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North Carolina Travel Guide
Around Durham

Restaurants, Shopping, Galleries and Parks

Unlike many towns which have a center, Durham seems to have a number of centers with space in between them which when eventually filled in will make Durham a bit more cohesive than it is now. But you could say the same thing about Los Angeles and Durham is a lot easier to get around in. You should not really complain that you have to drive for five minutes to get to 9th Street from the American Tobacco Historic District or Brightleaf Square. Durham's historic downtown looks like the cities of the fifties when it was home to the most prosperous African American community in the United States. There are some classic old buildings and a few medium sized sky-scrapers, government buildings and some shops and restaurants but this is the area that suffered the most from urban renewal and is the key to Durham's revival. But buildings are just buildings and it is what goes on in and around them that matters. Downtown Durham was North Carolina’s first commercial district on the National Register of Historic Places and is now a regional center for arts, entertainment, and dining.

Durham Arts Council The Durham Arts Council on Morris Street is the center for numerous arts organizations and contains performance and exhibition spaces and is home to the Durham Symphony Orchestra. The building itself which was constructed in 1906 now contains 3 galleries, 2 theatres with support spaces, meeting rooms, offices, rehearsal spaces and studios for digital arts, dance, photography, clay, fiber arts, visual arts and children’s art. The Durham Arts Council building is part of the City of Durham Historic District and the Historic Preservation Society of Durham. The Durham Arts Council also presents CenterFest when tens of thousands of art lovers from across the region to celebrate two-days of visual and performing arts on the streets of historic downtown Durham, usually the first or second weekend of October. For more information e-mail Further down Morris street The Durham Farmers' Market is open every Saturday morning 8 a.m. to noon from April through November with over 40 vendors selling fresh, locally grown produce (including organic), potted plants and herbs, cut flowers, fresh eggs, locally produced cheeses, honey, preserves, fresh baked goods, hand-made soaps, and much more. On Parrish Street the old headquarters of North Carolina Mutual Life and the Mechanics Farmers Bank has been declared a National Historic Site. Just across the street is the old Woolworth Building , the site of Martin Luther King Jr.'s first participation at a sit-in. (The counter is at North Carolina Central University) The present North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co. building towering over Chapel Hill Street offers tours of the Heritage Room, which is filled with the memorabilia that highlight the company's historic role in Durham.

Carolina Theatre, Durham, NC The beautiful Carolina Theater at 309 E Morgan street is right around the corner and is the former Durham Auditorium, built in 1925 and fully restored for $7.8 million on Dec. 31, 1993. When it was built it was one of the largest, most beautiful and most up-to-date theaters in North Carolina. Fletcher Hall has 1,016 seats and the Carolina Theatre remains one of the best places to see live performances of dance, drama, comedy, music and independent film festivals. Though slated for demolition it was saved through community efforts and is now one of the anchors of central Durham. A typical season at the Carolina Theatre might include Laurie Anderson, the Manhattans, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, The Spanish Harlem Orchestra , Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Durham native and Grammy winner Nnenna Freelon , and jazz trumpeter Chris Botti and jazz great Joe Sample. In fact this is a list of who is playing there this season. Their film festivalsinclude the Full Frame Documentary Festival, Nevermore Horror, Gothic & Fantasy Film Festival, North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival , and the new Escapism Action Adventure Animation Film Series that guarantees plenty of exciting wireworks, fireworks, stunts, and the kinds of movies where 1000 extras wage hell on the big screen. The Fletcher Hall Box Office is open 11am - 6pm Monday through Friday and one hour before live performances. The Cinema Box Office (up the stairs and inside the building) opens thirty minutes prior to the first screening of the day. Box office: 919-560-3030

