This week is our last week in Chapel Hill after living here for almost a decade, so we’re celebrating all of our favorite ways to get active, eat well and explore the NC Triangle, the tri-city area made up of Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham. Often known as a hub of academic and research centers–and not to mention the biggest college rivalry in the country between UNC and Duke–the Triangle is rapidly growing into a food, brewery and travel destination, too. Whether you’re in downtown Raleigh, Chapel Hill’s Franklin Street or anywhere in between, you won’t have to venture too far to find a food truck rodeo, live outdoor music, big events, great beer and even better food.
Parks & Trails
Wake, Durham and Orange Counties are full of beautiful parks and trails across the rolling Piedmont terrain that offer a bit of wilderness and respite from the bustling urban areas. Check out their parks and recreation sites, or head straight to our favorites:
Eno River State Park, Durham – This 3900-acre park in Durham follows the shallow and rocky Eno River and features miles of trails, campgrounds, historic structures and a flooded quarry that’s great for swimming in in the summer.
Jordan Lake, Chapel Hill and Pittsboro – This quiet lake south of Chapel Hill is lined with sandy beaches, trails and campsites for tents and RVs.
Duke Gardens, Durham – The beautiful 55 acres of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens is the perfect spot for a walk with 5 miles of paths or an afternoon in the sun throwing a frisbee or having a picnic.
American Tobacco Trail, southward from Durham – This 22+ mile restoration project converted an old railroad bed into a paved trail for bikers, runners and walkers that winds from Durham to Jordan Lake.
William B. Umstead State Park, Raleigh – Umstead Park is 5580 acres in Raleigh along the Crabtree and Reedy Creeks where visitors can find miles of trails, lakes, and campsites.
Raven Rock State Park, Lillington – Less than an hour from RDU, this quiet park along the Cape Fear River has a network of picnic sites and trails of varying difficulty, each offering beautiful views of the river, creeks and surrounding wooded areas.
Wander & Explore
Many areas in the Triangle are great for long strolls between shops, parks and exhibits. Some of our favorites include:
NC State Fairgrounds, Raleigh
Historic College Campuses: UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University, NC State University
Play Like a Kid
Frankie’s Fun Park, Raleigh – This is a park for kids and adults with putt putt, go karting, arcade games, rides, high ropes and a restaurant and bar.
Museum of Life and Science, Durham
Marbles Kids Museum, Raleigh
Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, Chapel Hill
Southern Village and Southern Community Park, Chapel Hill – Southern Village is a quiet hub of restaurants, shops and the Lumina movie theater (where you can purchase wine and beer to enjoy during your movie!) in a neighborhood next to the Southern Community Park, which boasts a dog park, playground, basketball courts, soccer fields, disc golf, mountain bike trails and a paved running trail that runs through the neighborhood and connects to the Morgan Creek trail.
[READ: Durham’s Rubberbanditz Brings Fitness Around the World]
Get out of your comfort zone
Explore new territory figuratively by trying an activity outside of your comfort zone and bring home with you newfound confidence and strength as your souvenir. With the artistic and adventurous RDU communities, there’s no shortage of alternative fitness and movement studios to push you past your internal boundaries.
The Flowjo, Carrboro – Fly high with aerial silks, hoops and trapeze, or stay grounded with partner acrobatics, dance, or tumbling.
Aradia Fitness, Multiple Locations – Get in touch with your sexy side with pole fitness, dance, aerial acrobatics, boxing, yoga, pilates and more.
Hula Hoop at Weaver Street Market, Carrboro – Hula hooping at Weaver Street Market isn’t a formal class, it’s just a quirky gathering of locals hula hooping for fun. Grab a hoop and join in to really experience the funky Carrboro vibe.
Cirque du Vol, Raleigh – Learn circus arts, aerial silks and hoops, dance and even Bboy skills at their classes and workshops.
[READ: Raleigh’s Two Fit Girls Make Fitness Fun and Healthy Eating a Treat]
EAT & DRINK WELL
Beasley’s Chicken + Honey – Alexa loves their Reunion breakfast sandwich and crispy cheese grit fries, and Allen loves their chicken pot pie.
Last brunch at Beasley’s Chicken and Honey for a while. Gonna miss the crispy cheese grit fries! The best. A photo posted by Travel Well Magazine (@travelwellmag) on
Natty Greene’s Brewing Co. – Natty Greene’s beers are complimented by a big menu of pub fare with a twist–the Hog Dip is a must-try.
