13 Hours in South Durham
(By Sarah Edwards)
South Durham almost immediately brings to mind the Southpoint Mall, the commerce anchor in the sprawling stretch between Chapel Hill and Raleigh. On a recent trip to pick blueberries, though, I ended up at Herndon Hills Farm, a you-pick oasis replete with ambling chickens and a pond that is tucked almost directly behind Southpoint. Who knew?
Even if blueberries are out of season, there are still plenty of tucked-away spots that make South Durham more than meets the eye. You might want to kick things off at Hope Valley Diner. Stepping inside feels like walking into a Norman Rockwell painting (checkered floors: check; wall crowded with black-and-white photos: check). Yes, the service can be spotty, but once you’ve claimed your table, you can hold down the fort with the generous portions of eggs and biscuits, steady coffee refills, and this week’s crossword puzzle. If you go back more than once, expect familiar faces: Hope Valley Diner is appropriately haunted by regulars.
If you’re in a hurry, you might skip the Hope Valley experience and instead swing through the Southpoint location of Rise Southern Biscuits & Righteous Chicken. Yes, it’s in a strip mall, but this is the sixteen-outlet franchise’s flagship. For a biscuit-on-the-go, try either the Honey Chicken, served on a sweet potato biscuit, or the fried green tomato biscuit. Honestly, though, anything you try here is a buttery home run. (Although they recently stopped serving donuts, which is unfortunate.)
After breakfast, find the South Durham Farmers Market, located conveniently off of Highway 55. Like most things in South Durham, the farmers market makes lemonade out of suburban sprawl, and even though it’s in a parking lot, the market is crammed with green things (not-to-miss vendors include Sassafras Fork Farm, French bakery Sweet Arielle, and Carolina Farmhouse Dairy). Fill your basket, check your Saturday afternoon group text, and suss out the afternoon vibes: Are you looking for a run or laid-back stroll or something more hardcore?
If it’s the former, check out Third Ford Creek Trail, the paved almost-four-mile stretch that starts at Garrett Park and runs along Woodcroft Parkway. Yes, the lengthy American Tobacco Trail is also nearby, but Third Ford Creek Trail is a little less traversed, making it good for a nature walk, especially if you’re a birder (or an aspiring birder).
If birds aren’t your thing, you can sweat out the biscuits at the sleek Hot Asana Yoga studio at Southpoint. Sessions run between sixty, seventy-five, and ninety minutes, and Updog Kombucha is on tap.
OK, dinner: Now that you’ve had your share of biscuits, you might try the Randy’s Pizza location on Hope Valley Road, where the slices come unnecessarily large. Don’t pass up the garlic knots, and do make a stop next door at Growler Grlz, an old-school-feeling bar that’s friendly for dogs and has—prepare yourself (and your liver)—forty-two beers on tap. Alternately, make a stop at the beloved Sam’s Bottle Shop—its erstwhile cousin near Duke’s campus is being renovated into student housing, fantastic—which is a veritable emporium of gleaming beers. Come for the knowledgeable staff; stay for the tasting bar.
But wait! The day isn’t quite over, because you haven’t yet drunkenly butchered Mariah Carey for your closest friends. Fear not, Rock Box Karaoke has private rooms and big, comfy couches that make it a low-pressure environment. At $30 an hour for a small room (which can comfortably fit seven people), prices break down cheaply, although the hours in this disco-flecked hole-in-the-wall fly by quickly.
Landmark: The Streets at Southpoint
Where to Get a Cup of Coffee: Bean Traders
Where to Visit with Friends: Sam’s Bottle Shop
Where to Walk Your Dog: Piney Wood Park
Where to Spend the Night: Triangle Treehouse Near Downtown/Duke/RTP (Airbnb)
Hayti Heritage Center
804 Old Fayetteville Street, 919-683-1709, hayti.org
One of the city’s storied landmarks, the Hayti Heritage Center sits on the southern edge of downtown, just off the Durham Freeway—which, four decades ago, ripped apart the historic and once-prosperous black community of Hayti, displacing thousands of residents and hundreds of businesses in the name of “urban renewal.” The center is housed in the former home of the St. Joseph’s AME Church, built in 1892 by African American residents with the assistance of white philanthropy. Its distinctive design is topped by a grand steeple, where a Haitian vodun symbol is perched in lieu of a cross. The center serves as an important host for local arts and cultural events, as well as a presenter of nationally known artists. Among its annual events is the Heritage Film Festival, one of the longest-running black film festivals in the country.
