The tobacco and textile industries left their imprint on Durham long ago, but now the historic brick mills and repurposed factories form the backdrop of North Carolina’s re-energized Bull City. Recently, artist studios and upstart galleries have multiplied in the flourishing downtown area, where new bakeries, pizzerias, tapas bars and food trucks — and trailers and buses and even the odd tricycle — seem to surface at every turn. Since Big Tobacco is dead, consider this cool mix of culture and food the new Durham blend.
Nearby are the Sarah P. Duke Gardens (420 Anderson St.; 919-684-3698; hr.duke.edu/dukegardens/), 55 meticulously maintained acres bursting with diverse flora. Stroll along the circuitous walking paths that curl around the gorgeous gardens’ grassy slopes and placid ponds, keeping an eye out for the majestic resident great blue heron.
From the gardens, it’s not far to the Nasher Museum of Art (2001 Campus Dr.; 919-684-5135; nasher.duke.edu; $5). Housed in a cluster of modern, monolithic structures, this on-campus museum hosts an impressive slate of exhibitions focusing on contemporary and visual art, like the current Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters show that runs through Feb. 10.
Across the street is the cavernous Fullsteam Brewery (726 Rigsbee Ave.; 919-682-2337; fullsteam.ag), where picnic tables are packed with people sipping house-brewed beers like hickory-smoked porter and sweet potato lager made from local tubers.
Pair your pint with a snack from one of the food trucks usually parked outside. Try a warm Pigs ’n’ Figs sandwich (with fig, speck and goat cheese; $6) from the American Meltdown truck (americanmeltdown.org; Twitter: AmericanMLTDWN) or juicy pork-filled buns ($5) from the Chirba Chirba Dumpling truck (chirbachirba.com; Twitter: ChirbaChirba) are solid bets.
Close out the night with a nightcap at the newcomer Kotuku Surf Club (703 Rigsbee Ave.; 919-294-9661), a laid-back bar that opened down the block in December 2011.
For breakfast, try a hearth-baked loaf from Loaf, a stall so popular that it opened a nearby bakery (111 W. Parrish St.; 919-797-1254) in 2011. Or seek out Monuts Donuts (monutsdonuts.com; Twitter: @MonutsDonuts), a trike peddling sublime handmade cake and yeast doughnuts with seasonal flavors like pumpkin chai and maple bacon bourbon.
Piqued your interest in the thriving local arts scene? Then proceed to Golden Belt, a former textile factory with handsome brick buildings that were recently converted into artist studios, lofts and galleries. Admire the sculptures at the Liberty Arts Gallery (923 Franklin St.; 919-260-2931; liberty-arts.org), where you might also spy artists at work molding metal, glass, wood and stone. Then tour the LabourLove Gallery (807 E. Main St.; 919-373-4451; labourlove.com), which opens at noon and showcases paintings, photography and other diverse projects from local artists.
For dessert, seek out another mobile food purveyor headed down the same path: the Parlour (theparlourdurham.com; Twitter: @parlourdurham) is in the process of expanding from a kitted-out mini school bus to a permanent ice cream shop (at 117 Market St.). The ice cream sandwiches ($4) made with soft chocolate chip cookies and handmade salted butter caramel ice cream are superb.
For a digestif (you’ll need one) head down the block to Whiskey (347 W. Main St.; 919-682-6191; whiskeydurham.com), a smoky speakeasy-style lounge that opened in 2009. Sink into one of the leather club chairs, order a bourbon and should the mood strike, sample the bar’s own House Stick from Bull City Cigars ($15).
For more intimate stage productions, try the nearby Manbites Dog Theater (703 Foster St.; 919-682-4974; manbitesdogtheater.org). Or head to the historic Carolina Theater (309 W. Morgan St.; 919-560-3030; carolinatheatre.org) to see a classic flick like King Kong or a documentary about Harry Belafonte.
If you already know what jump putts and anhyzers are, try the 22 professional-caliber holes of the challenging course at Valley Springs Park (3805 Valley Springs Rd.; free). Either way, expect to encounter tranquil nature and friendly locals happy to point you toward the next hole.