Boylan Bridge BrewPub – Boylan has a great rooftop patio and view of the Raleigh skyline to go with the food and beer.
Caffe Luna – This local favorite for Italian food is open limited hours, so check the website before you go.
The Oxford – This gastropub offers a modern take on classic pub food with a British twist.
Cala Vera Empanadas and Tequila Bar – This bar (now also in Carrboro) offers flights of tequila to go along with your entree and/or dessert empanadas and some of the best nachos we’ve ever had.
Flying Saucer – This is technically a small national chain, but at each draught emporium and restaurant, beer lovers can earn a saucer in the local Ring of Honor by becoming a BeerKnurd in the UFO Club with after having 200 unique beers there.
Tra’Li Irish Pub – Hit the Brier Creek area for a hearty taste of Irish fare.
Buffalo Brothers – This pizza and wing joint is worth a visit for a great game-day atmosphere and splurge-day food, especially some of Allen’s favorite wings.
Revolution – An upscale restaurant with a unique take on many southern classics.
Dame’s Chicken & Waffles – Go with the a southern classic chicken and waffles or one of Dame’s more creative combinations, like the Quilted Buttercup.
Scratch – This tiny seasonal bakery is known for its specialty pies, brunch and enormous lattes.
Chamas Churrascaria – A great Brazilian steakhouse in the heart of Durham with an amazing salad and appetizer bar.
Mez – Allen’s favorite contemporary Mexican restaurant where you must try the sangria.
Peony Asian Bistro – This average-seeming Asian restaurant is one of Alexa’s favorites and her go-to for the sushi and pan-fried dumplings.
Shiki Sushi – Many in Chapel Hill/Durham claim that this modern fusion restaurant has the best sushi around.
Backyard BBQ Pit – This country diner was featured on the Travel Channel’s Man v. Food for good reason: Cooked traditionally over actual barbecue pits, their chopped pork, brisket, ribs and chicken are some of the best barbecue in the state. But get in line early–once an item runs out, it’s out for the day.
Blu – This seafood restaurant and bar has a separate menu just for oysters.
Vin Rouge – The upscale Durham French bistro is known for its seafood and wine selections.
Guglhupf – The artisan bakery, cafe and restaurant offers delicious German meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Bull City Burger and Brewery – Known just as much for its burgers as its brews, Bull City has become so popular it offers 26% off for life to anyone who gets a tattoo of its logo.
Nosh – This eclectic eatery is a great stop for lunch, or stay a while with friends and play board games.
Chapel Hill – Carrboro
Mediterranean Deli – Known locally as Med Deli, this restaurant is a favorite for Greek and Middle Eastern food, and it recently expanded to include its own market. Try their gyro or mixed grill platters and get a side of pomegranate mohammara.
Breadmen’s – A breakfast diner that’s highly popular among the tar heel crowd.
Southern Rail and The Station – Enjoy contemporary southern specialties in retired train cars or stop by The Station for a drink at the bar or cafe.
Merritt’s Store & Grill – Every Chapel Hillian knows that this is where to go for a BLT and will wait in a line out the door to get one.
Top of the Hill – Top O, as the locals call it, is a brewery, distillery and restaurant, a college nightlife go-to that overlooks the center of Chapel Hill at the Franklin and Columbia intersection.
Acme – Another one of Allen’s favorite spots, this restaurant offers a contemporary take on both southern American and international dishes.
411 West – One of Chapel Hill’s most popular Italian restaurants.
Carrburritos – Delicious, fresh Mexican fare with a distinct Carrboro flavor.
Elmo’s Diner – One of Carrboro’s most popular brunch spots and family diners.
Southern Season and Weathervane – Southern Season is a gourmet food, beverage and kitchen store where you can find many local specialties, a fantastic deli and some of the best handmade chocolates. Stop by for a cooking class or enjoy a meal at its in-house restaurant, Weathervane.
Lucha Tigre – This Latin-Asian fusion restaurant also has a tequila and sake bar full of options that go well with General Tso’s chicken tacos, sake-ginger guacamole and chips and other interesting combos.
Merlion – One of Allen’s favorite dishes at this Singaporian restaurant in quiet Southern Village is Roti Prata, crisped pancakes with chicken and potato curry, and Alexa loves their beef and mango salad.
Glass Half Full – Enjoy this upscale kitchen and wine bar in a laid back Carrboro atmosphere.
