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The best way to reconnect with girlfriends? Head to Raleigh NC to eat great food, drink a little bourbon, get a great massage and do a little shopping.
36 Hours in Raleigh with Girlfriends
Raleigh and Durham NC are about 10 miles apart, even though the airport name would lead you to believe they are one place. My college BFF moved to Durham from Chicago a couple of years ago and we were overdue for a girls’ weekend. We talked about meeting in all kinds of cities. We wanted an affordable spot where we could eat great food, drink a little bourbon, log some spa time and shop.
Enter Raleigh, the North Carolina State capitol, where all our boxes were checked. My friend is relatively new to the area, so there was a lot for her to discover too. We had a busy 36 hours and it wasn’t enough. Next time I will stay longer so we can add art galleries (hello, North Carolina Museum of Art), history and science museums (specifically the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the North Carolina Museum of History), food trucks, beer gardens, live music (I hear the bluegrass festival calling me), historic sites and maybe even a tour or two of the many executive mansions and state parks (Pullen Park is a must do). If you have kids, check out the Marbles Kids Museum.
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Raleigh, North Carolina is essentially the polite, southern version of Austin, Texas. If you want almond milk, hipsters and an abundance of 20-somethings, head to Austin. If you want that cool urban feel yet with a more community-driven, southern vibe, choose Raleigh.
Where to stay with girlfriends in Raleigh
We discovered the Guest House Raleigh, which is not your grandma’s B&B (which means it doesn’t look like a North Carolina museum). If you’re envisioning Laura Ashley sheets and canopied beds, you couldn’t be further from the truth. The North Carolina boutique home looks like it belongs in Scandinavia. It’s sleek yet cozy. The rooms have white walls, French doors that overlook sunny patios and views of the skyline. It is so gorgeous that the owners literally moved it from its original location when the city was threatening to demolish it in lieu of a new development.
Now let’s talk food. For breakfast? There’s a fridge stocked with yogurt, locally made granola, and everything healthy that you’re craving. Remember? We were there for a girls’ vacay. Plus, it’s walking distance from all the cool restaurants, stores, farmers market and bars in downtown Raleigh – so no need to rent a car.
Where to eat and drink in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina with your girlfriends
OMG. This could be pages upon pages. But we narrowed it down to our favorites based on: 1) The food. 2) The ambiance (a good girls’ vacation needs a great ambiance for those Insta photos). 3) The drinks.
We love this spot for a girls’ getaway because it’s essentially a living room with the best.beer.ever. Here’s the story: The family-owned restaurant make their own suds a few blocks away with a local brewing company – and add on others to create a 40-beer selection. Once you’re done with the beer portion of your evening, wander (or stumble) next door to Bida Manda, a Laotian restaurant owned by that same family. Yes, they will happily pair your meal with more beer (highly recommended). We loved every single thing we ate here: crispy pork belly soup followed by sweet chili salmon- YES! Even the crunchy rice lettuce wrap had an edge. The food is good and a local favorite, but there were not enough vegetarian options for my BFF.
The owner of Garland is a rock star. Literally. Originally from India, Cheetie Kumar grew up in the Bronx and taught herself how to make award winning dishes (bird’s nest farm vegetables, house made lamb sausage), while rocking out as a guitarist in Cherry Valence and Birds of Avalon. Then she settled in Raleigh where she and Birds of Avalon still play gigs. She epitomizes Raleigh, North Carolina: the down to earth urban, artistic, talented with a why-not-give-it-a-try attitude. I found this to be true of the owners of Guest House Raleigh too. They all seem to know and root for each other.
Watts & Ward
This is the old southern American library you always wanted. It’s stuffed with leather couches, deep bookshelves, creaky wooden floors, velvet curtains and bottles of whiskey. So many types of whiskey.
Welcome to the southern craft cocktail speakeasy, where membership to this private club is $1. Everyone pays. Cocktails range from the Winter Rose (which is gin, kummel, lillet rose, rose water, lemon bitters and dried rose, $12) to the Cobblers Fancy (a red wine blend, brandy, byrrh, fernet, orange, marionberry jam and charred rosemary, $12). I went for a Baker’s Bourbon neat, recommended by the all-knowing, generous pouring bartender. Now I pretend like I discovered it.
Transfer Co. Food Hall
You got picky eaters in your group? Got foodies? Got humans? You need to go here. From the outside, it’s just a big American brick building in North Carolina. And then you enter, and you’re awash in the scent of food, delicious food. They’ve got empanadas, local seafood, freshly baked cookies, burritos, bagels, dumplings, steak, vendors upon vendors of food. And of course, they’ve got drinks (this is the south, after all – they love their whiskey).
They keep adding more and more vendors (as of May, the Transfer Co. Food Hall wasn’t totally complete, but it still amazed). They have a beautiful outdoor seating area complete with string lights (hello, Instagram!). Bonus: there’s free parking.
Where to spa in Raleigh
Tonic Remedies in the Mayton Inn
OK, you’re going to have to trust us on this one. First, you’re going to drive to Cary, NC, an upscale southern neighborhood about 10 minutes outside of Raleigh. Then, you’re going to go to the “spa level” of the Mayton Inn, which is actually the basement. It looks outdated. You’re not going to be impressed. But then you’re going to get a massage. It’s out.of.this.world. And you’re never going to want to leave. My BFF has returned more than once.
What to do in Raleigh
Raleigh Flea Market
You know on those reality shows when the designer arrives at a flea market, and 10 minutes later, she’s bogged down with about a dozen incredibly chic things that you’d just die to have in your home? This flea market, which is open year-round on weekends, will serve that purpose for you. It’s almost like an art museum where you can buy the goods. It’s got everything from vintage fabric to wacky clothing to crafts, antiques and food. And it’s a free thing you can do (unless, of course, you go crazy with your purchases). Fuel (sugar) up with some home-popped kettle corn and then clean your palate with some fresh veggies from one of the many produce stalls.
Raleigh Denim Workshop
Love jeans? Stop by this awesome place during normal business hours, and you can get jeans that will be custom fit to you made in their downtown Raleigh workshop in good old North Carolina using good old-school machines.
Walk around downtown Raleigh
This North Carolina spot lively. People are out, enjoying the temperate weather, the lively performing arts scene, delish foods and friendly atmosphere. Walk the neighborhood. It’s changing. Fast. Mid-century modern homes mixed in with Victorian style architecture.
Thirty-six hours well spent. We’re both looking forward to our next go-around here!