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Thread: Things to See and Do in Raleigh-Durham

  1. #1
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Things to See and Do in Raleigh-Durham

    At the end of this month the wife and I are off to the Outer Banks for three days and then to Chapel Hill for four days. We plan to explore Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh for fun and possible relocation potential. What are the cool areas to hang out and the can't miss attractions/sites? I would love to find remnants of the Old South (i.e. BBQ shacks, seafood shacks, swimming holes, historic neighborhoods, etc.). We enjoy theatre and museums. We hate cookie-cutter subdivisions, eight-lane roads and strip malls, so steer us clear of that junk as much as possible.

    So far on the agenda is: Franklin Street/Chapel Hill, UNC, Duke Street/Duke U., old North Durham suburbs, Glenwood South, State Capital, City Market, Boylan Heights, and Cameron. What other areas should we see? Any recommendations for non-cheesy jazz/blues bars or clubs? Any tacky things we need to see (mega-churches, NASCAR tracks, etc.)?
    Last edited by jmello; 08 Jun 2005 at 4:22 PM.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian eightiesfan's avatar
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    Good question, it's also on my list of cities to visit this summer along with Charlotte and Asheville.
    “Do you think the porter and the cook have no anecdotes, no experiences, no wonders for you? The walls of their minds are scrawled all over with thoughts. They shall one day bring a lantern and read the inscriptions.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Plus PlannerGirl's avatar
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    On Franklin Street check out The Ratskeller its a hole in the wall basement eating place. Hams has pretty darn good home made chips as well, its farther down on Franklin. The campus itself is wonderful enjoy some people watching at the old well/fountain.
    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin

    Remember this motto to live by: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming 'WOO- HOO what a ride!'"

  4. #4

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    It's been four years since I moved, but I lived for ten years in Chapel Hill/Durham.

    The UNC campus, surely worth a visit, is currently a bit of a mess because of a major capital improvements project, approved by North Carolina voters about 5 years ago. Of course, there is some ugly architecture, but taken as a whole, I still think that it ranks among the most beautiful campuses. Top of the Hill, at Franklin and Columbia in downtown CH, has great views and good microbrews. You can walk west from campus (if you like walking) all the way to neighboring Carrboro -- you'll pass a number of restaurants, art galleries, book stores (regrettably, fewer of these than there used to be), and the like. Carrboro's Weaver Street Market, located in Carr Mill, a converted cotton mill (Carrboro once was a mill town), is a must see. You can spend hours at Weaver Street people watching, especially on Thursday evenings (for afterhours open air jazz) and Sunday brunch.

    Stay at the Carolina Inn on the UNC campus if you can afford it and can get a room. It has been remodeled in the last decade (when I was in town), and you can walk everywhere worth going (well, that's an exaggeration) in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Outside of downtown Chapel Hill, A Southern Season is a one of kind upscale specialty store, and there's a very good indie movie house on the north of town. Also, explore the historic neighborhoods around campus.

    If you are into New Urbanist style development, check out Meadowmont off 54 on the way to Durham. Some of it is decent, with a bit of mixed use, but much of it is extremely over the top. Also worth looking at Southern Village south of town.

    Durham is the poorest part of the Triangle, but has many interesting neighborhoods and pretty good infrastructure downtown, though it is (like most American cities) pretty deserted. The best neighborhood in the Triangle (arguably) is Trinity Park, near Duke's (older) East Campus. Beautiful older homes. Nearby is the eclectic 9th Street (just west of Trinity Park), with shops and restaurants. East of Trinity Park is Brighleaf Square, a complex that used to serve as tobacco warehouses, now full of interesting shops, art galleries, and restaurants/bars (check out the James Joyce if it is still there). Some warehouses had been converted to living space when I was last there, most famously the West Village. When I moved to NC in 1992, you could still smell tobacco in the Brightleaf area, but that's long gone. Oh, and it's certainly worth taking a look at Duke's West Campus, the main campus, to see the Gothic architecture. I find it kind of creepy. Duke Gardens, on campus, are quite nice too. The big news when I was leaving the area was a new mall in south Durham, which was bringing the area's first Nordstrom and (no doubt) lots and lots of traffic. Even as it was, traffic was pretty bad, at least in certain places (like Route 40 between CH and Raleigh and 15-501 between CH and Durham).

