12 Ways to Enjoy Chapel Hill and Orange County
Know before you go: be sure to mask up on your visit and respect each location’s COVID-19 guidelines. Hours and availability may vary, so be sure to check online and make reservations in advance!
Experience Iconic Places
There are many unique to this area, but we’ll just mention a few to get you started. Sutton's Drug Store established 1923 serving up shakes, burgers & more. The Carolina Coffee Shop – longest running restaurant in North Carolina. The Cat’s Cradle celebrating over 50 years of top name and upcoming bands. Carolina Brewery, the oldest brewery in the Triangle. Julian’s, established in 1942, brings Ivy League style to Chapel Hill. Open Eye Café, brings international coffees to Carrboro and the Chapel Hill Post Card mural is probably the most instagrammable spot next to UNC's iconic Old Well on campus
Whether your interests lie in historical facts and places, African-American history, or botanicals, you are sure to find a tour that ‘speaks’ to your passion. If historical facts is your thing, join the ‘Free Walking Tour of Chapel Hill’ guide that covers UNC campus and Franklin Street history. For garden lovers, the North Carolina Botanical Garden offers general private guided tours for a minimal fee. For self-guided tours, you might consider “Histories of Home: A Walk with Northside Neighbors”, Historic Hillsborough Walking Tours which include historic buildings, cemeteries & gardens, and African American history, or a historic downtown walking tour of Carrboro. (Image courtesy Free Walking Tours)
The weekends come alive in Orange County. Eat, sip, & stroll from East to West on Franklin Street Saturday nights with musicians set up at favorite dining and shopping spots. Sundays at Sundown features live music on the Green at Southern Village. And on the last Friday of the month, Hillsborough hosts buskers that roam Churton Street, plus still walkers, poetry readings and an artwalk. (Image courtesy Southern Village)
University of North Carolina
Walk the campus of the oldest public university in the country and look for historic landmarks like the Davie Poplar and the Old Well (Self-guided tours available). For a teaser, check out UNC Visitors Center 'Sense of Place' Zoom Tour. Or catch a star show at the newly renovated, largest planetarium in the southeastern United States at the Morehead Planetarium & Science Center
Chapel Hill and Carrboro are very proud of their building murals. They define us as a community. There are over 30 murals in all, mostly in the downtown areas. Some have faded, some refreshed, some painted over. Local artist Michael Brown created the first mural, titled The Blue Mural in 1989. The most recent murals (2020) can be found in Carrboro: Elizabeth Cotten, Black Lives Matter and We are Community. There are a couple of outliers too, Children’s Faces can be viewed from Hwy 54 heading west, a tribute to legendary coach Dean Smith can be seen at the intersection of Smith Level Rd. and Hwy 15-501 S, and in Hillsborough, a tribute to Billy Strayhorn.
Did you know there are miles and miles of biking trails in Carrboro and Chapel Hill? Both Carrboro and Chapel Hill are designated Silver-Level Bicycle Friendly Communities by The League of American Bicyclists and UNC is recognized nationally as Silver-Level Bicycle Friendly University.
While Carrboro and Chapel Hill along with the University of North Carolina have a long standing history, Hillsborough’s downtown historic district in itself is listed on the National Register for Historic Places and features more than 100 homes, churches, school and other structures from the late 18th and 19th centuries. Among those buildings, open to the public is the Alexander Dickson House, which houses the Hillsborough Visitor Center. There you can join a group tour or venture out on your own to other notable buildings such as the Burwell School, the Old Courthouse and the Old Town Cemetery. Learn more of Orange County's history at the Orange County Historical Museum.
When visiting a new town it’s always fun to seek out unique shops. Carr Mill Mall in Carrboro is home to more than 10 local and family owned shops ranging from beads & jewelry, boutiques and natural skin care to fine-fabrics, children’s toys and a card shop. For the selective antique buyer, check out Whitehall Antiques in Chapel Hill. And you’ll find the cutest boutique shops on Churton Street in Historic downtown Hillsborough.
Craft Beers & Cider Trail
Just within a two-mile stretch between Chapel Hill and Carrboro lie six distinct craft breweries. Begin your tasting tour at Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery, make your way down Franklin Street to Carolina Brewery, and then head into Carrboro to the neighborhood brewery, Vecino Brewing Co. Try a funky free-spirited brew at Steel String, a Mukimono Belgian Wit at Craftboro Brewing Depot and end at our newest brewpub, Dingo Dog. For a slight detour north of Hillsborough, visit the tasting room at Botanist and Barrel for dry fruit wines, ciders & sours every Sunday afternoon. Be sure to check out our numerous bottle shops and taprooms too.
Art Galleries & Museums
For an eclectic experience, the permanent collection of the Ackland Art Museum consists of more than 18,000 works of art, featuring North Carolina’s premier collections of Asian art and works of paper as well as significant collections of European masterworks. For modern and contemporary fine art galleries, check out the Hillsborough Gallery of Arts in downtown Hillsborough. You’ll not find better artisanship than at FRANK in Chapel Hill, the North Carolina Crafts Gallery and Womancraft Gifts in Carrboro, and Hillsborough Arts Council Gallery in Hillsborough
Local Food Scene
Hailed as "America's Foodiest Small Town" by Bon Appetit magazine, Chapel Hill is a hot spot for local farm to table cuisine. From all-natural beef burgers at Al’s Burger Shack, BLT’s from Merritt’s, Shrimp and Grits at Crook’s, contemporary Italian faves with local ingredients at Il Palio, you’ll find a dish to your liking. Check out Eno River Farm and Maple View Farm Ice Cream Country Store to continue the flavor tour. Visit four county farmers’ markets to see where many local chefs shop. Stop by the Blue Dogwood Public Market for Persian food, BBQ and vegan favorites under one roof. Don’t forget the Honeysuckle Tea House for locally grown specialty tea drinks in an open-air environment.
With our average winter climate in the 50’s and summer in the 90’s, we can enjoy the outdoors most all year round. Here are some of our favorite spots. Located on the University of North Carolina campus, the Coker Arboretum is 5 acres of flowering trees and shrubs, grassy areas and benches to relax. Just off campus is the North Carolina Botanical Garden, 1100 acres of garden and conservation areas plus a nearby trail system. Hillsborough has RiverWalk that edges the Eno River and is part of the Mountains to the Sea Trail. Both Carrboro and Chapel Hill have an extensive park system, trails and greenways for walking and biking.