In less than an hour by air or a six-hour drive north, you can escape the hustle and bustle of Atlanta to enjoy two towns with great food, a booming arts scene and the most storied rivalry in college basketball history. Here are three ways to spend a weekend in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina.
For the foodie
Welcome the weekend with a cocktail on the rooftop of The Durham Hotel (315 E. Chapel St., Durham. 919-768-8830, thedurham.com). The expansive, wood paneled space offers 360-degree views of downtown Durham, and a menu of unique bar bites like a hickory smoked carrot dog topped with green tomato chow chow, heirloom pumpkin soup with mango and a raw oyster bar. Wash it down with the namesake The Durham cocktail, made with cognac, rum, 10-year Tawny port and bitters.
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Begin the day bright and early by perusing the Durham Farmers Market (501 Foster St., Durham. 919-667-3099, durhamfarmersmarket.com), where favorite local artisans like Big Spoon Roasters, Scratch Bakery and Fullsteam Brewery have stalls. After the market, drive less than 10 miles down Highway 15-501 to Franklin Street in Chapel Hill for the morning culinary walking tour of Chapel Hill and neighboring town Carrboro with Taste Carolina Food Tours (meets in front of Open Eye Cafe, 101 S. Greensboro St., Carrboro. 919-237-2254, tastecarolina.net/chapel-hill-carrboro). You'll hit four local restaurants (recent stops included Al's Burger Shack and Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe) with a few drink pairings, plus local beer and coffee tastings.
Stroll the boutiques on Franklin to burn calories before dinner at Lantern (423 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill. 919-969-8846, laternrestaurant.com), the celebrated Asian fusion restaurant from James Beard Award-winning Chef Andrea Reusing. Skip entrees in favor of small plates in the intimate back-room bar space. Recent menu items included crispy salt and pepper shrimp, local pasture-raised pork and chive dumplings and meaty deviled North Carolina blue crab cakes with hot Japanese mustard.
Sleep in before the Disco Brunch series at the Durham Hotel restaurant, where local DJs spin new and classic tunes over Southern-inspired brunch dishes like pecan french toast made with croissants from nearby bakery, Loaf, and North Carolina pecan marzipan. Don't miss the delicious but deadly Disco Punch and keep in mind you'll have to wait until noon to start sipping. If your hand and eye coordination is still intact after brunch, head to Durham Spirits Company (3222 Old Chapel Hill Road, Durham. 425-463-5430, durhamspiritscompany.com) for a Sunday Funday cooking class, where recent listings include a Spring Vegetarian class, Biscuits 101 and Sausage 101.
Where to Stay:
In July 2015, Durham welcomed The Durham Hotel (from $179, 315 E. Chapel St., Durham. 919-768-8830, thedurham.com), a mid-century modern boutique hotel that celebrates all things North Carolina. Foodies will love the goodie box in each room with treats curated by NC Made, a gourmet gift box company exclusively made with North Carolina foods. Expect snacks like salt and pepper potato chips from Asheville, beef jerky from Durham and cheese straws from Raleigh. Chef Andrea Reusing also runs the culinary program at both the hotel restaurant and rooftop bar.
A weekend for the arts lover
Spring temperatures bring the Live and Local music and art series (140 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill. 919-968-2784, 140westfranklinplaza.com) to 140 West Franklin Plaza every Friday from 6 to 9 pm, where artists and performers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill community and neighborhood arts groups showcase their skills and interact with the audience. Entertainers include the Sacrificial Poets spoken word group, the Carolina Dancing Divas, UNC Chaklaa Bollywood dance team and country and folk music artists.
Start Saturday with a laugh at a 10 a.m. drop-in improv class at the DSI Comedy Theater (462 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill. 919-338-8150, dsicomedytheater.com). The two-hour workshop is open to all and although some improv experience is recommended, it's not required. After class, stroll through the Ackland Art Museum (101 S. Columbia St., Chapel Hill. 919-966-5736, ackland.org) on the UNC Chapel Hill campus. Admission to the museum is free and it boasts a collection of more than 17,000 works of art ranging from North Carolina pottery to Japanese sculptures and modern art.
