Orange County has two main towns, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough.
Of the three original points in the Triangle, Chapel Hill is the most thoroughly a college town with a lovely campus just off Franklin Street, the main drag that runs through town. By limiting development and maintaining a public school system separate from the rest of the more rural parts of the county, Chapel Hill has built and maintains an aura of exclusivity that most cities would envy.
While less than three percent of the homes sold in Wake in 2007 where priced over $700,000 and less than 1% in Durham, almost 10% of the homes in Orange sold in this price range and represented almost 30% of the housing dollars spent. On average, that also buys you about 500 fewer square feet than you would get in either Durham or Raleigh. In other words, the average cost per square foot for a home priced over $700K in Wake and Durham was about $200 while it was $220 per square foot in Orange. This says a lot about what marketers call “branding.”
For decades, a Chapel Hill address has been coveted and there are several neighborhoods that are at least partially in Durham but sport Chapel Hill addresses because their zip code straddles the county line. Carrboro, which blends right into Chapel Hill on its western edge used to be a little funkier and easier to find affordable housing in. At least some people are of the opinion that as Carrboro became more gentrified it pushed the active art and music communities into Durham, especially when Downtown Durham still had cheap studio and living space.
Two of the most visible landmarks (on television anyway) of the region are the Dean Dome (the Dean Smith Center) on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill and Cameron Indoor Stadium on the Duke campus in Durham. Only eight miles separates these two basketball edifices and helps create one of the most famous and intense rivalries in college basketball. Not far down that list are the rivalries these two schools have with the third basketball power in the region, NC State, with that campus less than 25 miles away in Raleigh.
When you move to the region you will almost certainly be drawn into the madness and will select your own favorite and join the fun.
Chapel Hill is probably the epicenter of “progressive” politics in the Triangle and earned from former Senator Jesse Helms the designation “People’s Republic of Chapel Hill.” Social activism is very social as you might expect in an academic community.
Chapel Hill has several marvelous old in-town neighborhoods with great homes in various states of preservation and modernization. There is also an ample supply of very nice homes that might merit the “McMansion” designation. It’s a cool place to live and a spring walk down Franklin Street in the evening offers many treats for the palate and the eye. Tailgate parties before UNC football games are said to be wine and cheese events as opposed to beer and brauts but that may be an exaggeration…at least there seems to be plenty of beer and enthusiasm when we’ve ventured over the county line for a football game.