Does riding a 1920’s carousel, spending a morning with lemurs, sipping an old-fashioned milk shake or being surrounded by hundreds of butterflies add up to summer fun for you? Well, you are in luck because you are only a little more than an hour away from all of this and much more. A trip just down the road to Raleigh or Durham will lead you right into these experiences and much more.
The capitol city awaits with history, art, science, and one of the oldest amusement parks in the United States. You might want to start your day off with a nice southern breakfast at Big Ed’s. Located in downtown Raleigh, this restaurant centered around southern cuisine will not let you down with red-eye gravy, grits and spiced sausage. You can always get an order of pancakes that will literally fill your plate to the edges! The biscuits come out warm and ready for you to spread honey on them, or lots of butter if you prefer.
After your mouth watering breakfast you can take a walk downtown and get your day started with some science fun. Raleigh is home to the most popular museum in the state, The North Carolina Museum of Natural Science. With its new 80,000 square-foot Nature Research Center, the museum is the place for inquisitive minds both young and old to explore, ask questions, and be a part of science. And since a large part of being a part of science is being hands on, there are plenty of exhibits to keep the busiest hands occupied. You can also pay a visit to “Willo” who has the distinction of being the most complete Acrocanthosaurus skeleton of its kind on display in the whole world. Complete your dinosaur fun with 14 life-size metal dinosaurs who are making a visit to the museum this summer. Each one has its own lever and pulley system, or remote control and can be manipulated by visitors.
Right next door to all the science fun is the North Carolina Museum of History. This summer its exhibits include “N.C. & The Civil War: The Raging Storm, 1863”. The exhibit is part of the 150th anniversary and highlights the events taking place each year during the “War between the States”. The museum also showcases "Art in Clay: Masterworks of North Carolina Earthenware” which features 18th century Moravian and Piedmont patterns in the collection. If the children in your group are inspired by the earthenware they can create their own designs and learn how to make pottery!
Families can make another stop downtown at the Marbles Kids Museum. “This summer our Around Town area has been completely redone,” said Katy Hipp Burgwyn. “We have a new area, 'On The Farm' which features stuffed animals such as pigs and chickens." Burgwyn also said their train table has doubled in size as well as a new theatre with puppet play. A full garden is in full bloom outside of Marbles with a bounty of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Next to Marbles, the IMAX Theatre has several features scheduled throughout the summer, from kid friendly cinema to feature films like “Superman: Man of Steel.”
You can explore 164 acres of art at the North Carolina Art Museum. Exhibits indoors and out include Egyptian, classical, European, Modern, complete with works of art by famous sculptor Auguste Rodin. There’s more than art at the museum during the summer months, including a concert series. This year musical acts include Indigo Girls, Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers, Tift Merritt and Pink Martini.
Nothing makes a summer day more perfect than a visit to a park and the first public park in Raleigh is worth a stop. Pullen Park, which was founded in 1887 by Richard Stanhope Pullen, has recently re-opened after a two-year face lift. The amusement park’s renovation includes the Dentzel carousel, which has been at the park since 1920. Bright blues, greens, and yellows adorn the freshly painted horses, cats, rabbits and giraffes on the vintage ride. You can see all the new renovations by riding the miniature train around the park. You can also enjoy the landscape by taking a pleasant paddle boat ride.
If a visit to Pullen Park has left you in a nostalgic mood for days gone by, then a 10-minute drive to the Five Points area will make your taste buds happy with old-fashioned shakes and French fries. Frank and Margaret Ballard have been welcoming guests at Hayes Barton Café and Dessertery since 1998. When you step through the door, you are transported to an era when folks took time to sip fresh lemonade and greeted each other on the sidewalk. The World War II memorabilia and photographs of film stars are enough to keep you busy, but you don’t want to miss out on the food. No matter what you eat, be it homemade soup or that juicy hamburger done the right way it is important you save room for their delicious desserts. The restaurant is open for dinner with a more intimate atmosphere, but offering the same superbly prepared food, including old-time favorites such as chicken pot pie and meat loaf. Frank said if you are in the military to let him know, “We take care of our men and women in uniform.”
Soccer has made its mark in the Triangle. The Carolina Railhawks give you good reason to cheer on a hot, Saturday evening! The experience is for the whole family according to Art Johnson, general manager. "Before the games it is like the old-fashioned days of tailgating with picnics and kids kicking the ball around," he said. The WakeMed Soccer Park seats 10,000 people. The Railhawks are a part of the North American Soccer league and play against teams from Miami, Tampa, and Minnesota. “The New York Cosmos are joining the league this summer!” boasted Johnson.
Raleigh’s downtown also has seen significant changes in recent years. Restaurants and art galleries have opened through the area. Fayetteville Street and Glenwood South offer many eateries and boutiques. On a summer night one can find plenty to do simply by wandering around!
If someone in your family likes science, sports, theatre, flowers, jazz, or wild animals then a trip to Durham should make everyone happy. One of Durham’s most well known places to visit is the Museum of Life and Science. The museum is ready for the summer with special exhibits such as 'Into the Mist.'
"We have 420 misters," said Julie Rigby, vice president of external relations. “You trigger them with buttons and they create a really thick mist you can’t see through. They are fun to play with and they cool you off too,” she added. To greet you on the half-mile Dinosaur Trail are late Cretaceous period dinosaur models that are scientifically accurate. “We also have 300 tons of new fresh fossil materials outdoors were children can look for sharks teeth and other marine fossils,” said Rigby. The fossils are 5 to 23 million years old.
Bright, colorful butterflies and tropical plants await you at the museum’s Butterfly Magic House. The house is a 5,000 square foot conservatory. It’s 1,000 tropical butterflies and 250 species of tropical flowers combine to make the house a beautiful place to visit.
If seeing the butterflies has piqued your interest in nature, then a visit to the Duke Lemur Center is a must. It is open seven days a week, and tours are given three times a day. Those who visit will have the opportunity to see ten different species of Lemurs, 250 in all. “The only other place you can see this many Lemurs together is to go to Madagascar,” said Niki Barnett, education manager and development officer. “This is a lot cheaper!” she chuckled. Unique tours are featured here including “Walking with Lemurs” and “Painting with Lemurs”.
If you need more time outside then a visit to Sarah P. Duke Gardens located on the campus of Duke University is in order. Winding paths and courtyards are waiting to be explored.
The gardens are also a great place to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy all the bright, seasonal flowers that fill the 55 acres. The wooded trails are a great way to stretch your legs.
You can take yourself out to a ballgame by visiting The Durham Bulls. They have a schedule that can fit most trips to the Bull City. "There is always something different going on at the park every night," said Mary Beth Warfford, special events coordinator. "On the weekends we have special acts and on Fridays we have fireworks," she continued. Not only is there great baseball to watch under the summer night sky, but also lots of great concessions including cotton candy and lemonade.
The Durham Bulls Athletic Park is located in the American Tobacco Complex along with the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC). You could start your summer off by enjoying the music of Gladys Knight & the Pips on June 30th and cool off a hot August night with Sheryl Crow on August 3rd. The Complex also hosts a wide variety of restaurants including Cuban Revolution, Tobacco Road Sports Café, and The District at 410 Restaurant.
This is just the beginning of summer fun in Raleigh and Durham. You might have to spend the night or make two trips. But either way it is good to know that a great summer escape is just right down the road!