Chapel Hill, NC

Chapel Hill wins newcomers’ hearts with its small town vibes

Home to the oldest public university in the country, Chapel Hill is a bustling hub of activity around the University of North Carolina with fun restaurants, tours, historical landmarks, sports arenas, and an active music scene that has produced legends like James Taylor and Ben Folds Five. Bon Appetit Magazine called it “America’s Foodiest Small Town” for its eclectic, creative mix of restaurants and dishes that you can’t find anywhere else.

Chapel Hill foodie delights

Sutton’s Drug Store

Check out Chapel Hill’s iconic Sutton’s Drug Store, open in 1923. Nostalgic food makes this a tradition. The pharmacy is no longer open, but you can still enjoy the food and old pictures on the wall.

 

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Carolina Coffee Shop

Carolina Coffee Shop is the oldest restaurant still running in North Carolina, operating continually since 1922. The menu is fun, with modern twists on southern classics, brunch on the weekends, and cocktails.

Maple View Ice Cream & Country Store

Want the true Southern experience? Visit Maple View Ice Cream & Country Store and enjoy the wrap-around porch overlooking Maple View Farm as you rock in the rocking chairs and try their ice cream. Seasonal flavors as well as old classics are award-winning and make this spot a must-see.

Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery

If you’re a basketball fan, stop by Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery during a UNC vs Duke or championship game and enjoy the energy and hype of this old rivalry. People sometimes camp out the night before to get a seat at the outdoor patio to watch everyone flood the intersection of Franklin and Columbia after the Tar Heels win. The brewery has developed over 80 crafts brews since 1996 and is the eighth oldest brewery in the whole state!

Open Eye Cafe

If you want to find a good cup of coffee, go to Open Eye Cafe, where they source their beans from local farms and are roasted in small batches. Lovingly called “Carrboro’s Living Room” since 2004, it’s a good respite in between sight-seeing. The cafe’s little sister, Caffe Driade, is reminiscent of a Northern Italian shop and accessible from the Greenway.

 

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Merritt’s Grill

Don’t leave before stopping by Merritt’s Grill for their award-winning BLT with pimento cheese! Their outdoor seating area is inviting and perfect to enjoy all their menu has to offer.

History and iconic photo spots

Take a photo by the Old Well on the UNC Campus at the south end of McCorkle Place. Modeled after the Garden of Versailles’ Temple of Love, it was completed in 1897 and is rumored to give good luck to those who drink from the drinking fountain. The old well wasn’t just beautiful–for many years it actually was the university’s sole water supply.

Step back in time at the Alexander Dickson House, where Generals Wade Hampton and Joseph E Johnston were headquartered during negotiations with Union General William T. Sherman and ultimately surrendered almost 90,000 troops. The surrender at the Bennett Farm nearby was the largest of the American Civil War and ended the war in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. The home was built in 1790. There are over 100 other historical structures and homes in Hillsborough, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Check out the Old Town Cemetery, the Old Orange County Courthouse, or book a tour to see all the sights.

Chapel Hill walking tours

There are several free walking tours offered in Chapel Hill that can give an insight into the area and are offered by locals. One particular tour, the Priceless Gems Tour, highlights legends, history, and landmarks and are led by scholars in North Carolina
history.

The Black and Blue Tour gives an African American history of UNC, specifically in the 19th and 20th centuries.

For children K-5th grade, try the Tar Heel Scavenger Hunt that guides students to campus landmarks in a fun way.

The North Carolina Botanical Garden

The North Carolina Botanical Garden also has free tours on the second Saturdays each month. North Carolina is home to many plant species unique to this state and dedicates more than 1100 acres for conservation to safeguard these rare and endangered plants. This beautiful, unique, and stunning landscape is sure to impress all nature lovers!

Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tour

For $61-$75 per person, foodies will love the Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tour, taking you through the top restaurants in Carrboro, Hillsborough, and Chapel Hill.

The Morehead Planetarium

The Morehead Planetarium at UNC is the largest planetarium in the southeastern U.S. and has star shows that children and adults will love.