Note: We’ve highlighted our pick for the best of each category below.
Bull & Bean Cafe
3710 Shannon Road, 919-237-2398, bullandbeancafe.com
If you live around here, you go to Bull & Bean embarrassingly often. It’s comfortable—if increasingly crowded—and the food is delicious. The menu includes several vegan and vegetarian options, all-day breakfast, and iced coffee that comes with—get this—ice cubes made of coffee.
4711 Hope Valley Road, 919-489-4636, chubbystacos.com
The Chubby’s on Ninth Street closed a couple of years ago, sending Duke students into a minor panic. Fortunately, the second Durham location—there’s also one in Raleigh—is still churning out quick, affordable tacos, burritos, tortas with a wide array of fillings, from tofu with grilled cauliflower and broccoli to chorizo.
Hope Valley Diner
3710 Shannon Road, 919-419-0907, hopevalleydiner.com
Hope Valley Diner is a South Durham breakfast standard. A good go-to dish is the amply stuffed Greek omelet, although the place offers an extensive menu (including lunch and dinner). The service is hit-or-miss, but the food is consistently great. Go early to beat the crowd.
Mattie B’s Public House
1125 West N.C. Highway 54, 919-401-8600, mattiebs.com
The menu at Mattie B’s is patently ridiculous. First, there are nine (!) different iterations of house-made potato chips. From there, you have your pick of wings (from BBQ to guava cayenne), salads, pizzas, burgers, and hot sandwiches, like the Cackalack Club, with ham, turkey, bacon, and pimento cheese. There’s also craft beer. Whaaat?
Nzinga’s Cafe & Restaurant
826 Fayetteville Street, #110, 919-680-2210, nzingasbreakfastcafe.com
Founded by a graduate and N.C. Central in 2014 and formerly known as Nzinga’s Breakfast Cafe, this breakfast-and-lunch spot features a full menu of fried chicken and seafood—and, as anyone in South Durham will tell you, the best French toast and shrimp and grits in town—until 3:00 p.m.
3710 Shannon Road, 919-937-9377, onlyburger.com
Only Burger got its start as a food truck, and now has two brick-and-mortars: one downtown and one in South Durham. The menu has something for every craving. Choose from turkey, veggie, or beef burgers and an extensive list of (mostly) house-made toppings, from feta and tzatziki to pimento cheese, red onion jam, and chili. Fair warning: It will get messy.
Pulcinella’s Italian Restaurant
4711 Hope Valley Road, #1E, 919-490-1172, pulcinellasitalianrestaurant.com
Pulcinella’s serves New York-style pizza and Italian classics, like Penne all’Amatriciana and linguine with mussels and clams.
Pop’s Backdoor Pizza & Calzones
3710 Shannon Road, 919-493-0169, popsbackdoorsouth.com
Why stop at pizza when you could throw a few calzones in the order, too?
4810 Hope Valley Road, #112, 919-403-6850, randys-pizza.com
Randy’s boasts New York-style pies, with slices that are thin and soft enough to fold in half. The crust still has some bite and crunch, too.
Rise Southern Biscuits & Righteous Chicken
8200 Renaissance Parkway, 919-248-2992, risebiscuitsdonuts.com
The Rise that started them all—and one of the first three, along with downtown Durham and Carrboro, to announce that their ditching donuts as part of this biscuits-and-chicken-rebranding thing we are not sure about. Guys! It’s still there in the URL!
