Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Next week, I’m headed down south to the land of the pines to my alma mater. So, I thought it only fitting that I dedicate this post to the best college town in the world. The town that holds a huge part of my heart and the best four years of my life:
Going to school across the country was the most challenging, exciting, and life-changing thing I have ever done. As an out-of-state student in a 80-something percent in-state university, I got the question “why’d you choose UNC?” at least a hundred times. So why did I choose it?
It could have been the academic ranking of being a top 5 public school in the nation and top 30 overall, or it could have been the size – as I knew I wanted to go to a big school with a lot of opportunities. Maybe it was the weather, mild and similar to the California weather I grew up with. Or it may have been the social life, with countless bars and gorgeous greek houses. It probably had a lot to do with the college town, whose Southern charm swept this California girl right off her feet. And it probably had a lot to do with the people, too, who, even on my first visit, seemed like the happiest college students I had seen anywhere. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Carolina blue was definitely my color. But, even with all these logical decision-makers floating around in my seventeen-year-old mind, I can’t say that any one of them were the real reason why I made that final decision to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
As many alumni will tell you, there was just something about this place. An unbelievable, overwhelming feeling you get the first second you step on campus that really never goes away. Suddenly, from the first time you drink from the old well or trip on the uneven bricks that cover the campus, you’re a part of it. A part of arguably the tightest-knit family of any university and the best college basketball program in the world. You’re a part of a campus that keeps you saying “Wow… I live in a beautiful place” every single day. You’re a part of something so much bigger than you, the first public university in the United States that, with so much history, has shaped so many legends before you, from CEOs and presidents, to senators and broadcasters, to famous actors and authors, to Michael freaking Jordan.
Anyone who’s heard of the school, visited the school, went to Carolina or knows someone who went to Carolina seems to get it. Their eyes light up when I tell them I’m a Tar Heel, and they’ll talk to me for hours about everything from basketball to bojangles to He’s Not. I’ll never fully understand the feeling that drew me to Chapel Hill from 3,000 miles away. But, every time I hear James Taylor sing “Carolina in my mind”, I’m completely overcome with it all over again.
OK OK, I know I know, enough with the sappy college throwback. Let’s get to the point. Chapel Hill is a must-see if you’re in North Carolina. And here is your guide to everything you can’t miss while y’all are taking on tar heel town.
for the tourist
See a basketball game in the dean dome
You can’t come to the University of North Carolina and not experience the sheer mayhem that is a Carolina basketball game. If you have dreams of going to a Carolina/Duke game, prepare to spend your life savings getting one of the prized tickets. Students are placed in a lottery for games, with seniors getting priority for the home Duke game. If you ever have the opportunity to watch the Battle for Tobacco Road, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I think I’d rather go to another Carolina/Duke game than the super bowl any day.
the basketball museum
If you can’t tell, we love our Carolina basketball. Ranked the #1 most successful college basketball program in the last 50 years by ESPN, we are more than proud of our 18 final four appearances (nobody has more) and our five national titles (one of which was the 2009 win my freshman year). This museum, located right next to the Dean Dome, is a beautiful tribute to our amazing program. My favorite exhibit? Michael Jordan’s letter from Coach K writing his apologies that Jordan has decided to not pursue Duke Basketball. Definitely worth checking out.
Franklin Street is the main street of Chapel Hill. It lines the northern border of the college campus and is home to the best bars, restaurants and shops. I have to say that Franklin Street is probably the first thing I fell in love with about UNC. I remember being on my first visit and thinking about how adorable Ye Olde Waffleshoppe was, and how I could see myself sitting outside under the blue striped awning of Carolina Coffee Shop. It’s a one-of-a-kind street, so definitely take sometime to walk up and down it.
where to stay
The Fearrington House Inn, a Relais & Châteaux boutique luxury hotel just outside of Chapel Hill, North Carolina in Pittsboro, blends sophisticated luxury with southern charm in a cozy-chic farmhouse. It’s more than an inn, it’s an experience. Fearrington House is the perfect celebration getaway for out-of-towners visiting students at UNC or Duke, parents and grandparents coming to graduation, or UNC alums (like me!) coming back to Chapel Hill for a weekend and wanting to be just close enough to campus, but tucked enough out of town that you really feel like you’re in another world.
