Hotspots in Raleigh, NC

Hanging Rock State Park

Just two hours west of the Triangle area is a hiking paradise for dogs. Park at the far end of the parking lot by the visitor center and take the .4 mile trail to Hidden Falls, a small natural waterfall. The real treat is if you continue on for another .1 of a mile to Window Falls. This waterfall is larger and has a wider pool below. Plus, the rock formations act as nature-made picnic areas. Hiking with your dog to these spots is best on a very hot summer day. You can walk underneath the falls, splash around in the natural pools and explore behind the falls as well. Pack a picnic of doggie biscuits and enjoy.

Lake Johnson Park

Lake Johnson Park is one of Raleigh's favorite places to get outdoors and get some exercise. The park itself is over 300-acres surrounding a 150-acre lake, making it the perfect park for going on a hike or a run (there are fantastic paved trails!). The lake itself is prime for getting fit as well -- they have boat rentals and classes available, including sailboats and paddleboats, which are both great workouts! Or, bring your own powerboat for an afternoon of waterskiing or wakeboarding. Before you head home, be sure to stop by the Lake Johnson Waterfront Center and relax in one of the rocking chair on the porch overlooking the lake -- it's the perfect way to end the day.

State Farmer’s Market Restaurant

You gotta love a place where the Twitter handle is RealBiscuits! And you gotta love a place steeped in the agricultural axis of North Carolina, the NC State Farmers Market, which stands on ground where cattle from the North Carolina State University agriculture farm once grazed. Market space all around the restaurant is where farmers bring their crops to sell, so fresh is foremost, and each meal begins with the eatery’s “real biscuits,” hand-made using NC self-rising flour, real buttermilk and a little secret. Another little secret is that Jackie Watkins, son of “Big Ed” Watkins of Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant downtown, originally opened Raleigh’s State Farmers Market Restaurant on Hodges Street in 1955. It moved to its current location in 1991. The State Farmers Market Restaurant features NC “Fresh Cooked” & “Made to Order” Breakfast served all day, everyday until 3 p.m.

The Remedy Diner

A bit unassuming, the Remedy Diner has cafe-style seating streetside, and a back patio with additional dining space and heaters—great for cool evenings. From some of the tables you can enjoy the view of giant green oaks in Moore Square, Raleigh’s “Central Park,” and The City of Oaks’ giant acorn, which is raised and dropped every New Year’s Eve. Brunch here is a treat on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Plenty of vegan and vegetarian fare. Plus, after filling up on pancakes you can visit the Oakwood Dog Park located just a mile and a half away.

Foundation

A glowing red neon sign signals the subterranean entrance. It reads “Foundation.” Step down the stairs and inside, and the décor feels just right -– stone and brick walls, exposed beams, bar and tables made of reclaimed local heart pine. And for those perfect Carolina days, there’s outdoor seating. "Foundation specializes in what is great about North Carolina and the surrounding region when it comes to all things drink related,” promises co-owner Will Alphin. Cocktails are made from seasonal, fresh, local ingredients, thanks to a weekly trip to the farmer’s market, and the bar makes its own mixers including cola and ginger ale. If that’s not enough, consider that Foundation serves only North Carolina draft beers, domestically-produced wines and North Carolina’s largest bourbon list. The South X Southeast Cocktail features NC-made moonshine, infused with SC-grown Early Grey tea. Note: This is a private club with online sign-up.

Holiday Express

The Raleigh Parks and Recreation Department and Crabtree Rotary Club turn century-old Pullen Park into a Holiday Wonderland with a lighted train ride, holiday lights and displays, local entertainment, carousel ride, crafts, visit with Santa and more. There's lots of reason to celebrate as the park reopened in November 2011 after being closed two years for renovations totaling $6 million. The park is a great holiday destination for families. If trains are your thing, also check out the North Carolina Railroad Museum & New Hope Valley Railway at 5121 Daisey St., Bonsal, NC 27562 (not far from Raleigh). Tickets are $10 per adult and $7 per child, ages 2 to 12.

North Carolina Museum of Art

An art museum with the kids? Yes! Art is far more accessible than you might think, especially contemporary art and architecture. And the North Carolina Museum of Art, recently expanded, has artful accessibility to spare. The galleries and grounds are stunning; make a scavenger hunt out of looking at art, such as finding all the paintings with dogs or flowers. The museum also has regular gallery programs for kids and families. There often are special events and concerts at the museum, so keep your eye on the museum calendar. After perusing the galleries, let the kids get some energy out on the beautiful museum park grounds. And the best part of the museum is that it is, for the most part, free (some special exhibits may have admission fees).

Marbles Kids Museum & IMAX Theatre

Calling all swashbucklers: The pirate ship here seeks a crew, a city bus awaits and the stuffed animals at the pet hospital need some TLC. This super-neat museum – check out the million-marble wall that lights up at night - focuses on the power of play. They emphasize Be Healthy/Be Active, Grow Up Green (kids help in the community garden), Build Your Brain, Go Global and Create/Innovate. Don’t miss the ice hockey rink (wear your socks; they provide the Carolina Hurricanes jerseys), and check out the 50-foot, solar-powered sunflower with spinning petals. Recommended for ages 10 and under. The Wells Fargo IMAX Theatre next door is the state’s only giant screen IMAX (70- by 50-foot screen that’s eight stories high). This is the place for big movie openings like Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter. Yes, there’s 3D.  Museum admission is $5 per person  age 1 and older. IMAX prices vary: call 919-882-IMAX.

AT&T Raleigh Winterfest

Raleigh's premiere holiday event is the two-month-long Winterfest extravaganza featuring an outdoor skating rink with natural ice in downtown's City Plaza. Bundle up for choirs, bands, local entertainers, Santa Claus, sledding ramps, ice carving demonstrations, carriage and carousel rides and more. Local TV station ABC11 has a live weather camera stationed on the ice rink with live time-lapse every five-minutes, so would-be celebrants can peek in on the action. Admission including skate rental is $8 for both adults and children.

First Night Raleigh

This annual event happens every New Year's Eve rain or shine as an alcohol-free, family event on the streets of downtown Raleigh. In this "City of Oaks," the highlight is when the giant acorn drops at the countdown to midnight. complete with fireworks. First Night Raleigh has continued to thrive as an arts festival devoted to the Four Pillars of First Night: Celebration, Community, The New Year and The Arts. First Night Raleigh has evolved its 21-year history using the city as a stage, presenting artists and performers in plazas, churches, museums, theatres, bank lobbies and street corners throughout nearly 20 blocks downtown. The celebration features 100+ performing artists and arts in 35 inside venues and on outdoor stages.