Discover the Best of Downtown Wake Forest – From Local Eats to Charming Boutiques, Breweries & Events!

A short 35-minute drive north from downtown Raleigh brings you to the charming town of Wake Forest, North Carolina. In this guide, I’m sharing with you the best things to do in downtown Wake Forest including my personal suggestions for restaurants, shopping, bars, events and activities the whole family can enjoy!

People at a street festival in downtown Wake Forest, North Carolina
Friday Night on White in downtown

The heart of Wake Forest is essentially a few streets, with White Street being the main thoroughfare and the carefully preserved historic district is full of charm, culture, local retailers, and of course history. 

You can park your car once and easily stroll through the vibrant downtown district, grab a bite to eat, do some boutique shopping, check out a gallery, have a drink, or attend an event or festival.

Mom and daughter in front of a mural that says Wake Forest.
Cool mural in downtown

With a population of just over 50,000, Wake Forest ranks as North Carolina’s 21st largest city but downtown still remains quaint, walkable, and full of small-town appeal. 

The top neighborhoods in Wake Forest are one of the popular places to live in the Raleigh area, especially in North Raleigh as it offers a wonderful lifestyle and is considered one of the most popular Raleigh neighborhoods for families or couples. If you’re thinking of living in Wake Forest, click here.

Things to Do in Downtown Wake Forest

Enjoy these Wake Forest Coffee Shops

Black & White Coffee

Two cups of coffee in paper cups.
Love their lattes!

We are regulars at Black & White’s location in the Warehouse District in downtown Raleigh and have always loved their coffee. But we’d never visited their original location in Wake Forest until recently. We typically order lattes and they were on point.

Black & White is a bean to bar coffee roaster offering a full coffee bar menu and seasonal specials with knowledgeable and friendly staff. Their Wake Forest headquarters is one block off the main street and has indoor seating plus minimalist artwork on display, and an outdoor patio area. 

Lady sitting outside a red brick building drinking coffee.
Front patio!

There were some people working online indoors when we visited, but I must admit I do prefer the vibe, ambiance and interior of their Raleigh location. Also, the Raleigh patio area has shade, whereas the WF location did not. But the coffee is always quality! 

Black and White Coffee is a black owned Raleigh business by US Barista Champions Kyle Ramage and Lem Buttler.

Wake Forest Coffee Company

People sitting outside a cafe on a sidewalk.
Outside patio on White Street

Located right in the heart of White Street, WF Coffee Company is a cozy low-key cafe offering organic coffee from places like Ethiopia to Costa Rica, Peru, Sumatra, and Guatemala, plus light bites – apparently their coffee cake is top notch, next time! 

Girl drinking a drink looking out a window of a cafe.
Nice cafe to meet with family or friends!

Open seven days a week, the interior offers plenty of seating with art by local artists displayed on the wall. Outdoors is a very pleasant sitting area on the sidewalk to watch the world go by. Here you can expect friendly service and it makes for a nice spot to meet friends and catch up.

Eat at these Restaurants in Downtown Wake Forest

Over the Falls

Two women having lunch in a booth at a restaurant.
Cool mural of Niagara Falls

When we asked our @ThisIsRaleigh Instagram community where to eat in Wake Forest, an overwhelming majority said we had to eat at Over the Falls. And our order of house made dips with pita bread, wings, Asian Tuna salad, and Bacon & Cheddar burger didn’t disappoint.

This pub style bar & grill has a cozy ambiance with seating options at tables, in a booth, or outdoors and we loved their large mural of Niagara Falls featured on the wall (where the restaurant name comes from).

Burger with lettuce, tomato, cheese and bacon.
Bacon & cheddar burger

The menu is large and they are known for their award winning specialty salads, sandwiches, burgers, pizza & wings. They offer daily specials and gluten free options. The bar features 12 craft draft beers, plus wines and an extensive bourbon list used in their handcrafted cocktails, martinis and mules. 

Sugar Magnolia Cafe

Two women sitting outside a cafe.
Such a cute cafe

From the charming exterior to the cute interior, Sugar Magnolia Cafe is another lovely spot to grab a coffee and so much more!

On offer here is not only another good cup of coffee option, but tea including unique tea parties (reservations required for all tea services), salads, sandwiches and bubbly. And they have a kids menu!

Toasted turkey and cheese sandwich.
Turkey Bacon Chipotle Panini

We enjoyed one of their popular items, the homemade chicken salad sandwich and Turkey Bacon Chipotle Panini.

Bodega Tapas, Wine, and Rum

Stools lined up at a bar.
Image credit:

Bodega is well known for its small plates influenced by European wine regions, an curated wine list by a Frenchman, and an extensive rum selection offered in 1 ounce and 2 ounce tastings and unique cocktails.

Pair all this with excellent service and a cozy ambiance and you have one of the most popular places to dine and drink downtown towards the Southern end of White Street. If you love tapas, check them out.

