Guide to Downtown Apex, NC (eat, drink, shop, play)

Just a 20-minute drive from downtown Raleigh brings you to historic downtown Apex, NC. We love the town of Apex in Wake County. In fact, we like it so much we listed it on our other travel blog about 13 small towns in the USA we love and recommend you visit.

downtown apex 2
Downtown Apex, NC

Founded in the 1860s, Apex, North Carolina is centered around charming Salem Street and is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places.

As one of the most intact turn-of-the-century railroad towns, Apex got its name from a location at the highest point on the old Chatham Railroad and is the reason for its slogan “the peak of good living.”

A row of colorful shops in a main street
Salem Street

When you visit Raleigh and the Triangle area, or are considering living in one of the Apex neighborhoods, make time to explore the Apex downtown area.

We might be biased because we live close by and visit Apex often, but we have also traveled extensively across the USA, and in our opinion, this is definitely one of the best small towns in America and we’re lucky to have it here in the Triangle region.

Explore Salem Street

Building and cars in a downtown street in Apex, NC
Salem Street

Park your car and explore the downtown Apex shops along Salem Street on foot. Wander up and down the sidewalk and you will discover colorful buildings, beautifully restored specialty stores and antique shops, and terrific locally owned restaurants, cafes and bars.

Bustling on the weekends, just strolling around and shopping in Apex is a timeless experience.

Street running between building and cars
Especially busy on weekends!

Be sure to stop in at The Rusty Bucket (furnishings and décor), Moon and Lola (stylish jewelry and trinkets), Sophie & Mollies Boutique (the owners hand-pick each item sold in the store), Rose & Lee for boutique clothes, and Apex Outfitters (the local outdoor apparel and gear store).

Apex Union Depot, the historic railroad station on Salem St. built in 1914, is worth a look. Today it serves as a meeting space, plus as a space for concerts, festivals and other events.

Where to Eat & Drink in Apex, nC

Scratch Kitchen & Taproom

People dining in a restaurant
Scratch Kitchen & Taproom

Two restaurant families came together to create one of the most popular downtown Apex restaurants (and places to drink) for the locals. 

If you are looking for the hidden jewel of Apex, definitely make Scratch Kitchen and Taproom part of your experience for top notch dining and drinks!

Their indoor dining area and bar has character and a warm feeling, but the food is the real star. I didn’t get great photos at the time and don’t do it justice, but the menu is impressive!

Fried chicken sandwich
Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Dishes are made from scratch, hence the name, with a focus on providing a place to enjoy a great meal with family and friends with a side dish of good old Southern hospitality.

On the menu you’ll find creative dishes with an Asian twist, such as their Smoked Pimento Cheese Wontons, Spicy Tuna Sushi Round, and Buddha Bowl, plus classics like Lobster Mac & Cheese, Southern Fried Chicken salad, burgers, steaks, sandwiches, and hand-cut fries.

They also serve up delicious cocktails, have a solid wine list and good selection of craft beers. And their desserts are next level too – our kids loved their Coco Seduction.

Chocolate dessert with ice cream
Coco Seduction.

They also have a lovely outdoor grass area for dining too which is popular with the locals.

People dining outside a cafe under trees
Outdoor seating

Local Tip: Book ahead, it is popular. If you walk up and the wait is long, head to the bar which offers full-service drinks and dining.

Salem Street Pub

People sitting out the front of a restaurant on the sidewalk
Salem Street Pub

If you are like us and love to experience the local neighborhood pub, then head to the Salem Street Pub (SSP). The moment you step inside you can see, and feel, why this family owned and operated pub is a locals favorite hangout.

Popular for their tasty burgers, gravy fries, wings, rotating taps of local brews, and their specialty moonshine cocktails!

Mom and two daughters sitting in a booth at a restaurant.
Cozy interior

We enjoyed the decal and the warm and cozy atmosphere. It brought back fond memories of what we came to love about pubs when living in the UK and Ireland. 

