Downtown Raleigh is made up of several unique areas packed with so many interesting things that it often feels like the epicenter of all the fun activities, festivals, and good eats in the Triangle. No matter the weather, no matter the season, there is always something to do here. And with several historic neighborhoods, it also makes this not just a fun place to play, but also a terrific option to live.
Downtown – Lay of the Land & Things to See and Do
Capital District: Home to the beautiful State Capitol building, Governor’s Mansion, and two of the most loved museums in the area, NC Museum of Natural Sciences and NC Museum of History. The Capital District is a great reminder of the special place that Raleigh holds as the capital city of North Carolina.
Fayetteville Street District: Anchored by the performing arts theater, City Plaza, and plenty of shops, restaurants, and offices, Fayetteville street is the main artery of Raleigh where families gather for festivals, concerts, parades, culture, and lots of good food!
Moore Square District: Imagine a grassy expanse under the shade of big oak trees, all lined with award-winning restaurants, local shops, and the best hands-on museum for kids, Moore Square is the historic center of Raleigh with the namesake public square and lots to discover around it.
Warehouse District: Filed with colorful murals, galleries, gourmet chocolate shop, arcade shop, the Contemporary Museum of Art, amazing restaurants, and not to forget, the new Union Station Project with its state-of-the-art public transportation and mixed-use spaces, the warehouse district has all the feel of a trendy and artsy neighborhood of a bigger city like NY.
Glenwood South District: Lined with bars, live-music spots, and restaurants, Glenwood South is a perfect place to get together with friends and family and have a great meal.
Downtown – Residential Neighborhoods
Historic Oakwood: Amidst the hustle and bustle of downtown is this beautiful 19th-century historic neighborhood with hundreds of unique houses including the Governor’s mansion. Gorgeous yards, shady trees, a historic cemetery, and very active communal holiday celebrations, make this the largest and much-coveted spot for families to live. With a combination of homes that have been painstakingly restored to their former glory, and new construction built to match the historic esthetics of the neighborhood, Historic Oakwood has something for every family. Some of the family favorites in the neighborhood include Oakwood Pizzabox, Side Street Cafe, Crawford & Son, Pharmacy Cafe, So & So Books, and Pelagic Bottle Shop are just some of the family favorites to be found in this area.
Mordecai: Adjacent to Historic Oakwood, bounded by North Blount Street, Courtland Drive, Old Wake Forest Road, and Mordecai Drive is the Mordecai neighborhood which traces its origins back to 1892 when a cotton mill was established in the area. Today Mordecai boasts some of the best offerings in the downtown area with Seabord Station shops, the wonderful Halifax playground, Yellow Dog Bakery, and Standard Foods and Grocery, Stanbury, and Escazu gourmet chocolate and ice cream shop to name a few. It even houses Raleigh’s only city farm which supplies produce to several area restaurants.
Boylan Heights: Established in 1907, today Boylan Heights comprises of over 250 residential homes built in the Craftsman bungalow style. Located between Hillsborough Street and Western Boulevard along Boylan Avenue, this is also a very artsy neighborhood which plays host to an annual ArtWalk that brings visitors from all over the Triangle. Breweries like Trophy, Moonlight Pizza and Boulted Bread are some of the neighborhood hot spots for families to get together and relax.
Five Points: Last but not the least, is the Five Points historic neighborhood, named so for the five neighborhoods of Hayes Barton, Bloomsbury, Georgetown, Vanguard Park, and Roanoke Park, clustered around the Five Points intersection of Glenwood Avenue and Fairview and Whitaker Mill Roads. Developed between 1910s through the early 1920s, houses in this area come in many styles including grand Colonial Revival, Georgian Revival, Tudor Revival, Classical Revival Foursquares, and bungalows with Craftsman detailing. The incredibly tall and delicious cakes at Hayes Barton Cafe, Lilly’s Pizza, and the Third Place coffee shop are a neighborhood hit!
Why Moms (and Dads) Love It
If you are impressed with all that is to see and do in downtown, you’ll be even more impressed knowing that all of it can be explored easily by walking. Park once and done. With plenty of sidewalks, most lined with big shady trees, it is easy to museum hop, shop, or grab a bit to eat, even with the biggest of strollers. Free public bus called the R-Line also makes getting around really easy within the districts. Most downtown eateries are also family friendly, some even offering great outdoor seating to eat and get the wiggles out. Locally owned retail shops such as Holly Aiken’s Stitch, Deco, Moon & Lola, and Port of Raleigh make downtown a fun place to shop for any mom who loves to find unique things.
Conversely, on days when taking-it-easy is on the agenda, each of the residential neighborhoods offer parks, bakeries, family-friendly restaurants and shops that make it easy to stumble out the front door without a plan, and still have a wonderful time. Modern technology of keeping in touch with websites and message boards, make each of these historic neighborhoods feel surprisingly old school and tight-knit.
Marbles Kids Museum: With hands-on play that encourages imagination and play, crafts, outdoor garden, IMAX theater, and a café, this is where we imagine every kid wants to spend all their time.
Read With Me: A well loved locally owned children’s bookstore that not only has some of the best children’s books offerings, but also story-time, crafts, and camps.
Brewery Bhavana: It’s a bookstore, a library, a flower-shop, a brewery, a dumpling shop. In short, a place that has everything that everyone in a family will love!
Treat: What’s a downtown without a great ice cream shop! Treat is family-owned and sources all their ice cream from Maple View Farm in Hillsborough, NC. Thanks to their “doggie cone” size, even the pickiest parents can let their littles (and pets) indulge without any guilty.
Videri Chocolate Factory: If you chocolate is more your thing, then Videri has some of the best gourmet chocolates in town, along with a mini chocolate factory on premise that kids can tour to see just how the magic happens!
Artspace: Part gallery, part artist studio, fully free and inspiring! Artspace is where kids and adults can enjoy beautiful art as well as see how it is created up close and personal.
Logan’s Garden Shop: Located in Seaboard Station, which in itself is a destination, Logan’s is a unique spot to bring your kids to appreciate nature, develop a love of gardening, and get some good homey grub in their cafe.
With more and more families working and living in downtown Raleigh, the options in daycares are ever growing. Here are some to start off your search:
This Raleigh neighborhood guide is compiled by RMB contributor Chika Gujarathi, who lives in Downtown with her husband and three young kids.