The Burger Shop

Burger with fries.
Classic burger joint

Burger lovers can head to The Burger Shop who serve classic handmade and never-frozen burgers, hand cut fries and hand squeezed lemonade.

The menu might be simple here with a focus on burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, chicken tenders and sides, but simple is often best. And I found the prices to be reasonable. 

There’s a large dining area that feels like a classic diner-like atmosphere. And it’s just a quaint home town burger joint and from all reports is always busy, which is always a good sign. 

The Lemon Tree Cafe 

People sitting in a cafe eating lunch.
Casual cafe

Located in the same complex as Over the Falls and Page 158 Books (see down below), the Lemon Tree offers freshly prepared salads, soups, wraps, sandwiches and more. To keep it fresh, the menu changes daily and offers something different to try every time you visit. 

Dine in or take food to-go. The Lemon Tree offers catering and ready-to-bake meals as well. Vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options are available.

Shorty’s Famous Hot Dogs

Four hot dogs on a table.
Image by

Shorty’s has been a downtown Wake Forest staple since 1916 and includes all the nostalgic signs and atmosphere such as billiards and memorabilia-covered walls to make for a classic neighborhood hotdog joint. 

A family-owned business for over 100 years, all of their hot dogs, sandwiches, and burgers are grilled to perfection and topped with fresh ingredients, including their popular homemade chili.

Plant Cakes Bake Shop

Two donuts from a plant based bakery in Wake Forest, NC.
Gluten-free & vegan donuts

Want some delicious gluten free treats that are completely organic, non-GMO, and plant based as well? But wait, they are also free of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and preservatives.

Plant Cakes Bake Shop on White Street has a lot of gluten free anmd vegan doughnuts, muffins and cupcakes and are so popular they made our list of gluten free restaurants in Raleigh.

Lumpy’s Ice Cream

Mom and daughter sitting in blue chairs eating ice cream.
Locals favorite ice cream

We featured Lumpy’s in a previous article on best ice cream spots in Raleigh. Obviously Wake Forest is not in Raleigh, but it was so popular we just had to add it. Lumpy’s was founded by Buck Buchanan who moved from Vermont to Raleigh and the ice cream is adored by locals.

Buck committed to sourcing ingredients locally and using full-flavored, all-natural ingredients with the simple philosophy of: keep it simple and keep it local. 

Ice cream in a waffle cone.
Classic flavors

Classic flavors to choose from plus fun names like; Bernie’s Butter Pecan, Georgie’s Fuzzy Peach Dream, Bennie’s Bacon and Bourbon, Bubba’s Backyard Blackberry, Angel’s Apple Pie, and Wired Hippie (Coffee ice cream with trail mix).

Visit these Bars & Breweries in Downtown Wake Forest 

Norse Brewing

People sitting at tables in brewery.
Inviting interior

This Scandinavian themed brewery has a unique, cool vibe with tasty beers and elevated food. Norse Brewing also came highly recommended by the locals when we polled our Instagram community – the locals always know! 

Two glasses of beer.
Pilsner & Seltzer

Nice range of craft beers to shoes from including a Wit beer to pilsner to sours and stouts, plus a few ciders and seltzers. Inviting and relaxing atmosphere with both inside and outside seating, and ample TVs to catch the game!

On the menu is a great selection of share plates like duck fat fries, loaded beer cheese tots, mussels and pimento cheese with pits. Great range of burgers, salads, fried grouper, elk sausage, chili, and desserts. We enjoyed some wings, a salad and a burger. 

White Street Brewing

Red brick building with a tree overhanging.
Original character

Originally a car dealership, this brewery opened in 2012 with a focus on Belgium and German style beers, plus IPAs and limited releases – I’m a big fan of their White Street Kolsch. 

The century-old structure still maintains its original character with exposed brick and beams and every time we visit downtown it appears to have a lively atmosphere. If you love breweries, out this list in Raleigh.

Unwind on White

People sitting on a rooftop patio overlooking a street festival below.
Rooftop patio at Unwind

The concept of upscale wine lounge meets yoga studio ay Unwind on White features boutique wines and craft beers with a unique rooftop patio setting with views over downtown.

You can order wine by the bottle or the glass, or just buy some to take home. And they host events ranging from wine classes to yoga workshops and everything in between. 

Tonic Bar Social Club

If you’re looking for a casual bar and a place for some craft cocktails and live music, consider Tonic Bar. They serve rotating taps of North Carolina craft beer, bottled imports, imports, crafted cocktails and wine by the glass and bottle.

Enjoyed by the locals for its community vibe and live music on Friday and Saturday nights

Go Shopping in Downtown Wake Forest

NC General Store

Lady inside a general store looking at products on a shelf.
Quintessential general store

North Carolina General Stores is the quintessential local corner store where you can shop for a variety of Carolina-made products from local art to BBQ sauces and specialty foods, pottery and photography. The store serves as a gallery for local artist Nathan Forrest, a painter who captures on canvas his passion for N.C. landmarks, historic places, people and wildlife. 