    Raleigh has a very good collection of neighborhoods, both old, post war and new. A decent (free) art museum on the west side of town (i.e. not in downtown). Last I was in town, there was haphazard redevelopment of the west side of the city, on the Glenwood Ave. corridor. A bit farther north is the Five Points neighborhood -- a good coffee shop (Third Place) and pizzeria. Very pretty neighborhoods along here. The area immediately west of downtown (between NC State and downtown) may also be worth checking out. Again, last I was there big plans were in the works, though I suspect that nothing much has come of them -- definitely try the Irregardless Cafe, which is along this stretch. Just north of NCSU, which is a mediocre campus, is Cameron Village, a 1950s era shopping center which today almost passes for an urban, mixed use neighborhood. Just north of downtown is the well-preserved (19th Century) Oakwood neighborhood. I am always amazed by how prosperous Raleigh seems, but it isn't the most exciting city in the world. North Raleigh (north of the beltway) is relentlessly suburban and now probably stretches three quarters of the way to the Virginia state line.

    I won't suggest going to Cary (fondly referred to by locals as Containment Area for Relocated Yankees)...not much worth seeing there, though some effort is being made to bulk up its small downtown.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Kovanovich
    Stay at the Carolina Inn on the UNC campus if you can afford it and can get a room.
    Already booked three nights there. Glad we made a good choice.

    If you are into New Urbanist style development, check out Meadowmont off 54 on the way to Durham.
    Definitely will, what are the cross streets/addresses I should look for on a map?

    The best neighborhood in the Triangle (arguably) is Trinity Park, near Duke's (older) East Campus. Beautiful older homes.
    Again, what are the cross streets? Is it east of west of Ninth Street?

    I won't suggest going to Cary (fondly referred to by locals as Containment Area for Relocated Yankees)...not much worth seeing there, though some effort is being made to bulk up its small downtown.
    Is Cary mostly suburban? There is no center? I find it strange that Northeasterners would choose to inhabit such a place, with all the choices there seem to be.

    Thank you so much for your help. Do you recommend seeing City Market? What about the State Farmer's Market?

  6. #6

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    Re Carolina Inn -- I should state the caveat that I myself have never stayed there, but it is still the only hotel in downtown CH and adjacent to campus and is extremely attractive and historic.

    Re Meadowmont, just take 54 in the direction of Durham. You'll see it on the left. Meadowmont Dr. is one entrance into the neighborhood. BTW, it has been greatly overhyped (far too many million $ houses -- check out the $800K "rowhouses," who knows maybe they are a million now too -- they were't kidding when they said they were modeling the development on Georgetown!)

    Re Trinity Park. It is centered on the corner of Trinity Ave. and Buchanon Blvd. just east of Duke's East Campus. There are other neighborhoods of interest in west Durham, especially along Club Blvd. and Forest Hills (too hard to explain where that is, but it's not very walkable anyway). Neighborhoods in Durham will quickly decline on you, so you have to choose your spots a bit. Trinity Park is east of 9th Street. Brightleaf Square is a few blocks east of East Campus.

    You know, when I was there, I thought that the Raleigh suburbs were just sprawl, but that was before I came to Northern Virginia and saw real sprawl. The small towns, now suburbs, of Raleigh do have small urban cores (though befitting a town of, say, 5000). If you are interested, the best of these is probably Apex, just south of Cary. Somewhat more interesting is the unspoiled Hillsborough, on the opposite side of the Triangle ten miles north of Chapel Hill. But it's an extremely sleeply little town -- don't bother going there on Sunday.

