The Ultimate Guide to Downtown Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough

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Explore Orange County’s vibrant downtowns with our checklist

Photography By Beth Mann

Discover the ultimate guide to downtown exploration in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Hillsborough! Uncover hidden gems, indulge in culinary delights, and immerse yourself in the vibrant culture of these city centers. From downtown Chapel Hill attractions to Carrboro’s events and Hillsborough’s must-visit spots, this guide is your key to an unforgettable journey through these dynamic downtowns. Sign up for our Editors’ Picks newsletter and be the first to receive weekly updates on the hottest happenings for the coming weekend. Get insider tips, exclusive recommendations, and exciting event highlights delivered straight to your inbox. Don’t miss out on the latest buzz in town!

1 Attend a Carolina Performing Arts show

2 Head downtown for one of the many festivals year-round 

3 Play with a dozen cats in a cage-free lounge at Cat Tales Cat Cafe

4  Line up at the Yogurt Pump (YoPo) and try one of the eight rotating flavors

5 Watch your favorite band perform at Cat’s Cradle

6 Rush Franklin Street after a UNC victory over Duke (or a national championship!)

7 See a movie at the classic Varsity Theatre 

8 Walk around a historic neighborhood like the Franklin-Rosemary Historic District to admire the architecture

9 Play trivia at Vecino Brewing Co. with a pint of Hop Trópico Hazy IPA or NUX Indica Coconut Porter

10 Participate in 2nd Friday ArtWalk in Carrboro and Chapel Hill

11 View the latest exhibition at the Ackland Art Museum 

12 Indulge in the shrimp and grits at Squid’s 

13 Relax on the lawn of Weaver Street Market in Carrboro with the most seasonal flavor of Maple View Farm Ice Cream  

14 Sip a pint next to Layla the pug and other dogs at Beer Study

15 Stop by Al’s Burger Shack and eat what Trip Advisor named the No. 1 best burger in the country (don’t forget the crinkle cut fries!)

16 Take a step back in town history at the Horace Williams House, home to Preservation Chapel Hill

17 Have a picnic in the Coker Arboretum 

18 Challenge friends to a round of pool at Zog’s Art Bar & Pool Hall

19 Take your pick of pizzerias on Franklin Street, including Italian Pizzeria III

Volume in Hillsborough has beer on tap and carries records for sale

20 Flip through records at Schoolkids Records, or at Volume, you have the option to drink from one of 12 rotating taps, too

21 Play your favorite old-school arcade game at The Baxter

22 Try Tandem’s Sunday brunch

23 Pick up a six-pack at Carrboro Beverage Company

24 Enjoy an evening of music outside at Fridays on the Front Porch at The Carolina Inn (April-Oct.) 

25 Try a Bell Tower Blueberry Wheat at Top of the Hill

26 Buy a cut of meat from Cliff’s Meat Market 

27 Pick out new game-day gear at shops like Chapel Hill Sportswear

28 Walk along the banks of the Eno River on the Riverwalk 

29 Catch an afternoon show at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center

30 Get a book signed by an author at Purple Crow Books

31 Take a tour of the Civil War-era Burwell School, one of the first schools in the area to educate women

32 Pose in front of a downtown mural

33 Grab a cone at Whit’s Frozen Custard and head to Gold Park with a blanket and ball 

34 Try the daily skillet cornbread at ACME 

35 Kiss your sweetheart below the Davie Poplar tree on UNC’s campus

36 Indulge in some Southern fixins at Mama Dip’s

37 Take a pottery or drawing class at The ArtsCenter 

38 Get sloppy on Tuesdays at The Wooden Nickel for wing night

39 Shop for trendy pieces at Uniquities 

40 Sit a spell at University Baptist Church’s Memorial Garden 

41 Conquer the El Gigante Burrito challenge at Bandido’s

42 Have brunch under the sun in the Rosé Garden at Oakleaf

43 Grab a milkshake at Sutton’s Drug Store

44 Shop local produce from the Carrboro Farmers Market and the Eno River Farmers Market 

45 Head to The Crunkleton for a cocktail

46 People-watch on the patio of The Purple Bowl with an acai bowl in hand

47 Find a mix of eclectic gifts at This & That

48 Dine out for a cause on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Glasshalfull 

49 Get late-night cheese fries at Linda’s Bar & Grill

50 Be wowed by Patrick Dougherty’s stickwork sculpture in front of the Ackland

51 Cozy on up to the Lantern bar – or sit outside – for creative dishes from Andrea Reusing, who won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southeast  

52 Explore the vendors at the food hall Blue Dogwood Public Market

53 Check out live, local bands at Nash Street Tavern

54 Stroll the sidewalks and gallery hop during Last Fridays in Hillsborough 

55 Have your fill of south Indian cuisine at CholaNad

56 Watch a UNC game at Four Corners 

57 Find vegetarian-friendly dishes at Vimala’s and The Spotted Dog  

58 Dig through the vintage finds at Rumors 

59 Ride the Sky Blue Express to home football games after a beer at Carolina Brewery

60 Shop for unique jewelry at Melissa Designer Jewelry, 108 Churton, Carlisle & Linny Vintage Jewelry or Spiral Studios

61 Take advantage of the margarita special at TRU on Wednesdays  

62 Take the kiddos to Radius for some truffle fries and live music on Thursdays and first/last Sundays of the month

63 Explore the historic Alexander Dickson House which also serves as Hillsborough’s Visitors Center

Perennial is on West Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill

64 Satisfy your caffeine needs at Open Eye Cafe in Carrboro, Perennial in Chapel Hill or Cup A Joe in Hillsborough

65 Shop for a Carolina blue tie at Julian’s

66 Let your creativity run wild and build your own burger at Buns

67 Take your pick from all the different salsas at Carrburritos 

68 Treat what ails you with a cup of kava at Krave, the only kava bar in Orange County 

69 Try something new at Peño Mediterranean Grill, Pho Happiness or Epilogue 

70 Grab some ‘cue at Hillsborough BBQ Company

71 Peruse contemporary fine art at Eno Mill Gallery

72 Pick up some CBD coffee bags from The Hemp Store NC to kickstart your morning

73 Treat yourself at Monarch Brow & Facial Studio

74 Bike around town one sunny afternoon

75 Sip wine on the roof deck at West End Wine Bar 

76 Slurp on some boba at Cha House or Yaya Tea

77 Finish a blue cup at He’s Not Here 

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