St Joseph's Performance Hall, Durham, NC St. Joseph’s Performance Hall at the Hayti Heritage Center is Durham's premier African-American cultural arts center and occupies the former St Joseph's AME Church, which was constructed in 1891 and was one of the most well known and prosperous African-American congregations in the United States. With White Rock Baptist Church, St Joseph's was the cornerstone of the community that built the black Wall Street. In the 1970’s when the congregation moved to a new church home, the building became the catalyst for the formation of the St. Joseph’s Historic Foundation (SJHF) which has slowly but surely turned the old church into a cultural center where you can see great musical performances by Motown artists , Gospel concerts, the Black Diaspora Film Festival, and other events. Each year the Foundation commemorates the Martin Luther King holiday with storytelling and musical entertainment and the Raise-A-Reader Bookfair and Youth Gospel Showcase promoting literacy with a book fair and gospel show. The center also presents the annual Bull Durham Blues Festival at the historic Durham Athletic Park which includes some of the finest contemporary blues artist today including Bo Diddley, Taj Mahal, Etta James, Ruth Brown, Aaron Neville and Charles Neville, Bobby Blue Bland, Denise LaSalle, Tyrone Davis, KoKo Taylor, Shemekia Copeland, Buddy Guy, Dr. John, Otis Rush, Hank Crawford, Johnny Clyde Copeland, and Alberta Adams. The St Joseph's Performance Hall is at 804 Old Fayetteville St. For more info e-mail

Further down Fayetteville Street is North Carolina Central University , chartered in 1909 as a "colored race" religious training school. North Carolina Central University Art Museum , which features the works of various African-American artists from both the 19th and 20th centuries (including the work of sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett and the painter and Durham native Ernie Barnes) as well as a selection of objects from the African continent. NCCU Art Museum has been called "the most important publicly assembled collection of African-American art in North Carolina".

American Tobacco Historic District, Durham, NC American Tobacco Historic District/Lucky Strike Cigarette Factory is a one million square foot retail/office and entertainment district which has been called the most ambitious historic preservation project in the history of North Carolina. Located downtown near the Durham Bulls Athletic Park the district features restaurants like Tyler's Tap Room which boasts 60 micro-brew and import beers on tap and a large menu and pool hall. Also Mellow Mushroom Pizza, Starbucks, and the upscale but casual Symposium Restaurant. With a man-made river flowing through the district, an amphitheatre for musical and theatrical events and numerous shops and businesses moving in, the American Tobacco Historic District has almost unlimited space and potential. It is located at 400 Blackwell Street by the Durham Athletic Park.

Durham Athletic Park Durham Bulls Athletic Park for those who saw the film Bull Durham is not the same one that is in the movie. That is the old Durham Athletic Park which was home to the Bulls on and off since 1926 when it was called El Toro Park. The Bulls now play at the new Durham Bulls Athletic Park, which looks a little like Camden Yards with the Green Monster of Fenway Park in left field. For those who have not experienced the excitement of the Durham Bullas and minor league Baseball let me try to explain it to you. Imagine teams of guys, most of whom are good enough to be in the majors but for a number of reasons are not there. Maybe they are on the way up or maybe on the way down and hoping to get back. Maybe they are on rehab from an injury. maybe they are pitchers working on a pitch or delivery flaw or maybe they are potentially great players but there is nowhere for them on the major league team so they are in triple-A where they can play every day. These guys for the most part have one thing in common: the desire to be in the majors and they play like it.

Durham Athletic Park, NC Now think back to your last major-league game when you were up in the nose-bleed section during some hopeless slaughter of your home-town team and as the locals began leaving you made your way down to the front seats until you were almost right on the field. That is the way the Durham Bulls Athletic Park is. There is no nosebleed section. You are right there on the field surrounded by people who love the Bulls in a way that few minor league teams are loved. Having been to countless major league games and even after a dozen Olympic baseball games including the semifinals and the finals in Athens 2004 I still think that a day at the DAP is just as much fun. If you are a baseball fan I probably don't need to remind you that while the Bulls are the minor league team of the Devil Rays your favorite team probably has their minor league team in the International league too. The DAP is at 409 Blackwell Street right next to the American Tobacco Historic District/Lucky Strike Cigarette Factory.

