7 Hours in Wake Forest and Holly Springs

(By Curt Fields)

You’ve probably noticed that Wake County is not a small place. I could spend half the day driving from Fuquay-Varina to Garner to Knightdale. And as scenic a drive as that might be—or not, depending on the route—it would also make for a very boring story. So instead, I’m going to focus this adventure on two places: Holly Springs and Wake Forest. (No disrespect to you Fuquay-Varians.) 

Starting in Holly Springs, I stop for food at Mason Jar Tavern. Chicken and waffles sounds like a reasonable, uncomplicated start to the day. Of course, whenever I find myself at Mason Jar Tavern, there is one thing I always have to order, be it the day’s first meal or the last: the fried pimento mac-and-cheese bites, delectable little explosions of happiness.

From there, I roll over—not literally, although, after that meal, it’s a possibility—to Bombshell Beer Company’s taproom. Bombshell, the state’s first brewery with all women owners and brewers, makes good stuff. The Head Over Hops IPA calls to me, and I sip away, appreciating the pint’s citrus tones.

After that, a stop at Bass Lake Park, If I were so inclined, I could check out a fishing pole and try my hand at angling. But it has been a good while since I did that, and now does not seem like the time to attempt to recapture that part of my redneck past. Maybe I could pull off holding the pole over my shoulder while whistling the Andy Griffith theme as I walk along the path, but even that seems a bit of a stretch. 

Canoeing is clearly beyond my ken as well. (I’m more Bar Scout than Boy Scout). But a leisurely stroll near the water, taking it all in, is something I can not only handle but enjoy.

Time for that drive to Wake Forest and a wander along its main drag, White Street. 

First, a bit of shopping at North Carolina General Stores for a few “made in North Carolina” products that I can send to faraway friends to show them what they’re missing. I duck in and out of another store or two before my appetite directs me to Shorty’s Famous Hot Dogs. Obviously, if you’ve been around the Triangle for a while, you know about Shorty’s. If not, well, the landmark joint is one of the boxes you have to tick to actually call yourself one of us. One all-the-way with a side of cheese fries while soaking in the old-school atmosphere is sustenance aplenty.

Afterward, White Street Brewing Company beckons. What was once a car dealership in the 1930s is now a remarkably comfortable taproom. I settle in, order a cold Relaxsession, and give myself over to the brew’s not so subtle suggestion. 

Ahhhh … I like the way you think, beer. 

If only I didn’t have to drive home.

Landmark: Five County Stadium

Where to Get a Cup of Coffee: Full Bloom Coffee Roasters

Where to Visit with Friends: Wake Forest Coffee Company

Where to Walk Your Dog: Garner Recreation Park

Where to Spend the Night: Fuquay Mineral Spring Inn


Bodega Tapas, Wine, and Rum

110 South White Street, Wake Forest, 984-235-4187, bodegawakeforest.com

Everyone is doing tapas these days. But few restaurants are doing them as well as Bodega, where chef de cuisine Doug Seeley cranks out a meat-and-seafood-focused menu that rarely fails to delight, from a ceviche that sings with the tartness of passionfruit to a spicy beef empanada delightfully sweetened by plantains. The coffee-braised lamb ribs are otherworldly, falling off the bone, the coffee adding a hint of bitterness. To accompany this delicious madness are no less than forty wines by the glass and a ridiculous assortment of rums. Vegetarians, good luck. 

Note: We’ve highlighted our pick for the best of each category below.


Anna’s Pizzeria

138 South Main Street, Fuquay-Varina; 100 North Salem Street, Apex, 919-285-2497, 919-267-6237; annaspizzeria.com

A family-friendly restaurant serving New York pies and classic Italian dishes. 

The Mason Jar Tavern

114 Grand Hill Place, Holly Springs, 919-964-5060, themasonjartavern.com

Friendly service, consistently good food, and a superior selection of brews make The Mason Jar a Holly Springs favorite. Whatever you do, don’t miss the fried pimento mac-and-cheese bites appetizer. Entrées to consider include the Hangover Burger (topped with a fried egg, sliced avocado, bacon, buffalo sauce, and bloody Mary mayo). 

Shorty’s Famous Hot Dogs

214 South White Street, Wake Forest, 919-556-8026, facebook.com/shortysfamoushotdogs

Shorty’s has been around since 1916, so clearly its methods have met with approval. There are burgers and sandwiches available, but the star is a Jesse Jones red hot dog, all the way.