If you are new to North Carolina, I recommend their Carolina Burger – Southern style topped with chili, American cheese, onions, mustard, and slaw. 

The gravy fries are a definite favorite of ours. Growing up in Australia gravy fries are a BIG deal but not so common here in the US. Their wings are a solid choice, too.

Wings and ranch sauce
Good wings

Other popular dishes include the patty melt with onion rings, Mac ‘N Cheese Bacon Burger, Buffalo fries, Buffalo cauliflower. 

Attentive and friendly staff, bring the whole family for some of the best pub fare in the Raleigh Durham area.

Mission Market

Woman sitting on a blue couch in a cafe
Good cafe vibes here!

Brought to you by the founders of Apex Outfitters, Mission Market was creatively inspired by the love of community, small business, and social justice.

Part cafe, part gift shop selling everything from home-decor, apparel, health and beauty to baby products and jewelry, this is a lovely store to stop in for a coffee and bite to eat whilst you perouse their offerings.

On the cafe side of things, you can choose from a good selection of Paninis, Avocado Toast, Acai Bowls, Smoothies, and Coffee and Tea – they use locally owned Counter Culture Coffee beans out of Durham!

Anna’s Pizzeria

Anna’s Pizzeria, Apex, North Carolina
Anna’s Pizzeria

For those that love pizza and all things Italian consider Anna’s Pizzeria as a family-friendly place to eat in Apex.

Serving up authentic New York style pizzas and Italian dishes like brick oven pizza and classic Italian dishes like Chicken Parmigiana, Anna’s full-service menu is well loved. Established in 1986 in this charming corner lot building, it felt like stepping back-in-time walking in here.

People dining in a restaurant.
Casual Italian

Owner Yury Rojas’s aunt Anna was originally from Italy and helped Yury’s family move to America, and to honor her Yury named his restaurant “Anna’s Pizzeria”, a place where her legacy lives on with delicious food and warm hospitality.

Our daughter enjoyed her large slice of cheese pizza. Not the best pizza in the Raleigh area in our opinion, and could have had more cheese, but kids aren’t too fussy!

From our experience, service is not quite up to the standard of other restaurants in Apex, but was decent enough and I did enjoy the old decor and laid back vibe and my Veal Marsala was satisfactory. They have a variety of wine and beer options including several seasonal beverages.

The Exchange Barber Shop & Lounge

This place is cool and one of my favorite bars in downtown Apex. Imagine a full-service barbershop + spa + lounge. A place you can not only grab a cocktail or Charcuterie board in the cozy VIP lounge but get a soothing neck massage, shave, a cut or some skincare.

Inside a barber shop with chairs, mirrors and a wooden floor
Upscale barber shop

This an upscale and comfortable retreat offers the ultimate grooming experience and private bar. Located in the historic Tobacco and Mule Building originally built in 1917.

FRESH. Local Ice Cream

Entrance door to an ice cream shop with a black and white canopy over the windows
Popular local ice cream joint

If you read our guide to downtown Cary, you will know that our kids love going to the FRESH location there, but Apex locals don’t have to go that far as you have a store right here on Salem Street.

With a huge variety of 15+ signature flavors, you can choose to put your flavor of choice in a cup, homemade waffle cone, or cake cone.

fresh ice cream apex 1 1
Midnight Brownie Crunch

They also have ice cream soda floats, milkshakes, and make party cakes FRESH each week. Plus they have monthly specialty flavors to keep you coming back for more!

All of the flavors are made FRESH in-house using ingredients from local dairy farms, and they also offer a vegan selection. The owners have lived in the NC Triangle community for the past 25 years, which is about as local as it gets these days!

La Rancherita 

Chips and salsa
Chips & salsa

La Rancherita is a popular downtown restaurant serving classic Mexican fare in a cheerful cantina. Start with their salsa made in-house daily, and the guacamole is said to be creamy and fresh.

Plate of Mexican food
Classic Mexican dishes

They make a nice Margarita, and strong. The restaurant is easy to find being in the heart of downtown, with ample parking in the surrounding streets, or if you’re lucky, on Salem Street out front. 

