There’s a reason why it’s called “Summer Break”
It’s time to take a break from the ordinary and explore something special. Put your Out of Office message on, leave the laptop behind (don’t check emails on your phone, either), and get out and enjoy. Play like a kid again and make time to enjoy special events and happenings.
By Carla Turchetti
Banner photo by Matt Williams Photography
Kick Off the Season with a Meaningful and Memorable Moment:
You’ll want to look up in the skies above Fuquay-Varina this Memorial Day Weekend. The Freedom Balloon Fest runs May 25th through May 28th. It’s an admission-free all-volunteer run community service project presented by Project Uplift USA, a North Carolina–based nonprofit that works to uplift military families and serve the community through service and volunteerism.
“This is our way of highlighting service above self,” says Brian Hoyle, a hot air balloon pilot and a volunteer who serves as president on the board of Project Uplift USA. “We do this through an all-volunteer effort, and if we can uplift our community by remembering, honoring, and celebrating, we solve other problems at the same time that we don’t even know are there.”
Organizers reach out to hot air balloon pilots near and far to ask them to participate in what they call “the hottest of the coolest events of the summer.” The pilots do it because they believe in the cause and they love to fly.
“They are addicted to the joy they found years ago,” Hoyle says. “The magic is palpable when you go to an event like this.
Admission is free, thanks to sponsors and individual donors, although donations to Project Uplift USA are always gladly accepted and there are hot air balloon rides for sale.
You can catch the Freedom Balloon Fest in the skies over 503 Fleming Loop Road in Fuquay-Varina. For details, visit FreedomBallonFest.com.
Fun fact: One of the largest hot air balloon manufacturers in the world is Firefly, based in Statesville. You can spot their balloons in the sky by their trademark triangular basket.
Catch a Concert or Movie Under the Stars: (Plan for at least a couple, maybe more!)
The North Carolina Museum of Art has been presenting its summer concert and movie series for 20 years. Performances take place at the Joseph M. Bryan Theater on the museum campus. Concertgoers are invited to bring a picnic and enjoy music under the stars from artists like the Swedish sister-duo First Aid Kit and Chapel Hill–based folk performers Mandolin Orange.
The Red Hat Amphitheater, in the heart of downtown Raleigh, has booked a jam-packed summer concert season. Artists on tap are as diverse as Arctic Monkeys, Khalid, Matt Nathanson, and even a special Kidz Bop evening.
Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek is home to the Country Megaticket, a package of shows by blockbuster country artists like Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, and Keith Urban, and more. But the sounds of Walnut Creek will also be diverse this summer, with artists such as Steely Dan, Post Malone, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Coastal Credit Union Music Park seats almost 7,000 fans and can accommodate another 13,000 on its spacious lawn.
Get your shag on this summer at the eleventh season of the Midtown Beach Music Series. For the beach music bands you know and love, the commons at North Hills is the place to be on Thursday nights beginning at 6pm. This year’s roster includes Band of Oz, The Embers, The Catalinas, and Liquid Pleasure.
Places to Chill in the Summer Heat:
Summer is also a great time to get lost in a book, and all 22 branches of the Wake County Public Library system will be celebrating summer with special programming for readers of all ages. “There is a way to participate for every age [person], from young children all the way through adults,” says Elena Owens, Library Experience Manager for Wake County. “In addition to coming to the library to check out books and speak to a librarian about great books, you can come to many of our programs that we will be offering.”
For the younger set, there will be weekly story times as well as 140 extra experiences that include everything from demonstrations with steel drums to magicians working their magic. “For adults we are offering special programs that include music and [experiences], such as tea with an author of historical fiction. We’ll also be doing crafts like rock painting, because this year’s theme is “Libraries Rock”, and we are focusing on music for all ages,” Owens says. Older children and teens can also look forward to experiencing a special Harry Potter escape room. To get connected to all of the events at the different branch locations, visit the library section at WakeGov.com.
If what you’re looking for is some luxurious pampering, a weekend staycation or afternoon respite may be in order—and the Triangle has several acclaimed options. In the heart of Midtown, the newly renovated and refreshed Renaissance Raleigh North Hills Hotel is a perfect choice. It’s a four-star, four-diamond hotel, where you can walk out the front door and shop, see a movie, go bowling, or attend one of the many events on the commons. The hotel has an upscale restaurant on-site, and the North Hills lifestyle area includes a variety of restaurants. “There is literally something for everyone, whether you’re bringing your whole family or it’s a couples getaway,” says Anna Bobbitt, director of sales and marketing at the Renaissance.
