I will be the first one to admit that as a Raleigh resident, I often bundle Cary, North Carolina with all the other suburbs nestled in and around the Research Triangle Park. However, as any Caryite will tell you, this obvious oversight is all of my own making.
With a flourishing population that is young, smart, and prosperous, Cary has seen the kind of growth that has often ranked it as one of the best small cities to live in in the entire United States. In fact, it is hard to come across a best-of list about the Triangle that doesn’t include activities, restaurants, parks, or arts establishments in Cary.
My past encounters with Cary have been strictly as a fix for all things Indian. My favorite Indian restaurant is in Cary (Udipi Cafe), so is the grocery store where I get all my Indian spices and things (Patel Brothers), and so are the various festivals like Diwali and Navratri that our family celebrate each year. But outside of these things, I hadn’t spent much time getting to know this wonderful town which is just a stone’s throw away from me. Clearly, it was time to change that.
So I did what I do best, I gathered my children and announced that we were going on an adventure! My mission was to spend a few fun hours in Cary with minimal driving and maximum fun. I wanted good food, fun activities, and lots of outdoor space for the littles to explore and have fun. The kicker was to do all of this without having to strap the kids in and out of their car seats. As it turns out, Cary Downtown had just what I needed.
- What you’re wearing: Comfortable clothes and walking shoes. Bring a hat for summertime.
- Themes: Family fun, public art, Indian food
- Best For: Families with children who like to walk but may still require strollers and frequent stops
- Duration: 3 to 4 hours
Where You’re Going
- 1st Stop: Cary Arts Center + Downtown Park &. Fountain
- 2nd Stop: Ice Cream
- 3rd Stop: Urban Park
- Lunch Buffet: Udipi Cafe
Cary Arts Center
We started our day by parking near the Cary Arts Center which honestly is a destination in itself. A historic building, the center has a 431-seat theater, gallery exhibits, open studio programs, and amazing public art incorporated in its architecture, making it a great place for kids to roam and explore. If you can plan ahead, look up their events calendar which frequently include shows that the whole family can attend.
Downtown Park & Fountain
Next, simply cross the street to play in the amazing Downtown Park. Not only does it have one of the best fountains in the area, but there is also equipment to play chess, foosball, table tennis, and bocce ball. With plenty of umbrellas, chairs and tables, you can relax even if the kids never want to leave.
Bonus Tip: The downtown library is just across from Downtown Park. It has a big and well thought-out children’s area that is worth exploring. They also have story times throughout the day so make sure to check their events calendar to see if one fits in your day of adventure.
FRESH Local Ice Cream
After all that play, now is a good time to treat yourselves to some really good ice cream. Just a short walk away is FRESH. Local Ice Cream which is a must for the whole family. (It’s also probably the only way you will get the children to leave the fountain or the library). Homemade flavors include classics and innovative combinations; best of all, kids scoops come with free sprinkles. Need I say more?
Bonus Tip: As you walk along Academy Street to get to the ice cream store on Chatham Street, take a moment to look at the beautiful architecture that lines the streets of downtown Cary. The Guess-Ogle House or the “pink house” looks right out of a storybook. The First Baptist Church and it’s bell tower, The Mayton Inn, and even the post office, are all worth stopping for. The entire street is lined with plenty of chairs and artful stone benches that beckon.
Getting back to my love of walking, I was happy to discover that within an easy half-mile walk from FRESH lies a wonderful park called Urban Park to burn off our sugar high. It has a play structure, basketball court, sandbox, and swings, all in a wonderful woodsy and shady setting which is key in the hotter months. The stroll back to your car near Cary Arts Center is just under a mile from here so plan accordingly.
I can’t help it guys, but I couldn’t end our Downtown Cary adventure without eating some Indian food. Lucky for me (and you) one of the best Indian restaurants in the Triangle is located just a short drive from the downtown epicenter. Udipi Cafe is a South Indian vegetarian restaurant that serves curries that are probably very different from the ones you’ve had before.
The idlis (rice cakes) and dosas (crispy crepes made from fermented rice and lentil batter) are some of my favorites and also something that my kids can eat all day every day. Udipi is a crowd pleaser because there are plenty of gluten-free and mild options in addition to the spicier offerings. Their lunch buffet goes on till 3:00pm and costs under $12 each for over 10 different items including salads and dessert; it’s the best way to taste everything South Indian cooking has to offer.
There is only one thing left to do after such a fun day out – take a nap. Our trip to Cary’s downtown area left me feeling like we squeezed in so many different experiences without much effort. It was a great way to encourage my children to walk around and explore their urban environment. By any miracle, if time and energy are still on your side, stop by the Patel Brothers Indian grocery store on E. Chatham to pick up some yummy Indian food and get out of cooking dinner altogether; why not squeeze in that nap we talked about instead.