Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau
Welcome to Orange County
Since the founding of Orange County in 1752 and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 1785, this area has championed its natural beauty, history, and its writers, artists and musicians like no other. Consider: the nation’s first public university is here. UNC was the only university to award degrees in the 18th century. The university was built in Chapel Hill, near the ruins of a chapel, due to its central location in the state, right in Orange County. While visiting, stop by the Visitors Center, 501 W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill. Campus and Town of Chapel Hill Free Bus Route (PDF)
MLK Day Events
MLK University/Community Memorial Banquet
Sunday, January 16 • 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
The MLK University/Community Memorial Banquet will feature Elmira Mangum, PhD – the first woman to permanently hold the position of President of Florida A&M University in its 128-year history – delivering the keynote. She will be joined by NC Congressman David E. Price, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils and Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP President Dawna Jones. Ticket proceeds fund the MLK/Edith Wiggins HS Senior scholarships. Tickets at mlkpc-ch.org.
Chapel Hill/Carrboro NAACP
Sunday, January 16, 2022 • 11:00 am
11 a.m. Zoom Presentation by the NAACP Carrboro and Chapel Hill
The Chapel Hill – Carrboro NAACP is commemorating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at a virtual celebration on Monday, January 17th, 2022, at 11:00 am. This free online event will be on Zoom.
MLK Lecture and Awards Ceremony
Wednesday, January 19, 2022 • 6:30 pm • Carolina Union Great Hall
The keynote speaker for this year’s lecture (held virtually) will be LaTosha Brown, award-winning visionary thought leader, institution builder, cultural activist and artist, and connector. She is a nationally recognized “go-to” expert in Black Voting Rights and Voter Suppression, Black Women’s Empowerment and Philanthropy.
MLK Lecture and Awards Ceremony
Wednesday, January 19, 2022 • 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm • Frank Porter Graham Student Union, 209 South Rd, Chapel Hill, NC
Award-winning visionary thought leader, institution builder, cultural activist, and Black voting rights expert LaTosha Brown will deliver the MLK Lecture & Awards Ceremony keynote. Tickets are free... Read more on UNC Lineberger's website
More area events: https://bit.ly/3nbAHwf
- Amazing restaurants, like Lantern, 411 West, Iza Whiskey Eats, Tandem, Panciuto, Acme, Mama Dip’s, Crossroads, Chapel Hill, Il Palio, and more. Of course BBQ is a must. Try Hillsborough BBQ Company, Big Belly Que, Blues on Franklin, The Pig. Vegetarian? Try, The Spotted Dog.
- Did you know James Taylor grew-up in Chapel Hill? For a welcome message from Taylor, an autographed album cover perfect for selfies, and a self-guided “James Taylor’s Chapel Hill,” stop by the Welcome Center at 308. W. Franklin Street and Go to Carolina In Your Mind.
- Acclaimed area microbreweries include Carolina Brewery, Dingo Dog, Carrboro Brewing Depot , Steel String Craft Brewery, and Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery.
- The area is home to a dazzling array of live music — legendary venues like the Cat’s Cradle, Local 506, and Yonder Bar in Hillsborough, and many outdoor venues.
- For a look at public murals: Greetings from Chapel Hill post card, Elizabeth Cotten, Honeybee mural in Carrboro, African American leaders’ mural art on Merritt Mill Road and Billy Strayhorn in Hillsborough.
- The team colors are Carolina Blue and so are the fire trucks, which provide visual representation of how much the school and the town form a close-knit community and helps make the town a unique place to visit.
- Stunning agriculture all around us. Winding roads, country scenery, and…century farms, berry farms, and dairy farms. Additionally Orange County boasts three farmers’ markets: all open year round with seasonal events. Download the NC Farm App for details.
- Sports Illustrated has called Chapel Hill “The best college town in America,” and Franklin Street—named after Benjamin Franklin—is a big reason. (Franklin was a proponent of practical education for youth.)
