When we first lived in Raleigh between 2004-2010, I don’t think we ever came to downtown Cary. Actually, I never even knew where downtown was and just thought of Cary as a big sprawling neighborhood of homes.
But the downtown area has been through major changes in recent years and now that we live in Raleigh permanently you can find us in Cary often and we’ve grown to love how charming and vibrant downtown has become, and it’s now home to some of the best places to eat and drink in the Triangle and below we are sharing our guide on things to do in downtown Cary not to be missed!
If you have overlooked Cary downtown in the past and haven’t been here for several years, you probably won’t recognize it. But we think it’s well worth the drive from Raleigh, or from elsewhere in North Carolina and you can easily spend a whole day here.
In fact, before the pandemic we spent a whole night bar hopping in downtown Cary between the breweries, the bottle shop, pub and cocktail bar when previously we would typically only go out in downtown Raleigh!
There’s plenty to do in the daytime too between the fantastic and locally owned coffee shop, bakery, bagel place, ice cream shop, pizza joint, local boutiques and art galleries, the park, the theater and arts center, a wine market, and the classic soda fountain inside the drugstore – not to mention one of the best breweries in America!
Cary has become quite the charm, vibrant and fun, and people like us are always finding more reasons to keep coming back, and from Cary to Raleigh’s downtown is only a 15-miute drive, and Cary to Charlotte is an easy 2.5 hours!
The Town of Cary has grown into one of the fastest-growing towns in the South, and one of the best places to live in America and measures about 60 square miles and is home to about 168,000 people. But the historic downtown is the heart of Cary.
One of the best things about the downtown area is how easily walkable it is. You can park your car for the day and not have to move it. But if you want to make a real getaway of it, there’s even a charming boutique hotel right here.
So if you have been asking yourself does Cary NC have a downtown? Or what is there to do in downtown Cary? Let us show you around…
Eat & Drink
Get Your Coffee Fix at BREW Coffee Bar
I have some fantastic eating and drinking places to share with you down below, but first…coffee!
BREW Coffee Bar opened in Cary in 2016 (there’s three locations in the Raleigh area) and Brew does exactly what their name says, brews good quality coffee, in real black ceramic mugs!
Whenever we explore downtown Cary we always start off at this innovative coffee shop that not only offers all the standard coffee bar items like Espresso, Lattes, Cappuccinos, Americanos, Cold Brew and Drip, but also teas, kombucha, and craft beer!
Plus seasonal drinks – they currently have a Ginger Snap Latte and Peppermint White Mocha Latte on the menu – might be time for a return visit!
I’m mostly a latte drinker and their latte with oat milk is on point, and our kids always enjoy their big muffins and cookies!
The location is very central in Cary if you want to grab and go, but we enjoy the cozy indoor seating and trendy and modern vibe, or the outdoor patio in the warmer months which is good for those with furry friends!
In “normal” times this is also a bit of a local hangout coffee bar for regulars and online entrepreneurs to sit and work online – like we have several times.
Their baristas are always warm and welcoming and your coffee gets served with a smile!
Big Dom’s Bagel Shop
Who doesn’t love a good bagel for breakfast (or anytime of the day?) Big Dom’s Bagel Shop is a grab-and-go bagel shop in downtown featuring hand rolled bagels, biscuits and b’donuts (baked donuts).
Their bagels are made fresh every day with malted dough boiled in brown sugar water, then cooked until crisp. I’m no bagel expert, but apparently these are Montreal-style bagels which are smaller and denser than New York bagels and have a slightly sweet taste.
If you’re feeling hungry, the bagel sandwiches would be the way to go!
Our daughter loves smoked salmon and she gave the thumbs up to the HOVA: smoked salmon, cream cheese, red onion, tomato, capers on a sesame seed bagel.
They have some great creations, and the donuts are said to be amazing as well but sell out quickly – next time for us! Whatever you choose, get your bagel cut in half, it makes it easier to eat, and better for taking photos!
