Forget grits: Start your morning with a hearty bowl of congee with shiitake mushrooms, Chinese bacon, and mustard greens at Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings & Sweets, a former butcher shop turned all-day café and bakery that was on Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurant list in 2014. If you crave something sweet to balance out the savory East Asian–inspired menu, order Chinese crullers with fresh soy milk for dipping, or peruse the pastry case and stow away a coconut Meyer lemon macaron for an afternoon snack.
Duke University is one of America’s most beautiful college campuses, thanks in large part to the splendor of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. The 55-acre grounds are planted with 2,200 kinds of plants, including 900 species of native Southeastern flora. Make your way to the Italianate Terrace Gardens, designed by acclaimed landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman, or swing by the South Lawn to marvel at the whorls of woven red maple saplings and sweetgum twigs in the Patrick Dougherty sculpture The Big Easy.
It’s a short walk from the gardens to the Nasher Museum of Art, where the university’s 13,000-piece art collection is housed in a Modernist building by Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly. In the great hall, admire the colorful geometry of Nigerian painter Odili Donald Odita’s mural Shadow and Light (For Julian Francis Abele), which pays tribute to the African-American architect who built Duke’s chapel. Then visit Solidary & Solitary, a vibrant traveling survey of abstract African-American art from the 1940s to the present.
It’s time for some fried chicken. Catch a taxi downtown and take the cobblestone alley jutting off Foster Street to restaurateur Michael Lee’s M Kokko. There may already be a line of locals on lunch break, but it’s worth the wait for Lee’s “KFC”: Korean fried chicken wings, which come twice-fried, with your choice of garlic or spicy sauce (watch out for the lingering red chilies). In a perfect meld of Southern and Korean cuisines, the wings are served with kale, prepared collard-greens-style (bacon included), and cubes of pickled daikon radish.
Time for a rest back at your hotel, The Unscripted Durham. The newest arrival on downtown’s booming boutique hotel scene (three new properties have opened on this block in the past three years) is a nearly $20 million restoration of the landmark midcentury Jack Tar Motor Lodge, complete with the iconic turquoise facade. The 74 rooms nod to the property’s Swinging ’60s heyday with playful retro design elements (pendant lamps, trippy geometric wallpaper), but the highlight of the revamp is definitely the rooftop pool. Recline on one of the chaise longues and look out at the skyline until you drift off in the sun.
Instead of trying to erase its history as a tobacco town, Durham has repurposed the industry’s infrastructure at the American Tobacco Campus. The former factory now houses luxury apartments, a start-up incubator, a documentary film theater, and Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the home of the city’s minor league team (the subject of Bull Durham). The stadium brews its own beer—try the Baltic Porter, aged with maple-wood baseball bats—and every time the Bulls hit a home run, look out toward the outfield wall, where the Snorting Bull puffs celebratory smoke from its nostrils.
Duck out of the game a little early for dinner at Counting House at the 21c Museum Hotel, an Art Deco former bank designed by the architects of the Empire State Building. You can’t go wrong with the pan-roasted Carolina catch in korma sauce or a series of small plates, such as plancha octopus with potato gnocchi and heirloom squash. Pair your meal with one of the seasonal cocktails, like the Morning Glory (a take on the Negroni with Cocchi Americano, Carpano Bianco, grapefruit, and Peychaud’s bitters). After dinner, order another to take with you into the old bank vault and the hotel’s 10,500-square-foot contemporary art museum.