North Carolina – Vass, Durham, Chapel Hill

North Carolina was a much-needed vacation getaway. Alex and I spent the whole weekend visiting family and spending time seeing their towns. It’s so nice to visit family, not only to catch up with them, but it can make for a more relaxing vacation in many ways. I’ve always been the type of traveler that likes to pack a lot into a trip and do as much as possible. With family, though, I’m more inclined to let them take the reins and guide me. Luckily, I have an amazing family whom I just adore and our weekend in North Carolina was perfect!

We started the weekend visiting my aunt and uncle in Vass, North Carolina. We spent the first afternoon driving around some of the small towns nearby, including Southern Pines and Pinehurst. Both towns are so charming and are filled with cute little restaurants, coffee shops, and boutiques. I loved seeing Pinehurst. Even though I don’t play golf myself, I enjoy watching the sport and it was surreal to see the famous Pinehurst course in real life, especially since The US Open recently took place there. I also enjoyed walking through the club house and seeing old pictures from previous tournaments at Pinehurst!

Pinehurst
Pinehurst
Payne Stewart statue
Payne Stewart statue

Later that evening, we drove to Carthage for dinner at the Pik n Pig, a great barbeque restaurant located on an operational airfield, the Gilliam McConnell Airfield. If you have a plane, you can even fly in for dinner!

With my wonderful uncle and aunt (and great hosts!) at the Pik N Pig
With my wonderful uncle and aunt (and great hosts!) at the Pik N Pig

The next day, we drove with my aunt and uncle to the Airborne & Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville. We spent the morning learning all about United States military history.  I especially enjoyed learning about military training methods in various wars and conflicts. At the time of our visit, there was also a special exhibit chronicling the Battle of Mogadishu, which I found fascinating. Across the street from the Special Ops museum is Freedom Memorial Park, which honors soldiers from North Carolina who gave their lives for our country.

Outside the Special Ops Museum
Outside the Special Ops Museum

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Dog tags of North Carolina veterans
Dog tags of North Carolina veterans
Quote in the
Quote in Freedom Memorial Park

For lunch, we had sandwiches and craft beer at Huske Hardware House. The building has been a staple of downtown Fayetteville since 1904 and has since been turned into a local favorite restaurant and bar by a veteran. After lunch, we stopped into the Transportation Museum, a museum of local Fayetteville history housed in the 1890 Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railroad Depot. We learned about the local history of steamboats, trains, and automobiles in the area, and saw plenty of artifacts. My favorite was a menu from a train dining car. Multiple course lunch for $1? I would take it.

Downtown Fayetteville
Downtown Fayetteville

Later that afternoon, we walked along the Cape Fear River Trail since the weather was nice. Unfortunately, the main part of the trail that goes all the way down to the river was closed, but we were able to enjoy a nice walk and see a partial view of the river through the trees.

Pretty scenery on the Cape Fear River Trail
Pretty scenery on the Cape Fear River Trail

The next morning, we began part two of our North Carolina trip and headed to Durham to visit my brother-in-law, Max. We met up at Duke Forest to run the 3 mile loop on the Al Buehler Trail. The trail was quite hilly, which was a nice change of pace from my flat runs in Florida. The trail was full of people and I commented that if I lived nearby, I would love to use that loop as my go to run. To cool off after our run, we walked around Duke University’s Campus and saw several of the athletic facilities, including the famous Cameron Indoor Stadium, Wallace Wade Stadium, the Aquatic Facility, and the Athletic Hall of Fame. We also saw the beautiful Duke Chapel, which was constructed in 1932 and is still used for worship today.

Cameron Indoor Stadium
Cameron Indoor Stadium
Duke Swimming and Diving Center
Duke Swimming and Diving Center
Wallace Wade Stadium
Wallace Wade Stadium
Duke Chapel
Duke Chapel
Inside the beautiful Duke Chapel
Inside the beautiful Duke Chapel

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After running a 5K and wandering around Duke’s campus, naturally we started getting hungry. We drove through the 9th Street District of Durham, a cute and somewhat hipster area, and a favorite of Duke students! There are some great art galleries, boutiques, bookstores, and music shops along with several well-reputed restaurants. Deciding we wanted to hit a brewery after lunch, we headed to the Geer Street Area. With an industrial and trendy feel (think revamped gas stations and garages), this area was right up my alley. I loved it so much that we had a nearly impossible task of choosing where to eat. Between Geer Street Garden (down home food and drinks), Parts and Labor (menu inspired by global street food), and The Pit (incredibly delicious BBQ that has been featured on Man v. Food), you can find something to make you happy. We chose Parts and Labor, mostly because of the unique atmosphere and indoor/outdoor seating. I ordered artichoke beignets and a breakfast taco along with a local craft beer (unfortunately I can’t remember what I had, but I definitely liked it). It was a light(ish) and delicious meal that was perfect before a tasting at Full Steam Brewery.

