Wake up! It’s time to explore! The Chapel Hill & Carrboro area has had a solid hold on my heart since I moved here a few years ago. It’s a quaint little college town full of independently owned restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, and artists’ studios. As you wander around town, you’ll find a large selection of local and thoughtfully curated items both on menus and on store shelves. If you wander a little outside of town, there’s plenty of farms and nature to explore. It’s a safe little city full of southern charm and close to pretty much any activity or cuisine you could think of.
Visitors flock to Chapel Hill to watch UNC basketball games, partake in the enormous Halloween parade, view the best fireworks display in the Triangle, but mainly to help their kids settle into college, checking up on them frequently during the weekends as there’s always a little wait for brunch.
If you’re popping through Chapel Hill with no plans in mind, I suggest a little bit of nature, some window shopping, maybe a campus stroll and a bunch of people watching. Sandwich these activities with delicious eats and treats and 24 hours in Chapel Hill will pass in a flash. If you want a local activity, check out the calendar, it’s always filled with neat activities. Chapel Hill is packed with deliciousness, but here are my absolute favorites for one day in Chapel Hill ::
Sights & Activities
- Honeysuckle Tea House is my absolute favorite place in Chapel Hill. It’s a little bit of a drive into the country, but you will thank yourself over and over once you arrive. It’s an oasis, it seems like something straight out of Ubud, Bali. While the beverages are on point, Honeysuckle Tea House is still working on its menu, so eat before you come that way you’ll have the energy to hang out in the gardens and around the grounds for a couple hours while you sip kombucha, tea, coffee, or one of their creative smoothies.
- Look around! Take a walk down Franklin street. Start in the center of town (MLK + Franklin) and head west eventually veer right on Weaver Street, wander through the Carr Mill mall or better yet, stop at Weaver Street Co-op for lunch or a cold drink and enjoy it on the lawn.
- Coker Arboretum has nothing on the Duke Gardens, but we’re talking Chapel Hill not Durham today. Coker is small but lovely and it’s free! The North Carolina Botanical Gardens is also great, but Coker is right downtown so it’s more easily accessible.
- Ackland Art Museum is worth a visit. If it is after hours, stop in at the store, which is unlike any museum store. A perfect mix of high-end and affordable gifts for anyone in your life. I wander through Ackland quite often just to feel inspired.
- Go for a hike! There are dozens of local green spaces to get your hike on. My favorites? The Battle Branch Trail is perfect for the entire family. It’s scenic and pretty easy, a perfect early morning strolling spot. This trail actually leads to campus if you want to check out UNC. The Bolin Creek Trail is more of a path that winds through residential neighborhoods, but it’s extremely accessible, so if you need to stretch your legs, check it out. The Haw River Trail near 15-501 (more info), which is conveniently near Allen & Son’s gives visitors a good idea of North Carolina’s climate and forests. If it has recently rained, I’d skip this one.
Breakfast & Coffee
- Coffee only – Cafe Driade is an absolute gem. Tucked away outside of town on East Franklin street, this is a cafe that locals know and love. Order your favorite brew and pick out a snack from the counter then head outside. There’s seating sprinkled around the side of Cafe Driade, but take a look around the back. Wander down into the woods for a meditative way to wake up in Chapel Hill or stop in the art gallery that shares Driade’s parking lot. If you wander by Cafe Driade in the afternoon, try my favorite treat the espresso affogato.
- Coffee and a quick breakfast – Looking Glass Cafe is my favorite coffee shop in Carrboro. The atmosphere inside and out is inviting; perfect for conversation with friends or a full on study session. Without fail, I order an iced americano with a jalapeno bagel although they serve up plenty of great quick yet filling breakfast and lunch options.
- Full Breakfast or Brunch – Elmo’s Diner is always my top pick for a sit-down breakfast. The menu is enormous and each plate has character and flavor. I’m constantly grappling with all the options until ordering and I’m always satisfied and stuffed when I leave. If you’re eating when the rest of Chapel Hill is, there’s usually a wait, but Elmo’s is located in Carr Mill Mall so you’ll have plenty of little shops to visit while you wait. My favorite in the plaza is Townsend and Bertram, an independently owned outdoors store with the kindest, most helpful employees.
Lunch or Dinner
- Al’s Burger Shack serves up fresh, local, sustainable southern grub. The burgers come in three sizes so you can snack according to your stomach size. These are some of the best burgers I’ve ever had, add a local beer, sit outside and enjoy the action on Franklin Street.
- Mediterranean Deli will please everyone who eats there. The selection of wraps, deli salads, and Mediterranean desserts will almost overwhelm you. It’s cheap, quick and ridiculously filling.
- Allen & Son’s is the place to go if you want authentic Carolina barbecue. There are two locations, both equally out of the way, but they are a destination in themselves. If I’m picnicking, I’ll order a pound of pulled pork, coleslaw, and a dozen hush puppies then I’ll grab a bag of rolls and some beer and head to a serene spot. There’s seating at Allen and Son’s, but I find it a bit too southern, country, authentic for my taste (think musty hunting cabin) so I usually grab a table outside or take it to go.
- Venable describes itself as a rotisserie bistro serving elevated southern comfort food. Each meal incorporates southern elements, but the portion sizes keep the food coma at bay. The cocktails are amazing and worth every penny, but the beer list is lengthy too if that’s more your speed.
- Food Trucks! There’s a bunch roaming all over town. Spot one yourself or ask someone on the street, they’ll be able to direct you to one of the truck’s regular parking spots.
Drinks & Bar Bites
- Beer Study is theeee place to go for a brew. SO many options, various sizes for tasting or chugging, outside seating, an old school Nintendo and TV inside. Beer Study is where it’s at.
- Top Of The Hill is my favorite people watching perch. The bar and distillery sit in the center of town at the corner of Franklin and MLK. Try and find seating outside and you’ll find yourself sipping on TOPO’s unique cocktails, brewtails, and delicious draft beers for hours.
- The Cellar is a dive bar, but those are my favorite kinds if I want a cheap mixed drink or a good beer. You won’t find crowds of college kids, but rather pool sharks and smoke-smelling middle aged men. There’s also a nice little patio out back for your cig-smoking friends.
- Linda’s Bar & Grill is the perfect stop to start or end the evening. The bar food is on point and the drinks and top notch. I love the crew at Linda’s. The owner, Chris Carini, is a Penn State graduate, a dude who knows his cars and bars, so chat him up if you wish. When I go to Linda’s I feel immediately comfortable and well taken care of no matter how crowded it gets.