    Enjoy your trip. Four days in the Triangle seems like a rather long time, quite frankly, but you have ulterior motives.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Kovanovich
    Enjoy your trip. Four days in the Triangle seems like a rather long time, quite frankly, but you have ulterior motives.
    Actually it works out to only three days. The last will consist of driving back to the airport at Newport News, VA. Anything to see on the way?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Plus JNA's avatar
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    How about experiencing the drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel ?
    Sea Gull Island is worth a stop.
    more info at: http://www.cbbt.com/

    or

    visisting Nauticus: http://www.nauticus.org/information.html
    touring the USS Wisconsin.
    Oddball
    Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves?
    Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here?
    Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?
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    Are you sure you're not hurt ?
    No. Just some parts wake up faster than others.
    Broke parts take a little longer, though.
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  9. #9
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    IMHO - Chapel Hill and the area along Hillsborough St. in Raleigh (between downtown and the NCSU campus are the only truly walkable places in the Triangle.

    I know there are smaller downtowns that are worth checking out but the traffic around there makes it almost not worth it. I can't imagine things have improved in the 5 years since i was last there.

    There are a lot of great neighborhoods (inside the loop) west of downtown Raleigh but none that you would consider walking around. They're just too residential and the blocks are usually really big. Raleigh is also making a serious attempt to add a residential and retail component to their downtown so I would definitely check that out. Charlotte is fast making Raleigh North Carolina's "Second City" and I don't think Raleigh feels good about it.

    Enjoy the outer banks (i know i always do) and be careful driving through the swamps at night (it's always white knuckles for me). If you have time to stop check out downtown Greenville around the ECU campus. Weird little swamp towns like Belle Haven are always worth a pit stop. Notice how obvious the poverty becomes the further east you go. It's the same thing in South Carolina where I-95 becomes a strange sort of boundary where signs of poverty increase exponentially when you go east of it.
    Last edited by jresta; 10 Jun 2005 at 11:24 AM. Reason: clarity
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by JNA
    How about experiencing the drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel ?
    Sea Gull Island is worth a stop.
    more info at: http://www.cbbt.com/
    or
    visisting Nauticus: http://www.nauticus.org/information.html
    touring the USS Wisconsin.
    Thanks for the recs, but I have already done the CBBT and I grew up in a Navy city (big ships don't do it for me). I was thinking more along the lines of roadside grub stands and/or small historic/scenic towns.

  11. #11

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    Re walkable areas in the Triangle, yes, I would more or less agree with your assessment. Much of Trinity Pk. is separated from the business district centered on Broad and 9th St by Duke's East Campus. However, I haven't seen lower Glenwood Ave. since early 2001 -- this area had potential and was slated for redevelopment, unless you are including that as between NCSU and downtown.

    In general, the Triangle is definitely lacking in an urban culture, particularly if Boston is your frame of reference. This was frustrating because the area has a strong, modern economy and lots of young professionals. I couldn't help but think that it was not living up to its potential. The fact that the main employment center, Research Triangle Park, is a huge office park doesn't help.

    Remember, though, you are only 3 hours from the ocean and 4 from the mountains...As far as eastern NC, most of small towns have been pretty well destroyed, though I haven't been to Greenville. New Bern is a partial exception, but that may be farther south than you are going. On the coast, but without immediate beach access, Wilmington also has some attractive features. Going north on 85 from Durham, there is virtually nothing (aside from a couple of recreational lakes in NC. that will probably start attracting retirees in larger numbers ) till you get to Petersburg, Va. and going east through southeast Virginia there is virtually nothing till you get to the Norfolk/Newport News area.

  12. #12
    You should visit Cameron Village (near the NCSU campus) in Inner-Beltline Raleigh. It has always been my favorite place in the Triangle. It has just been remodeled and now is even better. Coming from up North, I think you and your wife will like it.

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