This month we’re exploring one of America’s hippest up-and-coming cities for an adventure that’s the perfect balance of urban-eclectic and small-town appeal. We’re headed to Durham, North Carolina, a destination quickly gaining national recognition for its hip local food scene, a creative culture and endless outdoor endeavors for outdoor enthusiasts. May is the perfect month to plan a visit since the summer heat hasn’t quite set in, but summertime vibes are in full swing.
After landing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, an average Lyft into the heart of Durham will take you about 15 minutes and a whopping $9.00. Not too shabby for airport transit! Once you’re in Durham proper, drop your bags at your Airbnb or hotel, and throw on some comfortable shoes – you’re going to be on your feet for the next few days!
We mentioned Durham was a foodie-city, so we’re kicking off this adventure with some grub. For a casual breakfast made with innovative technique, check out Jack & Tar. This upscale diner is open from morning to midnight and you can expect a commitment to local and homemade ingredients. Our go-to is the Puy Lentils served as a base to seasonal roasted tomatoes, fennel, and a perfectly soft-boiled egg. And don’t forget to ask for a homemade English muffin on the side. This unpretentious spot in the heart of town is a great reflection of Durham’s vibrant culture and you’ll take part in some solid people watching if you sit on the patio. Another great grab-and-go option is bakery-café Monuts. It boasts a casual cafeteria vibe, plus, all the employees get paid a living wage and ingredients are sustainably sourced from local North Carolinian purveyors – two qualities that deserve a giant gaan+co round of applause!
Post-chow-down, it’s time to head to The Duke Gardens. With 55 acres of trails comprised of four vast feature gardens and flower-lined pathways, you’re going to want to set aside several hours to take in the serenity of your surroundings. Did we mention admission is totally free? Cha-ching! Start in the Historic Gardens with it’s cascading steps of wildflowers and berry bushes down to a koi pond. Next is a fruit and vegetable farm tended by the agricultural department of Duke University. This farm is so vast, you’ll lose your way through the heaping rows of dinosaur kale, nectarine trees and 14 variants of basil – just mind the loose chickens and their eggs! Once you’re ready for a change of scenery, a short 20-minute walk from the Duke Gardens is Nasher, Duke’s art museum. Nasher hosts a collection encompassing 5,000 years of art history, so there’s something for everyone, and there are always a number of changing seasonal exhibitions. At time of publication, the featured exhibition is POP AMERICA, extending through late July 2019 due to its popularity. Despite the wide appeal of Andy Warhol-style pop art, this exhibit focuses on the significant contribution of Latin American and Latino/a artists working at the same time and alongside their U.S. and European counterparts. The exhibit is bright & colorful, and like Durham, rich in culture.
You’ve likely hit your 10,000 steps by now, and your stomach is probably growling again, too. It would be wise to add Lucky’s Delicatessen for lunch to your itinerary. The house-made peanut butter with seasonal jam sandwich is so nostalgic; you’ll be reminiscing about your kindergarten lunch box but in a gourmet kind of way. There are tons of other handcrafted sandwiches (hello eggplant parm!), fresh salads, house-made pickles, and smoked fish caught along the coast. Lucky’s is a special spot, adored by locals and equipped with the friendliest wait staff in the triangle area.
After you’ve polished off that PB & J, we’ve got one more stroll for you prior to evening activities. The American Tobacco Campus is right around the corner. This former Lucky Strike tobacco factory is now a host to galleries, performance spaces, restaurants, and shops. The exterior shows off several historic water features amongst the industrial brick buildings. It’s a great way to pick up a few handmade items and artwork, and listen to music of talented street performers. Since it’s probably 5 o’clock by now, why not sip on a signature craft beer from any number of Durham breweries with pop-ups on the campus (a local favorite is Ponysaurus Brewing). The attendant will be so proud to tell you about the NC brewing scene, you might just score a free brewery tour.
We recommend ending your day at Alley Twenty Six. Simply named for the alley-way entry, this lively bar and restaurant takes you back to the heart of town and is serving up specialties like fried NC oysters and shrimp & grits. You also can’t go wrong with their signature burger. Seasonal drinks honor the art of the classic cocktail and feature local ingredients like spirits from Durham Distillery. Known for their “dinner with friends” series, owner Shannon Healy and chef-partner Carrie Schleiffer bring locals and visitors together to enjoy a lively atmosphere, awesome music and some of the best bar food in the Southeast.
We hope you slept well, because we’ve got another epic itinerary for day two. Grab yourself a cold brew or signature slow drip oat milk latte at Cocoa Cinnamon, one of Durham’s signature indie coffee spots with a friendly outdoor patio and fail-proof menu for those seeking a caffeinated start to the day. They feature small-batch 4th Dimension Coffee, made right here in North Carolina.
Enjoy that buzz and make your way to Eno River State Park for any number of outdoor activities along the 30-miles of trails and waterways. Canoes and kayaks are available for rental, you'll find traditional and fly-fishing galore, and we’re always up for a good hike! The trail up Cox Mountain is a more challenging climb through scenic hardwood forest. For lower inclined terrain, the Bobbitt Hole Trail takes you to one of the most scenic spots on the river. There are picnic shelters throughout the park, so pack some snacks or pick up a to-go bag of satisfying menu staples from Parker & Otis, one of Durham’s most iconic “general stores” beforehand. Whatever you choose, ask for a side of their 7-pepper-jelly to spice things up. It’s sweet and savory and we’d literally eat it with a spoon if it were socially acceptable (oh heck, maybe we’ll start the trend).
After your day at the park, we’re directing you immediately (if not sooner) to Bull City Cider Works. We mentioned Durham (and all of North Carolina, in fact) is known for their local breweries and artisanal craft beer scene that helped put Durham on the map. Bull City is one of our favorite spots and the perfect place to take you from late afternoon into a lively evening. This place is sprawling - complete with a huge menu of ever-changing craft ciders and beers, a food truck extravaganza, corn hole stations, fire pits (and s’mores kits…um, yes please), dog-friendly picnic areas and live music. The month of May hosts a series of events at Bull City including regular brewery tours & tastings, trivia nights, and even brewery yoga (that’s $12.00 well spent for a one-of-a-kind adventure).
These gaan guide recommendations in Durham are conducive to using the Bull City Connector, a free shuttle bus that runs between Duke University and the Golden Belt hub. Net net, you can hop off the shuttle within a 2 to 5-minute walk to most of the spots we’ve mentioned.
Ready to adventure together? Durham, we’re comin’ for ya!
- Written by Rachel Levy