This nearby getaway offers a weekend’s worth of destinations!
Thirty-six years ago, the baseball movie “Bull Durham” put Durham, North Carolina, in the Hollywood spotlight. The town is still bullish on its Triple-A team, an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, and not just because Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon made it famous: They were also league and division champs in 2021 and 2022.
But baseball wasn’t the draw that took me and my sister on a long weekend getaway to Durham. The town of almost 300,000 residents has a walkable downtown district that provides the backdrop for a relaxing, let’s-catch-up trip.
We found a few surprises along the way. The first was our hotel, the 21c Museum Hotel Durham, a historic former department store and bank with restored terrazzo floors and a green marble and silver leaf ceiling in the foyer. It also comes with a modern story: The 21c founders launched the chain to house their extensive art collection that rotates among seven properties. In Durham, artworks are incorporated into a second-floor, public museum and in the bar and restaurant where all the pieces are made of recyclable materials. Our favorite was a photo of a man sitting in a lawn chair reading the Durham Herald-Sun and enhanced by a live screen that updated daily with the newspaper’s real front page. The hotel also stands out for bucking the bull trend: Its mascots are 3-foot pink penguins that appear in guestrooms, the lobby and on the ledges outside.
A few blocks from the hotel is the 10,000-seat Durham Bulls Athletic Park, a charming stadium designed by the same team who created Baltimore’s Camden Yards. The space, noted for its 32-foot “Blue Monster” left field wall, also hosts concerts. Its classic red-brick construction blends with the refurbished buildings in the American Tobacco Campus nearby, where former factories now house artists, shops, restaurants and various events and pop-up markets during the year. And it’s home to Burt’s Bees where some of the busy buzzers are on display in the front window. The Lucky Strike water tower overseeing it all has become a local icon.
Adjacent to the stadium was one of our best food finds. Press Coffee and Crepes is a quick-serve spot for sweet treats, sandwiches and salads, but in the morning, it was our favorite for the Nutella crepes. Another dining destination we loved was Mateo Bar de Tapas, whose menu boasts a blend of Spanish and Southern. It’s also extremely adaptable to food allergies and preferences. The local brewery scene is, well, hoppin’ with more than a dozen destinations to explore. The oldest, Bull City Burger and Brewery, blends a menu of locally sourced ingredients with eight on-tap options at all times.
Within a few minutes’ walk of the hotel are the Carolina Theatre of Durham, home to a variety of performances, and the Durham Performing Arts Center where traveling Broadway shows and national celebs such as Wynonna Judd and Jerry Seinfeld have entertained.
About a 10-minute drive beyond the downtown leads to the Duke University campus, dominated by its English Gothic chapel with towering spires, high groined ceilings and crypt. Also on the grounds are the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 55 acres of paths that meander along an arboretum of Japanese trees and flowers, native plantings, mosses and ponds. Nearby is the Bennett Place Historic Site, noted for the largest surrender of Confederate soldiers in April 1865. The Bennett family’s reconstructed farmhouse, kitchen and smokehouse are an example of how the rural area looked at the end of the Civil War.
Durham’s compact size proved just right for a long weekend. After three days, we’d hit most of the highlights and only had only one regret: Our next trip will include planning ahead so we can down local brews and hot dogs at a Durham Bulls game.
Atlanta-based writer and editor contributing to a number of local and state-wide publications. Instructor in Georgia State’s Communication department and Emory’s Continuing Education division.