Currently pre-order online or phone in orders only, then drive up to their drive thru window (Wed-Sun).
I think they’re worth the drive from downtown Raleigh to Cary.
La Farm Bakery
For the love of bread and pastries….if you love a good bakery, like our kids, then put a stop at La Farm Bakery on your walking tour of Cary downtown!
At this modern day bakery and cafe, master baker Lionel Vatinet produces 15 different styles of bread (plus seasonal breads throughout the year) from a European-style hearth oven.
La Farm’s downtown Cary location is one of three locations and whilst their Cary location doesn’t have the range on offer like the main La Farm Bakery, it has all the signature offerings from their breads, to pastries, croissants, cookies, tarts and cakes, and they sell Counter Culture coffee from Durham!
Stop in, grab a loaf to take home or pick up a pastry as you enjoy walking around. Even if you don’t plan on purchasing anything, it does smell amazing inside and there’s a very cool mural on the backside of the building!
Bond Brothers Beer Company
If you love great craft beer, then don’t miss sipping on a few pints at this brewery, taproom and beer garden.
Bond Brothers Beer Company was named best new brewery in America by USA Today in 2017, and after personally taste testing many craft beers in top beer drinking destinations like Portland, San Diego, Northern California, Washington State and Asheville, I can vouch for Bond Brothers 100%.
They brew exceptional high-quality artisanal beers with over a dozen on tap to choose from – IPA’s, Amber Ales, Cream Ales, Berliner Weiss’, Stouts.
Plus, there’s white and red wine for the non-beer drinkers!
My favorite beer is their Obfuscate (hazy American IPA with Amarillo, Centennial, Citra, Simcoe, Azacca). But I don’t recall one I didn’t like. They’re also one of the few breweries that have gluten reduced beer, like their Toe the Line.
With over 9,000 square feet of industrial modern space to enjoy, the vibe is casual and all are welcome, we often go with our kids and always take visiting friends.
And with fun annual events in “normal” times like their Guinness Book of Records Flip flop fun run (which we participated in), grabbing a beer here on their inviting outdoor patio has become one of the top things to do in downtown Cary and a locals Cary favorite hangout spot.
Watch our video from the Flip Flop Fun Run:
Check their calendar to see what food truck they have onsite each day!
CrossTown Pub & Grill
This is the cozy and welcoming neighborhood pub you’ve been looking for!
Crosstown Pub & Grill is a family-owned and operated Irish style pub in the heart of downtown Cary with an inviting pub-style atmosphere.
It can be a place for all occasions: a relaxing spot to catch a game over a pint, catch up drinks with friends, a family meal or a date night.
There’s a good selection of fine wines, craft beers and spirits, plus above average bar food at reasonable prices making it one of the best places to eat in Cary for families!
They have seating inside and out, the service is friendly and attentive, and each time we’ve visited it’s been a comfortable and friendly atmosphere.
Check out their weekly food and drink specials.
Soda Fountain – Ashworth Drugs
Take a step back in time at this historical drug store and classic landmark in Cary.
The Soda Fountain at Ashworth Drugs is a Town of Cary institution with tons of nostalgic charm and has been in business since 1957 serving lunch and ice cream from their old-fashioned soda fountain (reminiscent of the classic lunch counters from the 50’s and 60’s).
If you grew up on lunch counters in drug stores, or if you kids want to get a glimpse at how your grandparents ordered sodas, you’ll appreciate the ambiance and the throwback experience to the good old days!
From the counter, to the tables and the old fashioned soda bottle cooler this is something I only saw on the movies growing up in Australia.
It’s a fun place for a quick and inexpensive lunch and they’re famous for their hot dogs, fresh squeezed lemonade, milkshakes made from real ice cream and milk, chicken salad and egg salad.
Check out their Saturday and Wednesday special: 2 hot dogs for $4. They also have vegetarian hot dogs!