- Leland Little Auctions in Hillsborough has specialized in the sale of fine high-end collectible objects for over 20 years, with sales achieving over $14 million per year and growing. You’ll need to visit their site to see a schedule of auctions, https://lelandlittle.com.
- Memorial Hall on campus hosts internationally renowned recitalists and orchestras, dance and chamber ensembles, jazz, folk, and world music performers, opera and ballet.
- PlayMakers Repertory Company is one of America’s leading theatre companies according to American Theatre. Its artists are always at the top of their game.
- Southern Village is an urban neighborhood located a few miles south of the UNC campus in Chapel Hill. The main road, Market Street, is within walking distance of the neighborhood and includes restaurants, shops, a movie theater and concerts on the lawn in the warm season.
- Creativity is everywhere at Eno Arts Mill in Hillsborough, a 7,000 square foot space offering small and large classrooms, a gallery and events space.
- The Chapel Hill area loves thrift stores. Call them second hand, we call them fabulous. Shops include Rumors Chapel Hill in downtown, Clothes Mentor on Elliott Road, Goodwill in Timberlyne and near Walmart Hillsborough, The Community Worx Thrift Shop in Carrboro. Across the county line find, the Stock Exchange, Habitat Home stores and Durham Rescue Mission. Many stores offer great products at a steep discount.
- If you are hungry, visit Sutton’s Drug Store on Franklin Street, a living museum in all the best ways. If your photo appears on the wall, you have made it!
- Kidzu Children’s Museum is an inspiring space located at University Place (formerly University Mall).
- Yes, grocery stores are fun to visit in new cities. A few you’ll want to check-out on your visit are Weaver Street Market (with stores in Hillsborough,Carrboro and Chapel Hill, plus Wegmans, Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Fresh Market and traditional shops such as Harris Teeter and Food Lion.
- There are three welcome centers to help answer questions, give you maps and guides and provide a restroom break. The Chapel Hill/Orange County Welcome Center located at 308 W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill. The University North Carolina Chapel Hill Visitors Center is at 134 E. Franklin Street, near campus. While in Hillsborough, stop by the Hillsborough Visitors Center in the Alexander Dickson House at 150 E. King Street.
- Bakeries?You bet. From Weaver Street Market’s fresh baked goods created in Hillsborough and delivered to three stores daily, to Wegman’s Bakery, The Bakery Shop in Hillsborough, and Guglhupf where everything is made fresh.
- An historic landmark since 1929, Merritt’s Store and Grill is touted as the “Home of the World-Famous BLTs” and chicken fried humor.
- The North Carolina Botanical Garden — the largest in the Southeast — is known for its nature trails, carnivorous plant collections, aquatics, herb gardens, and revolving exhibits of artwork.
- UNC-Chapel Hill is the oldest public university in the U.S. (chartered in 1789) and the only public university in the U.S. that awarded degrees in the18th century. The iconic Old Well was the primary source of campus water for more than a century.
- Two first class Libraries are open, one in Chapel Hill and the other in downtown Hillsborough.
- Shoot for the stars at the Morehead Planetarium & Science Center. The first planetarium in the South and one of the largest in the U.S., Morehead was a NASA training facility for 15 years.
- The Carolina Inn, an iconic hotel on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus, has been hosting visitors, UNC families, and special events since 1924!
- Johnston Mill Nature Preserve. Triangle Land Conservancy has preserved numerous walking trails and greenways here. https://www.triangleland.org/explore/nature-preserves/johnston-mill-nature-preserve
- Relive the early days of Michael Jordan, the late Dean Smith and more legends at the Carolina Basketball Museum.
- UNC’s Finley Golf Course was redesigned by Tom Fazio and continues to be recognized as one of the nation’s top collegiate layouts. Open to the public.
- A walk through the Ackland Art Museum on South Columbia Street in Chapel Hill can be an introduction to Peter Paul Rubens, Eugene Delacroix, and Andy Warhol.