HighCraft Beer Market

People sitting at a bar drinking
Local neighborhood bar

HighCraft is a cool tasting room to try local NC beers plus a small, but carefully curated selection of wine right on Salem Street in the heart of downtown.

They offer only the best craft beer from local brands like Burial, DSSOLVR, New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, and domestic beer like Grimm from Brooklyn to international beer!

Lady sitting in a chair at a bar with the words Happy Birthday Dale
Cool decor

If you’re looking for a local neighborhood feel to have a drink with friends or others in the community, consider HighCraft. Cool interior space with plenty of seating, plus a nice space out the back. And they are dog friendly!

A Taste of Brooklyn

Girl standing at the counter of a bakery
Sweettooth lovers go here!

Those with a sweet tooth and in need of freshly baked cupcakes and pastries should head to A Taste of Brooklyn. This New York-style Bakery in the heart of downtown Apex. Not a restaurant, obviously, but tasty food related, nonetheless. 

Choose from full cakes (or slices), cupcakes, Italian pastries, and cookies. Got a birthday party or special event coming up? This petite bakery can custom create that special cake for you!

Oaklyn Springs brewery (taproom)

Exterior of a three story red brick building
Oaklyn Springs in downtown Apex

Pop into Oaklyn Springs Brewery in downtown for good beer + live music. While the brewery is nestled between Fuquay-Varina and Garner, this newly opened craft brewery is working to bring great beer to locals in downtown Apex in their taproom on Salem Street.

10 beers on tap in this simple, casual venue that offers live music from talented local musicians.

Peak of the Vine

Peak of the Vine, Apex, NC
Wine Bar

The wine lovers won’t feel left out in Apex, NC, and if you prefer grapes over hops you’re in good hands at the Peak of the Vine – they also serve a small selection of quality beers so don’t leave your beer loving friend at home!

This wine bar and lounge offers a cozy environment indoors and is a unique combination of wine lounge and wine shop where you can sample wines and enjoy tastings from around the world, plus participate in trivia, theme nights, open mic live music sessions and stand-up comedy.

Peak of the Vine, Apex, NC
Outdoor garden area

They also have a nice outdoor patio and grass area if you prefer fresh air and sunlight. Often a food truck is on hand too. With a convenient location in Historic Downtown Apex, it’s a nice spot to meet friends for a wine. They made our list of top wine bars in Wake County!

Common Grounds Coffee House & Desserts

Common Grounds Coffee House & Desserts
Popular coffee house

Another family-owned business in the heart of historic downtown is Common Grounds Coffee House & Desserts who serve up coffee, pastries, juices, ice creams, and a variety of desserts.

The service is friendly and homely, but as Australians who are fussy about the quality of our coffees, we’ve tried a few lattes and it’s not the best tasting coffee we’ve had in the Raleigh area and were a little bummed. Note, we have only tried their lattes!

But I am a fan of the vibe and cozy setting in this historic space as a place to either meet up with friends or work online for an hour or two.

But their cakes do look delicious and are popular with the locals – they’re known for their famous Death by Chocolate Cheesecake.

Other Places to Eat in Downtown Apex

Buildings in a downtown street
The Peak on Salem

We haven’t eaten or had a drink everywhere in downtown Apex, yet. Other places that come recommended include:

We also have suggestions on even more places to eat in Apex including in the nearby Apex neighborhoods, so be sure to check out that guide.

For places to drink near Apex:

Things to Do in Downtown Apex (and nearby)

A row of shops in a main street
Salem Street, downtown

Shop at Rose & Lee

White house with a front porch and pink door
Rose & Lee

Rose & Lee is a favorite store of Caroline’s and given its close location to our home, it’s where she frequently pops in when in need of a new outfit for an event, or a gift for someone special in her life. 

From a vibrant clothing range to elegant jewelry and fun gifts, Rose & Lee sells incredible brands that have their own mission of change and empowerment, from sustainability to human rights. We love how affordable their prices are too. And all their staff are fantastic at helping you find what you need.

