Durham by Day
Summer road trip
If it’s been a while since you’ve stopped in Durham, the city is more than worthy of a day trip or weekend away.
A roughly two-hour trip from Wilmington, downtown Durham has undergone a revitalization in recent years that sprang forth a crop of foodie destinations, ultra-chic hotels, public art, and entertainment draws.
The city is home to 300 startups, a number of which are housed in the former American Tobacco complex that lay in ruins before Durham Bulls owner Capital Broadcasting Company purchased and renovated the million-square-foot campus.
A five-minute walk away is the Durham Performing Arts Center, or DPAC, which now in its tenth anniversary year presents major acts and touring Broadway shows – including Hamilton in November. In addition to the renowned Museum of Life and Science, there are lemurs, film festivals, river celebrations, art museums, local markets, and much more to be enjoyed.
So, if you need an excuse to hit the open road this summer – but don’t want to venture too far – check out some of these stops and upcoming events.
AMERICAN DANCE FESTIVAL
The American Dance Festival, which kicked off in mid-June and continues through July 21, brings twenty-six dance companies to Durham with more than fifty performances at venues throughout the city.
The annual festival – this year in its eighty-fifth season – celebrates modern dance and brings artists from all over the world. Over 25,000 people attend the festival’s performances.
Info and schedule: americandancefestival.org
AMERICAN TOBACCO DISTRICT
The American Tobacco hub, built from a shuttered factory complex, includes small businesses, restaurants, the Durham Bulls baseball stadium, and Durham Performing Arts Center.
Towers at the American Tobacco Campus include the white Lucky Strike tower, which broadens at its base for a natural seating area where families gather for concerts and picnics.
The cabin where Burt’s Bees co-founder Burt Shavitz lived in Maine is also here; the company is one of many businesses headquartered at the campus.
Durham Bulls Athletic Park, also site of the first brewery in the country to operate in a Minor League baseball stadium, plays home games through early September.
DURHAM PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
DPAC is the largest theater between Atlanta and Washington, D.C., making it a good stop for touring Broadway companies whose set designers can normally use the original sets without alteration. Due to the wear and tear of unusually high attendance, DPAC recently completed a $2.7 million renovation.
Upcoming shows this summer include:
Bring It! Live (July 7) Jill Scott (July 10)
Indigo Girls (July 18)
The Book of Mormon (Aug. 7-12)
Lyle Lovett & His Large Band (Aug. 15)
Schedule and ticket info: dpacnc.com/events
PUBLIC ART PHOTO OPS
One of several murals in the city, “Grab Life by the Horns” is at 120 West Parrish Street. The two-story image by Victor Knight pays homage to the entrepreneurial spirit of African-American men and women who founded businesses on what became known in the early 1900s as Black Wall Street.
"Major," the bronze bull, sculpted by Leah Foushee and Michael Waller, is a symbol of Durham and overlooks the center of town where new construction joins renovation.
The twenty-seven story One City Center is expected to open in the fall with retail on the ground floor topped by 300 apartments and thirty condos. Three 1960s-era buildings have recently opened as upscale boutique hotels with restaurants. Nearby Copa Restaurant is believed by its owners to be the only farm-to-table Cuban restaurant in the country.
The Sarah P. Duke Gardens on Duke University’s campus is open every day from 8 a.m. to dusk and free to all. The site, at 420 Anderson Street, is 55 acres and has been named one of the top ten public gardens in the country. It features four gardens and five miles of walkways. The gardens serve as a backdrop to free concerts on Wednesday nights in July.
NASHER MUSEUM OF ART
The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University is open every day except Monday (also when a lot of other sites are closed). Current exhibits include Precarity, a video installation by John Akomfrah about jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden. Admission is $7 for adults. Children 17 and under get in free. General admission is free on Thursdays.
DUKE LEMUR CENTER
The Duke Lemur Center houses the world’s largest and most diverse population of lemurs outside of Madagascar, the only country where the animals live in the wild. The seventy-acre facility in Duke Forest is both a research center and a breeding program. Their specialized tours and education programs, which help to fund the facility, range from $8 to $400 per person and last one hour to all day. The center is working hand-in-hand with the people of Madagascar to preserve habitat for the world’s most ancient primate. The center is at 3705 Erwin Road.
DURHAM FARMERS MARKET
A year-round farmers market takes place in downtown Durham and features local food, crafts, food trucks, and a play area for kids. Preservation Durham gives free tours from the market focusing on architecture, murals, and Durham’s civil rights history. The market is 3-6 p.m. Wednesdays (April 18-October 10) and 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays (April 7-November 17).
Shop for unique décor pieces, jewelry, vintage goods, and more at THE PATCHWORK MARKET, a monthly makers market. It takes place the first Saturday of each month at Durham’s Fullsteam Brewery (bonus points for being able to shop while sipping a pint). August’s market, however, is at the Durham Armory, 212 Foster Street.
726 Rigsbee Avenue
LITTLER’s intimate dining room in downtown Durham has earned strong reviews since opening two years ago, plating up dishes that place produce center stage, such as rice grit cakes served with field peas, corn, sungolds, and crema or the green garlic risotto and fiddleheads that accompany the poulet rouge.
110 East Parrish Street
The food and drink menu at BLACK TWIG CIDER HOUSE takes bar fare up a notch and revolves around the cider drink, including over a hundred ciders on tap or in bottles. Their Bangers & Mash bratwurst comes with cider, onion, and mushroom gravy, while a Golden Harvey chorizo comes topped with sweet pepper relish, smoked goat cheese, and espelette honey. The restaurant also hosts hard cider food dinner pairing events.
2812 Erwin Road, Suite 104
JACK TAR & THE COLONEL’S DAUGHTER, located in the Unscripted Hotel’s ground floor, is in the heart of downtown Durham. The restaurant riffs on a diner feel and menu – from biscuits and gravy to cheeseburgers – but with an upscale feel and commitment to local ingredients. The fried-to-order crullers feature Chantilly mascarpone and jam, while the poutine is topped with Ashe County cheddar curds.
202 Corcoran Street
Should eating all that gravy and cheese curds make your eyelids heavy after dinner at Jack Tar, the UNSCRIPTED DURHAM HOTEL is upstairs. The boutique hotel, which takes inspiration from mid-century design, also has a poolside lounge with views of the Durham skyline.
202 Corcoran Street
American Dance Festival photo courtesy of Durham CVB; Duke Lemur Center photo by Teresa McLamb; Black Twig Cider House courtesy of Black Twig Cider House; Littler photo courtesy of Litter;Unscripted Hotel by Andrew Cebulka/courtesy of Unscripted Durham