As I began to anticipate spring break 2011, I thought to myself, “What are my favorite things to do in Durham?” Whenever I travel to Durham, there are certain places I must go, certain things I must eat or drink, in order for it to feel like a successful trip. It also feels vindicating to know that I’m not the only person that thinks it’s an amazing city to visit. The New York Times recently named Durham one of the top 41 places to visit in 2011. On a list containing mostly exotic places all around the world, Durham doesn’t really seem to fit in at number 35. But they recognize that its strongest points lay with its restaurants, many of them set in former tobacco factories, giving them uniquely industrial, artsy, and urban vibes. So, I will start at number 10 with a food that I don’t necessarily need, but will usually eat at some point during my stay in Durham.
10. Have a Po’ Boy for lunch
Typically one thinks of po’ boys as more of a coastal food. Wikipedia says they originated in Louisiana. Like I mentioned, they are not really something I need in order for a trip to be declared a success, but I almost always eat one somewhere while in Durham. And there are so many places to get a great Po’ Boy. The last time I was in Durham (over the winter break from college), Daniel and I met his dad at Beyú Caffé for lunch. They had the most amazing shrimp po’ boy I have ever had. Daniel got the same thing, and I think he agreed with me. Off of the top of my head, I can also think of Blu and Watts Grocery. Daniel and I have met at both locales for lunch, and one of us always orders an oyster po’ boy. Delicious. This takes me to number 9.
9. Eat at Blu Seafood and Bar
I love seafood. The problem is that I only recently discovered just how much I love seafood. (Living in rural upstate New York limits your options to Long John Silver’s or The Frozen Food Aisle at your local grocery store.) I think a large part of that discovery came from Blu. This is Daniel’s favorite restaurant in Durham, and for good reason. It doesn’t matter what you decide to eat there, it is all delicious. Their menu will vary, depending on the season. It does tend to get a little pricey, which is why Daniel and I try to do lunch there, unless his parents treat us to dinner. The consensus seems to be that the price is worth it for the food.
8. Enjoy the Sarah P. Duke Gardens
This is a little bit high on this list only because visiting Duke Gardens is more of a seasonal activity. Otherwise, it would certainly be in my Top 5. Occupying 55 acres on Duke University’s West Campus, it features both plants native to the southeastern United States, and plants from all around the world, from Japan to India. They also have a good variety of wildlife that seem to reside within the gardens. Regardless of what is blooming, it’s always a pleasure to walk along the paths and see and hear the flora and fauna that make these gardens unique.
7. See a show at DPAC
Morrissey and The Lion King broadway musical. Although these are two very different things, we saw them both at the Durham Performing Arts Center. I will let you guess which one made me cry.
6. Attend a Duke Men’s Basketball game
This is certainly not something I can do every time I am in Durham, but when the opportunity arises in the future, I will always take it. The first Duke game I’d ever attended was on Jan. 2 of this year, when they played Miami. It was quite an experience. Love them or hate them, they are a great team to watch.
5. Take a walk through Brightleaf Square
Brightleaf Square occupies what once was a number of warehouses belonging to the American Tobacco Company family. Now it has become a great place to shop or relax and enjoy a meal. Brightleaf hosts a huge variety of restaurants, shops, and boutiques. If you’re looking for a meal, but aren’t sure what you want, take a walk through Brightleaf; something is bound to tickle your fancy.
4. Stroll through American Tobacco
Architecturally, the American Tobacco Historic District is one of the most interesting places to visit in Durham. During the summer and fall, they also feature live outdoor music, in addition to other forms of live entertainment. Daniel only took me through American Tobacco for the first time 2 months ago, but I am very anxious to get back and snap some pictures, because my descriptions just won’t do it justice.
3. Enjoy the weather and sip a Dr Pepper
I am from upstate New York. It is cold here. So it doesn’t matter when I go to Durham, it will always be warmer than Rochester. Durham is a very walkable city. But even on the days where I just feel like lazing around Daniel’s house, I can always go sit on a porch or a bench in the nearby park, relax, and just enjoy the weather while sipping my favorite soda. Also, his family always has Dr Pepper; his mother is completely addicted, so I can always look forward to a stocked fridge.
2. See the shops on Ninth Street
Daniel grew up only a few blocks away from Ninth Street. Ninth Street features various restaurants and shops. I personally can vouch for Elmo’s Diner (because, even in Durham, sometimes you just want diner food) and Dain’s Place. Dain’s Place is more of a pub or sports bar than anything else, but they have, as Daniel would say, “bangin'” tater tots.
1. Get a sandwich at Jimmy John’s and pair it with a soda from Ox & Rabbit
The two things that I must absolutely do while in Durham are to walk to Ninth Street to get a sandwich from Jimmy John’s and a soda from Ox & Rabbit. I. love. Jimmy John’s. I can’t stress that enough. Jimmy John’s shops are exceedingly rare in the North, so it is always a treat when I go to Durham. And nothing goes better with Jimmy John’s than a soda or shake from Ox & Rabbit. I don’t know how to describe Ox & Rabbit, other than a vintage-style soda fountain. Personally, my favorite flavor is the Cherry Lime, but I’m partial to the Cherry Dr Pepper as well. Just thinking about them is making my mouth water. In just a few days, I can satisfy my craving.
Taken on the Duke University campus.
Daniel looks super ’80s, and I look super awkward. I can’t wait to get back to Durham.
Note: Some people might ask why I didn’t include attending a Durham Bulls game somewhere on this list. The simple fact is that I have never been to a Bulls game. Why? Well, Daniel doesn’t care for baseball. But, someday I will make him take me. Perhaps that will be on a future “Top 10 List of Things I Still Need To Do While in Durham, NC”.