Just a 20-minute drive from downtown Raleigh brings you to the cute and historic downtown Apex.
We love the town of Apex. In fact, we like it so much we recently listed it on our other travel blog site about 13 small towns in the USA we love and recommend you visit.
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.”
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 here in the Triangle region.
Explore 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.
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), 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.
Eat & Drink
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!
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.
And the gravy fries were a definite favorite of ours. Growing up in Australia gravy fries are a BIG deal but not so common here in the US.
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.
Scratch Kitchen & Taproom
Two restaurant families came together to create one of the most popular downtown Apex restaurants (and place to drink) for the locals.
If you are looking for the hidden jewel of Apex NC, 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!
They also have a lovely outdoor grass area for dining.
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.
And their desserts are next level too – our kids loved their Coco Seduction.
They also serve up delicious cocktails, have a solid wine list and good selection of craft beers.
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.
Peak of the Vine
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.
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.
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 lovely spot to meet friends for a wine – they also serve a small selection of quality beers so don’t leave your beer loving friend at home!
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!
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.
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.
Lovers of Italian pastries and baked goods rejoice. Just a 2-minute drive from Downtown Apex brings to the fixed food truck location of Utica Bakery, an authentic artisan bakery specializing in handcrafted Italian/European pastries and baked goods.
I stopped by recently and I’m so glad I did. I brought home a box of pastries for the kids, and they demolished them with joy.
We thoroughly enjoyed our Cannolis, Cream Puff, Half Moon and Lobster Tail. And you have the choice of cream fillings.
And I like their story. In its prime, Utica, New York was a bustling city of Italian immigrants who sought to start a new life for themselves here in America. With them they brought about a wave of rejuvenation to the city. One of the most recognized traits was their love for authentic Italian pastries and cuisine, which they produced fresh on a daily basis.
One of our favorite experiences on our trip to NY was eating Cannolis from an Italian bakery with our coffee.
Thanks to this food truck, you can get a taste of that right here in Apex!
Common Grounds Coffee House & Desserts
Another family-owned business in the heart of historic downtown Apex is Common Grounds Coffee House & Desserts who serve up coffee, pastries, juices, ice creams, and a variety of desserts.
A walk along Salem Street isn’t complete without stopping in at Common Grounds. 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.
And their cakes do look delicious – they’re known for their famous Death by Chocolate Cheesecake.
FRESH. Local Ice Cream
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.
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!
J&S Pizza New York Pizza
When we asked our local friend Curt who grew up in Raleigh where to get the best pizza in Apex, he sent us to J&S Pizza.
They’re not located right in downtown Apex, but just a 5-minute drive away and this casual of Apex restaurants specializes in NY-style pizzas, plus pasta dishes, calzones, subs, and traditional and boneless chicken wings.
Family owned since 1995 and with locations in Apex, Cary and Fuquay-Varina, owners, Silvio and Josephine Cammarata, who are natives of Sicily, Italy, purchased their first pizzeria in 1980 in Brooklyn, New York, before relocating to Apex, North Carolina.
We like having local friends like Curt, he was right, this is real good New York style pizza, good portions, attentive service and real Ma and Pa shop.
And for the gluten intolerant, they have gluten free and cauliflower crust pizza bases!
All NY style pizza and Italian food lovers, check this place out, I’m interested to hear your thoughts as experts?
Other Places to Eat in Downtown Apex
We haven’t eaten or had a drink everywhere in Downtown Apex yet, but other places that come recommended that are on our list of things to do in Apex include:
- La Rancherita Mexican Restaurant
- The Provincial (farm-to-fork plates & craft beer on tap)
- The Peak on Salem
- A Taste of Brooklyn (recognized by its yellow & white pinstripe awning)
- Bonafide Bakeshop & Cafe (blend of northern classics and good ol’ southern comforts made from scratch)
For places to eat or drink near Apex, on our list are:
- Doherty’s Irish Pub & Restaurant
- Skipper’s Seafood & Smokehouse
- Southern Peak Brewery (just a mile from historic downtown Apex)
- Brüeprint Brewing (Apex’s first craft brewery).
Things to Do in Downtown Apex (and nearby)
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.
Each year is the annual Apex PeakFest which celebrates the “Peak of Good Living”.
Salem Street in historic downtown Apex comes alive during this 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)
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!
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
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.
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.
We’ll continue to update this post as we experience more things on offer in downtown Apex NC.
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