Southern Weekend Getaway: 5 Things to do in Chapel Hill North Carolina

Carolina Inn facade
Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill is located in North Carolina’s Triangle. A half-hour drive separates Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, so you can hop around between all three destinations quite easily.

Looking for a quick getaway and a bit of southern charm this weekend? In just two hours, you can steal away to Chapel Hill North Carolina, where you can enjoy wine, fare, and fun in a relaxed Southern atmosphere. With Airbnb and Hotels.com at your fingertips, you’ll have plenty of options for accommodations, but make your stay extra special and visit the Carolina Inn. It’s reasonably priced (by New Englanders’ standards), and with a welcoming staff, you’ll be hooked by the warm pecan chocolate chip cookie, served up at check-in with a smile and soothing Southern drawl.

Hallway in Carolina Inn
A sun-splashed hallway in the charming Carolina Inn.

1.   Stay at the Carolina Inn

Located on the campus of (and owned by) the University of North Carolina, the Carolina Inn is architecturally striking—blending elements of an antebellum Southern plantation home with Georgian and neoclassical features. The building’s original front was modeled after George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon. Combining tradition with modernism, the inn has a fun, friendly vibe.

The lounge and restaurant are teeming with businesspeople, university alumni, students, and families. Nearby, the popular Franklin Street bustles with pedestrians enjoying the slightly warmer temperatures (approximately 10 degrees warmer than New England). You can easily walk to the stadium, basketball arena (go “Tar Heels”!), and the Research Triangle Park (RTP).

purple orchid
One of many vibrant orchid submissions at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens orchid competition.

2.   Visit the Sarah P. Duke Botanical Gardens

At the Sarah P. Duke Botanical Gardens in Durham, you can enmesh yourself in five miles of beautiful walking trails laden with native and exotic blooms. On the grounds of Duke University, these specialized gardens are divided into four sections: rose gardens, native gardens, plants from eastern Asia, and a discovery garden. On a weekend in November, I was still able to view azalea, asters, ginger lily and water lily. It was fun to vote in the annual orchid competition being held in the visitor center. Additional attractions include a learning center, bird viewing shelter, butterfly garden, and Japanese Tea Garden. Admission is free. Experience the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

 

topiary and wine display
A candlelit topiary and wine display at Crossroads Restaurant.

3.   Dine at Crossroads Chapel Hill

It wouldn’t be a proper Southern-style dinner without biscuits. These wonderful honey-drizzled biscuits with herbal butter kicked off our farm-to-table dining experience at Crossroads restaurant at the inn. At the helm of this regionally-sourced cuisine is multiple Michelin-star executive chef Brandon Sharp. He blends together the graceful dining traditions of the South with progressive American cuisine. Seasonal menus emphasize local, organic, and sustainable ingredients from the area and surrounding farms and artisanal sources. The crispy half chicken with Brussels sprouts, potatoes with Périgord black truffle, and tarragon were testament to the quality of locally grown food. Chef Sharp is a former “Tar Heel” himself.

rod iron gate in Hillsborough NC
A rod-iron gate in quaint downtown Hillsborough emanates Southern charm.

4.   Head to the Town of Hillsborough

To my delight, my friend gave me a tour of her neighborhood in the nearby town of Hillsborough. Well-appointed with restaurants, bookstores, and galleries, this Carolina community offers a slice of small-town quaintness. On this day, the Orange County Artists’ Guild Open Studio tour was taking place and I was able to meet several local artists, including Thomas Stevens, a talented landscape artist who serves double duty as Hillsborough’s mayor. I understand why my friend fled the cold temperatures of Boston recently to resettle here. “I love the sense of community in this diversely populated town,” she said. “The people are friendly, genuine, and open to meeting and making new friends.”

stick sculpture
Several of Patrick Dougherty’s stick sculptures can be seen at the Ackland Art Museum.

5.   Don’t Miss the Ackland Art Museum

Pop into the Ackland Art Museum that’s located directly across the street from the inn. To my dismay, I had just missed the American Portraiture exhibit that included portraiture from Amy Sherald (of Michelle Obama portrait fame). Oh well, instead, I explored their substantial collection of 20th century masterworks, Asian art, and African American works—the newly reinstalled galleries are interactive and inspiring.

Are you familiar with Patrick Dougherty’s famed stick work? These whimsical works “twist” the line between architecture, landscape, and art. He has woven enough twigs and branches to create over 300 straw sculptures that are displayed throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia, and several are (currently) located on the grounds of the Ackland. You’ve got to see these!  Admission is free.

orchid and chandelier
I was reluctant to leave the graceful lobby when it came time to depart.

The Raleigh-Durham International Airport is located in the Triangle and a quick 20-minute Uber or cab ride from Chapel Hill. And your return flight to Boston is only two hours in length (in favorable winds). Consider stealing away from New England for a weekend to soak up a little Southern charm. Head to Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

 

Maureen Ryan Thorpe is a freelance writer who grew up on the North Shore of Boston and has written about people, places, and technology for years. She aims to impart tips to readers on how to “do-it-yourself,” save money, think creatively, and live life to the fullest.

 

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