The Cotton Company

Mom and daughter walking through a store.
50 businesses under one roof

This is a cool concept that blends many downtown Wake Forest shops into one location. Browse through more than 50 businesses under one roof for local, handmade artisan products ranging from pottery, candles, bath and body, to jewelry, sweet snacks, and signs. 

Page 158 Books

Exterior of a red brick building with a bookstore.
Great local bookstore

A gem of a locally owned community bookstore in downtown Wake Forest with super-friendly and knowledgeable staff and a nice selection of books (especially from local authors) to choose from. 

Lady in a bookstore looking at books.
Nice selection of books

They host events including book launches, have a book club and book fairs – and they work with publishers and authors to bring the excitement of reading and writing right to the classroom. Conveniently located next to Lemon Tree Cafe – shop, eat and read!

West & Main Boutique

Entrance to a clothes boutique store.
Something for everyBODY here.

West & Main Boutique is locally owned and operated with a focus on spreading body positivity and size inclusivity and has something for everyBODY with carefully curated boho and western items for all body types and budgets. 

White Street Boutique

The bright and spacious White Street Boutique houses multiple local boutique collections under one roof. Each vendor brings their own unique collections into the store, creating diverse and unique merchandise for your shopping pleasure!

Arrow Tree Boutique

Arrow Tree is another women’s clothing and accessory store located right next to Brooks Street Bowl with a chic aesthetic. Featuring a variety of styles and selections from beautiful dresses to casual wear, skirts, blouses, sweaters, jackets, and accessories.

Fun Activities in Downtown Wake Forest

Strike & Barrel

Young girl doing ten pin bowling.
Savannah bowling

I enjoyed taking our youngest, Savannah here or a fun game of Duckpin bowling, but that’s far from all that’s going on inside downtown Wake Forest’s premier entertainment destination! 

Here you have 24,000 square feet of fun under one roof including traditional bowling, duckpin bowling, axe throwing, sports simulators, cornhole, shuffleboard, plus classic and modern arcade games.

People at a bowling alley.
Traditional bowling too!

While you’re having fun, order a bite to eat from their chef driven full-service kitchen, and take in a game on one of the many TV,s. Perfect for families, couples, or large group events. 

E. Carroll Joyner Park

Man walking along a path in a park surrounded by trees.

Just a 3-minute drive from downtown Wake Forest brings you to one of the largest parks in Wake County, E. Carroll Joyner Park.

Here you can immerse yourself in the park’s history by exploring restored farm buildings, wander through the picturesque pecan grove and step back in time with a visit to the carefully preserved log cabin.

Old wooden cabin in a park.
Preserved log cabin

There’s three miles of paved walking trails, a 2,000 linear foot stone ribbon wall, fishing, charcoal grills, a community center, a playground, and a state-of-the-art 1,000-lawn-seat amphitheater

Friday Night on White

Hundreds of people at a street festival in downtown Wake Forest
Friday Night on White in full swing!

Talk about a community event where the WHOLE community gets involved. Friday Night on White (FNOW) is typically held from the months of April – September and is a free outdoor music series in downtown Wake Forest featuring live music and beer on White Street. 

Local residents dancing at a street festival.
Locals dancing!

Each concert is scheduled from 6 to 9pm, there’s food trucks and many of the local businesses downtown remain open. It’s one of the popular community festivals and events in Wake County during the year and a real festive atmosphere.

Wake Forest Farmers Market

Tents outside at a farmers market
Image courtesy of 

As one of the local farmer’s markets in Wake County, the Wake Forest Market is held each Saturday and offers a vibrant and diverse selection of fresh-off-the-farm produce, pasture-raised meat, local honey and plants, and much more.  

The market aims to promote sustainable agriculture, support local food systems, and provide the community with access to fresh, healthy, and nutritious food options. It was founded over 20 years ago by a local farmer and a baker, and has now grown to one of the most popular farmers markets in the Raleigh area.

Wake Forest Historical Museum

Learn about the history of Wake Forest College at the Wake Forest Historical Museum which has some interesting facts and memorabilia. You can tour the historic Calvin Jones House, visit the new museum building’s exhibits and stroll through the gardens.

Visitors can also enjoy exhibits depicting life in the Town of Wake Forest, the Mill Village, Forestville, the Hurricane, and other surrounding areas. 

In Summary: Downtown Wake Forest is a Charming place to explore

Light pole and sign on a street saying Wake Forest.
White Street

From local eats to charming boutiques, downtown has it all. If you didn’t know what to do in Wake Forest NC, hopefully this guide has provided helpful advice and inspiration to explore the quaint downtown area and meet the friendly locals. 

We’ll be adding to this guide as we experience more places ourselves. In the meantime, feel free to ask any questions in the comments section below, or share your highlights or suggestions for visiting the town? 

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