Durham, North Carolina is an often-overlooked treasure trove on the USA map. Politically the state is a moving target; once a carpet of red now slowly seeping purple as thousands of out-of-staters discovers this is no longer tobacco road. The cost of living is also a major attraction for many looking to escape the onerous overhead of their present situation. The climate likewise gives travelers a reason to return; temperate but still possessing four seasons. There are numerous excellent foodie opportunities with restaurants becoming increasingly more eclectic and there is an outstanding farmer’s market. One of the most impressive features of the Tar Heel state is its verdant ribbon of universities stretching from Duke in Durham to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill to Wake Forest and beyond. As a result, the state features a highly educated populace and a recreational environment that’s hard to beat with mountains and the ocean access only 2-3 hours distant. If you like all these lifestyle aspects and long for a smaller city experience centered around a hub of some of America’s finest educational institutions, then a trip to this Southeast corner of the USA is well worth the look.
Where to stay:
Tiny Home @ Airbnb is an exceptional choice for lodging. It is located amongst trees and sounds of nature in the charming Hope Valley neighborhood. Everything about this place is wonderful, including the hosts are who are responsive, helpful and have a great aesthetic vision.
Durham Hotel – if you are wanting to be more downtown this fun hotel is centrally located with easy access to attractions such as shopping, Tobacco Campus, the Durham Performing Arts Center and more. It is walkable to The Retreat at Brightleaf spa, and restaurants such as, M Sushi, Dashi and more. The hotel as a rooftop bar with great views at sunset and food service. The intrinsically hip lobby has a massive lounging area with a coffee bar and restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Where to eat:
There are a lot of great choices and eat and drink in Durham. If you are downtown, I recommend Dashi, M Sushi and Luna Rotisserie and Empanadas. If you are exploring the Durham neighborhoods, Foster’s Market, Guglhupf Bakery and Beer Garden, and Durham Food Co Op are classic spots.
Dashi – has a remarkable selection of noodle ramen choices and an inviting vibe. This Japanese ramen shop and izakaya (Japanese pub) in Downtown Durham has a focus on ramen noodle bowls and the menu also features innovative small plates and unique desserts.
M Sushi – is located right next to the Durham Hotel and has an underground speakeasy feel to it. It is the Triangle’s first sushi restaurant dedicated solely to high-quality seafood, sourced directly from Japan, Korea, and the US. The menu is small and purposeful and uses only fresh ingredients.
Luna Rotisserie and Empanadas– this is a great option and wonderful because it is open 7 days a week from 11am – 9pm and located in Downtown Durham with another location in Carrboro. It is where South American meets the American South. The menu has a large selection that fits all types of diets from meat lovers to vegan. I got the grain bowl and a very strong Paloma margarita. Perfection.
Foster’s Market – this family-owned restaurant and market has been around for over 30 years, and you can’t get any more of the southern hospitality vibe than it. It has everything – great breakfasts, to quick grab and go sandwiches, salads, pastries, deli offerings and more. It’s open daily from 9am – 3pm with indoor and outdoor options. Get there early on Saturdays because right around 9am you will see a line forming to enter this gem of a spot.
Guglhupf Bakery Café and Biergarten – located a stone’s throw away from Foster’s Market at 2706 Durham Chapel Hill Road is an equally delightful progressive and modern spot with indoor and outdoor dining. Known mainly as a bakery and café, it also has a beer garden emphasizing it’s German roots but without the Lederhosen.
Durham Co-op Market – if you want to get a feel for the Durham community and needing groceries, I recommend a stop at this community owned and operated grocery store. On their website you can read how this amazing spot got started and how it operates https://durham.coop/our-values/. I personally love seeing these types of progressive and positive agricultural initiatives happening across America.
Where to go:
Eno River State Park is located 20 minutes outside downtown Durham. It is easy to access and has several hiking trails to explore. Taking a hike under the fall canopy of red maple, beech and oaks trees is marvelous. Cox Mountain trail is a great loop – cross of the suspension bridge and keep following the signs to enjoy the 90 minutes to 2-hour hike.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens or Duke Gardens (for short) is recognized as one of the premier public gardens in the United States, renowned for its landscape design and high-quality horticulture. Take a leisurely stroll through these gardens and enjoy the slow time. It’s easy to meander around and take in the variety of plants, flowers, sights, and sounds. The gardens are right next to Duke University and another few yards, and you’ll be at the gorgeous Duke Chapel.
Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University is also located nearby Duke Gardens with free admission and high-quality collections. There are three main pavilions with rotating exhibitions. The day I was there they had a Roy Lichtenstein: History in the Making, 1948-1960 and if you are lucky, you can listen in on lectures from Duke professors happening with their group of students. If you love art, this is a don’t miss experience.