Elk Local Foods

Lady holding a brown paper bag in front of a store
Local products in one place!

Pop into Elk Local Foods for food that is locally sourced to help you grow and sustain your family and our community.

This is a specialty food store where all the amazing products that founder, Lora Neel, who developed a desire to eat more locally produced and grown foods, as well as a fascination to discover the bounty of the seasons, had found at local farmers’ markets.

Apex Farmers Market

Located in downtown Apex, each Saturday from 9.00am to noon the Apex Farmers Market is a local producers’ market who farm or produce their goods within 150 miles of our market.

Stop by for some fresh, local homegrown organic and conventional fruits and vegetables, pastured and sustainably farmed chicken, beef and pork, fresh farm eggs, baked goods, honey, cheeses, jams and preserves, sauces, salsas, and other artisanal food products.

Apex PeakFest

Each year is the annual Apex PeakFest which celebrates the “Peak of Good Living”. Historic downtown Apex comes alive during the arts and crafts festival with street performers, live music, festival food and over 200 arts and crafts vendors. It’s the largest public event in Apex, and it’s free to attend!

Apex Lake (Lake Pine Loop Trail)

Apex Lake (Lake Pine Loop Trail)
Apex Lake

If you’re looking for the best nature spot near Downtown Apex, we always enjoy walking the 2-mile Lake Pine Loop around Apex Lake, and it’s one of our favorite lakes in the Raleigh area. 

This fully paved path is family-friendly and popular for walkers or joggers and mostly flat with a few slight inclines but I would classify this trail as easy and good for all skill levels. And it’s beautiful in the Fall.

The trail is accessible year-round. Dogs are permitted but must be kept on leash. Sometimes it can be heavily trafficked, so the best bet is to get there early, but we find that the path is wide enough for easy to pass others. 

A few side trails as well to explore a small walk in the woods!

a person walking next to a body of water surrounded by trees
All seasons trail

There’s plenty of bird life to spot, and ducks. There’s also a small fishing dock (Fishing License is required).

Apex Lake is part of the bigger 160 acre Apex Community Park that includes athletic fields, tennis, volleyball and basketball courts, picnic areas, playgrounds, fitness and nature trails, and a the 50+ acre lake.

Main Carpark for Apex Lake is accessed directly off Lake Pine Drive. 

Knights Play Golf Center

If you’re a golfer, the Par 3 Knight’s Play Golf Course features 27 well-sculpted holes (3 sets of 9-holes) with three tees for each hole to accommodate advanced, intermediate, and beginner players.

There’s also a 60-station driving range and is recognized by the Golf Range Association of America as one of the top 100 practice facilities in the country. And the cool part – it’s an illuminated par-three course and open from 8:00 am to LATE (Midnight in non-Covid times). 

Christmas on Salem Street

Christmas time in Apex is magical as downtown turns into a winter wonderland called Christmas on Salem Street.

There’s carriage rides, tree lighting’s and a visit from Santa during this family-friendly event that gets the Apex community into the holiday spirit.

Escape Room

If your family enjoys the challenge of escape rooms, Whole Brain Escape is an award winning escape room created by locals with over 40 years of experience in the video game industry, including at Epic Games, makers of Fortnight. Suitable for 2-8 people, 60-minutes in duration. 

Defy Trampoline Park

Our kids love Defy parks and getting airborne off all types of trampolines at this cutting-edge entertainment, fitness and sports facility. Besides bouncing off trampolines, there’s also a trapeze and ninja obstacle course. Come here and see if you can defy gravity. 

Now it’s your turn. What do you love about downtown Apex? We will continue to update this post as we experience more things on offer in downtown Apex, NC.

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4 thoughts on “Guide to Downtown Apex, NC (eat, drink, shop, play)”

  1. My fiancé and I are moving to Apex the end of the month. So happy to come across your site! We can’t wait to check out some of these places.

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