14. Road Trip 2: Washington D.C. to North Carolina – Part 4 Raleigh, NC


About 40 minutes away from Chapel Hill is our next destination – Raleigh! Raleigh is the capital of the state of North Carolina and is part of the Research Triangle Park I mentioned earlier. You can tell this is a bigger city when you start noticing the roads getting wider and traffic increasing. In addition, Raleigh offers more museums, entertainment, business, and food options!

Lily Pads in the middle of Art Museum
Lily Pads in the middle of the North Carolina Museum of Art

Let me highlight some places for your next trip there!

  1. Lots of FREE Museums – North Carolina Museum of Art, North Carolina Museum of History and North Carolina Museum of Natural Science

Once you leave DC, there aren’t that many places that offer free museums that are actually worth spending time at. It turns out Raleigh is an exception.

If you are driving from Chapel Hill, you’ll want to check out the North Carolina Museum of Art first. Located in West Raleigh, this is right before you enter downtown. As the art museum, the architecture is already unique. The short walk from the parking lot to the art museum is already a pleasant walk in art. Once inside you can easily spend 2 hours in the permanent collection. From modern art to historical art, there is art for everyone.

Museum of Art, North Carolina
Museum of Art, North Carolina
Museum of Art, North Carolina
Museum of Art, North Carolina
A painting that looked like a photograph, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh
A painting that looked like a photograph, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh

One of my favorite section was the modern art section that had fun surprises. For instance, there was a mirror detecting viewer’s eyes to create beam light! We didn’t see that one coming! We took a couple shots here for fun.

Fun time at The Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina
Fun time at The Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina

There was also a special exhibition on an artist’s filming the street of New York in slow motion and captured everyday peoples life, which was powerful. There is also a huge park next to the museum. Another wonderful place to picnic and relax! Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to take a walk here. But I hope you do when you are there!

Fun layout inside the Art Museum
Fun layout inside the Art Museum

The North Carolina Museum of History and the Museum of Natural Science is in Downtown Raleigh. The two are, in fact, connected. So decide which side you want to start and make your way through both of them. We spent about another 90 minutes here, and that was only because we had to rush before the museums closed. The history museum presents a deep insight into North Carolina’s history. From the Hall of Fame to the Wright Brothers’ flight development, one can learn a lot.

Raleigh, North Carolina
Raleigh, North Carolina

I really liked the Museum of Natural Science. You can learn about the dinosaurs, astronomy, but also about green building development. There were also many activities and tools that kids could learn science in a more fun and friendly environment. Considering all the families that reside here while working in labs and in science research, I’m sure this would be one of the favorite places they would like to bring their kids over the weekend.

Dinosaurs in the Museum of Natural Science, Raleigh
Dinosaurs in the Museum of Natural Science, Raleigh
Museum of Natural Science, Raleigh
Museum of Natural Science, Raleigh
  1. North Carolina State Capitol

As the capital of North Carolina, the North Carolina State Capitol is located in downtown Raleigh. It is right in between the Museum of Natural Science and Museum of History. So if you can park your car near here, you can hang out in this area for 2 hours or so. Established in 1840, the white cornerstone building stands with grandness. Unfortunately, it closed already when we got there, so we only got to see the outside of the building. I believe they offer self-guided tours and group tours if you are interested in checking out the history and interior inside.

North Carolina State Capitol, Raleigh
North Carolina State Capitol, Raleigh
  1. North Carolina’s Food

Hungry? Let’s talk about Southern food! We decided to get some good barbecue. I heard that was the thing to try out in Raleigh. We went to The Pit, Authentic Barbecue and loved it. I would go here again if I was in the area. (Yelp thinks so too.) Plus, I have a ‘thank you’ story to share.

Barbecue at The Pit, Raleigh, NC
Barbecue at The Pit, Raleigh, NC

It’s a huge restaurant but the waiting line was so long that we decided to have the food to go. We ordered few things off the menu and waited. This was summer time and the World Cup season. Everyone was busy either eating, delivering food, or watching the games. Many others were waiting in line or ordering the food to go like us. However, our waiter who got distracted, forgot us and our food. We waited. After 25 minutes, we realized our food already came out but was just sitting there because no one told us about it. Once they figured out what happened, they quickly apologized. In fact, the manager came out to apologize and brought a new bag of barbecues we had ordered and added few more chickens as a treat. Our bad first taste with the first waiter quickly changed. “This should not have happened. We hope you enjoy our treat.”  Customer service plays a big role in service industries. This may be a common story in many other restaurants but I am grateful when there are managers like this one who can turn around situations like this with a positive light. Hence, here I am now, just 7 months late, saying thank you again for your excellent customer service. Thank you!

BBQ Dinner, The Pit, Raleigh, NC
BBQ Dinner, The Pit, Raleigh, NC

Oh, and the food itself was delicious! We gobbled up everything.

  1. Hang out at Pullen Park

Not so far from the Pit is Pullen Park. Since we got the food to go, we were looking for a nice dinner spot. Google Map said this was a green area, so we pulled over. But wow. When we got there, we were surprised. This was not just a park. This was also a mini amusement park with actual rides.

It turns out this was founded by Richard Stanhope Pullen on March 1887 in hope to create a space for recreation and pleasure for locals and visitors of Raleigh. Through his vision, this became the first public park in North Carolina.

The Pullen Park, Raleigh, NC
The Pullen Park, Raleigh, NC

It was very pleasant and peaceful. We found a picnic table next to the lake where we could gaze at the sunset as we hungrily ate our barbeques. Kids were running around as parents chased after them. Couples were walking with arms held tight. Elderly and single people were hanging out under the trees reading and passing time. There were merry-go rounds, mini train, and hiking routes for visitors to check out. Everyone seemed so happy.

Dinner spot at Pullen Park
Dinner spot at Pullen Park

This was a change from DC where everyone is rushing for their next big thing or starring into their smart phones. How often have I ever gone offline and just enjoyed a sunset? It felt wonderful to just soak into the present moment. I should spend more time like this – offline and in the present moment.

Raleigh's night light as we drove to Outer Banks
Raleigh’s night light as we drove to Outer Banks

The sun quickly disappeared and we had to get back on the road to our final destination. Yup, we were to drive down to the Outer Banks. Wait, you still had another 3-4 hour drive planned after all you did this day? Yes, I know! We were crazy! This was also a narrower road that was hard to stay alert. There is marginal scenery change so if you don’t pay attention when the GPS loses signal along the way you could could get lost. Particularly, we couldn’t really see anything in the dark because it was already late in the evening. It was getting closed to midnight and we still had few more miles to drive…

Eventually, we made it. But oh that journey. I got to tell you about it. Stay tuned for Outer Banks, our 5th destination of our road trip!

Copyright © 2015. Monica H. Kang, All Rights Reserved.

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