When we told people we were preparing to travel full-time in our RV, a question they would inevitably ask was: ‘What’s your first stop going to be?’ It was a bit surprising to both the inquisitor and ourselves that the answer was Durham, NC.
The main reason for our visit was Rachael’s close friend from high school, Lauren and her husband Phil, who lived in Durham. Seeing our friends and their home was one of those trips we always meant to take, but could never find the time. In fact, the opportunity to see our friends and family scattered across the country was a major reason we chose RV life.
Another factor was that our departure from Maine was in November, later in the year than we preferred. Durham seemed south enough to flee the freezing temperatures so late in autumn. Plus, we had always heard that Durham was a stand-out in the south, with good food and tech companies bringing energy to the area. I mean, tangy, vinegary North Caroline barbecue is enough of a reason, right?
Although the weather wasn’t on our side for the majority of our three-week stay, we found some real treasures. Rachael’s dad visited for Thanksgiving, and we created a real Turkey Day dinner in our RV kitchen and hosted in our campsite! The highlight of our visit was the delightful company of Lauren and Phil (which you likely wouldn’t be able to access during your visit) but we stumbled across beautiful fall foliage, incredible brews, hipster-perfect downtown hangouts, and more southern eats than advisable. I’m sure that the reasons to visit Durham are multiplied in the summer, with the beautiful local state parks and hikes.
A quick disclaimer for this and all our travel guides: this is not a comprehensive travel guide for Durham, NC. We did not even uncover the tip of the best things to do in the area. These are just the things we did and enjoyed during our little three week stay.
Where We Stayed: Great Campground in Durham, NC
This was our first actual campground in our fifth wheel! Rolling View Campground in Falls Lake State Recreation Area is a great one. Rachael grew up state park camping, so being here brought her right back to her childhood. The sites are beautiful and wooded, and some overlook a lovely lake. Not sure if it was just the season, but the water level was extremely high and all the docks and some picnic areas and pavilions were completely flooded and unusable. Located right between Durham & Raleigh, it took us 25 minutes to get to everything we wanted to do. It was off season, so there was lots of availability when we extended our stay from two weeks to three.
Hook Up: Water/Electric at site, dump station access included
Site Length: Some sites can accommodate big rigs
Cell Signal: Workable Verizon network data, some interference from planes
> Read our full campsite review on Campendium.
What We Did: Durham, NC To Do
Due to the time of year, we focused our Durham exploring on food and drink. If we came back in the summer we would do many more outdoor adventures.
Hiking the Mountain to Sea Trail
If you want to explore the range of beauty in North Carolina you can actually hike over 700 miles of trail from the Smokey Mountains all the way to the Outer Banks! We were not nearly so ambitious and only trekked five miles near our campground to work off our Thanksgiving dinner, but you should definitely check out part of the Mountain to Sea Trail. It is so neat to know you could walk across the entire state via nature trails! We were treated to pretty foliage and lake views on our segment.
American Tobacco Campus
This is the old Lucky Strike cigarette factory, which has been converted to a complex of offices and restaurants. American Tobacco Campus popped up quite a bit while researching local to-dos, and frankly we were really disappointed. Maybe it was just the time of year, but it really is more of an office park and not much to do. None of the restaurants there intrigued us and there was nobody there, I think we saw 3 other people when we stopped by.
However, it is a beautiful location and the perfectly restored vintage red brick architecture is a perfect backdrop for photos. It really is such a cool spot, and we hope that Durham can use it as a jumping off point to build community and showcase the city.
We also peeked into Burt Shavitz’s cabin which has been relocated to the Burt’s Bees headquarters on the campus. Honestly, this kind of bummed us out. If you’ve ever seen the documentary Burt’s Buzz, you get the feeling that Burt maybe wouldn’t be pleased to know that a cabin he designed for a life of simple solitude in the wilds of Maine is now sitting in a downtown office park. It’s a neat sight, but especially as Mainers, we wish the home had been left where it was built.
Parker & Otis
Parker & Otis is one of the best curated gift shops I’ve ever visited. I could wander for hours around the perfectly arranged books, cookware, gourmet treats and stationary. It’s a great spot to get a truly cool local souvenir. Come by for coffee, breakfast, or lunch, and don’t forget the chocolate counter.
Where We Ate & Drank: Restaurants & Breweries in Durham, NC
Piedmont Restaurant: Upscale North Carolina farm-to-table restaurant in downtown Durham
True Flavors Diner: Southern brunch dreams at this super indulgent diner in suburban Durham
The Pit BBQ: North Carolina style Q and cocktails at this polished restaurant in downtown Durham
Dame’s Chicken & Waffles: Casual local chain with creative C&W and southern eats worthy of a post-church ritual
Barrel Culture: Super unique fruity beers and beer slushes in suburban Durham
Ponysaurus: Mythically delicious, rich beer and stellar snacks downtown
Fullsteam Brewery: Perhaps Atlanta’s most popular brewery, and for good reason
>> Check out more detailed thoughts on what we ate & drank in this blog post
Thanksgiving in the RV
Traveling Tunes: Playlist for a Trip to North Carolina
Songs that inspired us in ol’ Caroline
We’re so glad we chose Durham for the first destination in our home on wheels! When we arrived mid-November, we were surrounded by bright yellow foliage, and when we left the first week of December, the trees had faded to brown and the chill had set in. By the end of the stay there were a few freezing nights when it was necessary to unhook the water, so we knew it was time to move on.