Parts and Labor at Motorco
Parts and Labor at Motorco
Cute seating area outside Parts and Labor
Cute seating area outside Parts and Labor
Inside Full Steam Brewery
Inside Full Steam Brewery
Carolina Beer Flights at Full Steam Brewery
Carolina Beer Flights at Full Steam Brewery

What I like best about Full Steam Brewery is their commitment to using local ingredients in their craft beers, creating concoctions inspired by the food and farming traditions of the South. With brews including ingredients like grits, sweet potatoes, stinging nettle, and honeysuckle, you can rest assured that Full Steam is meeting their mission. Other fun facts about visiting Full Steam Brewery: you can bring in your own food (although they do have rotating food trucks), kids are allowed before 9, and there are plenty of games and other unique discoveries to be found around the brewery. My favorite was a card catalog cabinet labeled with random topics such as weird thoughts, tongue twisters, and hot moms. Scrap paper is supplied and contributions of drawings/poems/stories to each drawer are encouraged. I love this place and wish it was closer because it would surely be a go to spot for me!

Inside Full Steam
Inside Full Steam
Card Catalog fun
Card Catalog fun

After sampling more than enough beers, we made a quick stop at Cocoa Cinnamon to pick up some absolutely scrumptious pastries. We had a truly amazing cookie covered in raspberry jam and dark chocolate. However, as I’m browsing this menu to share with y’all, I am realizing that I really missed out by not having a drink. Listen to some of these drinks: Temujin: A white chocolate latte topped with ginger. Tenochtitlan: Hot cocoa made with cayenne, vanilla powder and agave. I am definitely going to need to go back if we are ever back in Durham!

Cocoa Cinnamon Via triangleexplorer.com
Cocoa Cinnamon Via triangleexplorer.com
Inside Cocoa Cinnamon via carpedurham.com
Inside Cocoa Cinnamon via carpedurham.com

My brother-in-law lives in Chapel Hill, so after our nice afternoon in Durham, we headed to his place in Chapel Hill to get ready for an evening there. Our first stop was a short drive out to Maple View Farm (in Hillsborough, NC) for some of the most delicious ice cream I have ever had. Open since 2001, Maple View Farms prides itself on using only the most high quality and fresh ingredients. There are twelve permanent flavors along with many more seasonal flavors. The ice cream is sold at the Maple View Farm Country Store, which is a peaceful place to relax while enjoying beautiful views of the farm from the front porch. You can also purchase Maple View Farm milk, local cheeses, eggs, local soap, North Carolina Pecans, local handcrafted crafts, fudge, and old-fashioned candies. If you go, I would encourage you to ask the staff for a recommendation because they will not steer you wrong!

The Chapel Hill portion of our trip begins
The Chapel Hill portion of our trip begins

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View from the front porch
View from the front porch
Alex and Max enjoying some ice cream on the front porch of Maple View Farm Country Store
Alex and Max enjoying some ice cream on the front porch of Maple View Farm Country Store

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After our ice cream “appetizer”, we went to Kipos Greek Taverna for dinner. Again, Kipos is another Chapel Hill gem. Delicious food, great atmosphere with live Greek music and belly dancing. We all ordered a bunch of mezza items to share and enjoyed our meal al fresco in the beautiful North Carolina weather. If you’re a local, you can also purchase bakery items like bread and baklava for a reasonable price. Always good to know!

Inside Kipos
Inside Kipos

For post-dinner drinks, we started at The Crunkleton, a Prohibition-era bar that requires membership or being accompanied by a member to gain entrance. Unsurprisingly, drinks are expensive, but good. If you aren’t yet over the Prohibition-era bar scene, this is a great place for a pre- or post-dinner drink. Next, we went to Southern Rail which is definitely one of the most interesting bars/restaurants I have ever been to. Southern Rail is located between active freight train tracks and is decorated with antique train-themed artifacts and original artwork. Southern Rail has also taken over the train depot building and uses “The Station” for concerts and dancing. I am all about atmosphere and decor, so I quickly fell in love with Southern Rail!