Quaint Shopping

Julian’s

Julian’s is a spot of interest both for history and fashion enthusiasts. Mary and Maurice Julian opened the store in 1942 and its still operated by their children and grandchildren. Their son, Alex Julian, was the first American clothing designer to design his own fabrics and his design is in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian. He designed the Charlotte Hornets’ uniforms, new colors for Paul Newman’s racing cars and uniforms, and the UNC Tar Heels uniforms for basketball.

The Carrboro Farmers Market

The Carrboro Farmers Market offers produce and goods from 75 local vendors! Located under the Town Commons pavilions, it is open year-round on Saturdays and Wednesdays during certain seasons.

Carr Mill Mall

Carr Mill Mall, formerly a cotton mill built in 1898, is on the National Register of Historic Places and has over 25 shops owned by locals. Shop, dine and even have your hair done at a boutique hair salon.

 

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Whitehall Antiques

For antiques, check out Whitehall Antiques. Since 1930, Whitehall Antiques has been the go-to for antique collectors, dealers, and designers. Charming boutique shops are in Hillsborough on Churton Street.

Music

Cat’s Cradle

Cat’s Cradle has seen great musicians for 50 years, with famous names like Nirvana, John Mayer, Public Enemy, Joan Baez and Iggy Pop. Less than a mile from the UNC campus, this 750-seat concert venue is worth the visit!

 

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Many great artists got their start in Chapel Hill, from Ben Folds Five to James Taylor. The ArtsCenter, The Cave, The Station, Local 506, and Nightlight are venues that continue to have both new talent and nationally recognized names on their stages.

Volume Records & Beer is a fun spot reminiscent of vintage record shops with albums to browse through and beer so you can sip while you shop and enjoy a night out with friends.

Art

The 1941 Curt Teich postcard mural is another frequently photographed location in Chapel Hill. Completed in 2013 by artist Scott Nurkin, it is on the backside of the bar He’s Not Here, a famous UNC hangout and home to the Blue Cup. With live music on the weekends and nightly beer specials, this is the place to be! Check out the other 150 murals around the city by using the Chapel Hill Downtown Walking Map.

 

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The Ackland Art Museum’s permanent collection has over 18,000 works of art, including North Carolina’s significant Asian art and European masterworks collections.

Other galleries to check out are the Bakova Gallery, the Hillsborough Gallery of Arts, FRANK, as well as the North Carolina Crafts Gallery and Womancraft Gifts and Gallery.

Sports

The Carolina Basketball Museum is perfect for any sports fan and reviews the history of UNC basketball.

NASCAR fans will want to see the Occoneechee Speedway, one of NASCAR’s first two tracks to open and is the only dirt track left from the first 1949 season. Legends like Fireball Roberts, Ned Jarrett, Richard Petty, and Junior Johnson drove on the speedway. The Speedway inspired the speedway in Pixar Cars 3 so your children may recognize the iconic spot. Now a trail surrounded by trees, you can walk or ride your bike and speed along like the cars would have back in the day!

 

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Outdoors

North Carolina has some of the best weather in the country. With winter temperatures averaging in the 50’s and the summer in the 90’s, you can enjoy Chapel Hill’s outdoor spaces for many months of the year. The Coker Arboretum on the UNC campus has 5 acres of grassy areas, flowering trees and shrubs, with benches to take in the scenery.

Hillsborough has its very own RiverWalk along the Eno River that is included in the Mountains to the Sea Trail, along with various greenways in the area that make for great biking and walking areas.

It’s hard to choose what to feature out of all the options that Chapel Hill has to offer because there are so many! It is a thriving art, music, and food scene, with a beautiful backdrop of historical architecture and the college campus of UNC to also give it that fun and trendy flair.

 

Sources

Orange County, North Carolina. “Must-Sees |Chapel Hill and Orange County NC.” Chapel Hill Hillsborough and Carrboro Accessed 26 Mar. 2021.

Taste Carolina. “Chapel Hill / Carrboro.” Taste Carolina, Accessed 19 Oct. 2020.

 

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