For all the hype about the Triangle, none of us actually lives there. We live in Cary and Carrboro and Durham and Wake Forest and Holly Springs and Raleigh. As much as we talk about the region, we spend most of our lives in one city or town, or maybe two if we commute to work or school. We hear about these other places, we watch television, read newspapers and surf Web sites that tell us about them, but they’re usually about as alien as Fargo, North Dakota. And they seem about as exotic.

So this year, for the part of our annual Best of the Triangle issue that’s written by the Independent‘s staff, we took on a challenge: Go to a place in the Triangle that you’ve heard all about, talk to people who live there, and tell us what it’s really like. We expected to be surprised, and we weren’t disappointed.

In Raleigh, Lisa Sorg found walkable, transit-friendly parts of town and discovered malt shops, greenways, coffee shops and galleries. It’s not that we didn’t know they were there, it’s that they capture a cadence of daily life that’s decidedly not the rush-hour, I-440, suburban cul-de-sac world we usually hear about.

Nor did Fiona Morgan find that in much-maligned Cary. Instead of focusing on the tasteful PUDs and strip malls, she found more spicy stuffFrench Empires-style buildings, Indian treats like dosai and uthappam, a nature preserve more like the mountains, and a band that specializes in Sousa marches and circus music.

Chapel Hill and Carrboro didn’t just reveal the usual fancy restaurants to Mosi Secretinstead he was shown tastes ranging from gorditas de pollo to fried chicken to fresh seafood hand-selected at the coast. And appropriately enough, he also was shown a “progressive” dinner at some of the towns’ nicer restaurants.

“Progressive” isn’t a word often associated with Pittsboro in Chatham County, but that’s the one Grayson Currin used to describe the antique stores (and classic guitars), cooperative grocery, tube amp workshop and lifestyle shop he found there. And there is the majesty (and mess) of the Haw River to fall back on.

Finally, our ITB (inside the Beltline, for all us outsiders) Raleigh writer, Bob Geary, made several forays into Durham to convince himself that what he’d found there wasn’t just gritty, but … burgeoning. A tour of Durham’s fast-transforming downtown revealed new restaurants, artful recycling, theater, a bronze foundry and a beaver pageant.

Collectively, we know about all of that. You can find it in our Readers’ Choice section, featuring favorite restaurants, shops, services and more from all over the region. But individually, we know little about the Triangle’s other corners.

With this issue, we also launch a campaign called “1000 Things to Do.” That’s how many things (and more) we offer in our arts, music, film and Act Now calendars and coverage every week, all over the Triangle. So do what we didpick out something to do in an unknown part of the Triangle this weekend. You won’t be disappointed.