Downtown Durham Walking Tour
Got a couple of hours? How about an afternoon? There's much to discover in and around downtown Durham.
Posted By Ashley Strahm
Tour Like a Champion
We recognize that a short trip to Durham or lay over between stops looks a bit different than before. Above all else, we want you to know that we spend every day thinking of how to ensure your safety as you travel to and visit Durham. Some of our small businesses have chosen to open and implement stringent requirements to keep themselves and their customers safe; some have chosen to remain closed. Those choices are made with the intent to protect and support both the community that lives here, and ones that have yet to discover what makes us special.
That being said, here are a few things to keep in mind:
We thought about you!
Looking for brochures to help you as you navigate Durham? There are a multitude of stops to make that may not have been included here. Pick up a downtown map and guide in the bin outside of the Discover Durham Visitor Info Center.
Outdoor dining is a thing.
If you see narrower streets and parking spots blocked off with traffic barricades, that's all intentional. Some downtown businesses have taken advantage of the street space outside of their storefronts to expand their outdoor dining capacity while adhering to social distancing requirements.
If you need to pee, offer patronage.
Public restrooms are hard to come by these days; business owners must follow stringent guidelines to ensure that every surface and space is kept sanitized for visitors. However, there are restaurants that, if you do choose to offer patronage, will allow access to restroom facilities. Plan your trip accordingly, and call ahead if you have any questions.
Parking looks a bit different.
In addition to some downtown parking spots being taken up for outdoor dining, some are clearly marked for 'curbside pickup only.' Please only used unmarked spots to park, and pay at the meter. Lastly:
Make sure to wear something comfortable; this destination was made for walking.
We created this guide to show that there's a ton to experience within just a few walkable blocks spent downtown. Before you come, get acquainted! Downtown Durham Inc. encourages participation in our 'Walk-A-Bull' landscape, and images in this post link to Durham's virtual tour (a tool that will have you ready to navigate and explore well before you step foot on Durham's streets). Be sure to check out each destination on the Google map below as well: each location is represented by a purple star.
An Hour is All You Need
Start at Five Points. It'll be hard to find a focal point (there are — well — five), but this iconic intersection is the heart of great eats in downtown Durham. Pizza lovers can get their fix at Pizzeria Toro, where wood-fired pies are paired with antipasti, salads, and Italian wines. For something on the lighter side, head to legacy restaurateur Toast for handcrafted, gourmet panini pressed sandwiches, seasonal soups and salads.
Even in the midst of this transitional time, you'll find lots to love here: from Pierce McCoy, a shoe shiner for over five decades, to Beyú Caffé and Bull McCabes long-time Durham staples. Try to resist the smell of baked goods from Ninth Street Bakery wafting throughout alleys and sidewalks along your journey, as well as the murals all over the brick facades.
Durham is the epicenter of African American prowess, and we won't stop talking about it. Black Wall Street became a moniker for Durham's West Parrish Street, a hub of black-owned business that blossomed during the early 1900s.
What you may not have read in your school textbooks was the thrilling historical narrative of Durham's unapologetic position as successful urban epicenter at the turn of the century. Thriving among the likes of Tulsa, OK and Richmond, VA, Durham's tireless communities of color bolstered the construction of early Durham. Black-owned brick and black-owned banks rose despite the searing systemic wounds of Jim Crow America, and the first home of North Carolina Mutual still stands on Parrish Street. The bank houses an exhibit on "The Black Wall Street of America," which is open to the public. Take a walk on Durham's Parrish Street and discover more.
Parrish Street is rife with history and present-day prowess.
See warehouses brought back to life .3 miles away at the American Tobacco Campus.
Former Lucky Strike tobacco warehouse and manufacturing buildings got a second life at the American Tobacco Historic District, a one-million-square-foot entertainment campus, complete with restaurants like Boricua Soul, Full Frame documentary theater, and event spaces.
Once one of the largest tobacco companies in the world, American Tobacco was formed through a merger of several tobacco companies led by J.B. Duke. The buildings lay vacant after the company closed in 1987 ... until 2004 when Capital Broadcasting purchased the American Tobacco Campus (fun fact: SWAT teams were using the old building as tactical training facilities).
Prior to COVID-19, visitors enjoyed free summertime concerts on the lawn. You can still enjoy views of the man-made river and waterfalls, play life-sized chess, and see the Burt’s Bees’ observation hive, and Swarm, a mural that’s part of Mathew Willey’s Good of the Hive Initiative to paint 500,000 honeybees — the number necessary for a healthy, thriving hive — in murals across America. Take some time to stroll through the bays to view vintage Lucky Strike and "Bull Durham" posters, signs and billboards.
Have a couple more hours to spend? Plan an excursion around mealtimes while taking in the sights.
Start at Central Park.