Stick Boy Bread Co.

127 South Main Street, Fuquay-Varina, 919-557-2237, stickboyfuquay.com

In 2001, Carson and Mindy Coatney opened the first Stick Boy in Boone. Seven years later, their former employee Katie Dies opened the second one in Fuquay with her husband. Both carry the same ethos: serve high-quality, locally roasted coffee and handcrafted, small-batch breads, pastries, and desserts in a friendly environment. 

Toot-n-Tell Family Restaurant

903 West Garner Road, Garner, 919-772-2616, tootntellrestaurant.com

No frills, no trends, just good country cooking that makes you feel as if you’ve wandered in and sat down at someone’s kitchen table. Prices are better than reasonable. Breakfast is available all day. The name will make your nine-year-old giggle.


Aviator Tap House

600 East Broad Street, Fuquay-Varina, 919-552-8826, aviatorbrew.com/tap-room

The Aviator Tap House, located in the old Varina train depot, is just a cool place to hang out. Of course, it helps that there’s a nice selection of beer to drink—and if you find a new favorite, a quick trip to Aviator’s beer shop next door lets you stock up for the trip home. If you suddenly remember you haven’t eaten in a while, no worries. The Aviator Smokehouse BBQ Restaurant next door has you covered with wings, barbecue, and the like. 

Black & White Coffee Roasters

314 Brooks Street, Wake Forest, 984-235-0125, blackwhiteroasters.com

B&W will not only pour you a damn fine cup of coffee, they’ll teach you everything you need to know about the art of the bean, with in-demand (as in, they sell out) classes on espresso, coffee origins, and brewing basics.  

Carolina Brewing Company Taproom

140 Thomas Mill Road, Holly Springs, 919-557-2337, carolinabrew.com/the-taproom

Although it’s Wake County’s oldest active brewery, CBC has only had its taproom for a couple of years. You can, of course, order any of the company’s year-round beers, but the best part of pulling up a stool is the chance to try the occasional test batch and special release. 

Bombshell Beer Company Taproom and Beer Garden

120 Quantum Drive, Holly Springs, 919-823-1933, bombshellbeer.com

Better appointed than your average taproom, Bombshell’s is an airy, bright space, especially when they open the roll-up door. Open seven days a week, it’s dog- and family-friendly, and there are frequent events, including live music and specialized trivia contests (How I Met Your Mother one night, Marvel movies another).

Cleveland Draft House

6101 N.C. Highway 42 West, Garner, 919-771-2337, clevelanddrafthouse.com

There’s a sizeable menu, occasional live music, and several TVs to catch the game. And there are several dozen taps of craft beer, with North Carolina breweries well represented. But the best part of Cleveland Draft House is the free pool you can shoot on quality tables. Even when it isn’t free, the rates are pretty good.

Full Bloom Coffee Roasters

141 West Main Street, Garner, 919-720-4013, fullbloomcoffee.com

This local micro-roaster sources sustainable, organic, fair-trade beans, and its cafe in downtown Garner—“the ideal spot between rising growth and peaceful Sunday afternoons,” its website points out—has a gorgeous, colorful mural on the outside wall. 

Norse Brewing Company

203 Brooks Street, Wake Forest, 919-554-4555, norsebrewingco.com

As this magazine goes to press, this Viking-themed brewery in downtown Wake Forest is about to open, boasting “the Triangle’s finest craft beers.” Quite the promise there, folks. 

Wake Forest Coffee Company

156 South White Street, Wake Forest, 919-554-8914, wakeforestcoffee.com

Featuring organic, fair-trade coffees from all over South America and Africa, Wake Forest Coffee’s cafe wants to offer a communal experience—a place to do homework, to hang out with friends, to live, love, and dream. 

White Street Brewing Company

218 White Street, Wake Forest, whitestreetbrewing.com

This easygoing taproom has been in Wake Forest since 2012. Trivia nights, cycling club meetings, food trucks—there’s always something happening.


Ashworth’s Clothing

210 South Main Street, Fuquay-Varina, 919-552-5201, facebook.com/ashworthsclothing

The Ashworth family has kept generations of Wake County residents well-dressed and well-hemmed. They sell clothes for any occasion, but Ashworth is the perfect destination when preparing for prom, weddings, or any other event at which a tuxedo is expected.

