How to Spend a Day in Raleigh with Kids
Updated: Jul 16, 2019
S: How many times have you tried to do nice things for your kids and then it totally backfires in your face!?
This is exactly what happened last Friday when we ventured out to explore the Duke Lemur Center. Ryan and I had a rare 3-day weekend off together so we were bound and determined to do something fun with the fam. I had beautiful visions of the girls' smiling faces, as we snuggled with lemurs and created beautiful memories. However, the reality was much different. It was cold, drizzling rain, no wanted to walk, and when we vetoed the stuffed animal purchase from the gift shop, it all went downhill - FAST! So, we aborted the mission and returned home to enjoy afternoon naps! (Well, all of us except for our spitfire Aviana.)
Sometimes you just have to pat yourself on the back, give yourself a 'A' for effort, and simply surrender to reality.
BUT, tomorrow was a new day and I was relentless in making the most of this glorious weekend. After all, it was projected to be 65 degrees and the first glimpse of sunshine in well over a week.
R: I had other ideas. After Friday’s disaster, I was a little hesitant about another family adventure. Plus, what I really wanted to accomplish on this ‘rare 3-day weekend’ was getting the house put back together. As Steph, Adalyn, and Rory slept their Friday afternoon away and Avi destroyed her room, the living room, and the kitchen (in a span of two hours; how is that possible?), I got a got a good look at how desperately our house needed to be cleaned. So as Friday afternoon turned into Friday evening, the only family adventure we were going to be partaking in the following day, was going to be a cleaning party.
BUT, Steph wouldn’t have it. She had just completed a marathon stretch of work and insisted that we do something fun together. (I mean, I think getting the house clean is fun.) I guess I saw her point. And I secretly wanted another shot at a good old-fashioned family day too. Long work days for Steph equal long Dad days for Ry. So we agreed on another attempt at an fun-filled, action-packed Saturday and went to sleep with visions of The City of Oaks dancing in our heads. And this time, we got it right.
S: We woke up the next morning, the sun was shining, birds were chirping, and it was going to be a great day! While I got myself and the kids ready, Ryan hustled to speed clean the house before making our departure to Raleigh. Just as I was fastening the last buckle, Ryan walked out the door, set the mop aside and we were ready to roll.
North Carolina Museum of Natural Science
With free parking AND free admission, we were off to a stellar start! Upon entering the museum we were greeted with a gardening demonstration. The girls learned basic botany and skipped away with cantaloupe and zucchini seeds to bring back home. Rory was also having a field day. The large open exhibit space was perfect for our tiny walker to run freely. From tree rings to mountain lions to record-sized trout, the kids bounced happily from one spot to the next.
R: In my limited experience with museums, aquariums, and/or zoos, I always enjoy the short 3D film presentations. We’ve done sharks, panda bears, and turtles. But here in Raleigh it was dinosaurs! Sign me up for that! I purchased the tickets ($5 adults, $3 for children, Rory free) and made sure it wasn’t going to be too scary for the girls. We didn’t have any popcorn and Rory only lasted ten minutes, but the girls and I enjoyed watching the 3D presentation that brought the dinosaurs back to life!
S: The entire outing was exactly what we were looking for. We spent the remainder of our time there exploring the six additional stories. We enjoyed the arthropod zoo, explored aquatic ecosystems, and walked through prehistoric North Carolina, even getting an up-close look at a coastal whale skeleton. But all good things must come to an end, and while everyone was still in good spirits, we had more of the capital city to explore.
R: BUT first, the gift shop. Another thing I’ve learned 'in my limited experience with museums' is that there is always a gift shop that’s impossible to ignore as your exiting. Well, considering the girls had struck out the day before at the Lemur Center and had been rather well behaved thus far, we brought them into to 'browse.' It was a great little store with a vast assortment of educational games, puzzles, and memorabilia.
Steph and I desperately tried to persuade the girls to pick some sort of 'educational game' but instead they settled on another 'stuffie' (God knows we need more of them). Each picked out a small white bunny and both promptly named 'em Popcorn. We bought Rory a museum branded sippy cup and I was able to purchase some snazzy socks and scorpion suckers for my niece and nephew.
S: Stuffies in hand and Rory with a road soda, we pressed on. The sun was shining and the streets were bustling with other locals enjoying the pleasant change in weather. We didn’t particularly have an objective but I was optimistic that we could locate a park so the kids could burn off some (more) energy. Well, we found one. But it was under construction...
Luckily for us, there was a coffee shop around every corner and with the aid of Google Maps we landed at '42 & Lawrence.' The space was sleek, clean, and perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up.
Read With Me
We then popped into 'Read With Me' - the absolute cutest children’s bookstore. It was full of life and brightly decorated with books, inspiring art that adorned the walls, and there's a separate cozy seating area. All of their books are hand-selected, the shelves are even organized by age (genius!), ranging from board books to young adults. It's definitely worth checking out during your next visit to downtown Raleigh with kids.
While the girls were entertaining themselves reading tales of princesses, we desperately began searching for nearby restaurants for dinner. Several other local moms had recommended 'Caffé Luna' so I checked Open Table and the only available reservation was 5pm. At first thought, this seemed way too early but it was either that or wander aimlessly around downtown with two 5-year olds and a baby who hadn’t taken an afternoon nap. So, 5pm at Caffé Luna it was. This, my friends, was an exceptional decision.
It’s sad to say but it’s taken us nearly five years to finally realize what a life-changing move it is to have an early dinner out-to-eat with kids. I felt like we just invented sliced bread.
Caffé Luna is a Tuscan-inspired restaurant with Italian fare. Upon entering there was only one other family seated in the dining area (a plus!). Our waitress was extremely friendly and took time to chat with each of the kids. The service was top-notch and the food was delicious—the girls even enjoyed a FREE ice cream sundae to share!
Throughout the meal, the owner came over several times to greet our table and assure that we were having a positive experience. Whether you’re looking for a family night out, or a romantic dinner for two, Caffé Luna is the perfect spot. It’s no wonder it’s one of the Triangle's top-rated restaurants - the Graves fam will be back for sure!
R: We all left full, satisfied, and of course tired. We had a short walk back to the van, but as I studied all of the family’s faces, you could tell it was a great family day.
Before we got back on the interstate, all three were fast asleep. Adalyn first, Rory second, and of course Avi last. Steph and I were able to enjoy a quiet ride home and reflect on our wonderful day.
The first thing I smelled when I opened the door to the house was Pine-Sol. Oh yes, I had cleaned! And what a wonderful way to end a day. All we had to do was carry all the kiddos upstairs, change them into their jammies, and lay them down. The house looked great!
S: All in all, from this 'rare 3-day weekend' we learned that 1) if at first you don't succeed, try, try again 2) early dinner time is money, and 3) coming home to a clean house will feel like Christmas morning.
What are your favorite ways to spend a stay-cation weekend with fam?
Steph and Ryan