This hotel, located steps off of campus, is full of luxurious southern charm. If you’re visiting your student, coming for a football weekend, or just visiting town, it’s by far the best place to stay. It also boasts a five star restaurant with delicious brunches. Located right in the heart of Chapel Hill, you’ll feel right at home in the South. From April and through the beginning of October, the inn also hosts “Fridays on the Front Porch” with live bluegrass music, dinner, and cocktails outside on their huge porch. It’s so much fun. Also noteworthy: in the hotel’s fitness center is a huge DUKE logo’d punching bag. Gotta love it.
https://www.carolinainn.com/ 211 Pittsboro Street, Chapel Hill
for the foodie
Top of the Hill
Top of the Hill is arguably one of the best college staples in the country. With its prime location looking out onto Franklin Street, its delicious food, its amazing brewery, its prime sports-viewing patio, and its famed blueberry wheat beer, it’s tough to beat Topo. Their lunch & dinner is delicious, and they can accomodate big groups. Call ahead for a res, and prepare for a long wait if it’s a football or basketball weekend– everyone wants to go to dinner here.
https://thetopofthehill.com/ 100 E Franklin Street, 3rd Floor
Sutton’s Drug Store
Suttton’s is famous in Chapel Hill for it’s greasy lunches, amazing milkshakes, and it’s rich history. Having been in the center of Franklin Street in Chapel Hill since 1923, this grill and drug store is filled with photos of all their favorite customers. Most noteworthy on the wall? Every UNC basketball player, who are known to frequent Sutton’s probably more than they frequent class. Our basketball players are bigger than celebrities in this town, so if you see one, prepare to be starstruck.
159 E Franklin Street, Chapel Hill
Merritt’s Store & Grill
Merritt’s is a casual grill and country store a short 5 minute drive from campus. Known by anyone who’s anyone for their world-famous BLT’s, this is another must-do in Chapel Hill. Like Sutton’s, Merritt’s is full of history, having had its doors open since 1929. One bite of any of their amazing BLTs on one of their outside rocking chairs and y’all will justa died n’ gone to heaven. https://www.merrittsstoreandgrill.com/
Ye Olde Waffleshoppe
Oh, Ye Olde. I’m proud to say the waiters know my order here, considering my friends and I went at least once a week pretty much my entire 4 years of college. It’s been on Franklin Street for forty years and has the most delicious breakfast, and some hard to beat biscuits. Enjoy a great casual southern breakfast, and don’t forget to order some grits
The best date night dinner in Chapel Hill. Delicious food in an intimate Italian bistro, with reasonable wine prices. They also have a great brunch!
https://www.411west.com/ 411 West Franklin Street
Located in Raleigh about a 25-30 minute drive from Chapel Hill, the Angus Barn is a huge steakhouse-in-a-farmhouse unlike any other. Country chic to its core, with the juxtaposition of picnic tablecloths, expensive melt-in-your-mouth steaks cut in house, and one of the best wine lists I’ve ever seen. If you’re in town for a special occasion, or just want a meal to remember, Angus Barn is your place.
What could be better than good ol’ BBQ and booze? The Pit is also in Raleigh, but it’s most definitely worth the drive. This upscale NC barbecue restaurant is consistently ranked one of the best barbecue places in the country. My mouth is watering just thinking about their incredible all-day pit roasted pork, brisket, ribs and delicious cornbread. Not to mention I’ve been given free shots of NC moonshine twice while at dinner there. Gotta love Southern hospitality. One of my favorite restaurants of all time.
https://www.thepit-raleigh.com/ 328 W Davie Street, Raleigh (919) 890-4500
If you’re a college student looking for the perfect place to study and spend the afternoon, Foster’s is your place. Amazing gourmet food, lots of seating, and a great ambiance make this place one of my Chapel Hill faves. If you go for breakfast, get their breakfast biscuit with scrambled eggs, cheese, and bacon. They also have delicious smoothies all day!