Brightleaf Square, Durham, NC Brightleaf Square was one of the first projects in Durham to convert old tobacco warehouses, to small shops, office space for small businesses, and restaurants. The two long brick buildings with high ceilings and sold wood floors are separated by a courtyard garden and are home to several popular restaurants including Taverna Nikos  which is one of the better Greek restaurants in the triangle. The area around Brightleaf Square has also attracted businesses and restaurants and is especially popular at night. Fishmonger's Restaurant and Oyster Bar is a hardcore seafood place which feels more like the NC coast than Durham. Anotherthyme is a natural foods restaurant that has been here for decades and is owned by Mary Bacon who one of the pioneers of vegetarian dining in North Carolina. Pop's is a trattoria located in one of the neighborhood warehouses and Fowler's Food and Wine store at 112 South Duke Street is second only to Chapel Hill's a Southern Season when it comes to gourmet foods, wine and coffee.

9th Street, Durham, NC 9th Street which is the closest commercial district to Duke University is sort of the East Village of Durham with tattoo parlors, bakeries, international fast-food and sit down restaurants, and a few bars. Vin Rouge Cafe and Wine Bar across Hillsborough Street which was named one of Durham's best restaurants by the Boston Globe (during their annual review of Durham restaurants I suppose). Owned by Giorgos Bakatsias from the town of Karpenissi, Greece he also owns Parizade at nearby Irwin Square and several other restaurants around the Triangle. Blu Seafood and Bar describes itself as "as upscale, casual seafood with innovative regional classics. In other words, our place is comfortable with great food, some local, some global, but always fresh." It has been described by my Durham friends who eat there as 'amazing'. It is at 2002 Hillsborough Road right by the intersection with 9th Street.

Regulator Books, Durham, North Carolina The excellent Regulator Books at 720 9th Street is not only the best independent bookshop in the area they also host readings by well known authors and poets. Their cafe is one of the best places in Durham to hang out, drink coffee and read endlessly. There are two other bookshops nearby, Books on Ninth which is right next door and Books Do Furnish A Room which is at 1809 Markham. Both sell used books. Nice Price Books at 811 Broad Street buys and sells used books, CDs, records, videos and DVDs. The Music Loft on Hillsborough is one of the largest and best musical instrument shops in the triangle and an essential stop for any musician who wants to walk in, grab a guitar, crank up an amp and play the intro to Smoke on the Water until they get kicked out. Also nearby is the Whole Foods supermarket, Elmo's Diner and Cosmic Cantina.

Irwin Mills, Durham, North Carolina Nearby was the Irwin Cotton Mill which has been pretty much demolished to make space for Irwin Square, the modern skyscraper shopping area, though one building has been saved and converted to condominiums. If you want to live in Durham and be at the center of things and can't afford a big old house near Duke's East Campus this would be the place to live. The 9th Street neighborhood is probably the most interesting and imaginative area to go to day or night, similar to what Chapel Hill was before it was flooded with money and the rents went up or Hillsborough Street in Raleigh before that went downhill. The complaint about Duke in the past was that the students spent too much time partying on campus and the businesses in Durham suffered for it. With all that is going on off-campus it seems silly to be spending all your nights at frat parties.

Southpoint Mall, Durham, NC There are a couple malls worth mentioning, not that malls really need mentioning. Northgate Mall was recently expanded and contains over 165 stores including a couple department stores. How many of them are still in business I have no idea because I never go there. The Streets at Southpoint off I-40 may be a mall that will be attractive even to people who don't like malls(like me). The indoor section is a fairly typical double-decker clothing, shoes and specialty shop mall that most mall-goers will find familiar. There are several big department stores like North Carolina's first Nordstrom, a JC Penny, Belk and a couple decent places for coffee and lots of fast food. They usually have some new cars on display and of course there are central booths that sell Dell computers, mobile phones, cable and gifts. But what I like about Southpoint (and I am one of those people who does not like malls) is the outdoor section which is a pedestrian walking street between such stores as Barnes and Noble, The Mac Store, The Bose Store and a number of pretty decent restaurants, though of the national chain variety and probably owned by large Republican donors. Still you can't argue with good food no matter who gets the money and the Streets at Southpoint is like a night in the city (for someone who has never been to a real city). There is also a multiplex theater and almost all the restaurants have bars and active happy hours as workers from RTP flood in looking for the closest place to get a drink. New Hope Commons which has a Walmarts as their anchor was a slap in the face to Chapel Hill who rejected it. No problem. They just built it on the border and now Chapel Hillians shop there anyway and Durham gets the tax revenue.

