Chapel Hill’s Franklin Street adds heart and tradition to classic college town

Posted October 31, 2013


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – It’s 1 a.m. on a Thursday night and Franklin Street is buzzing. Music is booming, food and drinks are flowing and people from all walks of life are swarming the lively road.

After a bitter football loss to the University of Miami, University of North Carolina fans are taking solace in the hometown glory that is Chapel Hill’s most popular street.

Referred to affectionately as “The Heartbeat of Chapel Hill,” Franklin Street is home to numerous coffee shops, restaurants, museums, bookstores, music shops and bars.

“Once upon a time, there was a street like other streets and college towns, that is a place that is more than a street, it is a heartbeat,” said University of North Carolina (UNC) Journalism Professor Jock Lauterer. “The 100 blocks of Franklin Street to a Chapel Hill native is hallowed ground, made so by all the events that we have all witnessed over the years.”

Named after Benjamin Franklin alongside UNC’s construction in the 1790s, Franklin Street rose to importance in the mid 20th century, notably when The Morehead Planetarium was opened. Now there are more than 100 different activities, shops and dining options to choose from, day or night.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” said UNC student Sydney Harris. “From store fronts clad in Carolina Blue on game day, dinners at Top of The Hill, blue cups at He’s Not Here, and rushing down Franklin Street when we beat Duke, it’s a special place that brings Tar Heels young and old together.”

Starting the day on Franklin Street can be tough, if only because there are so many breakfast options. Start with Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe, where traditional breakfast and brunch classics rub elbows with new favorites like the M&M Waffle or the Reese’s Pancakes.

If you’re in town for Sunday Brunch, Kipos Greek Taverna is your destination. From sweet potato hash to greek omelets to lemon ricotta pancakes, there is something for everyone on the robust Greek menu.

After a taste of breakfast, Franklin Street offers a taste of culture. Most notable, perhaps, is the Ackland Art Museum, a key cultural state landmark that presents 10 to 12 changing art exhibitions per year. Located just steps from Franklin Street, it’s an ideal place to spend an artsy afternoon.

“A walk through the Ackland can be an introduction to ancient Greek vases, Eugene Delacroix and Andy Warhol—all in the same day,” boasts the museum’s website.

If you’re more in the mood to buy than gaze, FRANK Gallery — which is a collective of works from more than 70 artists in the Chapel Hill area — is the place to find a unique souvenir to take home.

But man-made art isn’t the only perk of Franklin Street; the surrounding green spaces are breath-taking masterpieces in themselves. Battle Park, located adjacent to Franklin Street, is 93 acres of natural forest with trails and public education programs designed for exploring. Maintained by the North Carolina Botanical Garden, its historic roots at the university, predating the Civil War, are entrenched in Chapel Hill’s rich history.

For lunch, eat like true North Carolina natives. Sutton’s Drug Store predates the planetarium and has been a Franklin Street staple since its opening. It’s a classic diner, with burgers, hot dogs and milkshakes that make it a Chapel Hill legend. Photos of athletes chowing down line the walls and it’s the place to see and be seen in the Tar Heel community.

As the stars come out, it’s time to head to the planetarium.  The most notable (and free) event offered is the Skywatching Session, where visitors head to Jordan Lake for telescopic views and a tour of the constellations with a Morehead educator. Planetarium shows are also available, with screened movies about everything from black holes to the Carolina skies.

For nightlife and beyond, there’s no better place than Franklin Street. From intimate bars to rowdy rooftop festivities, sundown at UNC means the fun never has to end.

“Franklin Street was rad,” said University of Miami student Clayton Wandishin, who was visiting Chapel Hill for the UM versus UNC football game. “Beers were cheaper than water.”

For drink specials that rival any other, Four Corners is the place to go. Featuring “Big A** Beer Mondays” and “Tex Mex Tuesdays,” this lively bar and grille has low-budget options that cater to a college student budget. The wings, dripping in tangy, hot buffalo sauce and larger-than-life, are the go-to as far as food and the perfect choice if sharing with a group.

As the clock strikes midnight, head to The Library; not to hit the books, but to hit the dance floor. Featuring a live DJ that plays everything from Kris Kross to Tupac to Avicii, this intimate club stays packed until the lights come up at 2 a.m.

Finally, the town favorite: Top of the Hill. The brewery, restaurant and rooftop hangout is the social crossroads of Chapel Hill, and a place that UNC students and visitors alike can agree on.

“TOPO is awesome because it’s so unique,” said Wandishin’s friend and fellow University of Miami student Brooke Zarouri. “It’s an environment that seems to be specially designed to meet new people…there’s nothing that brings people together like craft beer!”

Although the sights and experiences of Franklin Street are what brings visitors to Chapel Hill, it’s the people that keep them there.

“Even though we came straight from the game in Miami gear, everyone was friendly,” said Wandishin.

Southern hospitality is abundant on this high-spirited street, the cultural Mecca of Chapel Hill and the pride of many natives. From the food to the art to the natural beauty, Franklin Street offers visitors the quintessential college town experience with open arms.

If You Go


  • Parking can be found in metered spots all along the street, or on adjacent roads.


  • Ackland Art Museum, 101 S. Columbia St., 919-966-5736
  • FRANK Gallery, 109 E. Franklin St., 919-636-4135
  • Chapel Hill Art Gallery, 1215 E. Franklin St., 
  • Kidzu Children’s Museum, 123 W. Franklin St., 919-933-1455
  • Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, 250 E. Franklin St.
, 919-962-1236
  • Battle Park, Country Club Rd., 919-962-0522
  • Coker Arboretum, Country Club Rd./Raleigh St.
, 919-962-0522
  • McCorkle Place, UNC Campus by E. Franklin St., 919-962-0522

Dining and Nightlife

  • Bread & Butter, 503 W. Rosemary St., 919-960-5998
  • Carolina Coffee Shop, 138 E. Franklin St., 919-942-6875
  • Kipos Greek Taverna, 431 W. Franklin St., 
  • Sutton’s Drug Store, 159 E. Franklin St., 919-942-5161
  • Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe, 173 E. Franklin St., 919-929-9192
  • Four Corners Grill, 175 E. Franklin St., 919-537-8230
  • Top of the Hill, 100 E. Franklin St., 919-929-8676
  • Mellow Mushroom, 310 W. Franklin St., 919-929-1941
  • The Library, 120 E. Franklin St., 919-968-6004

Leave a Reply