Anchored by the cities of Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s Triangle region is known for its high concentration of college campuses, high-tech companies, and southern charm. The area blooms in the spring. Locals bike and walk tree-lined trails. Branches explode with goblet-sized magnolias. And outdoor festivals fill the air with music and the mouthwatering aroma of barbecue. You’d be hard-pressed not to find a bit of sun-dappled bliss in this slice of the state.
Culinary Creativity • The combination of year-round farmers’ markets and a large immigrant population has created fertile ground for innovative cuisine. Chapel Hill standout Lantern serves up expertly crafted pan-Asian dishes. At Garland in Raleigh, 2018 James Beard semifinalist Cheetie Kumar creates inventive recipes inspired by her upbringing in India, New York City, and the South. Diners chow down on peppery piri piri chicken at newcomer Zweli’s Piri Piri Kitchen, a casual Zimbabwean eatery in Durham.
But make no mistake, this is still barbecue country. On the outskirts of Durham, stop at Picnic for succulent pork pulled from 24-hour-oak-smoked hogs. Other purveyors of pitch-perfect pasture-raised pork include The Pit in Raleigh and The Pig in Chapel Hill.
Bubbling Up • With more than 30 breweries in the area, the Triangle’s entrepreneurial spirit is on full display in its booming craft beer scene. Pause for a pint at Raleigh’s bright and cheery Brewery Bhavana, a dim sum restaurant, flower shop, bookstore, and Belgian-inspired brewery all in one. Try the mango peppercorn saison or the dry cardamom tripel.
History Lesson • North of Durham, the Stagville State Historic Site contains the remains of North Carolina’s largest antebellum plantation complex. In 1860, more than 900 enslaved people lived and worked on the 30,000-acre property. Today, the historic site is focused on preserving the plantation’s African American culture. Take a guided tour of the surviving slave quarters, a cluster of four two-story buildings that were continually occupied until 1971.
Sounds of the South • Local acts, like the African American string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops, have taken the traditional sounds of the Piedmont region to a national audience. On Friday evenings, hear fiddle- and banjo-based music on the front lawn of the stately Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill. Or pull up a seat at Irregardless Café in Raleigh or Durham’s Blue Note Grill to listen to jazz, blues, and bluegrass performers.
Off the Wall • The star of Raleigh’s stellar North Carolina Museum of Art lies outdoors. In the adjacent Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park, stroll through more than 164 acres of grassy fields, forests, and walking trails dotted with monumental works of art, including three concrete rings each over 20 feet tall, a fiberglass replica of a massive scrap of Dutch wax cloth, and a room-sized camera obscura housed in a stone hut.
Naturally Beautiful • Wander past dogwoods bursting with white blooms, azalea-covered slopes, and quiet koi ponds at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, a gorgeously groomed 55-acre public garden on the Duke University campus, with five miles of pathways. The diverse flora is a boon to bird-watchers too. Keep an eye out for great blue herons and the many other birds that roost here.
Want something wilder? South of the metro area, take a kayak tour of Lake Jordan, home to the largest population of bald eagles on the East Coast. At Eno River State Park, near Durham, explore 25 miles of hiking trails. If you’re lucky, you might spot river otters at play. DW