- The Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History is a must see—one of the preeminent centers in the nation for the critical examination of African and African American diaspora cultures.
- The Horace Williams House is the only historic house in Chapel Hill open to the public—and is where Preservation Chapel Hill offers tours of historic importance.
- Coker Arboretum offers serene walking paths taking you past wildflowers and trees in this 5-acre gem on the UNC campus. Rest on one of several open lawns or take a seat on a shady bench. Coker Arboretum changes with the seasons. From spring blooms to summer greenery, fall color to winter grace, there is always something to see.
- Carrboro’s Main Street for boutique shops, restaurants, and lodging, including This and That Gallery, Hampton Inn, Muse shop, Gray Squirrel coffee, Vecino Brewery featuring house brews, food and pub.
- Botanist and Barrel in Cedar Grove is a place where its owners and operators experiment with various types of fermentation, all while keeping the flavor integrity of the fruit they use to make their ciders and wines. Each month they host live music, cider making events and food trucks.
- Carr Mill Mall was rehabilitated under the Tax Reform Act of 1976. Much of the original architecture remains in its restaurants and upscale boutique shops.
- Open Eye Café, a coffee shop affectionately known as “Carrboro’s living room” serving beans from Colombia, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Honduras, Guatemala, and Peru.
- The ArtsCenter in Carrboro offers classes in visual, literary, and performing arts, music concerts, theater productions, children's programs, and an art gallery.
- The Carrboro Music Festival, held every September all over town, is colorful, creative and features local and regional musical talent.
- The Horace Williams Tract, now known as Carolina North, comprises more than nine hundred acres that are yet largely undeveloped and the site is popular with walkers, runners, and outdoor enthusiasts. Horace Williams gave this property to UNC in 1940.
- The Old Orange County Courthouse in Hillsborough, with its town clock in the cupola, has been cited by the Library of Congress as one of the finest examples of Greek-Revival architecture in the U.S.
- Among the late 18th and early 19th century structures still standing today in Hillsborough, you will also find a wine store, art galleries, a yarn shop, vintage jewelry stores, and much more on Churton Street in downtown Hillsborough.
- Hillsborough’s Ayr Mount Historic Site, built around 1815, is one of North Carolina’s finest Federal-era plantation homes. Meander through woodlands and pastures on the Poet’s Walk, a one-mile walking trail surrounding the historic site along the banks of the Eno River.
- The Alexander Dickson House was the last headquarters of the commander of the largest armies to surrender to Union forces, larger than Lee’s army at Appomattox.
- The Burwell School was one of North Carolina’s leading Presbyterian schools for “young ladies” from 1837–1857. Just two blocks down, find over 2,000 artifacts at the Orange County Historical Museum, including what is believed to be the only complete set of colonial weights and measures within the U.S.
- Feel the need for speed at the fastest three-eighths-mile racing oval in America, better known as the Orange County Speedway, offering grassroots racing at its best.
- Orange County Sportsplex has indoor courts, outdoor athletic fields, fitness center, ice-skating rink (NHL-size, open year-round) and an aquatic center with three pools.
- Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail has a 4-mile trail for hiking and a 1-mile oval track where the original NASCAR racers evaluated their driving skills from 1948–1968.
- Stroll Hillsborough’s Riverwalk, a 1.8-mile greenway with loop trails, bridges, and boardwalk, accessible to trails, parks, and the Eno River.
- The Sheraton Chapel Hill Hotel reopened in September following an all-encompassing renovation. It now boasts 172 redesigned guest rooms, a contemporary bar, a 7,000-square-foot rooftop deck, full outdoor patio, and much more.
- Enjoy Maple View Farm’s Simply Natural Creamery to-die-for ice cream. Seasonal flavors include candied bacon, banana pudding and eggnog.
