Play like a kid again and make time to enjoy
special events and happenings.
BY CARLA TURCHETTI
There’s a reason why it’s called “Summer Break.”
It’s time to take a break from the ordinary and explore something special. Put your Out of Office message on,
leave the laptop behind (don’t check emails on your phone, either), and get out and enjoy.
Kick Off the Season with a Meaningful and Memorable Moment
You’ll want to look up in the skies above Fuquay-Varina this Memorial Day Weekend. The Freedom Balloon Fest runs May 25th through May 28th. It’s an admission-free, all-volunteer run community service project presented by Project Uplift USA, a North Carolina–based nonprofit that works to uplift military families and serve the community through service and volunteerism.
“This is our way of highlighting service above self,” says Brian Hoyle, a hot air balloon pilot and a volunteer who serves as president on the board of Project Uplift USA. “We do this through an all-volunteer effort, and if we can uplift our community by remembering, honoring, and celebrating, we solve other problems at the same time that we don’t even know are there.”
Organizers reach out to hot air balloon pilots near and far to ask them to participate in what they call “the hottest of the coolest events of the summer.” The pilots do it because they believe in the cause and they love to fly.
“They are addicted to the joy they found years ago,” Hoyle says. “The magic is palpable when you go to an event like this.”
Admission is free, thanks to sponsors and individual donors, although donations to Project Uplift USA are always gladly accepted and there are hot air balloon rides for sale.
You can catch the Freedom Balloon Fest in the skies over 503 Fleming Loop Road in Fuquay-Varina. For details, visit FreedomBallonFest.com.
One of the largest hot air balloon manufacturers in the world is Firefly, based in Statesville. You can spot their balloons in the sky by their trademark triangular basket.
Fun for All
Visit the JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University to catch summer in full bloom. The arboretum is home to nationally acclaimed gardens and specializes in plants for Southern landscapes. The grounds are open to the public nearly every day and the calendar includes workshops, classes, lectures, and garden story time. There is no admission fee, but donations are appreciated. The arboretum hosts summer camps for children, and while many were already waitlisted at press time, several still had availability. The JC Ralston Arboretum is located near the N.C. State Fairgrounds at 4415 Beryl Road.
You can support North Carolina’s farmers by making a stop at the Farmers Market in Raleigh. Local farms of all sizes sell fresh fruits, vegetables, and plants, and vendors sell everything from meats and cheeses to wine and North Carolina–themed gifts. There’s great country cooking to be had at the grill or in either of the two restaurants on-site. The Raleigh market is located at 1201 Agriculture Street.
The Apex Farmers Market at 220 North Salem Street is open on Saturday mornings for the summer season. Shoppers can find locally-grown produce as well as meat, eggs, and baked goods. The Apex Farmers Market and Local Food Alliance work together as a nonprofit to bring healthful food choices to western Wake County.
Find your team spirit and catch the Carolina Mudcats at Five County Stadium in Zebulon. The Mudcats play Class A minor league baseball and have a player-development agreement with the Milwaukee Brewers. You can hang out with Muddy the mascot and enjoy the view of the field from Cattails Restaurant.
Five County Stadium is home to the largest wide-screen video board in all of minor league baseball.
Catch a Concert or Movie Under the Stars
(Plan for at least a couple, maybe more!)
The summer itinerary is full at the Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary. The musical offerings including the Hob Knob Jazz Series,and the North Carolina Symphony makes its summer home at Koka Booth. Upcoming performances will range from the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein to the music of Tom Petty. And if you really miss the ‘80s, you’ll want to be at the concert featuring Boy George and Culture Club along with the B-52s. Plan to book early for the July 4th celebration, which includes a day of activities for the kids, an evening concert by the North Carolina Symphony, and majestic fireworks. The Movies by Moonlight series will continue throughout the summer at Koka Booth, with family-friendly titles including Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Despicable Me 3.
The North Carolina Museum of Art has been presenting its summer concert and movie series for 20 years. Performances take place at the Joseph M. Bryan Theater on the museum campus. Concertgoers are invited to bring a picnic and enjoy music under the stars from artists like the Swedish sister-duo First Aid Kit and Chapel Hill–based folk duo Mandolin Orange.
The Red Hat Amphitheater, in the heart of downtown Raleigh, has booked a jam-packed summer concert season. Artists on tap are as diverse as Arctic Monkeys, Khalid, Matt Nathanson, and even a special Kidz Bop evening.
Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek is home to the Country Megaticket, a package of shows by blockbuster country artists Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, and more. But the sounds of Walnut Creek will also be diverse this summer, with artists such as Steely Dan, Post Malone, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Coastal Credit Union Music Park seats almost 7,000 fans and can accommodate another 13,000 on its spacious lawn.
The Apex Music and Movies in the Park series takes place on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the summer. All of the events are family-friendly, free, and take place at the Apex Historic Depot and Nature Park Amphitheatre. Bring blankets, lawn chairs, and picnics—but come early to secure the best spot.
Places to Chill in the Summer Heat
If you prefer a quieter time outside, head to the peaceful oasis of the Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve located at 2616 Kildaire Farm Road in Cary. In addition to the statuesque eastern hemlock trees, there are three miles of nature trails and scenic overlooks. Hemlock Bluffs is a great place to sit back and enjoy bird watching or wildlife.
Pullen Park is practically the local Hall of Fame for things to do outside. Situated near Western Boulevard and North Carolina State University, the 66-acre park was created on farmland donated by William Stanhope Pullen to the city of Raleigh in 1887. Pullen Park bustles with recreational activities, like kiddie boats and pedal boats, and fun rides on the park’s miniature train or the Gustave A. Dentzel Carousel, which was built in 1911. Pullen Park is also home to an aquatics center, an arts center, a café, and the area’s renowned Theatre in the Park.
Summer is also a great time to get lost in a book, and all 22 branches of the Wake County Public Library system will be celebrating summer with special programming for readers of all ages. “There is a way to participate for every age [person], from young children all the way through adults,” says Elena Owens, Library Experience Manager for Wake County. “In addition to coming to the library to check out books and speak to a librarian about great books, you can come to many of our programs that we will be offering.” For the younger set, there will be weekly story times as well as 140 extra experiences that include everything from demonstrations with steel drums to magicians working their magic. “For adults we are offering special programs that include music and [experiences], such as a tea with an author of historical fiction. We’ll also be doing crafts like rock painting, because this year’s theme is “Libraries Rock,” and we are focusing on music for all ages,” Owens says. Older children and teens can also look forward to experiencing a special Harry Potter escape room. To get connected to all of the events at the different branch locations, visit the library section at WakeGov.com.
If what you’re looking for is some luxurious pampering, a weekend staycation or afternoon respite may be in order—and western Wake has some lovely options, like The Umstead Hotel and Spa. “I always recommend to my local friends to reserve an appointment in the spa on Monday through Thursday, as you receive complimentary use of the spa facilities and the outdoor seasonal pool,” says Caroline Jackson-Allen, Marketing Manager for The Umstead.