35 Reasons to Love Orange County, North Carolina


By Laurie Paolicelli
There is so much to do in the Chapel Hill/Orange County Area. Where will you start?


James Taylor calls Chapel Hill home and the new Welcome Center at 308 W. Franklin Street features a live video welcome from Taylor with selfie-opportunities.


The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the oldest public university in the U.S. (doors opened in 1795).


Relive the early days of Michael Jordan at the Carolina Basketball Museum, along with Tar Heel national titles, game-winning shots, and an ode to Dean Smith.


North Carolina Botanical Garden is known for its nature trails, carnivorous plant collections, aquatics, herb gardens, and revolving exhibits of artwork.


Newly renovated Morehead Planetarium & Science Center was the first planetarium in the South and one of the largest in the U.S.


Dubbed the “University’s living room,” The Carolina Inn is an historic yet modern first class hotel that offers visitors a cozy restaurant for refreshments and scenic views.


A walk through the Ackland Art Museum on South Columbia Street in Chapel Hill can be an introduction to Peter Paul Rubens, Eugene Delacroix, and Andy Warhol. Free.


Coker Arboretum offers serene walking paths taking you past wildflowers and trees in this 5-acre gem on the UNC campus. Open to public year-round.


Kidzu Children’s Museum located at University Place (former University Mall).


Sports Illustrated has called Chapel Hill “The best college town in America,” and Franklin Street—named after Benjamin Franklin—is a big reason. (Franklin was a proponent of practical education for youth). Some favorites on East Franklin include Sutton’s, Carolina Coffee Shop, Julian’s Store, Top of the Hill, Epilogue Books.


For a look at public Mural art: Greetings from Chapel Hill post card, Elizabeth Cotten, and Honeybee mural in Carrboro. https://www.visitchapelhill.org/blog/post/17-must-see-murals-in-orange-county/


Antiques. Whitehall at the Villa in Chapel Hill and Leland Little Auctions in Hillsborough.


Merritt’s Store & Grill is touted as the “Home of the World-Famous BLTs” and chicken fried humor.


Grocery stores. Visitors love to shop at places they do not have back home. While visiting check-out Wegman’s, Trader Joes, Fresh Market, and our local organic favorite, Weaver Street Market with three locations in our county.


Have a “good sit” and read the daily newspaper. Two first class Libraries are open, one in Chapel Hill and the other in downtown Hillsborough.


Microbreweries. Carolina Brewery, Dingo Dog, Craftboro Brewing Depot, Steel String Craft Brewery, and Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery to name a few.


Live Music is everywhere. Legendary venues like Carrboro’s Cat’s Cradle, Chapel Hill’s Local 506, and Yonder Bar in Hillsborough, and many outdoor venues. The ArtsCenter Carrboro features live music, galleries, lectures, special events.


Southern Village is an urban neighborhood located a few miles south of the UNC campus in Chapel Hill. Park, eat, stroll and listen to music. The village green hosts outdoor movies and concerts in the warm season. Free parking is available.


About 1 mile from downtown Chapel Hill is a small strip mall, Midtown Market, with a popular shopping spot named SallyMack, which is next to Flyleaf Books, a great bookstore, which is next to Root Cellar, a great lunch spot. Also try fine dining at Kitchen restaurant, and Lucha Tigre, a spicy delicious food and drink spot.


West Franklin Street, bordering Carrboro. This part of Franklin Street is filled with restaurants, food trucks, outdoor bars, Rumors Thrift Store. From Al’s Burgers to Franklin Street Motors (outdoor pub), an Arcade and one of the most infamous Italian restaurants in Chapel Hill (Italian Pizzeria 3).


Carrboro is home to dozens of boutique shops. East Main Street includes, “This and That” Gallery, My Muses Gift Shop, Gray Squirrel Coffee Co, Bike shops, KAVA and more.


Carrboro’s Weaver Street Market is the largest community-owned co-op grocery store in the Southeast, offering local, organic, natural, and an open area to sit and relax.


Carr Mill Mall. Much of the original architecture remains and several restaurants and upscale boutique shops include clothing, jewelry, coffee, and pizza.


Stunning greenery and agriculture surrounds Chapel Hill. Winding roads, country beauty, and berry and dairy farms. Additionally, there are three farmers’ markets with seasonal events. Download the NC Farm App for details.


Maple View Farm produces yummy ice cream and offers scenic views. Seasonal flavors include candied bacon, banana pudding, and eggnog. Worth the drive.


Eno Arts Mill in Hillsborough is a 7,000 square foot space offering all things art. Music, studios, gallery shows, classes.


Downtown Hillsborough. The Old Orange County Courthouse in Hillsborough, with its town clock in the cupola, has been cited by the Library of Congress as one of the finest examples of Greek-Revival architecture in the U.S.


Among the late 18th and early 19th century structures still standing today in Hillsborough, you will also find a wine store, art galleries, a yarn shop, vintage jewelry stores, and much more on Churton Street in downtown Hillsborough.


Hillsborough’s Ayr Mount Historic Site, built around 1815, is one of North Carolina’s finest Federal-era plantation homes. Tour the home and meander through woodlands and pastures on the one-mile walking trail surrounding the historic site along the banks of the Eno River.


The Alexander Dickson House (now the Visitors Center) was the last headquarters of the commander of the largest armies to surrender to Union forces, larger than Lee’s army at Appomattox.


The Burwell School Historic Site is a gem of historic Hillsborough, NC, located at the northern edge of the town’s famed Historic District. Restored and open to the public, the early 19th-century house and outbuildings bring history alive for visitors of all ages!


Just two blocks down, find over 2,000 artifacts at the Orange County Historical Museum, including what is believed to be the only complete set of colonial weights and measures within the U.S.


Historic Moorefields home and site was built in 1785 as a summer home by Alfred Moore, a military and educational leader and prominent jurist.  http://moorefields.org


Hillsborough’s Riverwalk offers 2 miles of greenway with loop trails, bridges, and boardwalk, accessible to trails, parks, and the Eno River.


Walk. Trails are everywhere. Trees, sidewalks, history, public art and (mostly) blue skies. Our communities enjoy a mild climate and all are welcome here.

Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.

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