LGBTQ Travel

Your community is part of ours.

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.”

Rainbow Quote

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. 

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.

In early 2021, all local governing boards in our Orange County communities voted to pass an ordinance broadly protecting members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination. North Carolina municipalities regained the freedom to pass such measures on Dec. 1, 2020, following the expiration of HB142, also known as “the bathroom bill.”  A key champion of the local legislation was Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle. "Our community has a long-standing reputation as the most welcoming place in the state for the LGBT community," says Lydia Lavelle, the state's first openly lesbian mayor.

Mayor Lavelle Banner, The Daily Tarheel

Here's a sampling of some of the things
you can see and do in Orange County,


Food & Drink

Named as one of America’s foodiest small towns Bon Appetit, make sure you visit some of our award-winning restaurants and find spirits and bitters produced by the South’s only organic distillery.

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., Talullas, Vimala’s, Imbibe and Sage. Check out our local producers, too. Stop by the famed Maple View Farm Country store for Fresh Local Ice Cream, Sorbets & Dairy Products 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 five breweries (Carolina Brewery, Top of the Hill, Craftboro, Steel String and Vecino) 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 North Carolina AIDS Action Network’s Executive Director and former Chapel Hill Town Council Member Lee Storrow. Dozens of colorful murals and mosaics dot our communities as many of our buildings’ blank outside walls are rapidly becoming beautiful canvases. 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, photographer and author Jackie Helvey of Carrboro.

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 current events, visit our Calendar. Other diversions include the Carolina Basketball Museum and the new-look Morehead Planetarium & Science, which are especially fun for families. Looking for a more active pursuit? Hike Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area, Brumley Forest Nature Preserve or the trails at the North Carolina Botanical Garden plus their display gardens. Stroll UNC’s Coker Arborteum or Hillsborough’s Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail or beautiful Riverwalk. Bait your hook at University Lake or Cane Creek Reservoir, or pedal to your heart’s content around town or farther afield.






Things to Do: Recreation

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, who is a former 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.”

Cover Image for NATJA video
Click image above to view a video produced from the North American Travel Journalists Association Conference & Marketplace held in Orange County in May 2017.