If you only have 36 hours to spend in Durham, you'll have a tough time deciding what to do. For sure, you'll experience only a fraction of what's available in a setting which garners accolades by the dozens. We know you'll dine well in this, America's #1 Foodiest Small Town, according to Bon Appétit.
First things first: accommodations. You can't go wrong with Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club, located on the Duke University campus, and featuring its own public golf course. The 300-acre site is lush and the award-winning inn and dining room are sure to pamper and impress.
If you prefer a B&B, consider the bucolic Arrowhead Inn, built in 1775 and rated both Four Diamond and Select Registry. Chef Phil Teber's food has been called exquisite, extraordinary, and from the New York Times, "imaginative."
The King's Daughters Inn is another treasure. The inn offers complimentary bicycles (called Flying Pigeons), as well as recommendations for must-do activities.
Depending on your timing, there are two boutique hotels coming to Downtown Durham. The Holland will be open in 2013, and the 21C will be open in 2015, but both are creating a lot of anticipatory buzz.
Safely settled in any of these picture-perfect surroundings, begin the morning with a trip to Guglhupf, winner of lots of awards. We suggest the lemon pistachio petit fours, or perhaps a Sacher Torte for two. If it's too early for such indulgence, visitors can choose from tantalizing muffins, breads and other delights.
Fortified and armed with readily available brochures from Durham's excellent Convention & Visitors Bureau, you can begin a sure-to-be satisfying marathon shopping experience. Golden Belt is a green facility fashioned from one of Durham's historic textile mills that contains artist studios, art galleries and lots of live music – and nationally reviewed restaurants. (Golden Belt has achieved LEED Gold Certification in recognition of its sustainable, green features. We like that.)
And then there's the Ninth Street District, an alternative (some say edgy) shopping area filled with independently-owned businesses that fully captures the college-town feel. At Books do Furnish a Room, you’ll find used treasures to read and for listening.
The Play House Toy Store is a locally owned, independent shop focusing on traditional and educational toys for children of all ages. You might enjoy it as much as your little ones, and it’s a sure bet for gifts.
For high end clothing, you have lots of choices, including Bano Boutique, where you can “visit Milan and Manhattan without leaving home.”
Brightleaf District is another must-peruse area. At Vert and Vogue, for instance, you’ll find fashions featuring contemporary, made-in-the-USA designs and luxe, sustainable fabrics, as well as handcrafted accessories made of vintage collectibles and vegan materials.
There's always something happening in the Courtyard. At Jewelsmith, you’ll admire world class jewelry design combined with hometown approachability. They are renowned for our custom jewelry work and also provide a fun and unique shopping experience. (Ask about their Canadian diamonds, prized by environmentalists, who value the work ethic and community support associated with Canadian Diamond mines.)
If you're about ready to drop and breakfast seems light-years ago, we suggest a stop at the Q Shack. Rated #5 out of 425 Durham restaurants in Trip Advisor, there's some quibbling about whether this is truly NC barbecue, but no hesitation when it comes to the pulled pork sandwich. Locally owned and operated, the Q believes in serving farm fresh foods, organic produce and quality fare.
After lunch, the Carrack Modern Art is owned and run by the community, and for the community. Their grassroots approach enables a dynamic conversation between the arts community and Downtown Durham. It’s a fascinating place to visit in the heart of Downtown Durham.
Oenophiles will love Cave Taureau Wines on West Main Street, where one can speak with knowledgeable folks and find wines to treasure.
There are 10 golf courses worthy of your attention, three of which are public, and 40+ annual festivals, if you time it just right.
When it's time to eat again (this is the culinary epicenter of the southeast and eating well is de rigueur) consider Mateo Bar de Tapas. This is the first solo venture from chef Matthew Kelly, housed in the old Book Exchange building in the midst of the new Durham downtown entertainment district. It features a menu that blends the flavors of Spain with the South, including crisp, cold soup cheeses, and if you are lucky on the day you dine, Saffron Peach Pie. Mateo offers a robust Spanish wine list and a great Sherry selection. If you have the chance, order Padron Fritos, fried peppers with sea salt. They are divine, and very difficult to find in the United States.
Six Plates offers, you guessed it, six small plates of food and six wines by the glass matched to those plates.
And then there’s Pizzeria Toro, where you can find amazing flavor combinations in a relaxed environment, including a pizza made with Delicatta squash, gorgonzola cheese and garlic confit – delish!
There are lots of options here, but for a more elegant dinner, consider Vin Rouge where the menu is in French, but the wait staff can help. Escargot, bouillabaisse, crème brûlée.
Or, try Rue Cler, a friendly French bistro environment downtown that’s close to the spiffy new Durham Hotels, aLoft and C21. Super fresh, sea-&-farm-to-table fare, creatively prepared with light sauce seasonings by experts in the kitchen. Things kick-off with Euro-traditional crusty bread. Menu changes daily and fix prix a winner. Savvy bar and French wine selections. Dine Parisian at a fraction of the cost. mais oui! Another choice is Four Square, offering endless creativity in its contemporary American cuisine. Imagine global flavors, with strong emphasis on local produce (much of it grown by chef Shane Ingram and his wife and partner, Elizabeth Woodhouse).
If you're not too exhausted, check out what's playing at Durham Performing Arts Center – it has the largest stage between DC and Atlanta (translation: original productions have no problems in this hall). Want more low-key entertainment? You'll find there are live music venues, a late night dining scene, and plenty of watering holes that satisfy many diverse interests. This is a university town, after all.
Turn in early or join the urban mix. Enjoy that great cocktail bar scene, including Whiskey, The Roxy, and Alley 26 just to name a few. If you’d like to spend some time mingling with the locals, we guarantee you’ll make new friends and enjoy stimulating conversation.
Sleep in if necessary. Or, get up early and continue your exploration of Durham’s charms.
Animal lovers will be thrilled with the Duke Lemur Center which was established in 1966 and today is the world’s largest sanctuary for rare and endangered prosimian primates. The Lemur Center’s 85 acre campus houses about 250 animals, including 233 lemurs encompassing 15 species, lorises from India and Southeast Asia, and bushbabies from Africa. The lemurs are allowed outside access anytime the weather is 45 degrees or above, however, that doesn’t guarantee they will be frolicking outside. If not, you’ll be able to see them through two indoor viewing areas. There are no restaurant facilities on site, but a number of good ones are very close.
Speaking of eating, by now you’ve probably noticed one or more food trucks, which are wildly popular in Durham. At last count, there were almost 50 of these rolling tummy tamers in Durham, serving everything from doughnuts, to international foods, New York hotdogs and Chinese dumplings. Where will they be on the days you visit? Try carpedurham.com/food-trucks/ which tracks their locations daily.
Want more? You’ve got it. The Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau will help you fill your day with fun, frolic and fantastic experiences.
A few accolades which caught our editorial eye suitable for those seeking a great road trip or perhaps a new hometown:
Scratch Bakery named one of the “South’s Best Bakeries for Pie” by Southern Living
Durham ranked first among “America’s Leading Creative Class Metros,” by The Rise of the Creative Class – Revisited
“Highest Private Sector Salaries in NC”, by Triangle Business Journal
Durham ranked #1 on “Best Places to Retire” list, by CNN/Money
Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club ranked highest in customer service of the 34 four-star hotels in the U.S.
Peach Lemonade at Scratch Bakery among Ed Levine’s “Top Sips of 2010 for Teetotalers”
Durham Farmer’s Market voted America’s 11th Favorite Farmers Market by American Farmland Trust
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