Chapel Hill may be best known for its namesake university, an athletic powerhouse that’s netted twenty-two national championships in women’s soccer and sent several men’s hoops players to the NBA (most famously Michael Jordan). But the town of sixty thousand isn’t blinded by Carolina blue; instead, it pulses with a creative, distinctly progressive energy all its own (it was the first city in the South to elect a Black mayor, Howard Nathaniel Lee, during the height of the civil rights movement in 1969). Many businesses, from restaurants to farms, choose the Chapel Hill area for this exact reason. Here are a handful of spots where you can get a taste of the city beyond the UNC campus.
“Terroir over chemicals, acid over alcohol” is part of the manifesto at sommelier Paula de Pano’s wine shop on Market Street. “[Chapel Hill residents] wanted a place where they could really explore wine instead of just purchasing a bottle or glass,” says De Pano, who modeled her business after the wine destinations she loved when she lived in New York City. Ticketed events such as “Fifty Shades of Rosé” or “Cheese Wars! Domestic vs. International” sell out quickly.
Helmed by chef and owner Andrea Reusing, this decades-old restaurant has rightfully earned a host of national awards for its inventive use of Asian flavors and fastidious adherence to local sourcing from small food producers across the state, including organic greens from nearby Ten Mothers Farm and fresh North Carolina catch from Locals Seafood.
With its curated collection of pop art, thoughtfully crafted cocktails, and twenty-one-and-over scene, the Baxter is not the grimy corner arcade of yore— though the retro memorabilia and vintage games (Ms. Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat, and plenty of pinball) call back to the golden era of the genre. Kids are welcome during select daytime hours.
Located in an unassuming strip mall three minutes from downtown Chapel Hill, this newcomer joined the ranks of the local restaurant elite thanks to upbeat fare that draws influence from Italy, Asia, and the American South. As chef and co-owner Garret Fleming notes: “We aren’t an Italian restaurant, or fine dining, or a high-concept ‘New American’ gastropub. We’re just Bombolo.” Whatever you call it, the halibut crudo is a masterclass.
This lush thirty-acre farm and multi-use space—where events include weddings, summer camps, and wellness retreats—urges visitors to lean into the restorative powers of the natural world. At the venue’s sustainability-minded tea house, guests can savor made-on-site offerings such as craft teas and honey-fermented mead.
Eight miles south of downtown Chapel Hill sits an expansive yet charming English-inspired community that is home to a quaint bookstore, well-appointed spa, and multiple lauded restaurants. A former dairy farm, the village operates a real estate arm with turnkey and custom-built home sites, but a Relais & Châteaux–certified luxury inn welcomes short-term guests.
One of only a few regional repertory companies left in the country, PlayMakers stages a revolving lineup of contemporary and classic shows in which any of its core actors are trained to perform any role. The upcoming season at PlayMakers, which partners with UNC’s Department of Dramatic Art, includes a traditional Shakespeare production (Much Ado About Nothing) and a Pulitzer-winning Shakespeare riff (Fat Ham).