Your Ultimate Staycation Guide to the Bull City

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Take in the view of American Tobacco Campus as you lounge beside the heated pool at the Aloft downtown. Photo by Beth Mann

I’m a staycation evangelist. I think of even the most boring Wednesday nights as a staycation. Why cook an uninspired meal when my husband and I can venture off to a favorite restaurant that hasn’t seen us in four months? Why watch Netflix on the sofa when we can head to a Durham Bulls game? 

But a real staycation means clearing your calendar, booking overnight accommodations and committing to backyard exploration. The upsides to a staycation are many. Save money on airfare, rental cars and gas. Plan two days or plan a week. Lose a lot of the anxiety that comes with navigating a totally unfamiliar place. If you have kids, pets or other major responsibilities, you can get to them quickly if there is an emergency. Incorporate various friends into your plans, something that’s impossible when you go hundreds of miles away. 

But the biggest perk, to me, is that you gain a new appreciation for your city. Which makes returning to your everyday life that much more enjoyable. We spend so much energy (and money!) on travel so that we can gawk at other cities and countries, and I’m a huge fan of the vacation, too. But we often neglect to bring any sense of wonder to our own surroundings. It’s the equivalent, I think, of working extremely hard on a distant friendship, but failing to nurture the relationship you have with your life partner. 

I staycation the same way I vacation. Meaning: It’s all about balance. A perfect day brings a relaxing activity, a sweat-inducing activity, a cultural activity and an indulgent activity (or two). 


It might feel silly to book a place four miles from your home, but I want to stress the importance of packing a bag and escaping your regular life, bed and housework. I recommend the elegant and modern JB Duke Hotel, which is currently offering a few staycation deals. And the Aloft is convenient for walking all over downtown.


Find that new book to read this fall at Letters Bookshop.

I find shopping at Letters Bookshop, Parker & Otis, Indio, Bungalow, Vintage Home South and Everyday Magic to be incredibly soothing. Same with Durham Bulls games. There’s something so relaxing about the slow rhythm of baseball. Other ideas: Stroll through Sarah P. Duke Gardens and venture into Duke Chapel for some extra serenity.  Take in the art at Pleiades. Book a massage at Massage Envy. Treat yourself to a mani/pedi. Get your hair blown out. Enjoy afternoon tea at the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club. Buy tickets to an afternoon movie at The Carolina Theatre or Stadium 10 at Northgate Mall. Head back to your hotel for an afternoon nap. You’re paying for that room. Use it! 


Speaking of The Carolina Theatre, take in a show there, at DPAC or at The Blue Note Grill. Some of my favorite concerts ever? Ones where I knew very little about the act going into it. Check out the Museum of Durham History. Get a selfie in front of each of Durham’s murals. (You can tour the murals on two wheels via Mural Durham bike tours.) Don’t miss the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University – I’m dying to see the new Amy Sherald painting. And it’s always fun to see what’s new, art wise, at 21c Museum Hotel. 


Run, walk or bike the American Tobacco Trail. Take a cycling class at SYNCSTUDIO downtown. Start your day with Brunch + Burn at Unscripted Durham (also hosted by SYNCSTUDIO) or with La Vita Yoga on the rooftop of The Durham Hotel. Hike at the Eno or hit the Al Buehler Cross Country Trail. 


Lunch at Toast: Local farm egg, Taleggio and chive panini, and crostini topped with garlicky mushrooms with thyme and Gorgonzola; Merguez sausage with chickpea-tomato puree;
and fig with Gorgonzola and balsamic.

Here’s where your staycation to-do list will get super long, super fast. Start by thinking of the culinary gems you’ve never experienced. The ones that make you feel ridiculous. “How could you have not been there?” your friends tease. Maybe it’s Rose’s, NanaSteak, Juju, Yamazushi (book way ahead), Toast, Taqueria la Vaquita, Gocciolina, King’s Sandwich Shop or Vin Rouge. Then, make a list of newer places you haven’t gotten around to checking out. (One thing you’ll learn when you plan a staycation is that “new” to you might mean three years old. It’s so hard to keep up!) Jack Tar and The Colonel’s Daughter, Happy and Hale, East Durham Bake Shop, Mothers & Sons, Eastcut Sandwich Bar, Hutchins Garage and Cucciolo Osteria. Don’t forget the drinks: Pour Taproom, The Wine Feed, Foster Street Coffee, Bull City Ciderworks, Bar Brunello. If you want to hit up one of your go-to restaurants, consider doing so during a different time of day. (For example, Mateo has an incredible lunch menu, but most people think of this as a dinner destination!) When mapping out your day, pick one huge meal per day. Or choose one expensive meal a day and combine that with two more affordable options. (Example: Happy and Hale for breakfast, Taqueria La Vaquita for lunch and NanaSteak for dinner!) 

Happy staycationing! Durham will never look the same again. 

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