Cotton House Craft Brewers
For more tasty craft beers, head to Cotton House Craft Brewers, a unique historical landmark in the heart of Downtown Cary.
Located inside The Pasmore House, built circa 1900, this historic house was originally used as a boarding facility for the first students of Cary High School but has been artfully restored.
When you have a drink here, it almost feels like you’re a guest in someone’s house..
Choose your mood – Southern rocking chairs on the front porch, a table on the front lawn, cozy fireside chairs in the living room, a seat on the split-level back deck overlooking the corn hole games in the backyard, or sit at their 25-foot prohibition-era style bar in their tap room.
From their drinks menu choose from beer, cider, or a selection of red and white wines.
My pick, their Hazy Daze IPA – New England Style IPA brewed w/ Citra, Mosaic, & Mandarina Bavaria hops.
Also popular are their Mimosas, and check their website or Facebook page to see what food truck is parked in their driveway every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Pre-pandemic they also had fun events like a Comedy Night (we enjoyed a date night) and an annual Halloween Party – hopefully this can all happen again in 2021!
Pharmacy Bottle Shop
I love this neighborhood bottle shop/bar located in the former Mitchell’s Pharmacy building.
Pharmacy Bottle + Beverage has an industrial-style look with large storefront windows, concrete floors, and a good selection of over 12 beers on tap in rotation, plus a quality selection of beer cans and bottles to go.
My recent pick was the Mother Earth Weeping Willow Wit (Belgian-style Wit Beer) from Mother Earth Brewing in Kinston, NC.
Located next to The Cary Theater (see down below), this is a prime spot in downtown Cary to grab a beer with friends either inside and watch a game on the large TV, sit outside on the sidewalk and watch the world go by, or in their small back patio area.
Thin crust wood fired pizza lovers are in luck with Pizza Faulisi (FA – LEE – SEE) setting up shop in Cary downtown!
At this popular neighborhood pizza joint they take the best of both worlds to create their pizzas – freshly milled flour from Boulted Bread in Raleigh along with Caputo flour from Italy and combine them to make their unique dough.
Using a wood burning oven, they use high quality toppings to complete their pizza creations.
You have a choice of sauce, red pizza or white pizza (no tomato), and the menu is simple yet fresh – if you know Italian food and pizzas, simple ingredients is all it needs for amazing flavor!
All pizzas are 12” with chewy dough and crispy crust. At this size, if you’re like me you’ll eat one pizza to yourself.
Beer, Wine and Fortified Wine is also available. And you can’t beat the location right next to Bond Brothers!
Academy Street Bistro
Another of the popular downtown Cary restaurants is the Academy Street Bistro, a charming bistro serving New American cuisine with a French flair.
Here you can enjoy a unique take on tasty bistro style dishes in their dining room or on the patio under market umbrellas.
There’s healthy and hearty lunches and dinners made with fresh fish, all natural meats, fresh and local produce from local farmers.
FRESH. Local Ice Cream
You may have seen their ice cream truck around town, but kids, and us big kids who love ice cream, get yourselves to the FRESH. Local Ice Cream shop.
With a huge variety of 15+ signature flavors, choose to put your flavor of choice in a cup, homemade waffle cone, or cake cone. Plus they have monthly specialty flavors to keep you coming back for more!
They also have ice cream soda floats, milkshakes, and make party cakes FRESH each week!
Our kids love their Cookie Dough, Birthday Cake and Frozen Hot Chocolate flavors. Other popular flavors include the Carolina Crunch and Midnight brownie.
All of the flavors are made FRESH in house using ingredients from local dairy farms, and they also offer a vegan selection.
Locally owned and operated, the owners have lived in the NC Triangle community for the past 25 years, which is about as local as it gets these days!
SideBar Cocktail Bar
Looking for a fancy drink beyond the breweries and bottle shop? We enjoyed a few cocktails on our night out in Cary at the Sidebar.
This neighborhood liquor and cocktail bar serves classic and house-specialty cocktails, plus rotating craft beers and wine.