Kipos Greek Taverna – Our favorite Greek restaurant in Chapel Hill–if you can’t stay for a full meal, at least stop by their bakery for a slice of their sheep’s milk cheesecake.
Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe – One of Chapel Hill’s most popular Indian restaurants.
The Spotted Dog – This place caters to vegans and vegetarians, but it also has one of the best beef burgers around.
Tarantini – Stop by and take out some of the best NY-style pizza or stay to enjoy their full menu of authentic Italian specialties.
Allen & Son – You’ll have to head a few miles south on 15-501 to an old house turned barbecue joint, but the drive is worth it. Get a chopped barbecue sandwich with their spicy vinegar-based bbq sauce, slaw, and a sweet tea for the full experience.
Carolina Brewery, Chapel Hill – A local hotspot serving up beer brewed onsite and a full menu of American favorites with a Carolina flair.
Steel String Brewery, Carrboro – This quickly-growing brewery is a central Carrboro hangout with a brand new patio and live bluegrass bands every weekend.
Beer Study*, Carrboro – Technically this isn’t a brewery. It’s actually a small store and bar packed full of hundreds of craft beers in bottles or cans to take home, or try a local draught on tap, then hang out and play Mario Kart, board games or corn hole. When you’re done, head over to The Baxter Bar & Arcade next door.
Fullsteam Brewery, Durham – This plow-to-farm brewery focuses on distinctly southern beer and welcomes dogs and families to their tavern (kids until 9 pm only) for games, food trucks and live music.
Mystery Brewing Company, Hillsborough – Visitors can check out Mystery’s brewing facility for a full tour and samples from the bar, or head straight to the taproom in town for their beer and barbecue from Hillsborough BBQ Company next door.
Big Boss Brewing Company, Raleigh – Stop by the taproom for beer and darts, pool and ping pong.
Aviator Brewing Company, Fuquay-Varina – Enjoy Aviator at any of their three locations: the Aviator Tap House, Aviator SmokeHouse BBQ or the Hangar Bar at the brewery itself.
Gizmo Brew Works, Raleigh – Stop by the taproom for game nights, tours, Thirsty Thursdays or any other time throughout the week to enjoy their beer.
[READ: Carrboro’s Dingo Dog Brewing Co. Rescues Local Dogs with Beer]
Food trucks have loyal followings here, and they’re not hard to find. Follow them on Twitter to get their realtime locations, but if the trucks aren’t out, don’t worry! Many have become so popular they have brick-and-mortar locations around the Triangle.
Chirba Chirba Dumpling, @ChirbaChirba – You can’t go wrong with any of these Chinese-style dumplings, but if in doubt, go for the Juicy Buns with the garlic sesame dipping sauce.
Captain Ponchos Tacos, @captainponchos – This taco truck has a lot more than just tacos, and every delicious Mexican dish is made with local ingredients.
The Humble Pig, @thehumblepig – Locally sourced and slow cooked, The Humble Pig’s barbecue is highly sought after.
American Meltdown, @AmericanMLTDWN – Meltdown makes grilled cheese sandwiches and gourmet melts for grown ups, like the Pig ‘n’ Fig: black mission figs, speck, local goat cheese and a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar on sourdough bread.
Baguettaboutit, @baguettaboutit – This truck delivers the baguette version of international favorites like the U Betcha, a baguette stuffed with bratwurst and beer garden mustard, or the U Talking to Me? with hot italian sausage and balsamic tomato vinaigrette.
Parlez-Vous Crepe, @parlezvouscrepe – Get sweet and savory crepes handmade to order with local ingredients.
Pie Pushers, @PiePushers – Creative pizzas like the Corny Tater can be purchased by the slice or whole from Pie Pusher’s standard and rotating menus.
Dump Pho King Truck, @DumpPhoKingTweet – Accountant and engineer pair with a big sense of humor, Sunny and Sophia bring their tasty version of Vietnamese food, like the Cheerwine Bulgogi Sloppy Joe, to the Raleigh masses.
The Parlour, @parlourdurham – This ice cream truck for grown ups serves ice creams made by hand using local ingredients, including sorbets and non-dairy options.
If you’re in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area for an extended period of time, several places around the state are worth a day or weekend trip:
North Carolina Zoo, Asheboro
Charlotte, NC – See our Guide to Charlotte
Outer Banks – See our Guide to the Outer Banks