Treforni Neapolitan Pizza
1125 West N.C. Highway 54, 919-973-0922, treforni.com
Chef Dave Diggins studied with a guy who learned pie-making at the nearly 120-year-old Pizzeria Starita in Italy, and he’s got three nine-hundred-degree Napoli ovens at his disposal, which is to say, if you’re expecting run-of-the-mill strip mall pizza, you’re in the wrong place.
4711 Hope Valley Road, #6A, 919-493-7748, yamazushirestaurant.com
Fine, traditional Japanese cuisine is the highlight of this dinner-only restaurant, complete with a sake sommelier. Make reservations for the Kaiseki—a multicourse, ceremonially served dinner.
105 West N.C. Highway 54, #249, 919-484-2499, beantraderscoffee.com
With open seats and outlets, the funky, spacious Bean Traders is a great place to work, study, or meet friends. In addition to unique coffee and tea drinks—think espresso soda with vanilla and sparkling water—you can also get pie, smoothies, sandwiches, and waffles.
4810 Hope Valley Road, #110, 919-973-2755, growlergrlz.com
The beer menu here is much more serious than the vibe. With forty-two beers on tap, there’s something for everyone, and the friendly bartenders are willing to help you narrow down the options. Most of the seating is outside, so go on a nice day, order a pizza from Randy’s, and park it.
The Glass Jug Beer Lab
5410 N.C. Highway 55, Suite V, 919-813-0135, glass-jug.com
The Glass Jug is part bottle shop, part beer garden, and part microbrewery, making experimental suds befitting the Beer Lab name. There are events almost every night, from live music, new beer-release parties, and food trucks, to the Purling and Pints knitting club and a disc golf league.
Joe Van Gogh
4711 Hope Valley Road, #5A, 919-973-3950, joevangogh.com
The local coffee chain’s Woodcroft location is larger and serves a more extensive food menu than most of the others. Try a nitro cold brew on tap or a rosemary latte with your fresh pastry. If you want a meal, come early—seasonal dishes like vegan biscuits with mushroom gravy sell out quickly.
West 94th Street Pub
4711 Hope Valley Road, #6C, 919-403-0025, west94thstpub.com
So far as we know, there is no street in Durham called West Ninety-Fourth. Yet this pub has become a South Durham staple nonetheless, mostly because it feels like the kind of bar you could walk into anywhere in the country and get exactly what you expect: draft beer, bar food, karaoke night, trivia night, football.
BullCity Apparel & Customs
3023 Fayetteville Street, 919-237-3876
This little shop packs a whole lot of love for Durham.
Bull City Running Company
202 West N.C. Highway 54, #109, 919-265-3904, bullcityrunning.com
This is no big-box outdoor store. Bull City Running Company boasts a six-step “bull fit” process to find the right shoes for any level runner and organizes a Bull City track and cross-country club. It also stocks apparel—including coveted RUN DRM shirts—and accessories.
Herndon Hills Farm
7110 Massey Chapel Road, 919-544-3313, facebook.com/herndonhillsfarm
Don’t let the mall-adjacent location fool you: This two-hundred-year-old family farm has a slice of rural life on offer. Bring cash and pick your own blueberries, blackberries, and muscadine grapes, depending on what’s in season.
Sam’s Bottle Shop
1112 West N.C. Highway 54, 919-973-2489, samsbottleshop.com
Sam’s is kind of like a toy shop for beer lovers, stocking everything from standard lagers to funky sours. You could easily spend an hour perusing the rows upon rows of bottles to go, not to mention twenty-eight brews on tap. But we advise taking a pint upstairs to the outdoor patio. This being South Durham, it overlooks a shopping center—you get used to that—but that seems just fine with a breeze, the sun on your face, and a cold beer in your hand.
South Durham Farmers Market
5410 N.C. Highway 55, 984-377-7301, southdurhamfarmersmarket.org
With a mission to highlight products from within a fifty-mile radius, this market offers everything from grass-fed beef, wines, and fresh pasta to gluten-free baked goods, vegan cheese, and Bonsai trees.
The Streets at Southpoint
6910 Fayetteville Road, 919-572-8808, streetsatsouthpoint.com
Southpoint’s sprawling indoor/outdoor setup has all the stores you’d expect from a metro mall, and it’s a short drive from other shopping centers. Grab a bite to eat or catch a movie on one of the theater’s seventeen screens.
