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)
Pit Stop: 16 Delicious Options for Barbecue in Orange County, NC
North Carolina barbecue benefits from a wide variety of influences, from Native Americans, to European settlers, to African Americans, and to modern influences, such as newer equipment and methods to cook the meat.
The official “Barbecue Belt,” stretches from the Carolinas to Kansas and Maryland. For as much as barbecue brings people together at picnic tables across the country, there are also some historical influences and regional distinctions that inspire a bit of friendly (and delicious) competition between the masters of ‘cue, which for the rest of us, results in a tasty variety of flavors and styles to sink our teeth into.
Restaurants throughout Orange County, North Carolina offer two distinct styles of cue: The Eastern North Carolina style includes smoking the whole hog and then chopping it up into an unidentifiable mixture of light and dark meat served with a pepper and vinegar sauce.
Western/Lexington cue is also available in Orange County, which gives more focus to the pork shoulder, and tomatoes and brown sugar are added to the vinegar sauce and served on the side as “dip” used for dunking. Many chefs caramelize the skin, creating a crispy layer that surrounds the juicy meat.
The sides vary from restaurant to restaurant as you see in the list below. At some restaurants the slaw is lightly dressed with mayo, vinegar, and pepper, and at others, the slaw is finely minced with no mayo in sight, dressed in vinegar with a bit of tomato ketchup for a tangy zip. This slaw can sometimes be found tucked within a pulled pork sandwich.
BBQ is a year-round indulgence in our communities. Celebrations may look slightly different because of COVID-19, but we hope you get out and have some fun while staying safe. Many restaurants have outdoor seating as well as mask and safety precautions in place while indoors.
Here’s a rundown of Where to Get BBQ in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough:
- Hillsborough BBQ Company : Eastern Style BBQ served with red, white or yellow slaw, your choice of side and hushpuppies. Their Brisket stays on the coals for about 15 hours and is served sliced with Texas toast (available Wednesday-Sunday, post-cooking weight). Run, don’t walk. https://hillsboroughbbq.com. Open Tuesday - Thursday: 11:30 am - 9:00 pm, Friday - Saturday: 11:30 am - 9:00 pm, Sunday: 11:30 am - 8:00 pm, Monday: CLOSED
- The Pig: Eastern Style BBQ with slaw, pickles and hushpuppies. Vegetarian option includes BBQ Tempeh tossed with sweet and sour BBQ sauce. Venture behind The Pig (if you dare) and you’ll find PiggyBack, their neighborhood bar. https://thepigrestaurant.com. Open Monday - Saturday: 11 am - 7 pm
- Big Belly Que: Big Belly Que is dedicated to smoking over wood, and wood only. They smoke butts, turkey breasts, chickens, and homemade sausages every day, from local animals. Plates are served with choice of BBQ beans, house made pickles, creamy slaw, bacon braised greens, mac n’ cheese, or vinegar slaw. https://www.bigbellyque.com. Located inside Blue Dogwood Public Market. Open Wednesday - Saturday.
- Mama Dip’s Kitchen: Fried chicken, pork, and both eastern and western NC sauces. Greens are cook’s choice and can include: String Beans, Black Eye Peas, Yams, Corn, Okra & Tomatoes, Lima Beans, Mashed Potatoes & Gravy, Macaroni & Cheese, Fried Okra, Potato Salad, Cole Slaw, Pinto Beans, and Rice & Gravy, https://mamadips.com. Open Wednesday - Sunday: 11 am - 7 pm.
- Blues on Franklin: A house favorite is BBQ pulled pork sandwich or plate. How is it served? “Not even getting in this argument,” says the owner. “Eastern North Carolina Style BBQ served on a toasted bun with choice of two sides. Comes with NC vinegar BBQ sauce (we only put tomatoes in salads!) & vinegar based slaw (no mayo). A heavenly concoction passed down for generations.” We believe them. https://bluesonfranklin.com. Open Tuesday – Sunday, Closed Monday.
Signature Local Restaurants Serving BBQ
A sampling of local restaurants that feature BBQ on their menus and are known for delicious BBQ entrees and sandwiches:
- 401 Main, Carrboro: https://401main.com
- Acme Food & Beverage Co.: Try the Forever Roasted Pig: overnight smoked local pork, housemade BBQ sauce, Acme macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, and a fried green tomato. Damn good food. https://acmecarrboro.com. Open Wednesday - Sunday.
- Big Bob’s City Grill: https://m.facebook.com/pages/Big-Bobs-City-Grill/120738204604586. Open Monday - Saturday.
- Breadmen’s: Lazy Bill’s Barbecue plate features Eastern based vinegar pork, served with two sides (Okra, banana pudding, coleslaw) plus cornbread or biscuit. http://breadmens.com. Open 7 am - 9 pm Daily.
- Carolina Brewery: In addition to making and selling their own barbecue sauce, the restaurant features BBQ Bowl with House Pork, Black Beans, Coleslaw, Hush Puppies, Hand-Cut Fries. Choose Carolina Brewery or Carolina Gold BBQ Sauce. https://www.carolinabrewery.com. Open daily, 11 am - 11 pm.
- Heavenly Buffaloes: Honey barbecue, spicy barbecue, regular barbecue, chipotle barbecue and the beat goes on. http://www.heavenlybuffaloes.com/chapel-hilly Wings
- Linda’s Bar & Grill: Q-Plate includes house roasted eastern Carolina-style BBQ served with hush puppies, coleslaw, and house BBQ sauce, and your choice of 2 additional sides, including loaded sweet potato tots. https://www.lindas-bar.com. Open Tuesday - Saturday, Sunday Brunch.
- Mel’s Commissary and Catering: Cheerwine BBQ sauce? You’ll love the Sloppy Joe, with pork and turkey ground meat, American cheese Cheerwine BBQ Sauce on Toasted Bun. Mel’s can host up to 50 people indoors and another 40 people outdoors on their patio. Special events only. Their onsite kitchen will provide all the food and they can serve beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages. https://www.melscarrboro.com
- Spotted Dog: Veggie BBQ Platter with house-made veggie barbecue, beer-battered fries, coleslaw or vegan coleslaw, & hushpuppies. Veggie BBQ with slow-cooked shredded NC soy chicken in house-made, vinegar-based, eastern style NC barbecue sauce with slaw or vegan slaw. https://thespotteddogrestaurant.com. Open Sunday - Saturday: 11:30 am - 9 pm.
- Sutton’s Drug Store: BBQ Sandwich, BBQ plate. https://www.suttonsdrugstore.com. Open Daily.
- Time Out Restaurant: Pulled pork barbecue, grits, mac ‘n cheese, biscuits. http://timeout247.com. Open 24/7. Oh, and don’t forget to leave room for that banana pudding!
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.