It’s your more upscale and quaint bar with a stylish, vintage vibe and the staff are warm and knowledgeable about their scotch and bourbon collection.
Conveniently located directly next to Pizzeria Faulisi and a few steps away from Bond Brothers.
Chatham Street Wine Market
It’s not all beer and coffee in downtown Cary, the wine lovers are taken care of too.
Chatham Street Wine Market is a small, neighborhood wine shop with a focus on unique, small production wines from around the world with many of their selections from family-owned estates, organically grown, and priced from $10-$20.
The staff is highly knowledgeable and helpful with suggestions, and again, in “normal” times serves wine by the glass to enjoy inside or outside on their shaded patio, plus they used to have tasting nights.
Keep an eye on the website for current offerings!
See & Do
Park Your Car and Wander
As mentioned, Cary is very walkable with basically two main streets (S Academy Street and E.Chatham Street).
So park your car, grab a coffee at BREW and maybe a bagel at Big Dom’s, and simply wander around with breaks at the other above mentioned eateries and breweries, and at the places mentioned below!
When you visit Cary and walk along South Academy Street, you’ll walk past the beautiful Guess-White-Ogle House.
The is the finest, most intact and best-preserved example of Queen Anne-style architecture in the Downtown Cary National Register Historic District.
It’s also an example of a dwelling that was expanded over time to reflect the prevailing architectural tastes of the day.
The Guess-White-Ogle House represents several different architectural styles and was built in stages beginning in the 1830s and has had many owners throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
John White, a local Baptist minister, bought the house from the Guess’ in 1896 and substantially remodeled and expanded it. He transformed the house into a Queen Anne structure by adding a three-story tower to the façade, a front bay window and much decorative woodwork.
Carroll and Sheila Ogle bought the property in 1997 and restored it for their personal residence.
- Address: 215 South Academy Street, Cary
With your coffee in hand, why not peruse the local boutiques, art galleries, consignment shops and eateries in Ashworth Village.
The Cary Theater
Who misses going to the movies?
Located right in the heart of downtown, The Cary Theater was once home to the town’s first indoor movie theater, also named The Cary, which hosted live performances as well as films.
It was also used as a clothing store, Cary Clothiers, an auto parts store and a recording studio.
The Town of Cary purchased the 7,000 sq. ft. property in July 2011. The building was renovated and expanded to become a multi-use cultural facility.
Today it is a 175 seat art house and theater and one of the best things to do in Cary. Pre-Covid they offered independent films, classic cinema, locally produced film festivals, live music and comedy.
And prior to Covid, our eldest daughter performed in a play here for the Martin Luther King Jr celebration.
They currently have virtual events showing and if interested check out their website.
Downtown Cary Park
At the end of South Academy Street and right across from The Cary Arts Center you’ll find Downtown Cary Park.
The “Town Square” portion of the park includes a lighted fountain, plenty of open green space, a bocce ball court, checker and chess tables, foosball, table tennis, public art, and more. And a big expansion planned.
Be sure to check out the fountain lit up at at night in the downtown park.
Why not let the kids play while you relax by the fountain, or maybe enjoy a picnic on the grass.
- Address: 319 S Academy St, Cary
Stay at the Mayton Inn
If you want to make it a real weekend getaway to Cary, NC, why not stay overnight in this boutique hotel situated in the heart of South Academy Street!
This refined boutique hotel has on-site restaurant – Verandah restaurant – and considered one of the best breakfast spots in all of downtown Cary
There’s 44 uniquely designed rooms or suites. Their two Bedroom and three Bedroom suites offer connecting room types to accommodate up to 6-10 guests – perfect for families!
Enjoy a coffee or cocktail in The Study, relax on the Terrace, or take a walk to the local breweries, shopping and restaurants.
I hope this guide to downtown Cary NC helps you have a memorable visit. We’ll be updating this list as we return and discover even more things to do.