Head back to Durham to end the day with a performance at the Durham Performing Arts Center (123 Vivian St., Durham. 919-680-2787, dpacnc.com), one of the premier live entertainment venues in North Carolina, and ranked number four of the five highest attended theaters in the country. There's truly something for everyone including Broadway productions, high-profile concerts, comedy shows and dance performances. Upcoming Saturday night shows include "Riverdance," "Kinky Boots" and the Tony Award-winning musical "An American in Paris."
Spend Sunday morning strolling the Sarah P. Duke Gardens (420 Anderson St., Durham. 919-684-3698, gardens.duke.edu) on the Duke University campus. The sight of more than 900 colorful species of native and regional plants can serve as inspiration before an Open Studio class at HappymessART (718 Iredell St., Durham. 919-286-9763, happymessart.com) studio. While students are invited to bring their own projects or tools, visitors will find everything they need, including tools, paper and collage materials and art supplies.
Where to Stay:
The 21c Museum Hotel Durham (from $199, 111 Corcoran St., Durham. 919-956-6700, 21cmuseumhotels.com/durham) features over 10,500 square feet of art exhibition space, hosting rotating solo and group exhibitions of 21st century art. In addition to the dedicated art museum within the hotel, the building itself features works of art like a mosaic made of cigarettes on the wood panels, a nod to Durham's tobacco manufacturing history, or the $100 bill ceramic tiles in the private lounge which was a former bank vault.
A weekend for the college basketball fan
Pretend to be a co-ed again and don Carolina blue threads for Fridays on the Front Porch at The Carolina Inn (211 Pittsboro St., Chapel Hill. 919-933-2001, carolinainn.com). From April until early October, the historic inn welcomes both locals and travelers to the lush front lawn to enjoy live music, food trucks and the shade of Oak trees. Although the event lasts from 5 to 8 p.m., get there early to reserve a prime picnic spot.
Spend the morning slowly strolling south through the campus of the UNC, heading towards the Carolina Basketball Museum (450 Skipper Bowles Drive, Chapel Hill. 919-962-6000, goheels.com/fls/3350/museum/). Located next to the Dean E. Smith Center basketball stadium, also known as the Dean Dome, the museum offers free admission, priceless Tar Heel memorabilia, an area dedicated entirely to the team's national championships and, of course, an exhibit honoring the most famous Tar Heel, Michael Jordan. Make your way back to Franklin Street for burgers and fries at Sutton's Drug Store (159 E Franklin St., Chapel Hill. 919-942-5161, suttonsdrugstore.com). The walls are lined with photos of Sutton's biggest fans, including former players Tyler Hansborough, Raymond Felton and Michael Jordan, and jerseys hang from the ceiling of players who left school early for the NBA.
After lunch, cross into UNC enemy territory to explore the other side of one of the biggest rivalries in college basketball history. Near Cameron Indoor Stadium on Duke University's campus is the Duke Basketball Museum & Sports Hall of Fame (306 Towerview Road, Durham. 919-613-7500, goduke.com/ViewArticle.dbml?ATCLID=205144005). Read about the winningest coach in collegiate men's basketball history, Mike Krzyzewski, and try to understand how loyal Duke students are to their team through the phenomenon of Krzyzewskiville, a tent city that sprouts in preparation for the release of basketball tickets. Since tickets are notoriously hard to come by, after touring the museum, take the chance to stroll through Cameron Indoor Stadium, which remains open during museum hours.
Have brunch at Top of the Hill (100 E Franklin St., Chapel Hill. 919-929-8676, topofthehill.com), a favorite restaurant among locals and students that overlooks Franklin Street, then ring in the afternoon with a beer at Pantana Bob's bar. Soak in the sunshine and Carolina blue skies on the outdoor deck, where you might see a senior athlete or two relaxing with a cold one after a hard week of practice.
Where to Stay:
Opened in 1924 and the only hotel on campus, The Carolina Inn (from $149, 211 Pittsboro St., Chapel Hill. 919-933-2001, carolinainn.com) has played host to many famous alumni of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The inn honors the past with portraits and write ups of notable students of UNC throughout the hallways on each floor, categorized by genres like sports, journalism, science, acting and music. Look hard through the black and white sports team photos to find your favorite UNC basketball legend.