A variety of factors come together to make Cary one of America’s top cities to live in. On paper what catches the eye is a low crime-rate and centres of education and research nearby, but when you get here you’ll be stunned by the profusion of parks and greenery. In Cary you’ll never be more than a few moments from some woodland, a hiking trail or boating lake. Culturally, Cary is also a real find, with a massive performing arts complex in a stately building at the heart of the town and an amphitheatre that books heavyweight performers throughout the year.
1. Fred G. Bond Metro Park
If you’re curious about how Cary ranks so highly among America’s most liveable cities this park is a good starting point. It’s a relaxing natural space right in the middle of the city where you can be active, collect your thoughts or take a lazy picnic on a summer afternoon. At the centre of the park is Bond Lake with its own public boathouse and you can wander through the greenery along more than four miles of trails. The park’s littlest visitors can also have a whale of a time at the Lazy Daze Playgrounds.
2. Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve
By now it should be clear that Cary is a city overflowing with nature and open space! Hemlock Bluffs is an expanse of thick hemlock woodland, so dense and quiet that you’ll forget that you’re still in the middle of an urban area. The trails are easy to follow and kept free of obstacles, and on your walk you can see remnants dating back to when the countryside here was farmland peppered with mills. For an expert’s perspective head for the Stevens Nature Center for exhibits about the wildlife in the preserve.
3. Koka Booth Amphitheatre
Belonging to the city of Cary this venue is named after one of Cary’s former mayors. It sits in Regency Park and puts on an eclectic schedule of live music. So you might find classic rock artists like Styx, Ringo Starr and Willie Nelson followed the next week by the North Carolina Symphony celebrating the works of Beethoven, or performing John Williams’ soundtracks. The Movies by Moonlight program invites families to pack a picnic to see films both new and old on those long summer evenings.
4. Cary Arts Centre
The arts mean a lot to Cary and help carve out its identity. So alongside the amphitheatre is this massive facility, combining a 393-seater theatre for drama and ballet with gallery space, rehearsal areas and studios for textiles, woodworking, pottery, jewellery and fine art. In all there’s 48,000 square feet of performance and studio space. For out-of-towners the Cary Arts Centre means art exhibitions and theatre performances, or is simply a way to appreciate the city’s devotion to its creative communities.
5. Chatham Hill Winery
Proof positive that Cary is an urbane little burg, it even has its own winery, the first in the Research Triangle. It’s a compact enterprise that creates wines in the traditional French way with grapes grown only in North Carolina. Their range includes Chardonnay, Merlot, Carbernet Sauvignon, Viognier and Cabernet Franc. At tasting sessions you’ll get informative and entertaining titbits from the in-house experts, and if you just you’d like sit back with a glass of red or white there’s plenty of outdoor seating and table-top board games.
6. Sri Venkateswara Temple
The Research Triangle has a Hindu minority in the tens of thousands. In 2009 this majestic temple was unveiled to give the community a sense of belonging. The chief architect Nand Gopal Sachdeva, spent years travelling and researching in India to find the right design, and the highly-ornate cement facade was completed with help of 14 artisans brought in specially from South India. Now the temple anchors a thriving South Asian presence in Raleigh, a dazzling community centre for people of all backgrounds that even produces a monthly magazine.
7. Apex Community Park
Yet another of Cary’s unmatched array of public green spaces, Apex Community Park is just right for whiling away a sunny afternoon. You’ll meet dog walkers, joggers and families out for picnics. Lake Pine is within the park and even has a launching ramp for kayaks and boats, next to a small fishing pier. Bring a ball with you too, as there are soccer pitches, while you can also hire the park’s baseball diamond and tennis courts. The youngest visitors have swings, slides and sand pits where they can play to their heart’s content.
It’s par for the course that an upmarket town like Cary should have five golf courses. For visitors the semi-private Lochmere Golf Club is the easiest option as the others are private country clubs. Lochmere is an 18-hole par 71 in woodland that is woven by the waters of Swift Creek. These help to from unusual and interesting obstacles, while many greens are defended by tricky bunkers. Together with the course is a pro shop and driving range, and the club has its own grill restaurant for a satisfying 19th hole meal.
9. USA Baseball National Training Complex
Fair to claim that Cary is a second home for America’s national game. The USA Baseball National Training Complex cost $11m to construct and is a training centre for the national collegiate roster, the Women’s National Team as well as several younger age bands. The complex is made up of four MLB-scale fields, with stadium seating and scoreboards. If you feel like seeing a game then these fields host events throughout the season, from national baseball tournaments to selection tests.
10. The Cary Theater
Dating to 1946 this was Cary’s earliest indoor cinema, but in the decades after its 50s heyday it was sold off and taken over by a number of different businesses, selling clothing, car parts and put to use as a recording studio. Cary is a city that tries to take care of its heritage and recently the theater was purchased back and renovated, bringing back its original marquee and concession area. It’s now an art house cinema showing indie and foreign films but also doubling as a live music venue.
11. Page-Walker Arts and History Center
This delightful Victorian building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was completed in 1868 as a hotel for the railroad. In the 1990s the structure was reconfigured and turned into a museum and arts centre for Cary. Nowadays it curates a diverse calendar of performances by local talents, and is also friendly place for people to meet up or attend evening classes. Pop inside to view an art exhibition and peruse a collection of artefacts, photos and documents that recount the social history of the city.
Recently billed by Business Week as America’s “best city”, Raleigh is a college town with no fewer than five centres of higher education. Raleigh’s pedigree for learning and self-betterment is underlined by its surfeit of museums. Take the North Carolina Museum of Modern Art, where there’s a great ensemble of Renaissance works on display. Other educational attractions in “The City of Oaks” include the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the Nature Research Center, with a 10,000 gallon aquarium, and the Marbles Kids Museum, a hands-on science museum with an IMAX theatre. Also see: things to do in Raleigh.
A short car ride west of Cary is this city that witnessed epoch-defining events during the American Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s. In April 1865, as the Confederacy was being routed, Greensboro became the last city to hold out against Unionist forces and was the last place that the confederacy government met. Also vital is the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, housed in a former branch of Woolworth’s, where in 1960 four black students staged a sit-in to protest against the store’s whites-only lunch counter.
14. Furniture shopping in High Point
Close to Greensboro is a city that claims to be the “Furniture Capital of the World”. Backing up this brag is High Point Market, founded in 1909 and taking place in April and October. It’s the world’s largest furniture trade show with 2,000 displayers spread across 180 different buildings. As many as 80,000 people come to the shows every six months and the main venue is the mammoth International Home Furnishings Market, dating to 1923. The organisers claim that if you can’t find what you’re looking for at the High Point Market it most likely doesn’t exist.
15. Eno River State Park
It may be that you fancy a small adventure in the woodland of Durham County, and there are no better locations than the calm, green banks of the Eno River. This park follows the meandering course of the Eno as it bends through old growth woodland and past several intriguing historical sites. One of these is an old mill with a water wheel, but if you keep your eyes peeled you’ll see the fords that were dug by some of Durhams first European settlers. You can choose between backcountry campsites for seclusion or group camps if you’d like a more congenial night under the stars.