Shank, their pasta, and the Chicken Athenian. Make sure to save some space for dessert, and make reservations if you are going on a Friday night!
‘NIGHT OUT’ KIND OF DATE
One of the best aspects of Raleigh is its indie music scene. Of course, you may want to ask a local to guide you through the best local bands, but The Lincoln Theater is one of those places where you know you’ll get a good show. Get in early because seats are limited!
This is perhaps my favorite restaurant in Raleigh. Being able to meet the actual chef, the great David himself, is an experience in of itself. Of course, the dumplings are fantastic. I usually get David’s original half fried dumplings, the shrimp ragoons, and the moo shoo pork (You’re welcome!). After dining, you can go to The Player’s Retreat, or “The PR” for short, just around the corner.
18. The Rialto
Classic and indie flicks to feed that inner hipster. This vintage movie theatre at Five Points rocks! Make sure you get their beautiful buttery popcorn!
If you’re a vegetarian, you’re gonna love this place. If you’re a carnivore, you’ll do too. Excellent cuisine, live music, and a can’t go wrong menu make this an ideal date location. You can even go to the Goodnight’s comedy club next door or to Drink Drank Drunk for a beer in’ session.
20. C Grace
For nightlife, Glenwood South is the place to go. But amidst all the beer on tap, delicious food, and happy people, lies an island of awesomeness and delicious cocktails called “C Grace”. If you want a chill date to spend a night, this is your spot. Make sure you go on a Wednesday for Jazz nights!
21. The Alley
Editor’s note: The Alley is permanently closed
Vintage bowling, anyone? This really cool (and really old) bowling alley will make you feel like you’re in The Big Lebowski right away. You can walk up and down Hillsborough street for a bunch of cool things to try and do, and definitely check out the NC State Memorial Bell Tower.
Mind blowing lebanese food and one of our favorite international restaurants in downtown Raleigh next to Sono. This will get you going after a great weekend date. Pro tip: they have great gluten free and vegan options.
For a final riposte of awesome, The Architect is a cool upstairs bar on East Hargett Street (downtown). Can’t say much about this place except this may completely turn around a boring night to an awesome experience, if you play your creative cards right! Psst… Check the bookshelves!