750 Martin Luther King Blvd, Chapel Hill https://www.fostersmarket.com/
for going out
blue cups at He’s Not
He’s Not Here Pretty much everyone’s favorite hangout, especially on the patio in the warm weather. Named for the amount of times the bar used to answer the phone and have to say “He’s not here” when asked if Michael Jordan was there tonight when he was in school. Famed for their HUGE “blue cups” of draft beer, that hold at least the amount of 3 or 4 beers, and come at college-student-approved prices of only about 4 or 5 bucks a pop. Karaoke nights and live bands are frequent on the He’s Not patio, making it even more difficult to ever say no to a blue cup.
Top of the Hill The restaurant makes the swift turn to bar around 10pm, and the alumni start pouring in. Yes, it’s definitely still one of the most popular bars while you’re in school, but this place is definitely an alumni (and out-of-towner) hot spot. Topo is also home to Back Bar, a separate part of the same building full of darts, a pool table, and lots of TVs.
Pantana Bob’s Bobs. The frattiest bar in Chapel Hill. The day drinking on the porch. The mechanical bull that occasionally makes an appearance. The trivia. The line down the block. The dancefloor. One of the best college bars anywhere.
for late night
late night is a Chapel Hill tradition, with the majority of places on Franklin Street staying open as late as 4am to cater to hungry drunk college students. Here are some places to cater to your late night cravings
View of Topo/Franklin St during the 2009 National Championship.. Do you see me???
time out Dubbed a “Chapel Hill Right of Passage” by Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel, this 24 hour southern fried hotspot is just what you need. Fried chicken, huge homemade biscuits, mac n cheese, pulled pork. It’s late-night perfection.
artisan pizza (formerly artichoke basil) My go-to late night when I was in school. Delish pizza that will hit the spot after all those blue cups. Try the artichoke slice, it’s like having spinach artichoke dip on a pizza. UNREAL.
bskis delicious wraps any way you want them. always a great option due to their free delivery. Highly recommend the AKski and the Caesarski.
Tailgating at Frat Court
know before you go
The best times to visit this gorgeous town are in the fall and the spring. it snows only about twice a year, but the winters get pretty cold. Summers are deathly humid and hot, in typical southern fashion. Fall is beautiful, with colorful leaves everywhere, and spring is equally as stunning, with a million flowers blooming all over town.
my thoughts on the rivalry
You don’t know a true rivalry until you understand the hatred that exists between Duke and North Carolina. Separated by only 8 miles (called the Tobacco Road), we can’t stand each other. It is anything but a friendly rivalry. “Go to hell Duke” is actually a PART of our alma mater fight song that we sing no matter who we are playing, and no matter what sport. Will Blythe wrote an amazing book on the Rivalry called “To Hate Like This is to Be Happy Forever”. So why do we hate each other so much? Why is this rivalry SO much better than any other? Bleacher Report, in an article on why the rivalry is the best in college basketball, notes that it has a lot to do with the consistency of both of our elite basketball programs. The two teams have played a total of 235 games against each other, of which UNC has won 132 to Duke’s 103. We also have also had two of the most successful coaches in NCAA history, with Dean Smith and Roy Williams. Duke has had Coach K. He wins a lot, too, despite his resemblance to a rodent. We are continuously both ranked in the top teams in the nation, year after year, and we both are renowned for our intense fans, which keep the fire in this rivalry flaming year after year.
I’d give anything to re-live my four years in Chapel Hill. It truly is a gem of the south, and a one-of-a-kind college town. Just don’t wear a Duke shirt… you might never be allowed back.