CITY GUIDE: Raleigh. N.C.

When I moved to downtown Raleigh in 2005, people quietly warned me to buy a firearm.

Then, abandoned storefronts lined prime street corners, drug deals went down in the open and not much existed in the way of restaurants, save for the sports bar where I worked and a handful of other options.

Life in downtown Raleigh couldn’t feel much different now and yet, it somehow still feels like the same city to me every time I make the jaunt back. The City of Oaks has managed to hold onto its charming architecture, it’s blue collar feel and its beautiful, tree-lined streets— the best of its assets remain, while its dangerous overlay has been greatly diminished.

Still small, the 10-some square blocks boast lush city parks, an impressively diverse array of eating and drinking opportunities and a vibrant, lived-in feel at every time of day. I’ve seen many small city downtowns remade in this era of revitalization, but few as authentically and gracefully as Raleigh. The only proof necessary is how eagerly its residents have embraced the changes.

Here’s where you should eat, drink and play:

A loveletter to Minneapolis

Dear Minneapolis,

When I came to you in 2010, I was just 24, an intern, and eager to charge into a new city for what I thought would be three months.

When the summer ended, and I was offered a full-time job to stay, I still believed I would only stick around for two years, max. I was on a tear, then.  I wanted to live everywhere and never slow down.

But you wrapped your tree-trunk arms around me, showing me a metropolitan area with so much green. A place where you could bike to sky-scrapers in 10 minutes and bike to a lake in five. A town with top-tier options for eating, drinking and the arts but a blue-collar vibe. A city with with quirky neighborhoods, charming street corners and much more diversity than meets the eye.

I made OK money and didn’t pay too much for rent. There wasn’t a place in the city I couldn’t get by bike.

I decided to stay for a while.

GALLERY: Ocracoke Island, N.C.

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CITY GUIDE: Ocracoke Island, N.C.

Ocracoke Village, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, is one of the most unique places in the country.

Despite being surrounded by other islands characterized by corporate chains, sprawling resorts and big-money tourism, Ocracoke has remained quiet and slow-paced, due to its physical distance from the mainland — it’s still accessible only by boat  — and its proud, centurys-long history of isolation. The beaches are nearly untouched. The fishing is exceptional. And 15 miles of undeveloped island surround the quaint, 4-square-mile village.

To get here, you’ll need to fly into a major airport (RDU and JAX are options), then drive several hours to either Swan Quarter, Cedar Island or Cape Hatteras to take an 45-minute to 3-hour ferry (depending on your starting point).

Here’s where you should eat, drink and play when you arrive:

stuff your life

How to stuff your life into four boxes

Step 1: Have some things, maybe a lot of things, and a place to live, maybe you even really like that place, and a vibrant, complex life stationed somewhere, maybe it’s kind of great.

Step 2: Remove 98 percent of step one.

Welcome to my insane life! I’m currently in the process of removing 98 percent of it and stuffing the rest into four oversized plastic bins.