Column: The Colors of Pride by The Daily Tar Heel
If you're looking for an escape from the everyday routine, bring your partner or spouse and head to the edge of the Triangle. It's the perfect place to relax, unwind, and be yourself, with plenty of cafes, bars, boutiques, festivals, and outdoor activities. If you favor destinations with lots of terrific food, a rich arts and music scene, or a variety of recreational opportunities, Orange County, N.C., deserves your consideration. Nestled in the rolling hills of the Carolina piedmont, this progressive community appeals to every vacationer’s taste—and is one of the most welcoming sections of the state.
“We’ve had many friends from out of state joke that we live in ‘Appalachia’,” notes Hillsborough resident Steven Petrow, Washington Post columnist and author. “Of course, once they visit, they realize they’re 100-percent wrong—and that Orange County is home to James Beard Award-winning restaurants; UNC, the oldest public university in the U.S.; and a host of this country’s best writers—Allan Gurganus, Lee Smith, Daniel Wallace and so many more. Oh, and it’s a county where gays and lesbians are right at home with everyone else. That’s true equality.”
A Welcoming Place
“Our community has a long-standing reputation as the most welcoming place in the state for the LGBTQ community,”
Follow Lesbian travel writer Arielle Scarcella as she visits UNC - Chapel Hill and Carrboro in this video.
(From 1995 to 2004, Carrboro was led by Mike Nelson, the first openly gay candidate elected mayor in North Carolina. “I always feel welcome anywhere I go in Carrboro or Chapel Hill—and this was the case before I became mayor!—and able to talk openly about my family and my life. This is not the case in many communities, and we recognize that we are so fortunate to feel so welcome and a part of the community here. Carrboro's current mayor Lydia Lavelle is the state's first openly lesbian mayor.
In fact, Orange County is currently home to half of the state's gay and lesbian elected officials, a trend that started in 1987, when Chapel Hill Town Council Member Joe Herzenberg became North Carolina's first openly gay elected official. Further proof of the community’s values: “Carrboro has the oldest domestic partner registry in North Carolina and recently declared October 10 Marriage Equality Day in celebration of the October 10, 2014 court decisions that brought marriage equality to North Carolina,” explains Damon Seils, a Carrboro alderman. Chapel Hill also has a registry.
Here’s a sampling of some of the things you can see and do in Orange County, N.C.:
Food & Drink:
“Named as one of the foodiest towns in the U.S. by Bon Appetit, make sure you visit some of our award-winning restaurants and the South’s only organic distillery,” notes Kristen Smith, vice president for advocacy and engagement at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce.
Favorite eateries include the James Beard-winning Lantern and Crook’s Corner, and nominee Panciuto; plus the acclaimed Neal’s Deli, ACME Food & Beverage Co., Allen & Sons, Talullas, Vimala’s and Sage. Check out our local producers, too. Stop by the famed Maple View Dairy—which includes a store and agricultural education center—or one of the local Farmers Markets in Carrboro (the oldest and largest), Chapel Hill and Hillsborough. Fuel up at a friendly coffee house, like Caffé Driade or The Open Eye, which is also home to Carrboro Coffee Roasters. Prefer a more potent potable? TOPO Organic Spirits distills local ingredients into gin, vodka and moonshine whiskey; and three breweries (Mystery Brew Co, Steel String, and Carolina Brewery) create tasty craft brews for every season and palate. Popular bars include The Baxter Bar/Arcade, The Crunkleton and Tru Deli +Wine Bar.
Entertainment & The Arts
Orange County has a vibrant arts and entertainment scene spanning the fine and cultural arts to crafts, music and comedy. “When the Bolshoi came to America, they came to New York and Chapel Hill,” says Chapel Hill Town Council Member Lee Storrow. “And just this year Taylor Mac brought his show, 1910s – A 24 Decade History of Popular Music here. That says a lot about the general state of the arts in our community.”
There’s live music every night at our many clubs, including the famous Cat’s Cradle. Take in a performance at The ArtsCenter, Playmakers Repertory Theatre or Memorial Hall. The PIT Chapel Hill brings comedy and improv to Franklin Street - catch a show, take a class or show off your comedic style at one of their open mic sessions. The towns feature lots of public art, and there are myriad galleries, like FRANK and the N.C. Crafts Gallery, which you can patronize individually or en masse on the Carrboro-Chapel Hill Second Fridays Art Walk or Hillsborough's Last Fridays. Visit the Ackland Museum or see artisans at work during the Orange County Open Studio Tour each November.
Orange County might host more festivals than any community in the nation. “All of these events give us the opportunity to highlight the wonderful community we live in, with all of our fabulous locally owned shops, galleries and restaurants, there’s no better place in the Triangle,” says local arts advocate and festival organizer Jackie Helvey.
Festivals celebrate local crafts, poetry, film, local food and more like the famous Carrboro Music Festival which takes over the final weekend of September. For a full list of festivals, visit Annual Events. Other diversions include the North Carolina Basketball Museum and the Morehead Planetarium, which are especially fun for families. Looking for a more active pursuit? Hike Occoneechee Mountain Preserve or the trails at the N.C. Botanical Garden (including a huge collection of carnivorous plants!). Stroll Montrose Gardens, the UNC Arborteum, Occoneechee Speedway Trail or Hillsborough Riverwalk. Bait your hook at University Lake or Cane Creek Reservoir, or pedal to your heart’s content around town or farther afield.
Visit the New South
Whether you’re ambling along our scenic downtown streets or rambling through the wooded hills, you’ll find yourself in a unique Southern community. “It epitomizes ‘The New South’,” says Jen Jones, director of communications for EqualityNC. “It’s a place of the future that welcomes diversity, embraces inclusivity, and is a gateway for native Tar Heels, wayward travelers and new transplants alike. Chapel Hill-Carrboro remains one of the most LGBTQ-friendly areas in North Carolina and across the South.”
Petrow agrees. “I travel all over the country and gays and lesbians are ‘tolerated’ more and more just about everywhere, which is great. But here we’re accepted,” he says. “I’ve looked for a place like this to call home my entire life and now I don’t plan to leave until my toes point up at the stars.”