By Laurie Paolicelli
The best way to see our community is on your feet, because all three towns – Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough – are eminently walkable. You’ll have to take a car to make it out to Hillsborough and environs, but once there the town will open to you like a flower. Walking means you can go in a dozen different directions on a whim, but here are a few top spots to keep an eye out for.
The iconic Main Street where Tar Heels live, work, and play. With over 95 cafes, restaurants, and bars, of which more than 75% are locally & independently owned, downtown Chapel Hill is one of the best destinations for dining in the Triangle. Classic favorites include Sutton’s Drug Store, Carolina Coffee Shop, Mama Dip’s Country Kitchen, and Top of the Hill restaurant. Coffee shops are always in style. You’ll find nationally recognized Starbucks, next to the popular bookstore, Epilogue, and local shops frequented by students such as Purple Bowl, Perennial Café, and a Community Welcome Center, as well as a University of North Carolina Visitors Center that offers tours of campus.
Carolina Basketball Museum
The free museum in the Ernie Williamson Athletic Center near the Dean Smith Center features highlights from the careers of Michael Jordan, Luke Maye, Coaches Roy Williams, Hubert Davis, and, of course, Dean Smith.
Morehead Planetarium & Science Center
A new renovation, expanded exhibit space, a gallery that tells about Chapel Hill’s history with NASA, a full dome theater with shows, and much more.
Ackland Art Museum
Located in downtown Chapel Hill, the Ackland Art Museum is a changing gallery show that features a wide stylistic range of art, from contemporary American photography to Europe master paintings, and from video installation to early modern portraits.
Walking Tours through Chapel Hill
In-person walking tours are typically 60 – 90 minutes in length. Advance registration is required for walking tours, scheduled for Sunday afternoons at 3 pm. Chapel Hill Historical Society and/or https://www.preservationchapelhill.org/membership.
North Carolina Botanical Garden
You will have to hop in your car for this, but it’s nearby. A visit to the North Carolina Botanical Garden is like walking across the state and seeing coastal, piedmont, and mountain flora at the same time. Wander around nature trails, a display garden, and visit the Garden Shop, daily plant sale, and art gallery. Every autumn there’s an annual Sculpture in the Garden event.
As the local radio station boasts, Carrboro is a few degrees cooler than Chapel Hill and Chapel Hill is a very cool town so that says a lot. Maybe it’s because Carrboro is home to one of the most popular live music clubs in the south, Cat’s Cradle. It’s also home to The ArtsCenter which has ongoing exhibits, concerts, and live music. The centerpiece of Carrboro is Weaver Street, an organic grocery store where everyone hangs on the lawn. Down the street, on Wednesdays and Saturdays is Carrboro Farmers Market. Eateries and bars abound.
Hillsborough is north of Carrboro and Chapel Hill. Hillsborough combines colonial charm with a historic downtown, and a beautiful downtown hotel: The Colonial Inn. There are so many galleries, specialty stores, and cultural events that the town dedicates the last Friday of the month to an Artwalk.
Northern Hillsborough’s Beautiful Country Life
North of Hillsborough, you’ll find Cedar Grove and Botanist and Barrel. Botanist and Barrel is a true gem for both cider and people. Ciders are brewed using heritage and/or unsprayed apples. Creativity is in the bones of B&B, from the owners/brewers (also chefs) to the new little local food offerings, to food trucks to entertainment. Along the way, stop at Farm and Garden country store for snacks, drinks, local baked goods, and water cooler news from the neighbors.
Country Ice Cream
Maple View Ice Creamery is worth the drive. The spot is located at 6900 Rocky Ridge Road, about 20 minutes from downtown Carrboro and is set in a bucolic farm setting with a large front porch filled with rocking chairs. One of the most popular flavors is Carolina Crunch: a vanilla base with caramel, Butterfinger, Heath Bar, and caramel bits.
Trees and Paths
Orange County is a paradise for trees, paths and astounding natural beauty. The Welcome Center at 308 W. Franklin Street will have guides to walking and bike paths.
Don’t Miss These Favorite Coffee, Drink and Dessert Shops
- Whitt’s Frozen Custard in Hillsborough
- Matthew’s Chocolates in Hillsborough
- Kim’s Bake Shop in Hillsborough
- YoPo Frozen Yogurt on Franklin Street, Chapel Hill
- Ben & Jerry’s on Franklin Street, Chapel Hill
- Cold Stone Creamery on Franklin Street, Chapel Hill
- Sutton’s Drug Store’s collection of sodas, old and new on Franklin Street, Chapel Hill
- Tropical Smoothie Café on Franklin Street, Chapel Hill
- Gray Squirrel Coffee Shop in Carrboro
- Weaver Street Coffee and Bake Shop in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough
We could go on, and we will. Watch this space!
And visit www.visitchapelhill.org for a complete list and suggested itineraries.
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.