We’re continually on the hunt for experiences that add richness to our lives. In the spirit of the revival of road trips, we are proud to feature a monthly section featuring destinations within driving distance of Charleston. We feel that our smart and savvy readers will find these trips interesting and entertaining.
Chapel Hill, NC
Driving four hours forty-five minutes southeast of Charleston brings you to Chapel Hill. Filled with all things Carolina Blue, Chapel Hill is known for its prestigious college, liberal culture, and Southern charms. Chapel Hill has a vibe that is relaxing and inviting, and a music scene that has been prevalent for over 50 years. With gas prices at an all-time low, there is no better time than now to enjoy North Carolina’s small-town gem.
WHAT TO SEE & DO IN CHAPEL HILL
The main artery of Chapel Hill is Franklin Street. Posh boutiques, locally owned eateries and shops, and art galleries line the famed street, as well as hordes of students from the University of North Carolina’s campus (UNC). Sports are a big part of Chapel Hill’s culture and you can learn more about UNC’s six NCAA basketball championships at the Carolina Basketball Museum. Depending on the time of year, you may be able to catch a polo match or a soccer or lacrosse game.
At the Morehead Planetarium (one of the largest and oldest in the country), explore the solar system and look at the stars. Many NASA astronauts trained at this planetarium for essential missions of the past.
Chapel Hill has abundant parks and hiking trails, also great for bicycling. Progression Climbing Walls, a Boulding gym, offers beginner or advanced opportunities for climbing 14-16 feet walls.
One of the most popular attractions is the North Carolina Botanical Garden with 1100 acres of incredible flowers and plants. A fun fact is that the Venus Fly Trap is a native plant of North Carolina. You can buy one to take home with you.
If you are traveling with kids, be sure to stop by Kidzu Children’s Museum. It is an interactive treasure for infants through tweens with a wide array of exhibits to inspire minds, creativity, and imaginations. Kids might enjoy watching a movie with the company of goats at Spring Haven Farm, open for special events only. You can bring your own food and drinks for the event and lawn chairs.
Laugh the night away at the People’s Improv Theater (known as The Pit Comedy Theater) or enjoy live music at the nearby Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, a long stay part of the community for fifty years. If you need a rainy-day activity, take in a movie at Silverspot Cinema, running 13 films and serving a full menu plus cocktails, beer, and wine.
Sample your way around Chapel Hill on a Taste Carolina gourmet food tour with substantial bites from four to five local restaurants. Downtown, check out designer Alexander Julian’s flagship store, Julian’s, famous for men and women’s distinguished fashions since 1942. While you are there, admire the many impressive murals and art installments.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Chapel Hill is a purveyor of farm-to-table restaurants. For upscale dining, check out Bin 54 Steak and Cellar (dry-aged NY strip), or Crossroads Restaurant (signature meatloaf or shrimp & grits) at the Carolina Inn. Burgers, milkshakes, and fries are especially good in a retro setting like Sutton’s Drug Store, a Tar Heel tradition. Carolina Coffee Shop (North Carolina’s longest-running restaurant) serves yummy dishes such as chicken & waffles, deviled eggs, and fried green tomatoes. It also has a full bar.
Crook’s Corner is Chapel Hill’s iconic dining spot, serving chef-inspired dishes like Hoppin’ John, jalapeño cheddar hush puppies, and a cracker plate with hot pepper jelly, veggies, crackers, and pimento cheese. Brunch is also a real treat with steak & eggs, a hot chicken biscuit, or Croque madame. Lastly, pick out meal from the selections at Blue Dogwood Public Market, Chapel Hill’s only food emporium.
Two unique offerings for beverages in Chapel Hill are Honeysuckle Tea House and Cat Tales Cat Cafe. The tea house is “an open-air oasis” with views of the gardens and berry fields, perfect for sipping a hot or cold herbal blend tea. At Cat Tales, enjoy a beverage (adult libations offered, too) amidst adorable adoptable cats.
There are five craft breweries in Chapel Hill to get your beer fix, or you can sip organic vodka, gin, or Carolina whiskey made from locally grown wheat at TOPO Distillery.
WHERE TO STAY IN CHAPEL HILL
There are plenty of places to enjoy a comfortable stay in Chapel Hill. Choices range from the Siena Hotel, a boutique offering in Marriott’s Autograph collection, to the AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown, the city’s newest hotel. Aloft Chapel Hill is another excellent choice and is in a great location. The premiere offering in town is the Carolina Inn, a historic four-diamond hotel established in 1924 and UNC’s only on-campus hotel. The elegant venue offers afternoon tea, stately grounds, luxurious rooms, and is one block from Franklin Street.
CHAPEL HILL: A LITTLE TOWN WITH BIG OFFERINGS
Halfway between North Carolina’s coastal beaches and magnificent mountains is the real pulse of the state, Chapel Hill. I hope you will find this small town with huge opportunities as fantastic as I do.