The vibrant, collegiate city of Durham (population 230,000) is, at least around its city core, has a more industrial feel than the other components of North Carolina's Research Triangle, the beautiful campus of Duke University notwithstanding. But Durham has turned many of its historic factory buildings and warehouses into hip restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques, and the city's downtown has plenty of spirit these days.
Downtown is crisscrossed by numerous railroad tracks and loomed over by smokestacks and water towers with names like Lucky Strike painted on them - this was a tobacco town for many years, and Liggett Group tobacco manufacturer still thrives here. The city retains a somewhat gritty feel in spots, and an almost nostalgic countenance. It also has a rich African-American heritage, especially along Parrish Street, which was known as “Black Wall Street” in the early 20th century owing to its many African-American insurance and banking concerns.
On the west side of Durham, the leafy and dignified campus of Duke University provides a rather aristocratic counterpoint to downtown. On-campus attractions include the stellar Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University and the 55-acre Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Between here and downtown you can see evidence of the city’s impressive historic preservation efforts in the way of old warehouses that have been converted into modern businesses. Brightleaf Square, with elegant shops and eateries, is a fine example. Adjoining the eastern edge of Duke’s campus, 9th Street is a cute and attractive strip of shops and upscale eateries.
The name Duke is synonymous with Durham’s heritage, both as a tobacco and education leader, and you can tour the Duke Homestead State Historic Site and Tobacco Museum. A short drive east is the highly impressive North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, which is a favorite with kids for its many outdoor and indoor interpretive exhibits.
West and south of Duke toward Chapel Hill you begin to see evidence of how the New South economy has affected Durham. Specifically, between Durham and Raleigh, an ever-growing edge city called Research Triangle Park contains numerous headquarters of Fortune 500 companies, plus the usual slew of modern hotels and upscale restaurants.
For more on the area and its gay scene, consult the useful GLBT Triangle Local Events website and Q Notes gay newspaper. Also be sure to check out the travel website created by the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau.
One of the most inviting lodging options in downtown Durham, the Morehead Manor B&B occupies a former tobacco executive’s mansion (built in 1910). The interior is decorated with a tasteful but bold blend of art, fabrics, and antiques from both Africa and North America. Common areas include a stately library with fireplace and a dining room in which breakfast is served overlooking the landscaped grounds.
The upscale, 17-room King's Daughters Inn has beautiful rooms and grounds - it's a converted former dormitory-style complex that once housed aging, single women, and the owners have done a wonderful job outfitting rooms with luxury touches like robes, high-end linens, and distinctive furnishings consistent with the building's 1920s design. The inn is on the eastern edge of Duke's campus, very close to Brightleaf Square and the downtown Warehouse District.
Part of the hip Indigo Hotel brand, the Hotel Indigo Raleigh-Durham Airport has a prosaic but convenient setting an easy drive from all of the communities in the Research Triangle. Rooms are smartly furnished and have plenty of high-tech gadgets. Right in the heart of downtown, the Durham Marriott City Center is a nicely outfitted, full-service hotel that's steps from a number of excellent restaurants.