Find yourself a farmers’ market breakfast at Durham Central Park on a weekend morning. The world-class Durham Farmers’ Market welcomes more than 50 vendors and farmers whom are located within 70 miles of the market, and they've got social distancing down. Expect to find locally grown fruits and vegetables, eggs, fresh cut flowers, baked goods, preserves, artisan soaps, pottery, and artwork. Nearby a row of food trucks serves up everything from breakfast sandwiches to dumplings. Afterward let little ones run around at the interactive Mount Merrill play area on the east side of the park (be sure to have masks and hand sanitizer in tow)! Don't forget to stop at the newly opened Durham Food Hall, where to-go burritos and bagels abound at Ex Voto and Everything Bagels. Dame's Chicken and Waffles shares the same sidewalk, and is a can't miss Durham culinary experience.
Just .1 miles away is Rigsbee avenue, where you can find wide-open green spaces and outdoor spots to take in the Durham skyline.
Stop to peek through the fencing just past the food hall to look at the original Durham Bulls stadium, Durham Athletic Park (DAP) at 428 Morris Street. It played a major role in the 1988 film, "Bull Durham" starring Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, and Susan Sarandon.
Enjoy socially distant self guided yoga routine by the Durham skate park or at the public park behind Accordion Club. Then consider throwing all your hard work away at Parts & Labor with a spread of globally-inspired street food snacks. Favorites include German pretzels with house-made beer cheese, veggie samosas, and bulgogi tacos. Wash it all down across the street with a southern-made craft beverage at Fullsteam Brewery, or pick up beverages to enjoy at home from Louella's.
Cool off up the street at Carolina Theatre.
Stop by one of Durham’s most beloved landmarks, the Carolina Theatre. The theatre is currently closed, but concessions are still being sold (they thought of everything, especially your nostalgia)! Right outside of their doors is an ampitheater and outdoor water feature perfect for sitting in the shade and enjoying summer treats, too.
Built in 1926, the theater was Durham’s premier showplace for film and foreign arts in the 1940s and 1950s, welcoming stars like Katharine Hepburn and Ronald Reagan. It continues to be the host of the acclaimed Full Frame Film Festival each April and OutSouth film festival in the fall. The world premiere of baseball film "Bull Durham" also took place here in 1988, as well as the premiere of "The Best of Enemies" during Durham’s 150th anniversary. The film tells a story we have painted on one of our downtown brick facades … the civil rights struggle that occurred during school integration here (co-led by unlikely allies: activist and community leader Ann Atwater, and Ku Klux Klansman C.P. Ellis). It’s a historical tour de force that’s not to be missed. Learn more here.
Bonus: The book upon which the movie is based is available at Durham’s local bookstores for online order and delivery.
Walk up the small hill towards the Durham Arts Center towards the Five Points intersection where the walking tour originally starts to take in the Civil Rights Mural outlining some of the other changemakers who brought justice to Durham and the South.
Stroll to CCB Plaza to pose with an icon of the city — Major The Bull, a 10-foot tall bronze sculpture, time capsule, and symbol of Durham since the 1800s. (If you're looking for more selfie inspiration, check this out.) Then pop into the nearby Jack Tar and the Colonel’s Daughter and order up a spread of desserts to share, like the five spice angel food cake, fried-to-order Cruller donuts, and a classic sundae with chocolate sauce, peanuts, and whipped cream. Savor your sweets at an outdoor table overlooking the plaza, where you’re likely to enjoy the sounds of live music and people-watching. (Check out 13 Durham Essential Restaurants According to Bon Appetit, many of which are within eye shot of City Center).
From this vantage point, you can see three boutique hotels located on the block that each also offer amenities to guests and the public, like a 24/7 modern art museum, a rooftop pool deck, or rooftop bar and restaurant space overlooking the skyline.
An Afternoon of Adventure
You won’t find any major chain retailers at Historic Brightleaf Square and we think that’s a good thing. Just .8 miles away, you can pick up an item that’s distinctly Durham at locally-owned shops like Indio, where you’ll find a curated selection of beautiful gifts and textiles, or a collection of delicacies at shops like Details and AR Workshop, among others.
If you're not as familiar with these two knockout attractions, an afternoon is probably more of what you'll need while exploring DPAC and the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Dream big at DPAC.
DPAC (Durham Performing Arts Center) is one of the premiere performing arts centers in the country, so you won’t want to miss out on a chance to catch a concert, comedy show, dance performance, or Broadway musical in this luxurious setting when it reopens. This state of the art space opened in 2008, is the largest performing arts center in North Carolina and is host to 200+ performances a year. It's also the biggest performing arts center between Atlanta and New York City! Enjoy the view.
Take in the home of the Durham Bulls.
In Durham we love our minor league baseball team in a major way. Home to the Durham Bulls baseball team, the Triple-A minor league baseball team of the Tampa Bay Rays The Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP) is a 10,000-seat state of the art stadium that opened in 1995. Baseball America named the Durham Bulls the most accomplished minor league team of the decade.
Although this current season is cancelled, Durham Bulls games are traditionally a fun and inexpensive way to spend an evening, with Outfield Reserve tickets costing only $7.99 per person. Not to mention: they host fireworks on Friday nights, as well as themed nights (think "Stranger Things," and "Star Wars"), and Bark in the Park where people bring their dogs to the game with them. Discount concessions nights are also sprinkled throughout the schedule, featuring cheap hot dogs, soda, and, popcorn.