What We Love About the Chapel Hill Area Carolina blue adorns almost every corner of Chapel Hill — even fire trucks sport the sky-blue shade so synonymous with
What We Love About the Chapel Hill Area
Carolina blue adorns almost every corner of Chapel Hill — even fire trucks sport the sky-blue shade so synonymous with the city’s storied university. Soon, you’ll understand the appeal: Wander through the University of North Carolina’s campus and stroll down the famed Franklin Street, and you’ll feel the same energy that makes many alumni and visitors fall in love with this quintessential college town. But while evidence of passionate students and title-winning teams is undeniable, there’s more to Chapel Hill than its celebrated educational opportunities and athletics. Together with its neighbors, Carrboro and Hillsborough, this area boasts a rich history, cultural opportunities, and eclectic dining options. Carrboro is known as Chapel Hill’s free-spirited sidekick, with a live music scene featuring up-and-comers alongside famous headliners. And historic Hillsborough offers a chance to relax along the riverwalk that follows the Eno River. Let curiosity guide you as you explore shops, take in history, marvel at nature, and share unforgettable meals.
Where to Explore
Stroll Franklin Street: No visit to Chapel Hill would be complete without a walk down the city’s tree-lined main thoroughfare. This street is the city’s heartbeat — especially during football and basketball seasons (surely you’ve seen students rushing down it after beating Duke). Start your day with coffee at Perennial Cafe or Carolina Coffee Shop. Stop into Shrunken Head, a staple since 1969, for UNC apparel and gifts. And for men and women’s apparel, wander down to Julian’s, a downtown fixture known for its distinctively preppy argyle pattern.
Explore campus: The country’s first public university, UNC is integral to Chapel Hill’s history. Walk along the paths taken by many famous Tar Heels and admire the university’s first building, Old East. Then head to the Old Well, where legend has it a sip from the water fountain on the first day of classes brings good grades for the semester. As you stroll through the beautiful, leafy campus, stop by The Pit; this courtyard is the epicenter of student life. Cheer on the Heels at Kenan Stadium, or snap a picture with the world’s largest ram sculpture outside of the Kenan Football Center.
Other campus landmarks include:
North Carolina Botanical Gardens: With nearly 700 acres to explore at these gardens, you can walk across North Carolina and experience flora found throughout the state. Explore the Piedmont, Sandhills, and Coastal Plain habitats, the Water Gardens, and the Children Garden, and take in a breathtaking array of colors and blooms.
Morehead Planetarium and Science Center: At this science center on UNC’s campus, look for constellations in a sky full of sparkling stars — no matter how cloudy it is outside — during a planetarium show in the GSK Fulldome Theater, visit interactive exhibits, and let curiosity lead you to one of the Science LIVE! Shows.
Ackland Art Museum: Since 1958, the Ackland Art Museum, also on UNC’s campus, has featured art exhibits from around the world and brought attention to both art from the past and notable living artists. With more than 20,000 works of art in the permanent collection and visiting collections throughout the year, you’ll find some of the state’s most important cultural resources.
Carolina Basketball Museum: Carolina basketball is legendary, and fans will feel right at home at this 8,000-square-foot basketball museum, where interactive displays mark achievements and display cases feature upwards of 500 artifacts, including some of Michael Jordan’s jerseys. Plus, feel the passion during a seven-minute video sharing the program’s remarkable history, including tributes to Coach Dean Smith and other notable Tar Heels.
Where to Eat
Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Hillsborough have a one-of-a-kind restaurant scene where you can experience an eclectic mix of foods and experiences.
Hawthorne & Wood: Chef Brandon Sharp has created a foodie’s dream at this laidback fine-dining restaurant in Chapel Hill. Delectable menu items include cantaloupe and watermelon salad, seared New Bedford scallops, and sautéed Morehead City flounder. Complement your entrée with a handcrafted cocktail or a glass from their impressive wine list.
Nomad: A fusion of flavors awaits you in Hillsborough, where cooking styles from all over the world bring tasty bites like gyoza dumplings, sweet potato chaat, green Thai curry, and lamb curry. To end your meal, try the gulab juman, delicately fried dough soaked in rose cardamom syrup.
Market and Moss: Offering seasonal, contemporary American cuisine with ingredients from local farmers, purveyors, and fishers, this Chapel Hill hotspot is the place to share small plates with friends. The mushroom flatbread, peach and burrata, and grilled octopus are favorites.
Tandem: Expect a relaxed atmosphere and welcoming patio at this downtown Carrboro restaurant. As the name suggests, Tandem blends a food and beverage experience with ingredients sourced from local farms. What results is an unforgettable meal (for example, their 72-hour Angus beef short ribs paired with a specialty cocktail, North Carolina craft brew, or glass of wine). If you’re visiting on a Sunday, stop for brunch, and order the fried chicken benedict with a decadent hollandaise sauce.
Bombolo: Just a few minutes from downtown Chapel Hill, this vibrant dining spot blends Old World and New World, and every dish presents a tasty adventure. Be prepared for a menu that often has a few surprise offerings based on the freshest ingredients available.
Don’t miss these other iconic Chapel Hill spots:
Where to Sip
Dead Mule Club: Chapel Hill’s neighborhood pub for 25 years serves cold drinks and Big Sam’s BBQ with a hefty helping of live music. With an expansive deck overlooking Franklin Street, stop here to recharge and people-watch.
Hot Tin Roof: A Hillsborough gem, this live music spot offers a laidback atmosphere, North Carolina craft beers, and a vast bourbon selection. On a sunny afternoon, you can enjoy the music and play yard games while your four-legged friend frolics in the outside dog yard.
Lapin Bleu: Located in the Midway area of Chapel Hill, this bar-meets-art gallery often hosts live jazz and is the place in town to watch a Hurricane’s hockey game. Owner Mike Benson has created a cozy atmosphere with a beautiful wooden bar and ample outdoor space.
He’s Not Here: Since 1972, this legendary bar — the “home of the blue cup” — has been a Franklin Street staple for beer specials all week long and live music on weekends.
The Crunkleton: When UNC alums come to town, they flock to this Chapel Hill cocktail institution on Franklin Street. Bartenders serve favorites like the Manhattan and Sazerac and unique creations like the Elderflower Sour. You’ll marvel at their substantial library-style liquor wall.
Where to Stay
The Carolina Inn: If you’re looking for a historic stay, this iconic hotel on the edge of UNC’s campus is known as the university’s living room. Opened in 1924, The Carolina Inn has hosted UNC families for nearly 100 years. The 185 guest rooms and suites are surrounded by breathtaking interior architecture and impeccable design. As part of its centennial birthday celebrations, Carolina Brewery crafted The Carolina Inn their own lager, named 1924. Enjoy the German-style beer on the inn’s famous front porch.
The Graduate: This Franklin Street hotel is full of campus spirit. Each guest room includes touches of Carolina Blue and honors notable Tar Heels and UNC campus destinations. At the front desk, ask about complimentary bikes available for wheeling around town. The Trophy Room is The Graduate’s restaurant, serving morning coffee, dinner, and cocktails.
The Colonial Inn: This historic Hillsborough hotel has been a downtown staple for two centuries. Today, its 28 unique, renovated guest rooms provide guests with a personalized hospitality experience to ensure a perfect night’s sleep. Be sure to stop into Spencer’s Tavern downstairs for regional favorites and a wide selection of drinks.
Explore More in Chapel Hill
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You don’t have to be a Tar Heel fan to fall in love with this charming college town — take our crash course on what to do and where to go on a trip to the Hill.
This story was published on Oct 10, 2023