11 Ways to Take Advantage of Labor Day in Raleigh

Take advantage of the long weekend to try something new, explore the Triangle or indulge in classic summer fun with this list of ideas.
by Nelie Tahssili and Eliza Martin 

The beginning of September marks an intersection between the end of summer and the beginning of fall. School is back in session, football season is ramping up and the days are just a little shorter. But the air is still warm enough to enjoy all of your favorite summer activities one more time before fall kicks into gear. From walking tours around Raleigh to a trip across the state for a festival, there are plenty of ways to celebrate the end of summer both locally and across the state of North Carolina. 

Jam Out on the Water with Cary’s Bands, Bites, and Boats at Bond Park

The first Friday of September, the Bond Park Boathouse will host Bands, Bites, and Boats, with food trucks, musicians, and local breweries. Head over to Cary to see Mysti Mayhem perform, snack on some food from Jerk Man Island Cuisine and Las Gringas and grab a beer from Fortnight Brewing. Stay on land to dance along to the concert, or rent a boat through Bond Park Boathouse’s after-hours rentals to float on the water while listening to some tunes.  

September 1 | 5:30-7:30 p.m.; Free; 197 Bond Park Drive, Cary; carync.gov

Check out First Friday Downtown

Every first Friday of the month, the Downtown Raleigh Alliance hosts a celebration in the heart of downtown Raleigh, with many participating businesses and galleries staying open late hosting small events. Moore Square hosts a monthly market with local vendors, followed by a live music set and a movie showing. This month, check out the local participating businesses across downtown and then head to Moore Square to shop the market and food trucks and listen to John Sierra play live, followed by a free showing of Back to The Future

September 1 | 5 p.m.; Free; downtownraleigh.org

Head to the African American Cultural Festival

Celebrate African American history and culture in the heart of downtown Raleigh in this two-day-long street festival, complete with cultural food, music and art. With vendors selling everything from clothes to home accessories and ar, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Families with young kids will enjoy the Creativation Station, with arts and crafts and activities for kids, and adults should check out the Art Gallery Walk to see or purchase art from local artists. 

September 2-3 | Free; Fayetteville Street; aacfestival.org

Grab a Bite at Durham Central Park’s Food Truck Rodeo

Head over to Durham this Labor Day weekend for an afternoon of foodie fun. Durham Central Park hosts over 70 food trucks and drink vendors, serving up everything from desserts like beignets and ice cream to savory options such as barbeque, burgers, dumplings and tacos. With plenty of food and drinks to try, bring a lawn chair or a picnic blanket and settle in for an afternoon in Durham’s downtown. Admission to the event is free but food items will be for purchase. 

September 3 | 3 p.m.; Free; 501 Foster Street, Durham; durhamcentralpark.org

Take a Walking Tour to see Raleigh’s Public Art

Raleigh Walking Tours offers a Labor Day version of their Downtown Raleigh Murals and Public Art Tour that takes you deep into Raleigh’s downtown and shows you its most vibrant artwork. The main focus of the tour is Raleigh’s creative murals, but public art is also included in the tour. The tour is pay what you want but advanced registration is required!

September 5 | 10:30 a.m.; 200 S McDowell Street; downtownraleigh.org

Head West for a Folksy Festival

Long weekends are made for a quick getaway, and North Carolina mountain towns are a great destination to cool off as summer winds down. Labor Day weekend is full of festivals and events, but Western NC seems to be a bit of a hotspot. The North Carolina Apple Festival in Hendersonville takes place from September 1 -4 in the peak of NC’s apple season. Local apple growers sell 15 types of freshly harvested apples and sweets such as apple fritters, apple butter and cider at this street festival complete with food and art vendors, live music and recipe contests. Also, just outside of Hendersonville at the Tryon International Equestrian Center, the Earl Scruggs Music Festival features bluegrass, roots and Americana music in honor of NC-born Earl Scruggs. The festival will have two stages, with three days worth of almost non-stop live performances for festival-goers to see, as well as vendors and activities such as yoga, pickleball and horse jumping demonstrations. Or, head to a slightly higher altitude for a day of art at the Maggie Valley Arts and Crafts Show, taking place on September 2 and 3, featuring art from artists all over the Southeast. Looking for an interesting and new place to stay before heading to the festivals? Try heading to one of these lesser known mountain destinations. 

See Fireworks at a Durham Bulls Game

Celebrate the end of summer with the Durham Bulls before their season wraps up in September. The week leading up to Labor Day weekend, the Bulls will be at home taking on the Nashville Sound, put on your Durham Bulls blue and check out their fireworks display on Friday and Saturday night for a festive night out. Or, families with young kids can check out Sunday night’s Kids Run the Bases. Be sure to stick around after the game ends to participate in the festivities whether that be running the bases or the firework display!

Various dates and times; From $10; 409 Blackwell Street, Durham; milb.com

Have a Picnic 

An outdoor gathering with a meal enjoyed in a natural setting is the perfect activity for Labor Day weekend. Check out these scenic locations to celebrate a cherished social activity that will evoke relaxation and enjoyment. Grab some fresh bread for your sandwiches and charcuterie boards from the new location of Boulted Bread, or consider this list of local shops and restaurants to help curate the perfect al-fresco meal. Looking for something a bit more upscale? Check out the Heights House picnic options for a beautiful spread created by The Parlor to enjoy on the lawn of the historic hotel. The Parlor provides an Italian charcuterie board and a bottle of wine, along with a basket, a blanket to picnic on, a mini table, glassware and playing cards. However you choose to picnic, a sunny day accompanied with delicious food and a scenic gathering is a great way to soak in the long weekend.

Grab Friends for a Round of Pickleball 

Pickleball has become a popular sport all over the world and it is accessible for people of all ages and skill levels. There are pickleball enthusiasts all over and their passion for the game makes it exciting for all those that are interested in trying the sport. Pickleball is easy to learn, inclusive and social, competitive yet friendly and family-friendly as well. Check out Raleigh’s public pickleball courts for a friendly round this Labor Day weekend. 

Host a BBQ

A barbeque and Labor Day seem to go hand in hand. invite your friends and family over and celebrate the end of summer with a happy heart and a full stomach. Fire up the smoker to indulge in a barbeque, and be sure to check out this legendary Eastern style recipe for a mouth-watering barbecue sauce straight from Ed Mitchell’s cookbook. Or, grill out with these summer grill recipes to enjoy one last warm weather cookout before the seasons start to change. 

Watch College Football at a Sports Bar

Labor Day weekend kicks off the college football season, and Raleigh has no shortage of college football fans and places to watch the game. Head to Players Retreat near The Village District or Mitch’s Tavern off of Hillsborough Street to watch as NC State takes on Connecticut on August 31 in one of NC State’s most beloved old school sports bars. Both opened over 50 years ago, making them a popular spot for current NC State students and avid fans alike, so don’t forget to wear red on gameday. Not a Wolfpack fan? Check out Sammy’s Tap and Grill or Brickhouse, both classic sports bars with plenty of screens to celebrate the first weekend of college football. On Labor Day itself, Clemson heads to Durham to take on Duke, so if you can’t get tickets to the big game and don’t feel like making the trek to Durham, check out Carolina Ale House or Woody’s Sport Tavern in City Market for a downtown Raleigh sports bar that will take you away from NC State’s campus.

This article was originally published on August 18, 2023 on waltermagazine.com