Hot Asana Yoga Studio
8128 Renaissance Parkway, #206, 919-544-9642, hotasanastudio.com/durham
If hot yoga seems daunting, Hot Asana also offers warm yoga classes, where the room is hot enough to keep your muscles loose but not above body temperature.
New Hope Creek
Pick up the 2.2-mile New Hope Creek Bottomlands Trail at Old Chapel Hill Road Park. The natural surface loop goes through bottomland hardwood forest on the west side of New Hope Creek, home to an array of plants and animals.
1301 South Roxboro Street, dprplaymore.org
You won’t find basketball courts like these anywhere else in the Triangle: In 2019, Hillside’s newly refurbished courts were graced with a mural by artist Sarahlaine Calva and a design resembling the city’s flag. There are also baseball fields, picnic shelters, and, during the summer, a pool and spray-ground.
Phoenix Square Shopping Centers
902 Fayetteville Street, 919-680-2878
A gateway into downtown, the shopping centers have several of the kinds of things that dot urban strip malls everywhere: KFC, Walgreens, storefront churches, etc. Here you’ll also find the Black Wall Street Barbershop, as well as the West African-owned Sierra International Grocery, Nzinga’s, Wang’s Chinese Restaurant, GG Taste of Chicago Fish & Chicken, and World of Flowers.
Piedmont Wildlife Center
364 Leigh Farm Road, 919-489-0900, piedmontwildlifecenter.org
Located inside the eighty-acre Leigh Farm Park, this education nonprofit focusing on conservation is home to rescue animals-turned-“wildlife ambassadors,” including snakes, owls, hawks, and turtles.
Piney Wood Park
400 East Woodcraft Parkway, 919-560-4355, drpplaymore.org
This woodsy park has plenty going on for humans (playgrounds, picnic shelters), but more important, it has lots going on for our four-legged friends: grassy and non-grassy areas, big-dog and small-dog zones, and a doggy kiddie pool.
Rock Box Karaoke
2223 N.C. Highway 54, 919-406-9900, rockboxkaraoke.com
If you’re jonesing to sing, but performing in front of strangers isn’t your thing, then Rock Box Karaoke might be you. At RBK, you’ll find a reasonably priced range of room sizes (for groups from seven to twenty-four people), buckets of cold beer, and a binder full of nineties anthems ready to queue up.
Sharp 9 Gallery Jazz Club
4608 Industry Lane, 919-486-5299, durhamjazzworkshop.org
Sharp 9 Gallery is an integral part of Durham’s music DNA: The educational nonprofit hosts a wide variety of youth classes, private lessons, and lectures, as well as several jazz concerts per week that draw on both local talent and touring artists.
Third Fork Creek Trail
Southern Boundaries Park to Garrett Road Park
Third Fork Creek Trail is a 3.5-mile route that runs from Southern Boundaries Park to Garrett Road Park (parking is available at either end). Although it’s paved, the trail takes you a little more off the beaten path than the American Tobacco Trail, following Third Fork Creek through a wooded corridor.
Wine & Design
4810 Hope Valley Rd #109, 919-391-8359, wineanddesign.com/locations/durham
Whether you’re looking to celebrate a special occasion or just enjoy a fun night with friends, what could be better than a paintbrush in one hand and a glass of wine in your other? Wine & Design offers art classes led by local artists. You bring the wine; they’ll provide the glasses, canvases, and paint.
W.D. Hill Community Center
1308 Fayetteville Street, 919-560-4292, dprplaymore.org
The recreation center was named to honor William Daniel “W.D.” Hill, an executive with the N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Company. Before Hill died in 1945, he was instrumental in the creation of projects that served Durham’s black youngsters. The vibrant recreation center offers youth sports programs and martial-arts classes, and has a dance studio, multipurpose room, and gymnasium. The center connects to Hillside Park, which contains a futsal court, playground, basketball courts, baseball fields, and a picnic area.
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