Contact the Visitors Bureau
Since 2002 the Visitors Center has provided information and assistance to those interested in visiting the communities of Orange County NC including Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Hillsborough. The Center provides suggested itineraries, directions, visitor guides, North Carolina & local maps, and brochures from many of the areas favorite attractions. Free parking off South Roberson Street, Chapel Hill. ADA access & parking in the front.
Address: 501 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516
Phone Toll-Free: (888) 968-2060 | Phone: (919) 245-4320 | Fax: (919) 968-2062
Regular Business Hours: Open Monday-Friday, 8:30 am - 5 pm; Saturday, 10 am - 3 pm. (As of August, 2021, the Visitors Bureau is operating on limited hours: Tuesday-Friday, 10 am - 4 pm.)
The Chapel Hill and Orange County area is serviced by the Raleigh Durham International Airport (RDU) located in Raleigh, about 18 miles east of Chapel Hill.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport’s Official Parking Program
ParkRDU provides easy, convenient options allowing you to choose your experience. Select from a variety of short-term or long-term products, meeting various budget needs. ParkRDU options are fully-accessible for people with disabilities.
Helpful Tourism Links
For a list of meeting and conference facilities, contact Orange County Sales Director, Marlene Barbera, 919-245-4320
Overview of Orange County
Orange County, North Carolina is a remarkable place to visit. Its three main towns: Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough have everything a visitor wants in a destination: beautiful climate, historic neighborhoods—many on the national historic register, a cutting-edge arts scene, and some of the best food you’re going to get anywhere in the country.
To view the Orange County Neighborhoods Guide online, click here.
12 Ways to Enjoy Chapel Hill/Orange County
EXPERIENCE ICONIC PLACES
There are many unique to this area, but we’ll just mention a few to get you started. Sutton's Drug Store established 1923 serving up shakes, burgers & more. The Carolina Coffee Shop – longest running restaurant in North Carolina. The Cat’s Cradle celebrating over 50 years of top name and upcoming bands. Carolina Brewery, the oldest brewery in the Triangle. Julian’s, established in 1942, brings Ivy League style to Chapel Hill. Open Eye Café, brings international coffees to Carrboro and the Chapel Hill Post Card mural is probably the most instagrammable spot next to UNC's iconic Old Well on campus
Whether your interests lie in historical facts and places, African-American history, or botanicals, you are sure to find a tour that ‘speaks’ to your passion. If historical facts is your thing, join the ‘Free Walking Tour of Chapel Hill’ guide that covers UNC campus and Franklin Street history. For garden lovers, the North Carolina Botanical Garden offers general private guided tours for a minimal fee. For self-guided tours, you might consider “Histories of Home: A Walk with Northside Neighbors”, Historic Hillsborough Walking Tours which include historic buildings, cemeteries & gardens, and African American history, or a historic downtown walking tour of Carrboro. (Image courtesy Free Walking Tours)
The weekends come alive in Orange County. Reserve your spot for Carolina Inn’s Fridays on the Front Porch to enjoy music, food and libations. Eat, sip, stroll, tip from East to West on Franklin Street Saturday nights with musicians set up at favorite dining and shopping spots. Sundays at Sundown features live music on the Green at Southern Village. And On the last Friday of the month, Hillsborough hosts buskers that roam Churton Street, plus still walkers, poetry readings and an artwalk. (Image courtesy Southern Village).
UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA
Walk the campus of the oldest public university in the country and look for historic landmarks like the Davie Poplar and the Old Well (Self-guided tours available). For a teaser, check out UNC Visitors Center 'Sense of Place' Zoom Tour. Or catch a star show at the newly renovated, largest planetarium in the southeastern United States at the Morehead Planetarium & Science Center.
Chapel Hill and Carrboro are very proud of their building murals. They define us as a community. There are over 30 murals in all, mostly in the downtown areas. Some have faded, some refreshed, some painted over. Local artist Michael Brown created the first mural, titled The Blue Mural in 1989. The most recent murals (2020) can be found in Carrboro: Elizabeth Cotten, Black Lives Matter and We are Community. There are a couple of outliers too, Children’s Faces can be viewed from Hwy 54 heading west, a tribute to legendary coach Dean Smith can be seen at the intersection of Smith Level Rd. and Hwy 15-501 S, and in Hillsborough, a tribute to Billy Strayhorn.
