Susan Murphy’s Local Perspective

The Raleigh native behind one of the area’s most popular Instagram accounts talks her early memories of the city and her favorite places now.
by Rachel Simon | photography by Charles Harris

If you’ve ever found yourself with the sudden urge to check out a museum after scrolling on your phone, chances are you have Susan Murphy to thank. The 59-year-old Raleigh native is the face behind the popular Experience Raleigh Instagram account, on which she not only highlights dining and cultural options in the Triangle, but also shares stories about Raleigh’s history and our ever-changing community.

Murphy grew up in Hidden Valley (“North Raleigh before there was such a thing as North Raleigh,” she quips) and attended Meredith College. Other than a few years in London (where she met her husband, with whom she has two children), she’s lived here ever since.

Although Murphy had long enjoyed sharing her love of her hometown with others, it wasn’t until 2019 that she decided to turn that interest into her full-time job. At first, she simply showcased spots that she visited regularly, but eventually Murphy began featuring a wider variety of cultural opportunities. Here, Murphy shares what she loves about living here and how she’d spend a perfect 24 hours in town.

What’s one difference between Raleigh as you grew up and now?

When I was young, everyone was from here. But in the 1970s I started getting new kids in my class from the North, because of IBM and Northern Telecom and RTP. I distinctly remember the first time a girl in my class brought a bagel for lunch. I thought, that’s just a stale donut!

Where did you hang out as a kid?

There was a movie theater in North Hills where the Bonefish Grill is now, and in the summer, all the neighborhood kids would go to the movies. Where Glenwood Elementary School is now used to be a wild horse pasture, and then it had trails for minibikes and motorcycles.

Where did you go to college?

I was going to go to East Carolina University, but my mother was sick in the hospital with cancer, so I went to Meredith. When she died, I was glad I was in Raleigh and I ended up staying there. 

So you’ve always lived here?

Sort of. After college, I started working at the Radisson [now the Sheraton] in sales. It was my dream job; I loved hospitality so much. But after about a year, I was like, I really need to see the world, and that’s when Pan Am came through Raleigh for recruiting. I thought, this is my next step. I was an international flight attendant for them for years, and when Pan Am went out of business in the 1990s, I moved back and got an apartment on Wade Avenue; that was the coolest place to live then. I started working for USA Today in sales before transferring to their London office, where I met my husband. He loved Raleigh, so we had the idea that we would move back here.

You raised your family in Five Points. Why that neighborhood?

My grandparents lived there. After they died, my husband and I had the opportunity to buy their house, and we’ve been there ever since. Now, there are so many places that I can walk to, it’s a thrill! There’s Ajja, Trophy Brewing moving in next door, and then just down Whitaker Mill is Raleigh Iron Works. Of course there’s still NOFO, which is one of the best places in town.

What other parts of Raleigh have changed a lot?

Glenwood South! In 2001, I was just starting to hear about it. The Rockford was like the first place there, and then The Hibernian opened up. I also started seeing all these high-rises being built and businesses coming downtown. Going to First Friday was always one of my favorite things to do, and I loved it when I started seeing people I didn’t know.

What led you to launch Experience Raleigh in 2019?

My passion has always been welcoming people to Raleigh and promoting the city as a great place to live and visit, so after I got laid off [from a tech company in 2018], I was looking for a job doing that. But my friend said, why don’t you just do it yourself? When I started my Instagram, it took off. The posts that did really well were like, a beautiful view from a really green park, or a cocktail on a rooftop with a skyline in the background. But when COVID hit, that changed my mission… I got to show people what they could still do outside and keep Raleigh alive. Suddenly it went to, OK, you can’t go out in public, but you can still go to these amazing parks, or this place has a new patio and you can sit outside, or buy this cool t-shirt to keep somebody in business.

Has running the account helped you learn more about Raleigh?

Absolutely. Take Anna Julia Cooper [a Black Raleigh-born educator and feminist]. I’d driven by her historical marker on S. East Street at least once a week, and when I finally took the time to read it, I thought, I need to find out more about this woman. Now I post about her every year.

Someone has 24 hours in Raleigh. What do you recommend?

It starts with Dix Park. There’s nothing like it with the history, the views. And then I would say to go to a brewery. Trophy’s one of my favorites; Crank Arm is another great one. If you’ve got time, go to the North Carolina Museum of Art and the Museum Park, which is the largest of its kind in North America. And of course, I’d say stop by NOFO because it’s got one of the best assortments of different North Carolina products!

Where do you take visitors? 

The Players Retreat, because it’s got a great vibe, great service and one of the best burgers in town. I also love taking friends to N. Person Street. You could go for a nice meal at Jolie or Crawford & Son, or if you’re there during the day go to Edge of Urge and Yellow Dog Bread Co., then go down and have a drink at Stanbury. And then Krispy Kreme! There’s just about everything that you’d want.

What do you love most about living in Raleigh?

There’s so much that makes Raleigh great — from the ballet to the symphony to the art museums to the galleries to the parks — but it’s still a small town in so many ways. I also love seeing people move here from all different backgrounds and generations of life. I love the perspective that new people bring.  

This article originally appeared in the April 2024 issue of WALTER magazine.