Eno River, Durham, NC For those who love nature and the outdoors you will be happy to know that like many North Carolina towns and cities the urban center of Durham is an island in a very rural state with forests, parks, lakes, rivers, streams, bike trails and walking trails. Lake Michie offers some of the finest largemouth bass fishing in the Piedmont with boats available for rental and Primitive camping is available by permit. Individual campsites are complete with grills and picnic tables. Little River Lake offers boat and bank fishing too. The Durham Dogapalooza Parks are multifunctional facilities designed to offer a safe and controlled environment for dogs and their owners. Located at Pineywood Park at the intersection of Woodcroft Parkway and Woodlake Drive. The Little River Regional Park and Natural area is 391 acres of trails for walking, biking, horseback-riding, rock climbing and bird-watching. The West Point on the Eno City Park (photo) has a reconstructed mill from 1778, picnicking, hiking and rafting on the Eno river and is the site of the Festival for the Eno every July which features music, art, food and lots of people. Duke Gardens is 55 acres of flowers, plants, streams, ponds, bridges and Duke students who have found a quiet place to study. These are just a few of more than 60 parks in Durham, with more planned for future development. While we are on the subject of nature don't forget to visit the Museum of Life and Sciences.

The Durham Craft Market runs from the first Saturday of April through the last Saturday before Thanksgiving on Saturday morning from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon in the growing Durham Central Park area of historic downtown Durham, across from the Durham Farmers Market's new pavilion on Foster Street. Parking available on Foster or on Morris. The Durham Craft Market was founded to connect the abundant talent of local artisans with the people of the Durham community by promoting the sale and purchase of fine quality handmade local goods. Their mission is to celebrate the uniqueness of craft while providing a local alternative to mass-produced items. Their purpose also includes fostering great community relations by welcoming youth and embracing diversity.  

Golf courses include the Hillandale Golf Course which has one of the 100 best Golf Shops in America (I guess that's good). The Crossings is ranked as one of the top 10 best new golf courses in North Carolina and Treyburn Country Club is rated by Golf Digest as one of the top 10 courses in NC. Every May the Duke Children's Classic is held at Duke to benefit children's health-care programs at Duke Medical Center and attracts North Carolina and national celebrities to the well-known Duke University Golf Club, ranked as the 15th best in North Carolina. The other 6 golf courses in Durham have probably been rated in the top ten for something by somebody, if nothing else one of the top ten golf courses in Durham. Obviously though it you need to play golf while in Durham you should not have too much trouble finding a place to play. For more information see Golf in North Carolina .

Duke Homestead, Durham, NCIf you follow the Old Oxford Highway past the Treyburn Industrial Park, which is shaping up to be another Research Triangle Park in the woods of Northern Durham, you will come to The Stagville Center on the former Bennehan Estate, was a tobacco plantation that by the time of the Civil War stretched over 30,000 acres. A slave-built barn, artifacts and four original slave dwellings of the Horton Grove slave quarters which housed perhaps 100 slaves in four-room, two-story cabins are on view. The center also periodically offers programs on African-American history and material culture of the enslaved. It is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10-4. (I went Sunday and it was closed.) When these slaves were freed many went to Durham to find work and these were the ancestors to those that helped Durham to achieve the economic and cultural success it enjoyed for much of the twentieth century. A little closer to town the Duke Homestead and Tobacco Museum (photo) is worth a visit to see where it all began. This State Historic Site  is at 2828 Duke Homestead Rd and is open Tuesday - Saturday, 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. and closed Sunday and Monday. Admission is free.

See also Restaurants in Durham, Durham Nightlife, Durham Hotels, Duke University, Annual Events in Durham, Durham Photo Album and History of Durham.

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