Downtown Durham is located just a short walk or bus ride from Duke’s East Campus. Home to a minor league baseball team, a major performance center and even a local museum, Durham has also been named the South's "tastiest town". It is a can't-miss part of the Duke experience. Check out this list of things to do in downtown Durham and make sure to explore on your own once you get to campus.
Durham History Hub
Start off your exploration of the city at the Durham History Hub. Opened in October of 2013, the History Hub is the physical space of the Museum of Durham History, housed in an old bus transfer station. While the space may be small, it is filled with various permanent and rotating exhibits that provide look at the diversity of Durham, with exhibits on the people, communities and events that have shaped the city’s history.
Durham Bulls Game
Durham has been home to a minor league baseball team on and off since 1902, when the Durham Tobacconists were established. Nowadays, the Bulls play out of the recently renovated Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Bulls games are a local favorite in the spring and summer; the team was featured in a photography exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art.
The doors at the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) opened in 2008, and since then it has been host to various musicals, concerts and other performances. Located in downtown Durham’s American Tobacco District, DPAC draws in crowds from all around the state. Performances of Phantom of the Opera, Annie and Wicked, among others, are all on schedule for the next school year.
The Durham Farmers’ Market runs year round out of the Pavilion at Durham Central Park, at the heart of the Central Park District on Foster Street. Everything at the market is local, including produce, baked goods and crafts. Grab a snack or some groceries at the Market and enjoy the grassy Central Park area.
Motorco Music Hall is another of the establishments in the increasingly vibrant Central Park district. The large indoor space is used for concerts and other events, while the outdoor patio is a great place to hang out and grab some food or drinks.
Fullsteam is located just across the street from Motorco, and is a product of the growing craft brewing industry in North Carolina. The huge tavern opens onto a side alley and out the front door, and there’s usually a food truck present. Inside, there are plenty of board games, arcade machines and even ping pong tables for entertainment for all ages. In back you can even see into the brewery, where Fullsteam’s signature Southern beers are produced.
Cocoa Cinnamon is a coffee shop also located in the Central Park District downtown. Located in a converted garage, the inside is a cozy mish-mash of sofas and tables which opens onto the outdoor picnic table-filled patio. Cocoa has some of the best coffee in Durham, with unique specialty drinks like Moctezuma (a latte with dulce de leche and cayenne pepper) and KokyTu (triple ristretto over iced cane sugar mexican coke). Another location of Cocoa Cinnamon is slated to open in spring of 2015 in Old West Durham.
Dame’s Chicken & Waffles
Get your first taste of the South at Dame’s Chicken & Waffles. It might sound like a strange combination, but the crispy fried chicken is perfectly complemented by the waffles and shmears (creamy flavored butter concoctions), which come in a variety of flavors. Try the “Frizzled Fowl”, panko-crusted chicken with almond Asian plum sauce, a blueberry waffle and maple-pecan shmear.
Intrepid Life Coffee & Sprits
Intrepid Life Coffee & Spirits is a coffee shop by day, bar by night. Located just off CCB Plaza downtown, Intrepid’s huge open space not only makes it great for studying, but also for events like dance parties and trivia. Owner Matt Victoriano is a former Marine Corps sergeant who decided to start his own business as a place in the community for people to interact, using his military training as a guide to help other lead intrepid lives.
Rose’s Meat Market and Sweet Shop
Rose’s, located just off East Campus, was opened by a chef/butcher and a pastry chef. It represents the intersection of two trades – a meat market and sweet shop. The pastries are made daily with fresh, local ingredients, and all of their meat come from local farms. Rose’s bacon selection is unparalleled; they also make their own ice creams in store.
Scratch, a bakery located in the City Center District, is a Durham brunch favorite. Owner and chef Phoebe Lawless takes advantage of local ingredients and Southern influences in her cooking, creating amazing pies, pastries and brunch offerings. The menu changes with the seasons, but it is always guaranteed to be incredible. Summertime means local tomatoes, which are used in everything from the deceivingly simple heirloom tomato sandwich to the tomato pie. The lemon chess pie is a must have.
Bull City Burger and Brewery/Pompieri
Bull City Burger and Brewery has been a downtown fixture since 2011, with incredible burgers and sides (fried pickle chips!). March is Exotic Meat Month, with everything from snake and alligator to bison and beaver. Owner Seth Gross recently opened up another restaurant, Pompieri Pizza, just behind BCBB. Located in historic fire station #1, the pizzas are fresh, delicious and served alongside a pair of scissors – you cut your own slices at the table.
Monuts began as a business that delivered homemade donuts by tricycle. Nowadays, it has a brick-and-mortar location on Parrish Street, and it has expanded from only donuts to include bagels and breakfast sandwiches as well, in order to appeal to a wider audience. Their donut flavors change daily, and have included chocolate earl grey, strawberry shortcake and apple cider. Their maple sriracha is a must-have on the bagel sandwiches.
The ParlourParlour is another food truck-turned-restaurant; in fact, their ice cream bus is still active. They make their ice creams by hand, and offer ever-changing menu of flavors. Many of the ice creams change with the season; summer flavors have included everything from fresh lavender to sweet corn with raspberry swirl. Walking in to the store can be daunting, if only because of the long list of incredible options – don’t worry, you can try as many as you want. Their salted butter caramel ice cream is a Durham must-try.