Did you know there are miles and miles of biking trails in Carrboro and Chapel Hill? Both Carrboro and Chapel Hill are designated Silver-Level Bicycle Friendly Communities by The League of American Bicyclists and UNC is recognized nationally as Silver-Level Bicycle Friendly University.
While Carrboro and Chapel Hill along with the University of North Carolina have a long standing history, Hillsborough’s downtown historic district in itself is listed on the National Register for Historic Places and features more than 100 homes, churches, school and other structures from the late 18th and 19th centuries. Among those buildings, open to the public is the Alexander Dickson House, which houses the Hillsborough Visitor Center. There you can join a group tour or venture out on your own to other notable buildings such as the Burwell School, the Old Courthouse and the Old Town Cemetery. Learn more of Orange County's history at the Orange County Historical Museum.
When visiting a new town it’s always fun to seek out unique shops. Carr Mill Mall in Carrboro is home to more than 10 local and family owned shops ranging from beads & jewelry, boutiques and natural skin care to fine-fabrics, children’s toys and a card shop. For the selective antique buyer, check out Whitehall Antiques in Chapel Hill. And you’ll find the cutest boutique shops on Churton Street in Historic downtown Hillsborough.
CRAFT BEERS & CIDER TRAIL
Just within a two-mile stretch between Chapel Hill and Carrboro lie six distinct craft breweries. Begin your tasting tour at Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery, make your way down Franklin Street to Carolina Brewery, and then head into Carrboro to the neighborhood brewery, Vecino Brewing Co. Try a funky free-spirited brew at Steel String, a Mukimono Belgian Wit at Craftboro Brewing Depot and end at our newest brewpub, Dingo Dog. For a slight detour north of Hillsborough, visit the tasting room at Botanist and Barrel for dry fruit wines, ciders & sours every Sunday afternoon. Be sure to check out our numerous bottle shops and taprooms too.
ART GALLERIES & MUSEUMS
For an eclectic experience, the permanent collection of the Ackland Art Museum consists of more than 18,000 works of art, featuring North Carolina’s premier collections of Asian art and works of paper as well as significant collections of European masterworks. For modern and contemporary fine art galleries, check out the Hillsborough Gallery of Arts in downtown Hillsborough. You’ll not find better artisanship than at FRANK in Chapel Hill, the North Carolina Crafts Gallery and Womancraft Gifts in Carrboro, and Hillsborough Arts Council Gallery in Hillsborough.
LOCAL FOOD SCENE
Hailed as "America's Foodiest Small Town" by Bon Appetit magazine, Chapel Hill is a hot spot for local farm to table cuisine. From all-natural beef burgers at Al’s Burger Shack, BLT’s from Merritt’s, contemporary Italian faves with local ingredients at Il Palio, you’ll find a dish to your liking. Check out Eno River Farm and Maple View Farm Ice Cream Country Store to continue the flavor tour. Visit four county farmers’ markets to see where many local chefs shop. Stop by the Blue Dogwood Public Market for Persian food, BBQ and vegan favorites under one roof. Don’t forget the Honeysuckle Tea House for locally grown specialty tea drinks in an open-air environment.
With our average winter climate in the 50’s and summer in the 90’s, we can enjoy the outdoors most all year round. Here are some of our favorite spots. Located on the University of North Carolina campus, the Coker Arboretum is 5 acres of flowering trees and shrubs, grassy areas and benches to relax. Just off campus is the North Carolina Botanical Garden, 1100 acres of garden and conservation areas plus a nearby trail system. Hillsborough has RiverWalk that edges the Eno River and is part of the Mountains to the Sea Trail. Both Carrboro and Chapel Hill have an extensive park system, trails and greenways for walking and biking.