Inside The Crunkleton
Inside The Crunkleton
Southern Rail
Southern Rail
Southern Rail
Southern Rail
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Enjoying a night out in Chapel Hill with Alex and Max

The next morning, we stopped at Merritt’s Store and Grill for a quick and delicious breakfast. Merritt’s has been open since 1929 and traditionally served two sandwiches: a bacon, egg, cheese, and mayo sandwich for breakfast, and a BLT for lunch. Both are served on artisan bread and are delicious. They also have other sandwiches, but those two are clearly the specials. You can also buy coffee, craft beer, and iced tea (served with freshly picked, cut it yourself mint. Yum!)

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Merritt’s

After stuffing ourself at Merritt’s, we set off to do some North Carolina Hiking in Eno River State Park. There are plenty of hikes around, but we chose to do Fanny’s Ford trail and Eno Quarry trail. Fanny’s Ford trail has some interesting sights along the way as it goes over an old footbridge and past an old cabin. It was supposed to be a short one mile loop, but we didn’t realize that we had to ford the river and ended up going at least a mile or two out of the way. We ended up having to rock climb across the river to finally catch the correct trail. We drove a short distance to the Eno Quarry trail and hiked the 1.2 mile trail to the Eno Quarry where you can go swimming in the calm and cool water. It was so refreshing and the perfect way to spend an afternoon in North Carolina!

Footbridge in Eno River State Park
Footbridge in Eno River State Park

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Fording the river
Fording the river
Rock climbing across the river
Rock climbing across the river
Hiking to Eno Quarry
Hiking to Eno Quarry
Beautiful stop for a swim
Beautiful stop for a swim
Floatin' on logs
Floatin’ on logs

Our next stop was the famous Chapel Hill bar/restaurant, Topo (Top of the Hill). We had happy hour drinks and some absolutely amazing sweet potato fries covered with melted cheddar and gorgonzola and served with a spicy creole ketchup. Topo has its own brewery and distillery so we obviously sampled some drinks. I had a tequila and blueberry beer cocktail that was fantastic! If you’re in Chapel Hill during the week, see if you can catch trivia night or a DSI comedy show at Back Bar at Topo. (Side note: You can also catch free DSI comedy shows or take classes at DSI’s Franklin Street location).

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Enjoying cocktails on the Topo roof

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The sweet potato fries were LEGENDARY!
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Speaking of legends, arguably the most famous UNC alumnus ever.

We decided to do dinner in Carrboro (a town adjacent to Chapel Hill) after walking around the town. We stopped into This and That Shop, a unique and kitschy little shop great for purchasing gifts and local art. They have beautiful handcrafted jewelry, pottery, stationery (dangerous because I’m completely addicted to cards and stationary), Carrboro T-shirts, and other eclectic finds. We ate dinner at Venable, a “rotisserie bistro” that specializes in twists on comfort food using fresh, local ingredients. I highly recommend the Venable burger. Made with ground chuck and short rib, and topped with Hatch green chilis, it was out of this world.

Inside Venable
Inside Venable

Let me know if you’ve ever been to the Research Triangle! I was so impressed with the charm of the area, friendly attitude of the locals, and unique quality of the restaurants. I know I say this a lot, but I could absolutely live there. I hope we can return for another visit soon!

Next up on the blog, recapping our visit to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and my amazing husband is taking me on a surprise trip! Any guesses where we are going?

RECAP:
Eat:
Pik N Pig, 194 Gilliam McConnell Rd, Carthage, NC 28327
Parts and Labor, 723 Rigsbee Ave, Durham, NC 27701
The Pit, 321 W Geer St, Durham, NC 27701
Cocoa Cinnamon, 420 W Geer St, Durham, NC 27701
Maple View Farm, 3109 Dairyland Rd, Hillsborough, NC 27278
Kipos Greek Taverna, 431 W Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27516
Merritt’s Store and Grill, 1009 S Columbia St, Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Topo, 100 E Franklin St #3, Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Venable, 200 N Greensboro St, Carrboro, NC 27510

Drink:
Huske Hardware House, 405 Hay St, Fayetteville, NC 28301
Full Steam Brewery, 726 Rigsbee Ave, Durham, NC 27701
The Crunkleton, 320 W Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27516
Southern Rail, 201 E Main St, Carrboro, NC 27510

Do:
Airborne and Special Operations Museum, 100 Bragg Blvd, Fayetteville, NC 28301
Eno River State Park, 6101 Cole Mill Rd, Durham, NC 27705
This and That Shop, 118c East Main St, Carrboro, NC 27510
Tanger Outlets4000 Arrowhead Blvd, Mebane, NC 27302

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3 comments

  1. Such an interesting overview of one of my favorite areas! Lived there a long time ago, and sounds like so much has changed, especially regarding the variety of restaurants and bars! Well done!

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