Chapel Hill, N.C. — Looking for a fun day off-the-beaten path, but not too far from home? One legendarily fun place to spend the day is Chapel Hill and Carrboro. The city has oodles of uniquely-originated fun spots for all interests and ages, many of which can be accessed without leaving Franklin Street! Keeping in mind the fall terms are starting and hours may reflect recent changes, here are a few spots I visited recently that have a lot of day-trip power for your buck.
Starting with a quintessential family-friendly venue, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center always has awe-inspiring and educational events for the whole group. Over 7 million people, including famous astronauts from NASA, would agree that this is one must-see stop in Tarheel Blue territory! Big Bird is back for the summer. They also have exhibits with extraordinary facts about ordinary things that we often take for granted, such as “Water in Our World.” All around, this is a great ecological and natural learning experience for kids. During the year, they offer very special seasonal versions of their star shows including: "Carolina Skies: Valentine Edition," "Our Vanishing Night" and "Scare-o-lina Skies."
Admission: Free for Members; Adults $7.68; Children, Students, and Senior Citizens $6.51
Hours are currently: 10:00 am – 3:30 pm Tuesday through Saturday, and 1:00pm-4:30pm on Sunday
The Ackland Art Museum
Some places leave a lasting impression. Recalling a field trip to the Ackland many years ago, it was a pleasure to revisit their offerings. The paintings and exhibits are still inspiring. They also offer yoga classes and hands-on drawing activities such as “Drawing in the Gallery,” “Music in the Gallery,” and “Drawing for Tweens.” Not to be missed are showings for vintage and wonderful movies…up next is an Ackland Film Forum on Alfred Hitchcock’s "Rear Window" on Sept. 9! The film’s introduction will be conducted by Henry Veggian, UNC-Chapel Hill Professor of English and Comparative Literature. Whether looking to be inspired, mystified, or thrilled, this is a great place to take a seat or ramble to one’s heart’s content.
Admission: Free; Most Events and Programs: Free
Hours are: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm Wednesday through Saturday, and 1:00 – 5:00 pm Sunday
But wait! What happens if one gets hungry?
Oh my! Farmer’s markets, food spots and restaurants abound for every palate, need, culture, and budget. A few notable establishments that are staples on the Chapel Hill landscape are Lantern, helmed by James Beard award-winning farm-to-table Chef Andrea Reusing. Crook's Corner with author and chef Bill Smith, is a Southern food institution. They were also awarded an America’s Classics by the James Beard foundation. Chef Smith just taped an episode with the Chef’s Life PBS series on the process of Eastern NC Corned Hams for the holiday season.
Mediterranean Deli was found to be a huge fave with the locals. When visiting by recommendation, one will experience a bustling deli, bakery, and catering establishment. They have a display case full of variety, even for gluten-free and alternative dietary customers. They serve traditional as well as unique dishes. The deli will be expanding to include a market with Mediterranean items next door in the coming months.
Also along those lines are Kipos, Giorgios Bakatsias’ homage to the Greek traditional restaurant. They offer Greek circle dancing at dinner and home-style entrees, wine and pastries. Kalamaki, in the courtyard behind Kipos, offers Greek street food and to-go items.
Mildred Council’s Mama Dips has been around a good long time, and her soul food interpretations are enduring. Fried chicken, greens, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, biscuits, fried green tomatoes and down-home desserts are all part and parcel of the Mama Dip experience.
What about nightlife? Should your day segue into night, the already abundant venues packed into Chapel Hill’s public square footage come alive in neon lights, bustling groups, and all-night food, drinks and music. A few spots the locals love are:
Top of the Hill restaurant and bar for drinks and gathering. Top of the Hill was one of North Carolina’s first microbreweries, and also has its own distillery, TOPO, with innovative drinks and new takes on old favorites.
Cat’s Cradle is a local fave for music with a 750 seat concert venue and nightlife. They’ve racked up quite a few awards and plenty of recognition over the years, pulling in top acts and indie bands from all manner of genres.
Other night spots of note include membership-only Local 506 with live acts, Carolina Brewery which provides game day shuttles, The Crunkleton high-end cocktail bar, and the lounge at Aloft Chapel Hill.
Of course, this doesn’t include the long-as-your-arm list of neat shops, boutiques, improv comedy and poetry readings, bookstores, and every kind of stop and idea under the sun. Even the grocery stores have caught it, as Weaver Street Market co-op grocer is as popular as a food park as it is an organic and local grocery store.
The question is less ‘where to go,’ and more ‘for how long’! It is so difficult to see them all! However, for a day-trip? Yes, this is one city not to be missed!