Bostic & Wilson Antiques

105 South Main Street, Fuquay-Varina, 919-552-3248, facebook.com/bosticandwilson

The owners aren’t rookies—they regularly go to auctions and help with estate sales, ensuring that the pieces they offer are well-curated. This is a great place to find ornate lamps and well-made furniture.

The Chocolate Fix

135 South Main Street, Fuquay-Varina, 919-557-1233, facebook.com/chocolatefixfv

Sometimes, you have to give in to your cravings—and that’s why The Chocolate Fix is a Fuquay favorite. 

The Cotton Company

306 South White Street, Wake Forest, 919-570-0087, thecottoncompany.net

After serving as a cotton warehouse for local farms in the late nineteenth century, The Cotton Company building is home today to almost sixty local vendors who sell local art, pottery, soaps, and food. It’s a great place to shop for holiday gifts.

Next Consignment Boutique

210 South White Street, Wake Forest, 919-554-8040, nextconsignment.com

At this downtown Wake Forest shop, you can get your hands on designer women’s clothes, jewelry, and bags for a fraction of the price of major retailers. There’s also a well-stocked selection of kids clothing.

North Carolina General Stores

150 South White Street, Wake Forest, 919-302-2289, ncgeneralstores.com

“Made in North Carolina” is the soul of the place. An array of products, from barbecue sauces to pottery, pickles to soaps, candy to photography, are available—with the one unifying theme being their point of origin. 


Bass Lake Park

900 Bass Lake Road, Holly Springs, 919-557-2496, hollyspringsnc.us/320/Bass-Lake-Park

Want to take a kid fishing for a day, but not commit to it as a full-on hobby? Bass Lake Park is the place to go, thanks to its tackle-loaner program, which allows you to borrow a pole for free. Canoes are available for rent. If you just want some fresh air, there are trails of varying lengths, plus a garden to explore.

Carolina Mudcats

Five County Stadium, 1501 N.C. Highway 39, Zebulon, 919-269-2287, milb.com/carolina-mudcats

The Bulls are better known, but attending a Mudcats game feels like a purer baseball experience, more of a throwback to a less polished time. The sightlines are good from any spot in the stands, the hot dogs are worthy ballpark fare, and parking is easy, thanks to multiple lots around the stadium. 

E. Carroll Joyner Park

701 Harris Road, Wake Forest, 919-435-9560, wakeforestnc.gov/joyner-park.aspx

This 117-acre park features restored farm buildings (a mule barn, tobacco barn, and chicken coop) and a log cabin, as well as a thousand-seat amphitheater, a pecan grove, and about three miles of paved walking trails. 

Fuquay Mineral Spring Park

105 West Spring Street, Fuquay-Varina, fuquay-varina.org

Discovered in 1858 by Stephen Fuquay and his brother—we couldn’t make this up if we tried, spelling and all—Davey Crocket Fuquay while they were plowing their father’s farm, the mineral spring was thought to have healing powers, and people came to bathe in it, eventually helping give birth to the place we know as Fuquay-Varina. Today, that spring is commemorated within this park. 

Garner Recreational Park

221 East Garner Road, Garner, 919-772-4688, garnernc.gov

With twenty acres of ball fields, dog parks, playgrounds, and picnic shelters, you have tons of options for ways to spend your time at Garner Recreational Park. There are also more than two miles of mountain biking trails, so you can get a workout in while staying close to downtown.

Polar Ice House Garner

103 New Rand Road, Garner, 919-861-7465, garner.pucksystems.com

Polar Ice House offers public skating every Saturday, as well as figure skating and hockey lessons for all ages, so your kid can work on becoming the next Jordan Staal.

Pope’s Strawberry Farm

1305 Fayetteville Street, Knightdale, 919-266-3767

If you have a young child, you should definitely make a visit to a pick-your-own farm. You can’t get produce any fresher. Strawberries are obviously the main offering, but Pope’s also grows corn and tomatoes. 

Zebulon Community Park

401 South Arendell Avenue, Zebulon, 919-823-1815

This forty-seven-acre park features a tot lot, softball fields, basketball courts, and walking trails. But what makes it stand out is its eighteen-hole disc-golf course. The course is moderately hilly and has a mix of open and wooded holes. A few of the holes feature water hazards.

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