Between Raleigh and western Wake, you’ll find The Umstead Hotel and Spa. “I always recommend to my local friends to reserve an appointment in the spa on Monday through Thursday, as you receive complimentary use of the spa facilities and the outdoor seasonal pool,” says Caroline Jackson-Allen, Marketing Manager for The Umstead. “You can arrive early and enjoy spa treatments, have lunch by the pool, and then relax outdoors all afternoon before enjoying dinner at Herons. If an overnight stay is what you have in mind, the By Design package is perfect because you can customize it to what you want to enjoy.” The Umstead is located at 100 Woodland Pond Drive in Cary.
Outdoor Fun for All:
You can support North Carolina’s farmers by making a stop at the Farmers Market in Raleigh. Local farms of all sizes sell fresh fruits, vegetables, and plants, and vendors sell everything from meats and cheeses to wine and North Carolina–themed gifts. There’s great country cooking to be had at the grill or in either of the two restaurants on-site. The Raleigh market is located at 1201 Agriculture Street.
The Midtown Raleigh Farmers Market, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, provides local family-farmed foods for sale. The market, located in the area near the movie theater at North Hills, is held Saturday mornings through November.
From early May until the first frost of fall, a parade of roses bloom at the Raleigh Rose Garden. There are more than 60 rose beds at the garden, showcasing everything from floribundas to miniature roses. Adding to the allure and ambiance: The blooms are surrounded by an arboretum of evergreen and deciduous trees. The rose garden is open to visitors seven days a week on the Raleigh Little Theater campus at 301 Pogue Street. The annual Art in the Garden festival is May 12th.
Find your team spirit and catch the Carolina Mudcats at Five County Stadium in Zebulon. The Mudcats play Class A minor league baseball and have a player-development agreement with the Milwaukee Brewers. You can hang out with Muddy the mascot and enjoy the view of the field from Cattails Restaurant.
If you like your adventures to take you soaring, Go Ape! is the place for treetop adventure. Located at Blue Jay Point County Park in Raleigh, Go Ape! is an interactive two- to three-hour exploration of the forest canopy. You’ll traverse through ziplines, tarzan swings, and obstacles along the course. There are two height options and experts insist this is a fantastic place for a family or group adventure outing, or possibly to conquer a fear of heights. The adventure begins at 3200 Pleasant Union Church Road, off Six Forks Road in North Raleigh.
If you prefer to see nature from the ground, the peaceful Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve in North Raleigh is the place to visit. The preserve is set on 157 acres that hug Falls Lake. It was a gift to the city from Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD, who enjoyed a career of 50-plus years in Raleigh. Her will stipulated that the primary purpose of the land was to promote nature and wildlife education. The preserve offers hiking, wildlife watching, natural play areas, native plant gardens, and an education center for nature programs. Children can pick up a loaner backpack with a compass, binoculars, and a bug-viewing box as they head out to explore. The preserve is located at 5229 Awls Haven Drive in Raleigh.
Fun fact: Five County Stadium is home to the largest wide-screen video board in all of minor league baseball.
Visit the JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University to catch summer in full bloom. The arboretum is home to nationally acclaimed gardens and specializes in plants for Southern landscapes. The grounds are open to the public nearly every day and the calendar includes workshops, classes, lectures, and garden story time. There is no admission fee, but donations are appreciated. The arboretum hosts summer camps for children, and while many were already waitlisted at press time, several still had availability. The JC Ralston Arboretum is located near the N.C. State Fairgrounds at 4415 Beryl Road.
Pullen Park is practically the local Hall of Fame for things to do outside. Situated near Western Boulevard and North Carolina State University, the 66-acre park was created on farmland donated by William Stanhope Pullen to the city of Raleigh in 1887. Pullen Park bustles with recreational activities, like kiddie boats and pedal boats, and fun rides on the park’s miniature train or the Gustave A. Dentzel Carousel, which was built in 1911. Pullen Park is also home to an aquatics center, an arts center, a café, and the area’s renowned Theatre in the Park.